Tiffany Rooprai
Tiffany Rooprai

G

ood Indian girls go to medical school.
Good Indian girls become engineers.
Good Indian girls get their law degrees.
Good Indian girls … do design?

If they’re anything like Tiffany Rooprai, they do. And they do it well. Rooprai, 35, is a Boise, Idaho-based printmaker, graphic designer and owner of a flourishing studio—named, aptly, Good Indian Girls Do Design. Her artwork runs the gamut from greeting cards to wedding invitations and everything in between. The designer, who describes herself as “passionate, detail-oriented and style-conscious,” reflects precisely these personality traits in her work.

Her notecards are intricately detailed, whether it’s the monogrammed set featuring patterns from Italian tile or the entomological cards showcasing anatomical sketches of insects, or even the collection of colorful Indian-inspired florals.

Rooprai attributes some of her fascination with symmetry and detailed patterns to her scientific training. She received her degree in biochemistry and plant genetics from the University of Wisconsin and even worked with a microscope in a laboratory for a few years before taking a chance on the hobby she truly loved. “I spent a few years working in science labs and realized I wanted to do something more creative,” she says. “I started designing cards for friends and businesses.”

What a (Good) Girl Likes

We asked Tiffany about the artists and printmakers who inspire her work:

I love the work of most artists in new and alternative media. I am overwhelmed by the work of Tad Savinar, an artist whose interpretation of what is sculpture I was introduced to on a recent gallery exhibition in Portland. I think that Barbara Krueger has influenced the way we understand words and text in advertising. The art of Julian Opie and Kara Walker is very innovative and worthy of extreme admiration. I also admire graphic designers such as Richard Saul Wurman, whose understanding of information has transformed the way we can visually navigate signage.

Fortuitously enough, Rooprai’s business grew rapidly even without any advertising: “I never put my name on the wedding invitations and people just kept calling. I never figured that out.”

More than likely, Rooprai’s art did the work for her. In fact, her portfolio was so impressive, it garnered her an invitation to present her wares at the 2006 National Stationery Show. “That was cool!” laughs Rooprai. “I had been wanting to apply and attend for about 10 years, but I was always in the middle of spring weddings. I didn’t know if I would be accepted because at the time my cards were feeling a little amateurish.”

Good Indian Girls Do Design
“Scary and Beautiful Bugs” notecards by Tiffany Rooprai.

She’s probably being too self-critical, because accepted they were. Rooprai marveled at the friendliness and helpfulness of her compatriots. “I was afraid it would be competitive, but everybody was so welcoming and full of compliments. They were so excited for me!” she says.

Rooprai’s husband Michael, a physicist, also encouraged her to chase her dream. “My husband was very supportive,” she relates, “even when things were crazy and invitations were flying around the house. He’s like my rock.” She initially encountered a little opposition from her parents, who had cherished other plans for their daughter.

“My father wanted me to be a doctor. He has a hard time understanding the need in me to produce things that are more on the creative side, and to be independent and self-employed.”

Ten years from her first forays into creative self-expression, Tiffany Rooprai has achieved a measure of success that would make any brown parent proud. She’s obtained her master’s degree in printmaking from Boise State University, owned and operated her own design studio, and will soon be featured on HGTV’s That’s Clever, which she describes as “a show about emerging artisans around the country.” Rooprai’s segments include a run-through on building and burning an image to a screen, printing it on a card, and a primer on creating a colorful clipboard using vinyl sticker appliqués in a free-form handcut pattern.

So what’s next for this talented good girl? Rooprai has definite plans: “I do calendars and sewing books. I’m expanding into silk screen T-shirts, and I’d like to learn jewelry-making.” There’s even a possible move farther west, to Portland, Oregon. Despite her rising fame and rapidly expanding business, Rooprai intends to remain true to her ideals and interests. “I am conscious not only of how people view and read my work but of how my work impacts the environment,” she says. With that combination of idealism and inspiration, we’re sure she’ll continue to be a pattern of success.n

Deepa Kamath is a stationery aficionado.
Published on October 2, 2006.
Photography: Vikram Tank for Nirali Magazine. Portrait courtesy of Tiffany Rooprai.

