Rukmini Priya Poddar’s book 100 Obscure Emotions, about the complicated variety of feelings in the human experience, and her new illustrated advice column series – currently blowing up social media – are deeply resonating with readers.
A second-generation devotee who grew up in the ISKCON community in Alachua, Florida, Rukmini received a B.A. in graphic design from the University of Florida, where she learned to work in digital mediums on logo design and marketing.
But in 2015, inspired by Instagram’s 100-day project, in which artists post a piece of their work every day for one hundred days, she began working with traditional mediums like watercolor and pastels.
“I was excited by this idea that you can just share imperfect things daily,” she says. “It was really inspiring, because I think as artists and creative people, we’re really blocked by the idea that we can only share our work when it’s perfect.”
In April 2016, Rukmini came up with an intriguing theme for a 100-day project: obscure emotions. “At the time, a lot of new things were coming in and out of my life,” she says. “I had finished school, but wasn’t yet employed. I was traveling, had met new friends, and was entering a new relationship. All this led me to question where I was going in life.”
She decided to express the complicated and very personal emotions she was feeling through art, and to vulnerably share them with the world. “There’s a well-known phrase that really fits: ‘What’s most personal is most universal,’” she says.
Every day, Rukmini began portraying a different “obscure emotion” in striking, stylized ink drawings and red and pink watercolors, along with a pithy caption that summarized the essence of the feeling, and sharing it on Facebook and Instagram.
Categories included communication and miscommunication, relationships, and introspection and self-growth. Most came from Rukmini’s real-life experiences.
“I found that the more honest I was with my art, the more impactful it was,” she says. “If it really happened to me, the image was more powerful.”
One, captioned “When you get to the heart of a difficult conversation,” shows two people arguing – portrayed through interconnecting speech bubbles full of agitated squiggles. But at the center of the Venn diagram connected by the bubbles is a heart.
“That’s based off of a real conversation I had had the night before,” Rukmini says. “It was a very difficult conversation, but at the end we found the heart of it and got to a peaceful place.”
Another powerful image shows a person carrying an umbrella and walking, depressed, through a downpour of flowers and hearts. The caption reads: “When you feel guilty for the good things that come into your life.”
“It’s something I had always felt, and couldn’t explain it – it seemed strange, and I thought I was the only one that felt that,” says Rukmini.
But when she shared the piece, waves of people messaged her on social media amazed and validated, saying it perfectly expressed what they were feeling. And they had the same experience with all her other illustrations.
“My goal was to communicate words and images in a way that people would feel that they are reading their story and not mine,” she says.
While the project is not obviously Krishna conscious in a traditional sense, it inspires deep introspection about the self, which Rukmini sees as a Krishna conscious topic.
“It’s about asking ‘Who am I? Who is the person that is feeling these emotions?’” she says. “We are spirit souls experiencing emotions, but we are not the emotion itself, and we are not our minds. When we realize that, we can practice seeing ourselves witnessing the emotions, becoming aware, and letting them go. That very high spiritual consciousness is the goal.”
The series became so popular that last summer, Rukmini used a self-publishing service to create a physical book of all one hundred of them, which has been selling well to customers from all over the world.
Now, she is sharing daily images on Facebook and Instagram from another even more popular series. Entitled “Dear Ruksi” (Rukmini’s nickname), it’s an illustrated advice column – a spin on the common trope of newspaper advice columns.
Rather than illustrating her own emotions, this time readers are sending Rukmini their emotions. In response, instead of offering typical advice, she translates them into a visual.
“I’m not pretending to know the answers,” she says. “I’m just taking their obscure emotion, that’s hard for them to understand, and creating a visual for it, which is very powerful. So many people have messaged me and said things like, ‘This really helped me. To see this emotion I’ve been dealing with validated and shared online anonymously helps me own it.”
This form of ‘art therapy’ has been extremely popular, with people resharing illustrations and feeling invested in the series.
Next, Rukmini plans to pitch ‘Dear Ruksi’ to various major newspapers and websites as a unique new kind of illustrated advice column.
She is also pursuing mainstream publication for her book ‘100 Obscure Emotions.’
In the meantime, she will continue her daily practice of creating art. “For me, it’s like sadhana, a daily practice that you show up to whether it’s perfect or not,” she says.
In doing this, Rukmini tries to utilize the Bhagavad-gita’s teaching to surrender the results of one’s work to Krishna, and not be attached – which she says is incredibly liberating as an artist.
She also meditates on how she is not “the doer,” another Gita concept. “If I think, “I’m doing this, I’m this talented person,’ then I get blocked and stuck,” she says. “But when I think, ‘I’m not the source, but I want to channel a higher source, in a way that inspires both me and my audience.. then suddenly you have a much more powerful and spiritualized perspective on art making.”
* * *
Purchase Rukmini’s “100 Obscure Emotions” book here:
Follow her “Dear Ruksi” series here: https://www.instagram.com/rockinruksi/
To submit an emotion to “Dear Ruksi,” write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org[ book ] [ emotions ]