Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Interview with Ashok Rajagopalan

Ashok Rajagopalan - an illustrator, a graphic designer, an animator and also a writer of children's books. He has illustrated more than 500 books for children in the last twenty years, for publishers like Tulika, Scholastic, Macmillan, Oxford University Press and Orient Longman.

In 2007, he made his mark as a published writer as well and since then he has written three books - retellings of the Odyssey and Iliad for children and Ajit the Archer, a novel for children.

His illustrations, be it simple pictures in Thumb Thumb books ('Mirror', 'Flower', 'Where is Thangi' and 'Up Up') or soft pencil sketches in 'Andamans boy' - have been mesmerising children and adults alike since last two decades.
They just enthused me so much that I could not resist the temptation to conduct an interview with him and he was very kind to take his time out to answer my questions. Here is the brief question-answer session with him, peppered with some of his beautiful artwork.

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

Always wanted to be one. Chandamama had started a children's magazine called Junior Quest in 1989, and I approached the editor, Aditi De, with sample illustrations. She gave me my first break. After that, I used my 'published illustrator' status to get work from textbook publishers. Magazines and books for grown-ups don't require as many pictures as those for kids, so I found myself specializing in illustrating for children.

2. After having seen some of your artwork, you seem to be comfortable in pencil sketches, pastels and computer imaging. If given a choice, which medium would you choose? Or which is your first preference?

The style and treatment of the text usually influences my choice of medium. Otherwise my choice depends upon what I am experimenting with at that point in time. Sometimes the publisher requests a particular style or treatment. I always love pastels and use them when I wish to create an emotion-rich picture. The 2001 Tulika Diary of Seasons was done that way. These days I am going green, my studio is almost paperless, and my first preference is computer graphics.

3. How do you select the projects, especially when a selection has to be made between the ones that interest you and the ones that are offered to you, how do you make the decision?

I rarely say no. Refusal to take up a project could only mean that I don't have the time.

4. You are a source of inspiration for many but who/what inspires you creatively?

Am I? Thank you for telling me. People usually don't tell me these things lest I think too much of myself. To answer the question, I am inspired by them all! Leonardo. Michelangelo. Turner. Monet. Van Gogh. Dali. Teniel. Charles Schulz. Uderzo. R.K. Laxman. Mario Miranda ...and many others.

5. I have observed that the artists generally travel a lot, is it a wrong generalization to make?

Absolutely wrong in my case. Unless travel is a relative term, because I walk a lot. I am usually at home, and take the family out on an annual vacation to some spot. The first time I flew was when I was 43, in 2007 and the northernmost I have travelled is Goa. I have never been abroad.

6. What are your current and forthcoming projects?

Just finished a book for Tulika. For a year now I have been working for two children's magazines: Impulse Hoot and Impulse Toot. Then I do the storyboards for a comic called the Dynast, which will be published this year. Last year I did the design and illustration of many textbooks. English is over and GK is planned for this year, the publisher tells me. After Penguin India published my Witchsnare, a gamebook I have written, I manage to get writing work too. Ajit the Archer, a novel for children will be out this year. Thinkbig Books are the publisher. I am at work on a picturebook, too, one that I will both write and illustrate.

7. How has your art/style changed since you first started?

My art and style changes with every new book I do. I call it variety and growth but my critics could call it inconsistency.

8. What does a typical day look like for you?

I have very few typical days. I start work at 6 am in chunks of worktimes. 6 -8 some work. 8 - 8.45 take second chap to school. Breakfast at 9 am. 9.30 - 11.30 - some more work. I take a short walk to the local teashop and either resume work, or talk to my wife, or friends on chat, or play a game on the computer. 12.30 - 1.30 Wife and I have lunch and watch two soap operas together. 1.30 - 4.00pm: More work with small breaks. 4 pm: tea and conversation. 4.30-6.30 Work. 6.30 Teashop, phone a friend and go yak yak. 7 - 9 Work, but work that doesn't require great creativity, only execution skills. I even work on the laptop and watch TV during this time. And talk to family members, of course. 9 - 10pm: Dinner and two soap operas. 10 to 11pm: Read bedtime stories to the kids, conversation and sleep. zzzzzz...

9. What do you hope to accomplish in the future (artistically or otherwise)? Any dream projects?

I want to do fine art, you know, the kind that hangs on a wall, and write at least one novel a year. That's how I see myself in ten years. One day, a movie, or a series of movies, will be made based on books I write. That's another dream and plan.