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Good Indian Girls Do Design!

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  1. October 8, 2006, 4:57 pm Hajra

    There are a lot of Indian/Pakistani women who major in arts/design, etc. I don’t really understand why you are making it sound so esoteric, when in fact, it is not at all.

  2. October 9, 2006, 12:56 pm Nadia

    Hajra, generally our community hasn’t encouraged artistic or creative professions… and I think it’s really cool to recognize and support those who are breaking away from the norm and doing it well.

  3. October 13, 2006, 8:40 pm Hajra

    My community has… not sure about yours, but good luck.

  4. October 15, 2006, 5:19 am Zarreen

    Yea, I agree with Hajra. I received my BFA in design from a reputable art school…and my parents were completely supportive, even before I started working. I know I’m outside of the desi norm, but I don’t think it’s as much of a big deal as it was a couple of years ago.

  5. October 16, 2006, 10:36 am Nadia

    Hajra and Zarreen, your communities sound wonderful. However, judging by the numbers of South Asians in creative fields, I think it is still important to recognize emerging artists. The only reason I posted was because I felt the first comment was negative…and I didn’t think it was a fair assessment of the point of the article.

  6. October 16, 2006, 5:03 pm Preeti

    I think that Tiffany’s work is wonderful, but I was, honestly, a bit disappointed by the title of the story after I read the content. The title implies that Tiffany’s work is actively questioning what it means to be a “good Indian girl” (often conflated with tradition), but I don’t get any indication of this. Tiffany is, like other “good” Indian girls, enterprising and educated–nothing wrong with this (it’s great, in fact), but perhaps a more interesting approach to looking at South Asians who are pursuing non-traditional careers would be to gauge the content of their work, why they do it, etc. For all intents and purposes, it looks like Tiffany is still a good Indian girl–she’s simply pursuing a career that’s a little bit different. While I did like this story, I’d also like to see profiles on women and men who actively challenge the dichotomy of good vs. bad that’s so prevalent in South Asian cultures, and who are doing work that radically and not just nominally sidesteps the mainstream.

  7. October 16, 2006, 8:45 pm Nirali Magazine

    Hi Preeti,

    We require a valid email address to leave comments–and in this case, we really wish yours worked, because our editors would like to get in touch with you. Will you please email us? We tried the address you left but it got bounced back.

    Thanks,
    Nirali Magazine

  8. October 19, 2006, 1:52 pm Tiffany Rooprai

    Hello,
    I think that the comments thus far are very productive and have resulted in an interesting discussion thread.

    I want to say that in my own Indian community, back in Wisconsin, I have a full range of support from family and friends. What I do notice, aside from a feeling of love and encouragement, is that my “rebellion” in not entering medicine has paved the way for other “Indian Kids” to enter fields of study outside the expected norm. Where my father lives, there is currently a community of 30 families of which all but three are in the medical profession. My father was an engineer, there’s a PhD physicst and mathematician whose wife is a PhD chemistry professor. Many of the other couples are both in medicine and most everyone is in a specialty – but that’s the range of employ of the first generation. Of “The Kids,” only a few have gone on to medical school, several have gone on to explore art and literature. I’m not saying that I’m a trailblazer, but amongst an extended family where medicine has provided a good way of life and a respected group of immigrant citizens in remote Wisconsin, to follow another path is an unexpected adventure and one that is not easily understood. So, here I am forging new ground, rebelling, if you will against the expectations of my microcosm of Indian American society.

    For those of you who have a larger Indian artistic community, I consider you very lucky. In my studies, I encountered very few Indian or Pakistani artists, those who were in the arts were located in California or New York or overseas – a very different and diverse Indian community experience I am certain.

