Saturday, February 27, 2010

Interview with Shweta Mohapatra

Shweta Mohapatra - a graduate from NID (National Institute of Design), Ahmedabad, and a post-diploma holder from PASCA (Pont-Aven School of Contemporary Arts), France.

In her own words, 'she is the happiest person when given a handmade paper, pencils and paint' and watch her creativity unfold!!!

For an artist the inspiration can come from any quarter - an ordinary room, a typical wired city or beautiful lush gardens - so evident in Shweta's art work.

I am glad she happily agreed to do a question-answer session with me.

1. How did you get into children's book illustrations?

Hmm..Let’s see. In 2005 after I graduated, I was working as a freelance television promo producer, in Mumbai. A friend of mine, Hema Nazerath, had illustrated for ILFS, School Net. She suggested that I should show them my sketches, so I did and they gave me to do my first book. ‘Marrima’s Rag Doll’ this was a UNICEF book, after that I went on to do 4 more books for them, and that’s how I started illustrating for children’s book.

2. What inspires you most to unleash your creativity?

That’s a tough one, but I think there is so much around us and to soak in and take it in. Visually it could be anything like something out of popular culture iconography, various Indian art forms, something I see on the Internet, magazine etc.

3. How do you select the projects - you must be having some favourite topics
which you want to do but some different kind are offered to you by publishers. How do you strike a balance between the two?

I am glad you asked this question; the problem here in India is that there is no cohesiveness in children book publication (except a very few houses). The editor gets a story makes a call to the art dept. the art dept looks for various style and then gives this out to the illustrator, a dtp guy puts text images together and your book is ready. I feel as in illustrator there is not much say. Also editors tend to judge too quickly looking for various illustrators only as ‘various style’ rather than as storytellers. Very few publishing houses will do ‘only picture’ books. I doodle, sketch and write sometime. I do not know if I strike a balance, I would like to do that but I don’t think I do.

4. Which books, illustrations and illustrator do you find impressive?

Oh wow, many many but not necessarily illustrators only, artists, graphic designers, animators, patachitra/miniature artists, photographers, filmmakers. Growing up in the 80’s I grew up with my fair share of Victor Dragunsky, Rojan, Marvel comics- (phantom, Manderek , Flash Gordon) Tinin and Amar Chitra Katha, so these are all time favorites . Some Children’s illustrated books I love- Persipolis by Marjane Satrapi (though technically it’s a Graphic Novel), All books of David Weisner, Today is my day by Piet Grobler. Swimmy by Leo Leoni, Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, Cat in the Hat, And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans and many more.

5. Did you have any formal training in this field? Do you think its necessary to have some basic training?

I went to National Institute of Design (NID, Ahmedabad), and graduated in animation filmmaking, more recently I went on to do my post-baccalaureate in contemporary art. I never really trained as an Illustrator, but had a very strong background in visual communication and drawing. I do not think one needs to have institutionalized training in illustration, but one needs to have the enthusiasm for drawing, story telling and have a good imagination.

6. What advice would you like to offer to aspiring illustrator?

If one is illustrating for children one needs to be playful in putting the illustration together, if they have stories/ideas that they want to say, just start drawing. They have to get their work out there for everyone to see, start a blog, website. It might not be easy to get a first project, but organize your work well.

7. What are your next projects coming up?

I am off to Raghurajpur, a small artist’s village near the coastal town of Puri in Orissa, I shall be working with some artisans there and hopefully will be able to take it forward from there. Right now it’s open ended; it could end up as a book, animation film or products.

Shweta, a big thanks for sharing your views with us...


Interview with Christopher Corr

Christopher Corr is an international name in children’s book illustrations.

A brief biography of Christopher Corr -
Christopher was born in London and studied at The Royal College of Art. His round the world travels provide much inspiration for his work. His first trip to India in 1986 resulted in a one person show entitled "Wel-come To India" which was followed by a book and a short BBC TV film of the same name.

Commissions range from book jackets, posters, the World Aids Day 1996 campaign, artist for Qantas, artist for Windstar Cruises.The Royal Mail sent him to Bosnia to paint SFOR ,the Peace-Keeping troops for a commemorative stamp in the Millennium Stamps Project.He has recently been working on some children's books.
He is working with 'Katha' on some of the forthcoming children's titles and was also in Delhi to judge the Katha Chitrakala contest - a Katha initiative to applaud upcoming writers and illustrators.

It was a pleasure to conduct a brief interview with Christopher and here are his views on his inspirations, challenges, projects and much more...