10. Did you have any formal training and what are three pieces of advice you would give to someone just starting out?

Not in Art. I have been formally trained in Mechanical Engineering, but know more about Gauguin and gouache than gears or gaskets. Artists need passion more than formal training. Pieces of advice for an aspiring illustrator of children's books:

1) Never lose the child in you. Keep that kid alive by remembering how you were as a child. For example, always remember that little children see the world from a low angle, and that they can see your nostrils, and are closer to adult feet than heads.
Let that inner child relate to the kids of today and update itself.

2) Always have fun. Art is meant to be play, not work. The moment you stop doing that, it will show in your work. When you are in form, your pleasure will visibly vibe through your pictures..

3) Be a good reader. The good illustrator respects the text, reads it, enjoys it, and draws pictures that are not only faithful to it, but lifts the book to another height. Wishing all aspiring illustrators the best!

Thank you very much. I enjoyed answering these questions, some of which set me thinking deep about some aspects of my work.

Ashok Rajagopalan

A very big thanks to you, Ashok!


  1. "My art and style changes with every new book I do. I call it variety and growth but my critics could call it inconsistency." Brutally honest and unassuming, as ever!

  2. Ashok Rajagopalan is one of my favourite illustrator! Thanks Vibha for this :)

  3. What a wonderful job this would be!

  4. Vibha
    I thoroughly enjoyed this interview with Ashok and if I may be honest, it is one of the best illustrator interviews I have read in the recent times - in terms of the questions asked and the answers he has given !!

    We have read so many illustrated books of yours and really enjoyed the drawings ! Loved your answers, especially the day to day routine...I have never seen celebrities give such detailed break was fun to read that :-))). I have seen the Hoot and Toot magazines and especially loved the simple art activities for little ones!

  5. This is overwhelming Vibha! Never seen so many kind souls assembled in one e-spot!

    Svelliyod is a former employer and mentor, old friend, and one who does the difficult trick of packaging honesty in sweet containers. He was responsible for my first published illustrations and was the director of the creative outfit that trained me in computer graphics. Respecting his blognym, I thank S!

  6. Thank you Choxbox for that status!
    Yes, Peggy, I am grateful to be doing this. :)
    Ranjani, I love your honesty! :D I did that breakup without realizing I was a celebrity. And great to see someone who enjoys Hoot and Toot!:))

  7. Although I haven't read your books or seen much of your illustrations, Ashok, I did enjoy reading this interview and feel happy that your books have touched the lives of so many children.
    Best wishes and good luck on your future plans. And I too, hope that your books and illustrations take on new forms that will reach a bigger audience of kids (and adults) all over!

    Sketch away! :)

  8. With the blessings of the moon, I will! Thanks, Ambili! :)

  9. Lovely, candid interview. 'Think like a child' is the absolute thought to abide by...

  10. Thanks all of you. As I mentioned in the beginning of the interview, the more I was looking at Ashok's art work, the more I wanted to do this interview and I was simply thrilled when he was a game for it.

    I am glad all of you enjoyed this interview.

  11. I feel very good for Ashok, my friend and collaborator since 1988. When he says 'Always have fun', I know exactly what he means, for I remember such huge fun times we have had working together. As copywriter I have worked with him on many projects - ad campaigns, brochures, posters, etc. I am sure it will interest you to see his illustrations for greeting cards - we did about 125 of them, of which here are a few

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Ah, more friends! :)
    Rashrei is a perfect example of 'creative child inside' person! Thanks!
    Hey Vaidy, great to see you here, and thanks for the cards. :)

  14. Great interview. Thank you Vibha and Ashok.

  15. Thanks for the link Vaidy. I have seen the blog managed by both of you together and really liked it. Didn't know there are some illustrations for the greeting cards as well. Once again, thanks for filling the gap :)

  16. @Vibha That's a great set of questions and a lovely interview. Thanks!
    @Ashok What an awesome person you are *bows worshipfully* Do more books with us please:)

  17. *bows a bit lower to Flower* I am, I am, Malar! :))

  18. What a wonderful interview - and what a clear directive of what Art ought to be!

  19. Great questions that got good answers! Thank you Shalini!

  20. very nice :).. need to meet u sir...


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