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Illustrating children’s books remains a highly challenging artistic enterprise

ArtIllustrating children’s books remains a highly challenging artistic enterprise
It is a lonely world for illustrators or practitioners of any art form,” says Atanu Roy, who has been working as an illustrator, working mostly with children’s books, for more than four decades now. “It is this loneliness that perhaps lets me travel through my stories all the time. The design strikes suddenly and like a catharsis you’re flooded with the deluge of ideas and our hands twitch and begin to draw… My reputation for bypassing deadlines has to do with my not wanting to let go of a book I am illustrating because of the familiarity of the landscape and intimacy with the characters are hard to give up. I think returning to the real world and going back to the story have to be done seamlessly if one wants to be sane.”

Roy’s highly-detailed illustrations can be found in several children’s books published across India. And he continues to work four shifts a day as a freelance illustrator. “I work from about nine in the morning till about noon, then from two to six and from seven to ten. After that, it is burning the same old midnight oil. This is the dilemma of a freelancer. One has to always have some assignments on hand to work continuously and, what happens is that the backlog simply grows as you do not refuse offers from friends, urgent jobs and the one-off assignments. My current backlog is of two years.”

It was probably because of all this hard work that the creative genius was recently awarded the Big Little Book Award (BLBA) for Illustrators at a ceremony in Mumbai. The award is instituted by Parag, an initiative of Tata Trusts. “An award like this will go a long way in recognising and accepting the idea that ‘seeing is also learning’,” Roy says. “It is important to know that in any picture book visuals are the basis rather than the text. Publishers here have always been text-centric and sadly most of them are visually illiterate. This award will hopefully create a healthy competition among illustrators and publishers to come out with better, visually-rich books for children.”

These days, the demand for literary illustrations is high, with children’s books competing with graphic novels for adults. Roy adds: “The future of illustration is bright because the variety in educational materials, consumer goods and the demand for good graphics is growing by the day in this new, competitive, consumer-driven economy. Visual content is the fastest growing industry with new product launches, innovative designs and styles bombarding the viewer constantly. Children planning to take up the art of illustration should have an open and free mind. They should be willing to absorb anything that comes their way without bias or prejudice. One should be well-read and willing to work long, hard hours. Flexibility in rendering and style also helps a lot. A sense of empathy is essential along with the ability to understand the text and be able to create subtext through illustrations to extend the story.”

Visual content is the fastest growing industry with new product launches, innovative designs and styles bombarding the viewer constantly. 

Roy, along with the other BLBA-shortlisted illustrator Proiti Roy, recently conducted an illustration workshop for children. It was held on the premises of the National Bal Bhawan in New Delhi on 14 and 15 November to mark Children’s day. “It’s been a while since I taught children arts and crafts, and these workshops brought back very fond memories,” Proiti tells Guardian 20. “I loved every moment. I never tire of watching children draw and paint… it is the most delightful sight. I loved sharing my ideas about illustrating stories and I was so impressed at how easily they grasped the concept, understood what I was trying to convey and did such beautiful works.”

Proiti has been teaching visual arts to children for the past 12 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from Santiniketan and has worked in an advertising agency. Later in her career, she started to freelance as an illustrator and graphic designer. About her creative process, she says, “I try not to stick to one particular style. I like to try out different methods and techniques in the styles I work on. A lot depends on the project, and on what the publisher requires. The age group of a particular book’s readers is also kept in mind while illustrating. I feel comfortable with the conventional mediums: ink, watercolour, colour pencils, pastels, gouache. I would also like to try the digital medium, though.

An illustration by Proiti Roy.

“A new story is always an inspiration for a new idea… I let the story guide me and each time the process is different and a new creative experience for me,” she adds.

She has few words of encouragement for the beginners in this field. “A budding illustrator should have a lot of patience and be determined. He should never give up hope during the learning period. It is a long road ahead but the journey is fascinating if you are open to new challenges. It is also helpful to remember that illustration is a team work among publisher, author and illustrator,” says Proiti.


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