Making money is a top priority, but making money AND a difference? Thats goals. Its also exactly what Royal Central School of Speech and Drama student Riya Rajeev is doing with her brand Riyartsy. Riya takes classic images and reimagines them - and she then sends a portion of the profits to charity that directly supports the culture within the image. So lets catch up with Riya and see how she became her own boss.
“The more I created pieces of my own, the more I became aware of the impact my work could have on others. And I decided to use it. I decided to create art to impact people, to make change happen. I want to create pieces that make people feel seen, not by way of interpretation, but through real and proper representation. I want to tell people's stories and create a safe space for absolutely everyone. Everyone is Welcome.” - Riya
When did you first start creating your own illustrations? Has art always been a big part of your life?
I’ve been doing art since I was really young, because among other things my mum taught art. It’s always been a big creative outlet and I’ve experimented with a lot of different mediums; I still don’t think I know which is my favourite. As my skills developed and it got a bit clearer what I wanted to do, I started taking it more seriously. It’s always been something I’ve loved and, if I’m allowed to say this, been proud of.
When did you start Riyartsy and what made you decide on the type of work you wanted to create?
I started Riyartsy a couple of years ago, when I started doing portraits on canvases and cards that people could commission. It was always super nice to hear how my work could brighten up someone else’s day, but I kept wondering what impact it was really making. So when I started experimenting with digital art and came up with this concept, I thought about what kinds of themes I wanted to explore, like representation which has always been really important to me, and making sure my art wasn’t just fun and supporting me but also making a real impact.
What made you decide to donate a portion of the profits to charity?
Not to be cringey, but I’ve genuinely always believed that you can do what you love for yourself, but there’s always a way to use it for good too. There are a lot of world issues that I’m really passionate about and I’ve always thought, ‘Oh, at some point I’ll volunteer for xyz, or reach out to …’ and all of these causes were so important to me, but I never found the time to balance them all with school and work. But when I came up with this idea of making representative art, I realised this was a great way to support a lot of these causes too. For example, making a representative piece about Ghanaian culture and supporting children’s education in Ghana through it.
What do you love most about what you do?
The fact that it doesn’t feel like work! I get to make art, speak to so many incredible people and help people out, and it’s all SO much fun.
What are the biggest challenges to running your own biz?
For one, you really have to believe in yourself and your work. That’s a super hard thing to do sometimes but I’ve found it’s really important. Especially when you’re putting so much of yourself into it, not to mention investing in it, and it’s all on you.
Also, in the age of advertising on social media etc. you have to know that follower counts, likes, even sales, don’t define whether your work is good or not. It can sometimes be hard to trust the process; you have to know that it’s unlikely to pick up immediately, or become some overnight success (as much as you daydream about it) - you do have to keep working hard and seeing the bigger picture.
Where you scared to start out on your own?
Absolutely terrified. It’s quite a lot like what I said about challenges - you have to have so much faith in your own stuff, and you just have no idea whether it’ll go well or not. All you can do is put in your work and, as someone wonderful and wise told me, just go for it and put it out there.
What obstacles stood in your way when first getting started and how did you overcome this?
I think time’s probably the biggest one. A lot goes into your set-up; the website, the actual content, the promotions, the social media; and when I really got into it was also the few weeks before uni started and I was looking for houses, reading reading list books, all that lovely stuff. Not to mention the looming threat of a wonderfully full timetable. I’ve come up with a system
of fitting work around it all in my own little timetable and I think it’ll work well; it’s not easy to balance work, school and social life but it’s definitely possible. I also had some amazing people give me advice on how they do it. Seeing art as my de-stress after school always helps.
What are your favourite pieces to create?
I’m really enjoying the digital series I’m working on at the moment. It’s really fun reimagining old paintings with all these beautiful new clothes and colours, and I get to learn a load about new places as well. It’s also allowed me to be so bold in speaking out about things that are important to me, which has been reall cool.
Are you nervous about how to continue your business during your studies?
Honestly, yep, a little. I’m lucky because I love what I’m studying and I love making art, but they’re both super time consuming. But I have a system in my head and I’ll do my best to make it work.
What would be your biggest pieces of advice for other students looking to make their own work during school?
No matter what the voice in your head is saying, you absolutely CAN do it. Just take the leap and trust the process, and make sure you enjoying every bit of it.
Riya has inspired us beyond belief and is living proof that running a business to support yourself IS possible, especially when studying. You just need to work smarter, not harder! :)