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Rama Hughes wants to draw YOU


Hi Rama!!

Hello Mr. & Mrs. Vadakan!

We’ve known each other for a couple of years now. One thing I’ve come to know of you is that you live and breathe drawing. The first time I came to your house, you sat me down and we looked through a couple of your sketch books. You approach your drawing like a documentary photographer–you capture people, moments, feelings. How has your drawing and art has evolved over the years. Did you always draw people? How did you get into drawing and capturing real life?

Ummmm… How HAS my art evolved over the years? I don’t know. I could walk you through my sketchbooks again and show you all the big turning points. They’re hard to describe with words though. When I was a little kid, I drew race cars and trucks. When I was in elementary school, I drew Transformers. In middle school, I drew superheroes. In high school, I started drawing my friends. In college, I drew EVERYTHING. Out of college, I drew my family and my friends and lots of really simple autobiographical comic strips. That’s also when I started working as an illustrator. So, I drew pretty much anything anyone paid me to draw.


In the past couple of years, I’ve been drawing more portraits than anything else. And this year, thanks to my newest teaching gig, I’ve been doing a lot of everything: Collaging, painting, printmaking,making little sculptures. It’s fun!
I’d like to think that my work is always improving but I have noticed that my interests sort of zigzag in one direction then go back the way they came.

And. Yes, my starting point is always people. I don’t draw them ALL the time but people really are my favorite things to draw or paint or sculpt. So, whether I’m drawing cartoons or comics or cityscapes or whatever, the piece feels empty to me if there isn’t a person in there somewhere.

What else did you…? Oh yeah, “capturing real life.” Hm. I kind of feel like I’ve always been into that but it really started in high school. By my first or second year of college though, it was my obsession. There is nothing more interesting than our real lives. In my opinion. Once I figured that out, my art AND MY LIFE became a lot more exciting.

I think it’s also safe to say your work extends beyond the real world. You’re a huge fan of comicbooks, superheros, and the fantastic. I love the Poketo wallet you did of the robot walking through suburbia. Do you prefer drawing the fantastic over reality? How do you choose? Is it a project that drives your work? Is it whatever you feel like in the morning?

I definitely prefer reality. As much as I love superheroes and science fiction and all that, I really think of my fantasy life as a… it’s just a subset of my real life. Like drawing your hand or something. It’s not separate from my life. It’s just a part of my life. My imagination. My nostalgia for childhood. Does that make sense? And, yeah, when I have time to draw whatever I want, I do draw whatever seems most compelling that morning.

That reminds me actually that I was working on a really ridiculous “Rama meets Spider-Man” comic until I put it aside for something else. I gotta start that up again.


Rama meets Spidey, sounds great. Storytelling through comic strips is also a big part of your work. I often get great letters and postcards from you in the mail, always a mini comic and it lets me know how you are doing. I love them! Have you always been doing this? How do these pieces form? Tell us a bit about how you choose the stories you like to draw and tell.

I’m so glad you like the mail! I have no idea why I draw the stories I do. Some moments just stick out. Even as they’re happening, I sometimes think “I’ve got to draw this.” Lately, I guess I’ve been drawing… They’re like autobiographical gag comics, I guess. That has everything to do with Christine. She is just very weird and funny. Our life feels like a comic strip thanks to her.


Your desire to connect with other people is really strong. You’ve set up projects like “Rama’s Music Exchange”, “Portrait Party”, and you are a contributor to Illustration Friday. Tell us a bit about each of those projects and any others that I’ve missed. All these projects are so, you, Rama. Do you drive these projects to keep your friends creative and engaged or is it the other way around, do you need them to stay creative?

Wow, you’re full of good questions.

My music exchange is just a game that I’ve been playing with my friends. Every year, we trade music and design covers for the mixes we make. I love having an annual reason to get in touch with friends and draw with them and listen to their music. I don’t think of it as a project so much as a holiday. We do it every year right after taxes and getting ten or twenty cds in the mail always feels like Christmas.

The Portrait Party is a website that I started. It began as a drawing game that I did with friends and family and students and strangers. Just “I’ll draw you if you draw me.” Tommy Kane suggested that I turn the idea into a website. On a whim one night, I took his advice and he was right. It’s a fantastic website. Even if I wasn’t the host, I’d go there every day just to see how friends draw each other.


I’ve been sort of lazy with it this month though because the new school year has been chewing on my time.

Aaaaand Illustration Friday is a fantastic website founded by Penelope Dullaghan. She asked me and some other friends to write entries for the IF Blog. It just sounded like fun. I love art and I love writing. I love bragging about my friends! So, it’s a perfect way for me to procrastinate but still feel productive.

WHY do I want to connect with people though?! I don’t know. That’s just normal, isn’t it?

I guess if I really soul search it’s about getting all I can out of my life. Life is too short NOT to reach out to people, right? That’s even how you and I met, I think. I loved your wallets and it just seemed stupid not to say so.