1. Do you consider yourself to be a born illustrator?

I always liked drawing and painting but I didn't think about it as a career until much later.

2. Did you always want to be an illustrator?

I wanted to be a vet! I like animals very much and thought I'd like to work with them.Thinking about it now, I'm not at all suited to medical work. I had a great art teacher at school, Julek Heller, who also worked as an illustrator. He encouraged me to apply to art school and directed me towards illustration.

3. What is the best part of your work?

It's great to work in a creative way; I enjoy the freedom of making pictures. It's a wonderful way to spend your time.

4. What do you do for inspiration and unleashing your creativity?

Travelling inspires me and helps develop my work. I like to look at art, architecture, books from other countries, other cultures, other people and how they live their lives.

5. What are you working on now? Which kind of projects do you want to do and what are you next projects in 2010?

I'm working on 3 books for Katha, one is about the GT Express from Madras to Delhi. I have just made the journey and am putting my ideas together for them.
I'm finishing an animal dictionary for a publisher in Korea, a book about 2 tigers for a publisher here in London and I'm also working on a book about Mexico.

6. Did you have any formal training in this field? Do you think it’s necessary to have some basic training?

I studied art for 7 years, 4 years in Manchester studying Graphics, and 3 years Masters in Illustration at the Royal College of Art in London.

7. Which medium do you use for your pictures?

I work mostly with gouaches on paper. I like strong bright colours. I buy a lot of art materials, different kinds of papers and paints. I've found some great acrylic gouaches from Japan, beautiful colours and beautiful paper from India.

8. What do you love most about being a children's book illustrator? What is most challenging about it?

I like creating a beautiful world in a book. It feels good when it works. I like researching and developing a project. Deadlines can be difficult ... they sometimes arrive too soon.

9. We see a lot of Indian flavour in your illustrations, what are the things that most fascinate you about India to make them a part of your pictures?

I've been to India many times to paint and travel and explore the country. It’s a very inspiring place for me. I think it's where I discovered strong pure colour. I love the animals that you see everywhere, the variety of life you encounter, all kinds of people, architecture, landscapes...

10. What advice would you offer to aspiring illustrators?

Spend time exploring image making, draw & paint with passion and an open mind. Look around at art, books, fashion, architecture, be open to inspiration anywhere!

Thanks Christopher for sharing your views with us…

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book Review : Free Mountain

Title : Free Mountain
Author : Kaveri Chatterji
Illustrator : Shweta Mohapatra
Publisher : Katha
ISBN : 978-81-89934-43-9

Simplicity has the ability to make a lasting impression with candor! One such example is "Free Mountain". I was awed by the sincerity of the words and illustrations which are very simple yet convey alot.

A simple tale of a mountain rhythmically told in a lucid manner - a mountain, who like her peers had relished the pleasure of flying high up in the skies eons back but cannot do so now. All but this mountain have learnt to remain still. This particular one does not just want to let go off her freedom, she yearns to be free and live her dream again. How can she achieve this freedom?
Standing still month after month she witnesses different life forms emerging in front of her eyes and lending a part of their own free spirit to her. She takes pleasure in their liberation and experiences her own spirits getting a new flight.

A very small book of just 32 pages mainly filled with attractive illustrations and very concise text achieves much more by working on two levels. One - educating 3-5years age group readers about months, various animals and introducing mathematical concepts like numbers, counting and simple addition. Two - a subtle message for readers falling in a little bigger age group - rejoice in the happiness of others. We may not possess everything, nonetheless we can celebrate the diversity and uniqueness in the world, instead of sulking of what could have been but never happened.

Illustrations by Shweta are simple and bright and have an ability to motivate the readers to pick a pencil and plain sheet and draw some easy landscapes themselves.

{Image courtesy :

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review : Song Of The Earth

Title : Song of The Earth
Author : Mary Hoffman
Illustrated by : Jane Ray
Published by : Orion Children’s Books
Review crossposted on : Saffron Tree

An exquisite narration of - 'The Song of The Earth' - the song which has been sung since the very initiation of times, but has long been forgotten by us owing to the big fissure that has crept up between us and the fundamental elements of our existence - Earth, Fire, Water and Air. Nonetheless, the magic of these indispensable elements remain unadulterated. These are everywhere in great opulence but make their presence felt more prominently at the significant junctures of creation (birth) and destruction (death).

