Jag Nagra

Graphic Designer turned Illustrator

12 Years Experience

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With over 12 years of experience as a Graphic Designer behind her, Jag Nagra is an Illustrator from Vancouver, Canada. She began teaching herself how to draw in 2012 with her first 365-day project which launched her illustration career. Since then, she has worked with high-profile clients on developing brand illustration guidelines, creating assets for animated videos and is a big believer in self-initiated passion projects.

At what point in your life did you learn about design, and what drew you to it?

I actually didn’t even know Graphic Design was a career you could have until my brother took some Design courses in University (when I was around 20 years old). I would watch him working on the computer, and my mind was blown. I guess growing up, my idea of a job or career was so far removed from design at that point. It didn’t really occur to me that people could have creative jobs or that they even existed, really. But that’s when it all clicked: Everything around us is designed, but it never occured to me that there was someone out there designing packaging, magazines, newspapers, logos. I knew then that this was something I wanted to pursue.

Describe the first office where you worked as a designer.

Straight out of art school, I landed a job for a few months at a Christmas card company. I would insert pre-selected greetings into the corporate clients’ chosen cards day after day. I remember thinking how romantic life would be outside of school and how unromantic that job was, ha!

Luckily that only lasted a few months and I moved on to another job where I was able to be more creative and hands-on with the design process.

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What’s the first thing you do every morning to start your day?

My wife and I just had a baby this April, so our mornings are all about the baby these days.

I’m excited to expose her to the creative world and make art with her. We hope to raise her to be a confident, strong woman and to support her in all her pursuits.

I grapple a lot with self-doubt, so my wife and I have talked a lot about raising her with confidence and teaching her from an early age that she’s capable of anything.  Being a woman shouldn’t prevent her from taking chances and following her goals.

What project are you most proud of?

I have an ongoing collaborative art project called “I Still Have Anxiety.”

I’m the kind of person that has high anxiety and tends to dwell on things long after they’ve happened. And this project started out a little bit as a joke where I would share one embarrassing moment from my past that still gave me anxiety years later and paired it with an illustration and posted it on my tumblr account.

From there, word started to spread and I began to receive anonymous submissions from people all around the world sharing their own anxieties. I’ve gotten messages from people thanking me for this outlet because it lets them know they’re not alone. Sometimes what is a seemingly small interaction with someone can have a long-lasting effect that you keep beating yourself up about. We all have these moments from our past that we can’t seem to let go of, and it can be an isolating feeling, but it helps knowing there are others out there with similar experiences. It opened up a deeper conversation about mental health than I had intended initially. And actually, for me, it’s been very cathartic.

The project can be found at

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What is your personal or professional motto/philosophy?

Hard work and practice pays off. During down-times, I’m always working on new design and illustration projects to practice my skills. I used to complain that I wasn’t getting “the perfect client coming along with the perfect brief” but I quickly learned that I could do the work myself and make it what I wanted. It’s these personal side projects that have landed paid gigs down the line, so I find it very important to keep practicing and keep growing.

What’s the boldest thing you’ve ever done in your professional life?

I think just the fact that I chose to pursue a creative career was a bold move! Growing up in an Indian household, pursuing art was never an option I’d even imagined. I don’t even think my parents knew it was a career path. Luckily, they’ve always been very supportive and never pressured my brother or me into pursuing more traditional careers.

Thanks to social media, we live in a time where we can connect with other people similar to us, but growing up, I never had anyone that looked like me that was doing the kind of work I wanted to do. I feel very fortunate to be able to do this for a living.

What does it mean to you to be a woman in this business?

As a queer woman of colour, I feel that until recently the industry was dominated by male designers—and it still is, but it’s nice to see people becoming more aware of how unbalanced the industry has been.

I mean, it’s so common to see a line up of speakers at any given conference lacking in diversity, but I’m hopeful that things will change especially now that there are high-profile creatives out there taking a stand to help make the industry more inclusive. We have to keep pushing to have our names and voices heard.

What was your educational experience like?

I completed an 18-month Advanced Graphic Design diploma program at the Art Institute of Vancouver and graduated in 2006. It was an eye-opening experience, and overall, I’m glad I did it because of where my career path has led, but I would say I graduated feeling pretty unprepared for the real world.

I’ve come to learn this is true for a lot of other creatives out there, but we weren’t taught anything about the business side to this career. There was no discussion about contracts, setting rates, how to negotiate, or how to stay organized for filing taxes, and that’s a huge part of our jobs. I hope these days that’s changing in the curriculum.

If you weren’t a designer, what career would you pursue?

For a long time, I wanted to pursue photography as a career. I was fascinated with the ability to freeze a moment in time and to be able to look a a photo and travel to another time or space.

Name a fear or professional challenge that keeps you up at night?

I think a lot of emphasis gets placed on the number of followers you have on social media these days, and it can be really challenging to get your work noticed because of that. It seems like if you don’t have over 10,000 followers, you’re not taken seriously, and that’s unfortunate especially when you hear of artists getting hired based on their following rather than the work that’s being produced.

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