Since life is giving us Snakes and Ladders, The Yak decided to sit down with Maya Kerthyasa, snake-loving illustrator, Balinese nobility and currently collaborating with Bali-based Elami & Co to produce a Balinese version of one of the world’s oldest and best loved games.
Greetings. Do tell us a bit more about yourself…
Hello! I am a writer and, as of quite recently, an illustrator. I’ve spent most of my life bouncing between Bali and Sydney and now Indonesia is finally home. Food journalism has been my main trade for the most part of my career. I love eating, cooking and writing, so it seems to be a good fit. But over the past couple of years, I’ve also been involved in events and some other creative work for hotels, restaurants and brands.
We came across your “illustration” IG account and we loved it. What or who inspired you to start your artistic journey?
A trip to Sidemen actually fuelled this new journey into illustration. I went there to work on a writing project and ended up spending most of the time drawing (read: procrastinating). This turned into a daily practice and that’s where it all began. My parents are also incredible artists. They inspire me a lot. I love going through my father’s art school sketchbooks and my mum’s drawings which are freakishly similar to mine. I didn’t even know about her illustrations until she showed me the stuff she drew before I was born. We placed our work side-by-side and it was wild – we go for the same shapes, themes and even techniques.
What sets your illustrations apart from other illustrators’ images? We noticed you mainly use black and white for your drawings.
That’s right. I only draw using black pen on white paper. Drawing is a meditative practice for me, so I love to dive deep and explore very fine lines and patterns. And I lean towards nature and mythical beings as my main subjects – there’s a child-like part of me that wishes she could levitate to the top of a cloud-skirted mountain and befriend winged horses and dragons. A girl can dream.
What would you say are the pinnacle events in your life, so far?
The birth of my son. That’s number one for sure. After that, and in no apparent order, working in magazines in Sydney, becoming an aunt, helping bring Snakes and Ladders to life, planning wild dinner party experiences with Elami & Co (back in those wonderful days when events were a thing), and getting the green light on a book project which I can’t wait to share more about soon.
You draw, you write, you’re a mum? How do you manage your time to do all three?
It is a balancing act, I have to admit. But I’m lucky to have an incredible support network (thanks, Mum).
You are current illustrating artist for the recently launched Snakes & Ladders by Elami & Co, how did that collaboration come to be?
I’ve been collaborating with the Elami team for a few years now. I’ve been a great fan of their TEDxUbud events since the beginning and was always super-inspired by their level of creativity. They are magicians. Our journey together started when we created The Dinner Series back in 2018. After that, we collaborated on some projects with John Hardy Jewelry and Room4Dessert, which are both on hold thanks to Covid. Snakes and Ladders sort of rose like a phoenix from the ashes of 2020. Elami started to make their curated boxes and the game was part of the first batch. The girls came up with the idea to create it and asked me to illustrate. I was super-honoured to be considered for a project like this.
Where does your inspiration to illustrate come from?
I love to detach from reality through my drawings. The process absorbs me almost completely for a few hours and I come out the other end with a postcard, if you like, from the fantasy state I just returned from. In the case of Snakes and Ladders, the inspiration came from life in and around the Balinese paon, or kitchen. I included Gunung Agung, the mythical dragons Basuki and Anantaboga, and Bedawang Nala, the turtle that carries the Earth, to drive the idea that cooking and spiritual life are intrinsically linked in Bali. It’s not just about cooking, it’s about honouring the Universe.
We see from your Instagram account that you feel totally comfortable around snakes, enlighten us please?
This is a new obsession. Not that long ago I was actually afraid of snakes. So, a friend of mine suggested that I contact Ron Lilley the snake man, who introduced me to a few of his lovely friends. The rest is history, really. One of Ron’s snakes is not only named Maya but also comes from Ubud – she’s got to be my spirit animal, right?
Lastly, although its tough to say but do you know what your plans are for the next 5 years?
Over the next few years I’m going to be focusing on finishing this book project and refining and sharing my illustrations. The Elami team and I are about to launch a stationery collection called Write Away which is aimed at resurrecting the art of letter writing. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes. And I have a few other projects on the boil which I’m sure will be keeping me busy in the months and hopefully years to come.
Thank you for your time, Maya.