Q+A with Illustrator Aaron Shyr

Aaron Shyr is an Indianapolis based illustrator who has garnered a lot of attention recently from his collaboration with “Komafi. Having lived in various countries while growing up, Shyr aesthetic reflects his travels, and pays hommage to his family.

Ainger Alexander: How did you get the nickname ‘Mad Kid Genius’?

Aaron Shyr: It’s from a dream. I’m a lucid dreamer. Most of the time, the dreams are recurring. You know how when you wake up from a dream and you don’t remember anything? That happens to me a lot, so I keep a dream journal to record dreams I have. Whenever I wake up, I’ll jot down as much as I can remember. Once, I had this dream that I was in a transport truck with two patients and we were headed to an insane asylum. It was my job to watch over these patients, so I attempted to be friendly and start a conversation. I was asking things like ‘what’re your names’? And ‘where are you from’? All they would reply is ‘mad kid genius, mad kid genius’. Initially, when I woke up from the dream the only thing I could remember is the phrase ‘mad kid genius’.

The last time I had the dream, I went through a period when I was struggling with my work. I was struggling with the decision to keep working a nine to five gig or to quit and expand my skills by creating things I actually enjoy making. I chose to go with the latter. I’d always heard of artists who’d created alter egos, like ‘banksy’ and others, in which they channel the alter ego to express themselves through art they identify with and enjoy making. I thought back to the dream I’d had and decided to play around with ‘mad kid genius’ as an alter ego.

AA: With the nickname being self-proclaimed, how do you define what it means to be a ‘mad kid genius’?

AS: There is not a clear definition for it, but rather the idea of embracing anything that’s wacky or unpredictable and not being affected by what people think about it.  

AA: When did you start designing and illustrating?

AS: I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. I can even recall things I drew in kindergarten. The earliest memory I have is picking up a marker and doodling on my papers in class. That’s all I did. I stopped paying attention in class and teachers would get mad at me, but I didn’t care because I was enjoying myself. The more I drew, the better I got. Eventually I decided to go to school for graphic design.

AA: What school did you go to?

AS: IUPUI. I graduated in 2013.

AA: What drives your passion for illustration?

AS: It makes me happy to see people react positively to my work. I pay a great deal of attention to my work. I even hide easter eggs throughout my designs. These days, if you’re on social media then you’re probably mindlessly swiping through your feed. But when I put my work out there, people started to pay attention. They would notice the details and I love the one-on-one interactions with different people

AA: Tell me about the business you’re starting.

AS: I’m starting an illustration based agency called Anchor Brain. There are a lot of agencies in Indianapolis, but most of them are targeted toward media marketing. I don’t think there are any agencies like mine in the city. We’re focusing our services on illustration based projects ranging from logo design, poster design, magazine placements, and more. There are quite a few talented illustrators in town but we have no local platform to showcase our work.

AA: How long does a design normally take?

AS:  It depends on the complexity. I have worked on illustration projects that have taken anywhere from five to 30 hours. I’ve also worked on a game development project where I had to draw over 300 characters, 15 environments, and over 600 items. Everything you seen in the game was done by me. It was a project for IU Health and I worked on it daily for over two months.

AA: On your site, you mention ‘The visual cultural fusion of my work is the epitome of the Eastern and Western cultures that I have lived in.’ Can you tell me more about the places you’ve lived and how they’ve influenced your work?

AS: I was born in Dallas but grew up in Asia. My family moved back to Taiwan by the time I turned one. My dad is a businessman and has always traveled frequently for work, so we hopped country to country when I was growing up. I’ve also lived in Shanghai and Singapore before moving back to the states. Being submerged in the multi-faceted cultures of all of these different places really influenced my creative process. When I lived in Asia, I used to watch western cartoons. They really impacted certain elements that I incorporated into my work. People often tell me that they recognize similarities between my work and Japanese anime. My work is a marriage between Japanese anime and Cartoon Network.

AA: How did you end up in Indianapolis?

AS: I came to Indianapolis in 2009. Before then, I was living in Asia. My sister went to IUPUI for college and was bullied her freshman year. My parents were worried, so they sent me to accompany her. I was able to go because I was born in Dallas and had legal citizenship. Also, they pointed out that I should pursue art because there isn’t much opportunity for artists in Asia. I ended up going to school for graphic design and was fortunate enough to get a job in Indy upon graduation, so I stayed.

AA: What has been your biggest challenge as an illustrator?

AS: Starting a company and not having a full-time job is a big struggle. I have a part time job and freelancing to generate revenue, but I’m investing it right back into my start up. Before I left my full-time job, I knew making that decision would be a tough route, so I did my best to prepare. I know I have to work my ass off for the first two years just to see any results.

AA: What has been your biggest reward as an illustrator?

AS: Getting to work with so many interesting people has been my biggest reward. Growing up, I always wanted to design a skateboard. So being able to maker my vision a reality and work with a brand I love was really dope. I’ve always been hugely into fashion and music, so to be able to work with Komafi to kickstart his brand was something I never imagined doing. I’ve thought and dreamed about these things but never knew how to make them happen, so for them to happen naturally really reaffirms what I’m doing.

AA: What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

AS: Don’t stop drawing. Don’t ever let someone tell you that you’re not going to make it. Ignore what people say and do what drives you. The road is tough, but keep going. All great artists struggle at some point. Push yourself past your limit and always give 100 percent.


To learn more about Aaron Shyr, visit his site and connect with him on Instagram.

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