SL’s creatives are world-class: Randy Chriz Perera and Portia Ratnayake on their design talent platform slcreatives.lk
The creative industry has always been a challenging one, and the last three years have seen the people within this already-challenged industry hit with obstacle after obstacle, with each one more seemingly insurmountable than the last.
If this latest crisis has taught us anything, it is that those of us who have skills that can easily be taken to the global market need to capitalise on this. For artists and creatives, this is doubly important, because in any case, pay scales in Sri Lanka are on the lower-end of the spectrum, and in times of struggle, art and creative budgets are the first to be trimmed, making it harder and harder for artists to develop sustainable livelihoods purely off their craft.
Taking his work global is something award-winning visual director, artist, and animator Randy Chriz Perera has managed to do through Meraki United, the studio he runs with his wife, communications specialist Portia Ratnayake.
A concept that began in 2018 when Randy focused on becoming a solo artist, Meraki United is a small platform that sees a few designers (local and international) working remotely on projects that Randy, through his considerable international standing in the field, receives.
As creatives who have been part of Sri Lanka’s struggle over the last few years, Randy and Portia have now instituted a larger platform – slcreatives.lk – that can allow Sri Lankan artists to reach a wider international audience of clients who can engage their services. The Sunday Morning Brunch chatted with Portia and Randy to find out more.
The slcreatives.lk story
Slcreatives.lk takes shape in the form of a website and initially took the form of a Discord group Randy formed with over 100 members who worked in similar fields to him.
“Since the pandemic and the new crisis, we’ve had lots of designers reaching out to us, asking how they can cope with losing jobs (both full-time and freelance), what they can do with their machines in the face of constant power cuts, and so on,” Randy shared, noting that even to work with international clients, aspects of our national crisis like power cuts had proven to be incredibly limiting for many designers.
The power cuts, for example, in addition to severely compromising a designer’s ability to meet deadlines, had also compromised computer equipment (which was three times more expensive now).
Some designers have had to spend more than the cost of the machine to repair their machines. Randy himself was not an exception, sharing that he had to invest a very significant amount for new parts just a week ago, an amount that, for many, could have easily bought a whole new computer.
“We have a creative community of over 100 designers, where we discuss these issues and try to find solutions together,” Randy explained. “There are a few industry seniors, as well as younger designers, and we try to help the younger designers and each other with solutions. It’s a community that we’ve steadily built since the pandemic.”
The community comprises a wide range of creative professionals including 2D and 3D animators, brand and logo designers, creative writers, filmmakers, illustrators, music and SFX producers, painters, photographers, sculptors and 3D modellers, UX/UI/web designers, VFX artists, video editors and compositors, and voiceover artists.
The community goes beyond simply helping with technical problems, and Randy shared that he had also helped younger designers with problems like convincing their families that art and design was a sustainable livelihood.
Additionally, Randy, who is a very sought-after award-winning visual director, artist, and animator, is often overwhelmed by job requests, and so, this community has also become something of a referral ground, with Randy and Portia referring other designers to clients they can’t take on. However, this was something of a time-consuming process, with Randy and Portia needing to vet designers, collect information like links to their work, and share them with potential clients.
Portia did share that they found ways to streamline this process, like keeping a Google Sheet of people they knew they could recommend, but still felt that this was something that could be done more proactively.
“Because of the volume of these jobs and because of how time-consuming they are, we can’t take all of them on,” Portia, who is a seasoned communications specialist and art director, explained.
“Those jobs can go to other designers in Sri Lanka. The designers need jobs, and the country needs them too because these clients pay in USD. Randy and I personally felt we needed to find a way to refer clients to other designers that was really quick and effective, and that was how slcreatives.lk came to be.”
Slcreatives.lk functions as one platform where designers from all over Sri Lanka can register and be given the opportunity to be part of a directory for potential clients from all over the world. For the creation of the website itself, Randy and Portia partnered with UI/UX designer Tyronne Devotta (professionally known as Tyno) who designed the website to function as an easy-to-use platform for both the creatives as well as their potential clients.
