Talking images

Written by Namrata Rao | Updated: Jun 30 2013, 06:43am hrs
When Penguin re-released Vikram Seths Beastly Tales from Here and There in February this year, the two-decade-old classic found a beautiful new life, according to the publisher, as an exquisitely illustrated edition. The new Beastly Tales promoted its illustrator Prabha Mallya with almost as much gusto as its author Seth on the cover. Interestingly, Ravi Shankar, who had illustrated the book in 1991, never got any such acclaim.

In this age of slicker, better produced books, clearly equal weight is being given on the overall look and feel of the book. These days, each book has to stand out among its competitors to grab a buyers attention. Hence, the use of a vast variety of styles, media, dye-cuts, pop-ups, etc. As such, illustrations play their part in the marketing and sale of a bookas much as or even more so than the story. This explains the illustrator being given equal prominence with the author, which is a fitting development, says Michelle Farooqi, who has been illustrating books since 1989.

In past years, adult fiction used to be illustrated (such as the works of Charles Dickens and the poetry of William Blake), but that process went out of style. That the trend is being resurrected once again is an interesting development for the reading population and a great opportunity for illustrators, who now have a bigger and more varied audience for their works of art, she adds.

Agrees Priya Kuriyan, an animation film-maker and illustrator based in Delhi, who has, over the past five years, illustrated a number of childrens books and is the illustrator of the Baby Bahadur series by Tulika books and Taranauts series by Hachette. I think publishing is becoming an increasingly competitive business now and its very important that a book catches a buyers attention. Illustrations do that and help increase the value of a book. Im happy that publishers have begun to recognise that and, therefore, give prominence to art.

Prabha Mallya, who illustrated Seths Beastly Tales, feels this trend could create opportunities for illustrators to even solve communication design problems. Im happy that an illustrators contribution is being noted and appreciated. I hope it will help people notice the impact of illustrations as a medium of communication not just in books, but elsewhere too, creating more opportunities where illustrators can solve communication design problems.

Chiki Sarkar, Penguin India publisher, sums up: Its an entirely good thing. For great illustrated books, artwork is as important as words.

Illustrations have been used in books since time immemorial and for various purposes: from giving the pre-school child her first sense of shape, colour and image, making a story come alive in front of a teenager, giving relief to the eye by pepping up a grey piece of paper, to even convey hidden things in a story which would otherwise take 20 paragraphs to explain. Often, illustrations add a layer of detail that words dont. And sometimes, illustrations may be enough to carry a wordless story, says Mallya, who has also illustrated The Wildings, The F-Word and several other book covers.

Illustrations have always been an integral part of the storytelling process, irrespective of the fact whether the story is for adults or children. However, illustrating for the two genres is a different ball game. When making illustrations for adults, for example, artists enjoy the freedom of experimenting with multi-layered illustrations. With their wide range of experiences, adults can enjoy and understand most aspects of a complex illustration with many levels of meaning, inside jokes, lateral references, etc, says Mallya. This changes for childrens books. Illustrations in childrens books are perhaps the childs first conscious interaction with something artistic and creative. So these should encourage their aesthetic appreciation of art and beauty, says Kuriyan.

An important part of making illustrations is reading the manuscript and most illustrators prefer reading the entire manuscript before getting down to illustrating for it. I love reading books and I like to know what my audience is in for, says Mallya. I prefer reading the entire manuscript before thinking about the illustrations. It helps me grab a lot of ideas from all over the story. Then I make rough concept drawings of each illustration and discuss it with the client. When these are approved, I work on the finished illustrations.

Farooqi says she reads the whole text thoroughly before illustrating. This helps images of characters develop in her mind before she can draw them. I start with rough sketches of the main characters in a variety of poses. I usually consult the author at this stage to make sure it is what they have in mind. Then I identify action scenes within each chapter, keeping in mind the total number of pages, size of the text and number of illustrations required per chapter. After the rough sketches are done, I lay them out with the text on computer and send a PDF to the publisher which they usually share with the author. With feedback from them, I then start work on the final illustrations which I most often create by hand and

then scan.

Toronto-based Farooqi has illustrated many books, including Musharraf Ali Farooqis Rabbit Rap, Tik-Tik: The Master of Time and Moochhander the Iron Man, And Other Stories.

With illustrations being such an inseparable part of the storytelling tradition, the dynamics between the author and illustrator become extremely critical. But sometimes they dont even get to interact with each other! It really depends on who is involved. When I illustrate Ruskin Bonds books, I dont get to speak to him at all (although Id love to!). But when I work on a comic with Manta Ray, for example, there is a lot of interaction between writers and illustrators. We discuss and exchange ideas before finalising the design or art, says Archana Sreenivasan, a Bangalore-based illustrator, who has illustrated for Karadi Tales, Manta Ray Comics and Ruskin Bonds The Blue Umbrella and Angry River.

Adds Mallya, Its nice when an illustrator is in touch with the author. There can be a lot of discussion and back stories too happen. When thoughts from both the writer and the

illustrator mesh closely, the synergy is apparent in

the illustrations!