A brilliant attempt by Mary Hoffman to make the song of the earth audible to all and to bring people more closer to their elements of existence. An effort in the pursuit to make us feel more reverence for the things which are made available to us by these elements in the form of - produce(of mother earth), (fire's )energy, the life-giving quality(of water) and source of life( - air). If we realize that these elements are the very basis of our subsistence, we will be more cautious while exploiting them. The book invites us to be a part in the celebration of the charisma of Earth, Fire, Water and Air by joining in the song of Earth.

Each element is dealt with separately in individual sections touching various aspects. The age old myths and legends and the association of various mystical figures with the elements are weaved beautifully into the narrative. The life-giving qualities of these elements are cited and then the contrasting life-taking abilities are divulged - earthquakes, untamed good servant - fire - turning into a bad master, storms and floods, and hurricanes, tornados, typhoons and whirlwinds.

Each section is concluded by succinctly making the readers aware of the misuse and ill-treatment done to the very components of our existence and how we can contribute to keep their magic intact forever. It was interesting to see a brief mention of Chipko(hug-the-tree) movement as a small step towards solving a bigger problem. Under sections on Water and Air there are references of our own - holy river Ganga and mythological winged creature Jatayu.

Illustrations by Jane Ray are clear, simple and beautiful. All details presented in the text are wonderfully brought forward through the pictures on all pages.

To be read and enjoyed by all age groups - a true keepsake.
{Image source : Amazon}

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book Review : Too Many Toys

Title : Too Many toys
Author : David Shannon
(Scholastic book)
Crossposted at Saffron Tree

I guess all "grownup" minds(atleast I have) must have wondered at some point seeing the young minds in action - why and how do they prefer playing with the boxes, the covers, the wrappers, the thermocol toy holders, the tags of new clothes, the small manuals/handbooks that come with the toys - than with the actual toys. I remember during our move to Bangalore, our kids were having the best playtime ever with so many boxes/cartons of all sizes, shapes and colours around us all the time.

Here is a story of Spencer, who has plenty of toys thanks to his parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, teachers and the list goes on and on, who keep gifting him toys on almost all occasions. Now the state of the house is such that the living room, bedroom, bathroom, backyard and even the stairs - have his toys strewn all around. But there is a limit to everything. One fine day Mommy decides to do some filtering of the toys and takes the help of Spencer. As expected Spencer doesn't want to part with any of his toys even the headless figures or one-eared bunnies but after a lot of haggling, warnings, arguments, discussions and trading Mommy comes out victorious and they pack a box full of toys which can be given away. After all this long and arduous exercise when she finally goes to pick up the box to load the car with, she gets the shock of her life because there is something that Spencer has selected from those toys which he cannot give away.

The best thing I like about the scholastic books is the neat clear text and beautiful illustrations.

My son just loved this book. I could easily guess why, whenever I clean their room, I make a bag ready to be thrown in the trash can and he manages to find his treasures from that bag and keeps them safely in a big box which has been christened by me as "Kachara dabba (garbage box) of maximum utility". I am sure he can even find the utility (some project idea) of dead flies (some day) and would not allow me to throw them either.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Book Review : Balancing Act

Title : Balancing Act

Author : Meera Godbole Krishnamurthy
Penguin Publication

{Image source : Flipkart}

Story of a stay-at-home mother of two little children - Tara Mistry, who is struggling to find an identity of her own. She is an architect professionally and is proded by her alter-ego - Yakshi to get into the active lifestyle of being a working woman. In her frustration of comparing herself to seemingly successful women, she starts making bricks along with baking cookies.

She has deep reverence for the great architect Salk and yearns to be a part of the world where his imagination and creations exist. She does get a job offer and then takes the big decision!

The story does replicate the life of many women who struggle to strike a balance between career and family and who are juggling many roles that they don every single day of their lives. There is a long list of quarters from where expectations arise - which a woman of 21st century has to address - her self esteem, her confidence, her social standing among her relations and peers, her impression on other people, her husband, her children, her workplace and its commitments.

I would categorize this book more as a long blog entry than any literary piece. The language is very ordinary, nothing great to talk about. The rifts, the pulls felt by the mind and the issues raised do not offer anything novel. After reading the book, it felt like one among many books, not one that can stand out from a big heap.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Interview with Shilo Shiv Suleman

Illustrations are an indespensable part in the world of books for young readers. They have the magic of invoking wide range of emotions in children (and adults too). And if the illustrations are like those done by Shilo, they become a beautifully laid out feast for the eyes and source of inspiration for many people. It is marvellous to see that a girl who is just out of her teens is so imaginative and mature in her expression through her strokes of brush.

