People & Spaces

Archana Sreenivasan: A Conjurer of Rich Visual Stories

Written by Sheeba Manish

When Van Gogh was a young man in his early twenties, he was in London studying to be a clergyman. He had no thought of being an artist at all. He sat in his cheap little room writing a letter to his younger brother in Holland, whom he loved very much. He looked out his window at a watery twilight, a thin lampost, a star, and he said in his letter something like this: “it is so beautiful I must show you how it looks.” And then on his cheap ruled notepaper, he made the most beautiful, tender, little drawing of it.

And Van Gogh’s little drawing on the cheap note paper was a work of art because he loved the sky and the frail lamppost against it so seriously that he made the drawing with the most exquisite conscientiousness and care. ”
― Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit

Maurice Sendak the author and illustrator of the iconic  ‘Where The Wild Things Are‘ felt illustrators are so moved by a story that they interpret  it graphically. They illustrate focussing on typography and look on the page, but below it, they somehow create something that is alive and throbbing. The illustrator adds to the story in a way the writer could not have imagined by themselves. The creation acquires a life of its own. Sendak, then in his sunset years said he never understood how this alchemy happened.

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Taka and Dimi from My Space, My Body

This is what I experienced when I first met Taka and Dimi on the pages of GAIT’s ‘My Space, My Body’. Happy twins, who were smiling one moment and at each others throats the next. Be it at home or in the zoo, the twins, their parents and zoo inmates burst forth from every page.

The pictures kept step with the words in this beautiful book of movement  dedicated to helping children understand  the boundaries of their bodies and better understanding the space that surrounds them. The artist Archana Sreenivasan has been and continues to produce evocative pieces of art. She breathes life into the words through her images. Her play of lines will prompt you to visit the book many times over.

Archana has trained in two of India’s institutions for fine arts and design –Karnataka Chitra Kala Parishat, Bengaluru and later National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. In an email interview with her, she kindly replied to questions Little Kulture put across to her.

Did you always love drawing? Did you draw to express yourself?

Yes, I remember enjoying drawing since I was very young (probably 6). I’m not sure why I draw, I guess I’m naturally drawn to it.

Illustration from 2008

The one that got Archana started on the illustration path (2008)

 

How did you go about putting this into action? (What course did you choose after 10th std.)

After 10th, I enrolled in Chitrakala Parishath Art College. At this point, I wasn’t sure or even aware of all the art & design career paths/options. I didn’t know the difference between graphic design or painting or illustration. I went to art school simply because I loved to draw. My search for my professional calling was a long, winding journey that began at Art College.

 

At what point did you think you wanted to illustrate full time?

Sometime in 2008, I was working with a startup, and I happened to illustrate a story after years of doing other things like graphic design and animation and UI(user interface) design. I remember enjoying myself immensely. And when I lost my job later that year (due to the recession) was when I first considered moving into illustration full-time.

 

Were you parents supportive? Did they have apprehensions? Did you have apprehensions? If yes, how did you get over them?

Yes, my parents were supportive. I’m sure they had apprehensions (and not just regarding my career prospects). When I joined Art College, I was ecstatic.There was no place for apprehensions. My troubles came later when I was trying to find my calling… when I tried various disciplines in art & design trying to find the one that I felt was the best fit for me. The challenge was not with finding a job, but with finding the one that I loved the most.

 

Please tell us about your program at NID? What was your learning?

I did a Post Graduate Diploma in Animation Film Design at National Institute of Design (NID). NID opened up a whole new world in terms of storytelling and narrative. We had access to some great films, books, and people (both teachers and students) to expand our learning. I think NID has helped me think more structured and find method in the madness.

 

Please tell us about your first commercial project. How did you get it?

I’ve been working on commercial projects even since art college. But my first illustration project (after I decided to try my hand at illustration full-time) came in 2009. I had made a small compilation of my illustration work and published it onFacebook, apart from also mailing them out to many publishing houses.A writer called Hema Vaidyanathan wrote to me on Facebook asking me if I’d like to illustrate a picture book of her stories. These stories were very interesting because they featured well-known mythological characters, but focused on lesser known side-stories. For example, stories about what happened to all the sarees that collected after Draupadi’s Vastraharan, and why the crow cocks its head to one side… This picture book is titled “Tales of How & Why“, and it’s the very first picture book I worked on.