That’s right, you emailed us out of the blue and we loved what you did too. It’s cool to have a friendship form from such a simple desire. Not long after, you invited us to do the Music Exchange Project. Do you listen to music when you draw? What do you listen to? Does it ever affect your work?

I do listen to music when I draw. I also listen to NPR or whatever tv show Christine and I are obsessed with at the moment. Lately, that’s HEROES and Dexter and Big Love. But Six Feet Under was the end all tv show in my opinion.

I also go to the library a lot to rent dvds and movies. If I’m feeling real artsy, I go to the art library near my house bring home a mini movie marathon of artist biographies. It doesn’t affect my work too much. Except that it’s inspiring.


It must be amazing to share a studio with your wife, Christine Castro. The both of you draw and make things. Do you ever do creative projects together? Do you ever bounce ideas off of each other or are things pretty separate?

It is amazing to share a studio with Christine. We work back-to-back and, yeah, we spin around to look at each other’s work almost constantly. “Will you look at this?” Will YOU look at mine? “Is this too weird?” Too blue? Too big? Is it awesome now?

I really never imagined what my married life would be like but, so far, it’s a slumber party. Christine is an artist also. So, yeah, naturally, art projects are always popping up in our life. Usually they’re just living room projects that we do for fun. Like the music exchange or drawing each other. Christine just told a story on Danny Gregory’s podcast about a night when we drew each other with condiments at a Vietnamese restaurant.

I love it when we actually get to work together though. Which we get to do now and then. I practically begged to be the illustrator for one of her recent design projects actually. She was hired by one of our friends to redesign

What is an average day like for you? I know you are an educator, but, you also draw for a living as well. How do you juggle both things? What are your weekends like– work or play?

I am a teacher. So, as you’d imagine, I wake up super early. I make a lunch. I go to school and teach art. My students are kindergarteners, elementary, and middle school kids. My two goals for the classes are to inspire a true love of art in my students and to give them the skills that they need to feel confident with art. I have four to seven classes a day. When the enrollment is good, I also run an after-school art program where we get to do some sillier, just-for-fun projects.

When I get home, it takes me a few minutes or an hour to unwind. I like to play video games or read comics in the bathtub. I usually squeeze in a little bit of art work or school work before dinner. Christine is making an art of cooking actually! She usually makes a wonderful dinner for us but I’m making enchiladas tonight! After dinner, we watch tv or a dvd while we draw, collage, write, or prepare lessons.

On the weekends, I catch up on any illustration or school work that I couldn’t finish during the week. My artwork and my school work really feels the same to me. So, there’s no big separation between then. I just do whatever has to get done first. Surprisingly, we still have time to goof off and have fun somehow.

Of course, Christine and I have date nights too. We love movies and sweets and we go to art shows and the library a lot. We did a lot of kite-flying this year.

Your day sounds perfectly sweet. You were one of the first people I thought about when doing this wallet project with 826–your art, storytelling, and experience in education was such a perfect fit. Tell us a bit about the stories you illustrated for this project and how you approached these two pieces. How did you come up with the visuals and ideas, step by step.

Um… I did two wallets. You sent us some little vignettes that the 826 kids had written. I illustrated one story about a kid who literally fades away at a convenience store and another one about a kid who skateboards across the New York skyline. I chose those two because the first one reminded me of the Twilight Zone, which I love, and the other one reminded me of a childhood fantasy that I used to have – maybe all of us have this fantasy – about moving at incredible speeds or being free from gravity. I loved the visuals in both stories. So, I was excited to draw them.

I can’t remember my exact step-by-step process. I usually do a few thumbnails before I start an illustration. Then I collect references. I found a friend of a friend to model for “The Disappearance” story and I took pictures in a cool little convenience store. For the Skateboarding story, I went to the top of the Empire State Building in one of my Spider-Man video games. Then I paused the screen and drew from the video game. (Thank you Activision!) Of course, I had to flesh that sketch out. I found a bajillion photos of New York and the Empire State Building online. When the drawings were done, I just had fun coloring them.


Wow Rama, now I know how you do it!! Why were you so excited to work on this project? Was it for the kids? Was it for 826?

I was CRAZY EXCITED about this project! What illustrator WOULDN’T want to draw a kid’s story?! They are all about unexpected ideas and images. The fact that it was 826 project just made it better. I love any art project that also touches on teaching and I’ve been inspired by 826 ever since Christine took me to their Pirate Supply Store in San Francisco. In one of my many possible futures, I’m going to open an art school version of the 826 writing program. I even wrote Dave Eggers about it several times. He writes me back too! He sent me some hand drawn postcards and even thanked me for the wallets we did.

I know, the 826 space and pirate store in San Francisco was how I first got to know about them too, now they are all over the country!! Thanks Rama for spending some time with me!!

Thanks for including me, you guys. Come over soon! Play Dance Dance Revolution with Christine and me!


DDR, I rule at that game!

Check out all the wallets from Poketo + 826LA.
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