Shilo Shiv Suleman has done some breathtaking illustrations for the book Pampasutra. I did a question-answer session with her.

1. What is the best part about what you do?

The best part about what is possibly in the process of illustrating a book - In visualizing each word and watching it become a tapestry of images woven together and trying to experience the text and imagine the text a way a child would - with wide-eyed wonder and love. As Antoine de Saint Exupéry says in the ‘Little Prince’.

Here is my secret. It is very simple. ‘It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. Only children know what they are looking for'. I can't even begin to express how grateful I am to be doing something I love with all my heart everyday. Just dreaming in full colour.
2. How long have you been working as an artist/illustrator?

The first book started when I was 16. A book of Children's poems in Hindi that I illustrated, post that there have been 3 other children's books- two for Karadi Tales (one of which is a super spooky Tim-Burtonesque book called Tak Tak) and the latest (and possibly the closest to my heart) was released last month- Pampasutra by Arshia Sattar, about the river goddess of Hampi. It flows through the Tunghabadhra River’s mythology, history, and finally environmental perspective on what's happening to the river right now. The Dam, the motorboats, the plastic, the dumping - all of it.

3. Please elaborate some of your educational qualifications, your experiences and skills related to this field.

I am 21 years old and still studying in Srishti School of Art Design and Technology in Bangalore. Doing my 3rd year in Design and Animation whilst freelancing, painting walls, instruments, posters and Tshirts for NGOs working on different campaigns, wandering around the country, Illustrating for Ads, Magazines as well as (and most importantly) Children's Books.
Right now I'm working on Illustrating, Writing and Animating with Srishti an Interactive Graphic novel for children called 'Khoya'. Using technology called Augmented Reality to enhance storytelling as well as bridge the gap between the technological and the tangible. :)

4. Which medium do you use for the illustrations, which software do you use? Which is your favourite medium and style?

I mainly use watercolours and collages -all sorts of textures and photographs that I find while travelling around the country. I feel watercolour+collage works the best for me because I love layering my paintings both physically and in terms of meaning and content. As for style- I work with what comes most naturally to me and is an almost instinctual and personal form of expression.

5. When did you think that you want to make a career in fine arts and especially being an illustrator?

I'm always aside..through university, through travel and all the experiences and opportunities that come my way. And all of this comes out through me brush. :)
My mother, Nilofer Suleman (Suleman Chai), is an artist as well and so that's been a big source of inspiration.

That aside, I also studied in Valley School- a hundred and something acres of wild sprawling land. And all I did was wonder-wander-wide-eyed at all the trees and paint.

Another source of inspiration was possibly all the travelling around India.

Beyond colour and form there was so much love in every journey. And after dabbling in a bit of photography- Illustration became the closest way to fulfil the gratitude I felt for those experiences and landscapes encountered. I started to draw incessantly in notebooks that I carry with me. Collecting stories, places, and faces and pressing flowers between the pages.

6. Which kind of projects do you want to do? Which is your next project?

I'm open to anything really but what really catch my eye are things that are imaginative and brimming with imagery as well as things with a social or environmental context.
Right now I'm working on a project called 'Khoya' which is an experimental new-way of storytelling using technology. It’s about a little girl born into a dystopic land who slowly rediscovers the natural world and all its magic.
So yes, other projects that interest me relate to Mythology, Folklore, Fantasy, Love, Magical Realism and Storytelling, New places, Encounters, Animation, and the Natural world. Also, Art in the Social Sphere- Art and Activism. As well as taking Art out of a gallery and onto the streets, which is one of the reasons why the Bangalore Wallflower project happened. :)
The Bangalore Wallflower project is an attempt to make art more accessible. Not just in terms of its location. But also encouraging people who aren't necessarily artists curb their inhibitions and pick up their brushes and create community art. We work as much as possible with children in the community.
WatercolourWars/Artivism is an artists collective that was started similarly to bridge the gap between Activists in need of a Visual Identity and Artists who could provide them with that and more.

7. What is the most fascinating part of being an illustrator and most frustrating part?

The most fascinating part is that it becomes an extension of oneself. Every story I hear I see it play out in my mind's eye. The most frustrating part would be breaking through limitations of technique/skill to create something that evokes the image on has in one's mind.

