In Conversation with Maddy Kulkarni, Graphic Designer and Illustrator


In our pursuit to assist the youth make academic/career choices, we have interviewed several successful individuals. In this edition, we have interviewed Madhura Kulkarni, who is a Freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator. She prefers to be called Maddy!

Read on to find her career journey from being an Auditor to a Graphic designer, and how her passion for Art and Design has contributed to her success today.

CB5: Please share some detail about your current professional activities. What do you do?

Maddy: I am a Freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator. I basically draw for a living. I create Illustrative designs for various brands and products. Some of my work includes designing for Restaurants (menu cards / Coasters / Wall art, etc), Weddings / Birthdays and other event designs, and also designing marketing and publicity material for digital and print platforms.

CB5: Great! As far as we know you, your formal education and your professional career have different tracks…How did you decide on the line for the formal education? What made you select this line of study?

Maddy: Growing up I have always been like an artist, there was an effort by my parents to take me out for drawing classes and competitions and keep in touch with art. And initially that was my goal, I wanted to go to college and study design or art. But unfortunately as time progressed things went differently and I ended up studying International Business with Finance and accounting. I ended up finishing my Undergraduate degree in Accounts, but I was still interested in Art. So did a double degree – one in Business and another one in Ceramics. Ceramics was my way of keeping in touch with the art side of it.

Then I moved to San Francisco and started working there as an Auditor. That was like a corporate job in the most Artistic City! And living there made me realize that I really shouldn’t be doing an 8 to 5 job. So I decided to quit my job as an Auditor with no plan of what I was going to do in future. I just sat there thinking, alright I quit my job, I lost my visa now what am I gonna do!

Then I came back to India just trying to figure out what I needed to do next and while exploring options, I found out about this Program on Graphic Design in Florence, Italy. And that’s where I got some formal education in Art that I do today, I don’t do anything in Ceramics anymore. But the education I got in Florence kind of helped me to get into the graphic design part of Art.


CB5: So you knew you always sort of wanted to do Arts since your school days?

Maddy: I didn’t know I wanted to do Art, but I always used to draw and illustrate. So as growing up in a very education-oriented family, though my parents encouraged Art, it was all about ‘oh she is a good Artist, she draws well’. But when it was the time for me to select a career option, they wanted me to do Architecture, something which is stable and makes money. They didn’t know how an Artist or Illustrator could make money, for them it’s always going back to a professional degree, where I can have a corporate 8 to 5 job, probably an Architect or maybe into broadcast designing which is more into television.  

Not that they didn’t understand art but their knowledge was limited that there are so many options available. There is that belief if you are good at drawing you become an Architect – that sort of an attitude.

CB5: So when and how did you get into your current area of work?

Maddy: After my graduation in 2010, I worked in San Francisco for a year and that too because I was holding that last bit of my Visa. I would have quit much earlier if I didn’t have a visa issue, but at some point, I just gave up. My company was willing to sponsor my visa which would mean I would be committed to them for another 3-4 years. So that’s when I had to make this decision and I decided to follow my passion.

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CB5: What were your motivators at this particular point of time? Because who doesn’t want to stay and work in the US right?

Maddy: That was a big challenge because leaving San Francisco was a very heartbreaking decision for me to make. But that job was just draining, you are just punching numbers because there were all these auditing softwares available, there was no creativity. Fortunately, I was good at my job so I used to get my day’s work done in the first half and the next half I would sit and draw, I would be sitting on my desk and doodling and pretending that I am working. So that was one thing, I don’t want to sit here for the rest of my life and regret. And living in San Francisco, you step out of the office and you are in the most artistic city in the world –  So much of freedom and Liberal arts, that kind of was the motivator, I wanted to be one of them. I didn’t want to leave the city, if possible I wanted to do art in San Francisco, but unfortunately, that was not working out for me. I weighed out the pros and cons and doing Art was more important to me than living in that city.

CB5: What do you enjoy most about your current profession?

Maddy: I enjoy my flexible hours, I can work on my own time, I am my own boss, I can decide which projects I want to take, with whom I want to work. I am not stuck with somebody and I am not frustrated with the work environment, I love my working environment.

CB5: In your opinion what are your success factors?