    The name Good Indian Girls Do Design was appropos for my situation, a rebellion of my own making against a small, tight-knit and loving community where I was the first artist and first to break tradition and expectation. The name does, however, challenge and poke fun at the expectations of a culture and what it means to be “a good Indian girl.”

    Still, it does me proud that I belong to an immigrant group in America that has so much to offer and very little in terms of negative rebellion. Amongst the East Indian population, we contribute the most and negatively affect the least. This is true across the board, whether we are DJ’s, PhD’s, or Dr.’s.

    -Tiffany Rooprai

  9. October 20, 2006, 7:13 pm Preeti

    my bad–now you should have the correct email address. sorry about that!

  10. October 24, 2006, 5:36 pm Hajra

    My point was not negative. I just don’t like generalizations. My family is a family of artists and I don’t feel that it is something new or something that is discouraged. In fact, from where I am in Pakistan the art community is much stronger than any medical field (in Lahore). For example, there are MANY more art colleges a nd programs (that are internationally recognized) than medical schools that are internationally recognized. Our culture cannot exist without the arts, and this has not existed without this necessity for generations and generations. It makes me sad that some families have replaced this artistic culture with other fields of study and thus lead lives where art is discouraged.

  11. October 25, 2006, 4:35 am Sarah

    I see what you’re saying, Hajra, since my family is also from Lahore, and I agree the arts community is certainly appreciated and quite vibrant there. But I think this article and Tiffany’s experiences are more aimed at second-generation South Asian Americans and Canadians, who are still rarely encouraged to actively pursue the arts, for a variety of reasons. So, in fact, it is very rare (though growing) to find desis pursuing artistic and creative fields here in North America. If you look at the career choices of second-gen South Asians, you’ll see them overwhelmingly skewed toward engineering, medicine and law.

  12. October 26, 2006, 11:07 pm Hajra

    Well actually, I am a third generation American (there’s not that many, but I am one).

  13. October 27, 2006, 2:41 am Sarah

    That you’re a third-gen is great, but it doesn’t negate the fact that second-gens are still battling the doctor-engineer paradigm. You’re very lucky that your family is so supportive of the arts; I would posit that among desi families here, the arts might be appreciated, but often parents don’t want their kids to pursue them.

  14. October 27, 2006, 2:42 pm Nadia

    This is getting off topic, but just wanted to point out a common misnomer… first generation refers to the first generation born in the US…so if someone is third generation American, that means their grandparents were born in the US.

  15. October 28, 2006, 2:53 pm Hajra

    Nadia, thanks for the explanation. I am well aware. Yes, my grandparents were born in Canada.

  16. November 6, 2006, 3:23 pm Nadia

    Hajra – apologies!

  17. April 5, 2008, 6:07 pm Studies

    That’s a good blog. I’m a 3rd Gen American and I love your blog. I wonder if I should?
    Just kidding. 🙂

  18. April 8, 2008, 12:30 pm Shikha

    Hi,
    First of all i love the site, i have been for so long looking for a site which catered to the south asian western community and this is perfect…

    now to this article…the “good indian girl.” I totally understand what everyone is saying, however i must admit i was a little offended…

    i am a second generation Australian Punjabi and I admit growing up my paretns dreamed of me in med school…however they never enforced this…

    some may say that “luckily” for them i choose to do law….however I refute this…i had wanted to be a lawyer since i was 13 years old…NOT because of what mum and dad said, and not because i had seen such a stereotype in my community… i was brought up as an independent head strong Punjabi girl in a world where women can do anything just as good if not better then men…whether is be in the legal field or fashion…

    i understand there are still communities who lean towards the engineer, doctor, lawyer stereotype…however i believe that at the end of the day we ourselves whether we are first, second or 3rd generation now have the power to do what we want… and we are doing a bloody good job in doing so successfully…

    i’m a lawyer by choice and i refuse to accept that it was because or my parents or community that i am…

    gone are the days where a child’s educational status are the talk of the town, anyone can be successful in whatever they chose to do and a “good” Indian girl is the girl who chooses to fulfil her own destiny and succeed…