8. What is your source of motivation? In your opinion - are the artists born or the skills can be acquired too?

My opinion is that everyone is an artist and it has nothing to do with skill. Just feel the freedom from inhibitions. I haven't had very much 'formal' training skill wise. And I don't think it would make a difference if I did.
I find more and more that people are afraid of drawing because they think themselves incapable of doing so. That's another reason why the Wallflower project was initiated so that children and adults could just paint in an extremely public space on a large surface without being afraid.
The source of inspiration and motivation for me is love for what I do. And all the absolute gorgeousness that surrounds me as I travel.

9. What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

To just love and stop worrying about what they see and how to draw what they see and draw what they feel. :) as cliche as it might sound. Anything essential is invisible to the eye. Only with the heart one sees clearly.

10. Would you consider taking up interior decor projects such as wall art and murals for children's rooms?

Yes! Doing so as we speak.

{Image courtesy : Shilo's blog}
This interview crossposted on Saffron Tree

Book Review : Pampasutra

This review is written for Saffron Tree

Title : Pampasutra
Author : Arshia Sattar
Illustrated by : Shilo Shiv Suleman
Published by : The Kishkinda Trust

A story told by a river - Tungabhadra, more popularly known as Pampa. As all rivers do, Pampa has her lap of waves full of stories. She narrates the saga of her life in her own words - from her birth to various historical times to which she became a witness. She briefly recounts the legends and myths which took shape near her banks and became a part of her life - her marriage to Lord Shiva and her friendship with Hanuman - the magic monkey. Because of her friendship with Hanuman, she got acquainted to Lord Rama and watched his activities when he was in search of Sita. She discusses about various life forms which have been dependent on her water and her health - the fish in her water, birds (including migratory birds) and animals. She briefly touches the history by mentioning about the Vijayanagar Empire and giving a glimpse of the mightiness of that empire.

But now she is in a somber state because of all the ill treatment meted to her by humans. Her water has been held back forcibly by building dams, and industrial and other wastes are flushed into her pristine waters. She is imploring the young readers to save her and let her play freely as she has been doing since her birth so that she brings more abundance and bright future for all.

The most striking thing about this book is the gorgeous illustrations of Shilo Shiv Suleman. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the illustrations have actually brought the story to life. The river has been depicted as a lady with extremely expressive eyes. The part where she narrates the story of her marriage and her beautiful past, the twinkle in her eyes expresses her joy and happiness. Towards the end the mournful expression reaches the readers hearts. With the tone of story going from one emotion to another, Shilo's brush moves from one side of the colour spectrum to the other - from bright warm colours celebrating the prosperous past to dull shades in tune with the melancholy present of the river.

Some beautiful Pampasutra stickers are an added bonus on the last page.
{Image source :
Shilo's blog}

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Book Review : Who Stole my Soul?

Title : Who Stole my Soul ?
Author : Vishwa Prakash
This review is written for Book Pleasures

"Who Stole my soul" is a dialogue between the author - Vishwa Prakash and Mr. Devil (the anti-God). The book begins with a confused state which the author finds himself in - a conflict going on between his selfish and selfless states. He is desperately in search of his true self. Till 50 years of his life, he happily indulged in chasing money and fame of accumulating more and more worldly accolades but gradually these same things start losing their charm and he finds himself stagnating emotionally and spiritually. He feels his soul has left him in search of some more fulfilling prospects. Now he too feels drawn towards the philanthropic path that his soul has chosen and he experiences a warm glow within him in giving and helping his fellow beings through the medium of laughter yoga.

In an attempt to get his thinking more clear on the issues that are bothering him, he decides to hold a one-on-one with Mr. D, who pleasantly turns out to be quite unlike the author's notion of him. And begins an odyssey through which Mr. D very nonchalantly takes the author to unraveling of the mysteries of life in a gradual and subtle manner. The questions about - God, His need to create an anti-God, journey of souls through various lifetimes, significance of religion in the life, true meaning of our lives - get answered beautifully when actually the author is taken within himself in pursuit of the solutions. As the conversation progresses, comes the awareness of - logical yet ignored goal of finding, feeling and feeding the soul.

A unique way of presentation and while being a part of the conversation readers may feel their own questions getting answered on many occasions. Many self-help books fall in an easy trap of getting transformed into long lists of "to do" and "not to do" things. It feels good while reading them but scarcely they become a part of the thought process. 'Who Stole my Soul?' very neatly refuses to take this bait. While having this colloquy, the author is driven by Mr. D to reach the conclusions himself rather than the same being spoon fed to him directly. Needless to say, the process of self discovery makes much more lasting impressions on mind.

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