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From ‘Tales of How and Why’

 

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Another panel from ‘Tales of How and Why’

 

You have done so many beautiful illustrations for so many books. Do you collaborate actively with the authors to arrive at the final product, if so how?

This depends on who the author is. I don’t always interact with the author. The series of Ruskin Bond books I illustrated didn’t involve any interaction with the author, but when I illustrated a book written by Roopa Pai, we met quite a few times to talk, sip hot beverages, and giggle over many things, and also remembered to discuss the book. I like working with the author whenever it’s possible.

 

Can you take us through how you ideate to the final product?

The starting point is usually rough pencil sketches/scribbles as I think through my various ideas. Often the thinking and the scribbling are interdependent. I shortlist a few ideas/scribbles to develop further or share with the client. And once I/we feel that things are headed in the right direction, I proceed to make the final illustration. I use both digital as well as hand-drawn/painted/cut techniques, and often I combine the two in making an image. I take lots and lots of inspiration and reference images from the internet. Sometimes I’m also involved in the production part of things after I’m done illustrating, to color-proof and troubleshoot with printers etc.The process can vary a bit depending on what I’m illustrating – if it’s a story, a book, or a t-shirt, or a poster, or a part of a series of images, but the process outlined above is usually a part of what I do.

Process_01

 

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The final product, the book cover of   Teresa’s Man and other stories from Goa

Can you share some of your favourite work till date and the reason why you like them so?

Some of the black and white illustrations I made as part of the series of Ruskin Bond books for Puffin are my favourites. That’s because I think I managed to hold back on the over-working and keep the contrasts and compositions interesting in these. I’m also quite fond of the illustrations I made for my own visiting card – because I feel these work quite well to showcase illustrations on my card, as well as convey something more personal. (The books include The Room of Many Colours, Uncles, Aunts and Cousins, Rusty -The Boy From The Hills, Rusty and the Leopard, Rusty Runs Away, The Room on the Roof, Rusty Goes to London and Rusty Comes Home).

RuskinBond_01

Note the cactus, cutlery, and a cat in love!

 

What are your other interests?

I enjoy being in nature, bird-watching and traveling. I like taking photographs occasionally. I can talk endlessly about my pet cat, and I love strong, sweet filter coffee.

PersonalProject02

 

Could you describe an average day for you?

I wake around 6.30am and try to get done with domestic stuff by about 10. So on a good day, I sit down to work around 10 am and go on till about 10 pm. I work from home, so meal breaks are not too long. I attend a yoga class in the evening thrice a week. On other days evening breaks are enforced by my cat Inji. She has to have her play time. I watch a little television while having dinner, and then continue working for a short while if I have to. I like to read a bit before I go to sleep, but most days I fall asleep before I can read a few paragraphs. (smiley)

PersonalProject01

Illustration from Archana’s visiting card

 

Do illustrators have to keep honing their skills?

Last year I attended a month-long Illustration Residency Program at School Of Visual Art (SVA), New York. I wanted to do a short refresher course of sorts in illustration because I felt I needed that creative break from constant commercial assignments. The month at SVA was a very enjoyable and meaningful time for me, where I worked along with 17 awesome illustrators from different parts of the world. The collective energies of 18 illustrators working in a studio were something else – an experience that I will cherish for a long time. The faculty’s inputs and my learnings about how the illustration industry works in other countries were also very valuable.

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Archana displays her work at the School of Visual Art, New York

 

What are you working on now?

On my plate:

I just finished illustrating a children’s book for Pratham Books called ‘Lets GoSeed Collecting’ (http://bit.ly/1JeNCGy), an editorial illustration (not published yet), and a book cover (not published yet). Next on my plate is another editorial assignment, an experimental project, and a children’s chapter book for Puffin. I hope I can do justice to the story, which is super delightful!

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Let’s go seed collecting

 

Charles.M.Blow, the current visual op-ed columnist for The New York Times so rightly said ” An illustration is a visual editorial – it is just as nuanced. Everything that goes into it is a call you make: every color, every line weight, every angle.”

Archana is one such illustrator whose visual narratives will make your eyes and mind sit up and notice.

You can read more about Archana’s work at http://archanasreenivasan.com/

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