Maddy: My will to do something that I really like. I have always been doing art since childhood. And the support from my parents, though they did not understand what I was doing but they never said No. When I said I want to quit my job, they never said no, they never doubted my decision. Although I did fail a few times, leaving the job, the city, having no money, coming back and staying with my parents and then figuring out from there what I need to do. They never said you are making a wrong choice or a wrong decision, this is not right for you, they let me take my own decision. That really helped me to learn from my own things. I did not have a mentor in the design field but parents were like mentors to me, someone who believed in me and my decisions. So that made it success for me.

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CB5: What elements about your personality have helped you in your career? Of course, the creativity is given but what else do you think helped.

Maddy: I think the way I talk to people, because wherever I have gone, honestly I have not spent a single rupee on marketing myself. I have just been myself and portrayed my art everywhere. The communication and the relationships that I have built with people, has given me the work that I have today. Every single person or client that I work for today is through contact. I have been fortunate in that way, I never had to go seek for work, work comes to me.

CB5: What are the significant achievements in your present career that you would like our readers to know?

Maddy: There are a lot of big different projects that I work with, in the first year of my operation individually, I worked on a small project with Talera Fords, so that was one of the biggest projects for me. They are the biggest dealership in India for Ford cars. Another project I worked with was sponsored by BMW. They do a Kite Festival every year only for expats, it’s for people all over the world who are in Pune, the Expat Club. So got to talk to all the high-level executives. Getting work from these prestigious companies in the first year of running my own business was a proud moment for myself.

CB5: What were some of the sacrifices you had to make to reach the level of success that you have achieved?

Maddy: Leaving the US was a big sacrifice, cutting down on a major payscale, because working as an Auditor you made a certain amount and then suddenly you had to come back to freelance, you were unsure of the kind of work you will get in future and you don’t want to spend all the money you have. So cut down on going out every weekend, not living on your own, cutting down on a lot of expenses, sold my car – so some major lifestyle changes had to be made because of the money that I was making. Of course, I had parents to support me throughout, but after a point, you cannot keep asking them for money, you have to balance yourself out.

CB5: Would you have any advice for the younger generation, especially someone who is at crossroads trying to select an education path? And anything for their parents?

Maddy: We feel 10th to 12th Std is like the most important decision-making time, we need to do all these tests and figure out what you need to do. And that’s great – you take a test and select a career path, but don’t be hung up on it, that’s not the end and the finish line. If you ever feel, down the road that things are not working out, be open to change. You can change your career at 30, you can change your career whenever you want to. If you are not sure what career is the best fit for you, these tests are really helpful to guide you through it.

If a certain career does not work out for you, don’t get hung up on it. You are capable of much more than just being stuck in a particular career even if you feel you are failing. Be open to exploring those options for yourself and it’s never too late to change careers.

I think Parents should guide their kids in a certain direction because kids are naive and they are not 100% aware of things around. So guide your kids but don’t force them, don’t restrict them saying Engineer or Doctor is the way to go. Unfortunately, most of the parents even today have that attitude, they are okay with their child pursuing Sports, but only as a hobby and not as a career, thinking ‘is it worth it, it is not for us, it’s only for the rich people who can spend that much money’. It’s not like that – be supportive of their career choices and always have a plan B, regardless of what you do.

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CB5: Anything else that you would like to share?

Maddy: Take the CB5 test, it’s really helpful! Growing up I did not take a CB5 test per say but my parents did take me to a Personality Development Workshop and I did do a similar kind of test and it sort of helped me to figure out that I was more Artistic and creative and they laid out a few career options for me. It is kind of helpful to get a little career advice from somebody because at that point I was just blank, I did drawing and painting in my free time, but I was never sure I wanted to do that as a career. But going back and thinking, the counselor did tell me that this was my personality or my inclination or this is how my behavioral preferences are so that did help when I had that doubt about what should I do when I had left my job. Thinking about what she had told me, what others had told me about my personality helped me build the confidence and make that decision, that yes I can do Art!

CB5: According to us the ideal trait combination for a Graphic designer would be:

Spontaneous, Flexible, Somewhat Agreeable, Reactive, Emotional, Open to new ideas and experiences, willing to experiment, creative, and introverted.

Thank you for sharing with us your Career journey. We are sure that our readers will benefit from your experiences and personal insights.

Your story is not only insightful but is also inspirational for one to follow his passion.  

Please comment, send any questions and like, share and follow us on FB, Google+, LinkedIn.

Until our next Blog on another interesting profession…


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