Randy and Portia see slcreatives.lk as a first step towards solving the immediate crisis of designers being unemployed and unable to meet their financial commitments, and as a platform to promote as many creatives as possible through one link that can be shared and promoted globally.
This will not only help keep them employed but bring in that much-needed USD to the country. Apart from reaching global audiences, those local designers/companies who get more jobs than they can handle can also easily recommend another local talent via this link.
Portia also stressed that slcreatives.lk did not function as an agent, but simply as a directory. All communication takes place independently and directly between the client and the designer.
“Clients connect with designers privately. Slcreatives.lk takes no responsibility for any of that, and we also allow all artists to list themselves on slcreatives.lk. It’s about providing a diverse platform. All designers need to provide is one main image that encapsulates their style for us to upload onto the website and a link through which clients can view their work and contact them,” Portia said.
Randy also noted that for the majority of artists, this meant a link to their Instagram. Moreover, he stated that across the community of designers he had been engaging with for the last three years, Instagram was consistently their preferred medium for displaying work and being contacted, as it allowed a lot of flexibility in being able to show different types of work as well as manage to communicate with potential clients, at least in the early stages, before taking conversations to a more formal medium.
“We currently have close to 100 artists who have submitted their portfolios to slcreatives.lk and we have estimated that there are about 10,000 such artists in Sri Lanka,” Randy said. “If we can attempt to target an income of at least $ 500 a month per artist (not an unrealistic goal given the nature of international clients and the quality of work Sri Lankan designers can produce), it sounds like an opportunity that can be extremely beneficial to the country amidst this economic crisis. So our hopes are high.”
Sri Lankan talent and the global stage
The biggest question on people’s minds when it comes to going global is, ‘can we compete?’ We asked Randy and Portia this very same question. The answer? We certainly have the potential.
“The younger guys especially are really good,” Randy shared, noting that being good alone was not enough, and unfortunately, many Sri Lankan designers could come off as irresponsible and unable to meet deadlines, which affected clients wanting to work with them.
“We don’t know what it is that leads to this attitude; whether it is that they don’t fully appreciate the art and treat it as a hobby or have simply not been encouraged enough to take themselves and the work they do seriously,” Randy added.
“But their artistic potential is very high. In terms of global opinion, however, there is something to be desired. In my experience, 90% of the people who approach me don’t know much about Sri Lanka and if they do, they may not always know us in the way we would like to. What works in our favour though, is that we do have many Sri Lankan artists and designers doing well internationally, which serves to increase our potential to compete internationally as well.”
Talent aside, Randy and Portia shared that there were other factors that restricted Sri Lankans’ ability to compete in international markets, and these were mainly to do with fiscal policy.
“In the US, the Sri Lankan creative community is effectively blacklisted because PayPal as a payment solution is not an option, and because Sri Lanka as a whole is on a fraud and money laundering alert which makes payments, including card payments, very difficult, especially if they’re on the smaller side of $ 100 or so, because the cost of a wire transfer becomes prohibitive in such instances.
“We’ve reached out to banks on this, but the banks can’t help it. It’s not their fault. We need our economy to be whitelisted and for user-friendly payment platforms like PayPal to be enabled. We advise artists on how to bring in dollars, but it’s not easy. In the past, we have personally had to use friend and family connections where they receive the payment, convert, and send it to us, but that’s because we have those connections,” Portia explained, saying that in the end they resolved this by opening a Canadian branch of their studio Meraki United, which allowed them to receive payments more efficiently.
The future with slcreatives.lk
Randy and Portia’s vision of a world where it is easier for designers to get jobs (and well-paying jobs at that) has become one step closer with slcreatives.lk, and they shared that it was their hope that slcreatives.lk would also show clients the true diversity of Sri Lankan talent.
“We hope slcreatives.lk will open up clients to different art styles as well,” Randy shared. “When they approach us for my style of work, they’re looking only at my work, but with slcreatives.lk they will also get exposed to other work that Sri Lankans can do, which is a very powerful step forward for Sri Lankan talent.”