Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Year of the Rat? Year of the Rabbit? No! It is the year of Priya Kuriyan! :-)

Out of the ten books that we published this quarter, Priya Kurian has illustrated six of those - five books from a series based on the Indian seasons called The Rituchakra Series written by our very own Mala Kumar and Manisha Chaudhry and a standalone book called Susheela's Kolams written by Sridala Swami. Jackpot eh? Let us just say that we hit a jackpot, having had the privilege of working with this gem of an illustrator. Oh, those wide eyed characters and such vibrant colours! All of us, very religiously dedicate at least ten minutes everyday, just to sit and stare at her illustrations. Well, I am not sure about the rest, but I do.

I declare that the world should know more about this wonderful fraud mallu
and her work.

When, where and why did you start illustrating?

The only thing I really liked to do as a kid was to draw. I was glad to finish with school and go to a place where I was expected to do nothing but that. I attended the fine arts course at Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda for a year and then joined NID, Ahmedabad, specialising in animation film making. Making an animation film involves conceptualising; thinking of the storyline, characters, etc. Creating 'Concept Art' is a part of this process, and involves imagining and illustrating various scenarios for the main characters of the film, using different visual techniques, mediums and treatments. A lot of ideas are generated. Not all the scenarios created are included in the film. I enjoyed this stage of the film making process immensely and my interest in illustrating books was really an outcome of this. Later, in my final year, I wrote to the people at Tulika books on a whim and they were kind enough to give me the chance to work on a sweet story about an elephant who forgets how to sleep. The book is called I'm so Sleepy and is written by Radhika Chadda.

Okay. So, do you remember what your very first illustration was? If you've kept it in-between a book or under your mattress perhaps, may we see it please? 

I'm sure my first illustration must have been a birthday card for my mom. We never made a big deal of birthdays, but a hand made card was a must on all occasions. Though she must have proudly displayed that card on our refrigerator for quite a while, I doubt if she liked it enough to keep it this long! :-) It is also likely, that it was a picture of her, since I believed there was no one prettier than her for miles! I wish I had kept some of those cards and drawings. We moved towns and cities almost every two years. So, a lot of stuff was bound to get lost. But my very first 'professional' illustration was that of Baby Bahadur and his mother from
I'm so sleepy. The idea that someone would actually print something I had drawn/made was so thrilling.

Your idol/idols and mentor/mentors?

Quentin Blake! I love his spontaneity and the slightly wicked sense of humour that his drawings have. Mario Miranda's work has always been a huge inspiration, with all its lovely detailing. Especially Miss Fonseca with her polka dotted frocks, among the other wacky characters that he made. Then there is Atanu Roy, a very senior illustrator who was kind enough to share his wonderful work with a bunch of wonder struck illustrators that included me. What struck me the most was his complete dedication to the craft, and the passion with which he practiced it. Other idols include Piet Grobler, Axel Scheffler and Manjula Padmanabhan!

Coming to mentors, I'll always be extremely grateful to some very good professors at NID. I also gained a lot of experience by working with people like Mr. Rammohan, who helped me with my diploma project, Mr. E Suresh and other co-workers from famous studios in Mumbai. They exposed me to many things that have definitely influenced my work as an illustrator.

Tell us about a few important/special projects that you've worked on previously.
I loved working on The fried frog by Sampurna Chattarji. Being a book of nonsense verse, I went completely wacky with the drawings. I've been illustrating for Roopa Pai's Taranauts series for about four years now. Another interesting project I worked on, was a book called Our Toxic World, written by Aniruddha Sen Gupta. It used the format of a graphic novel to talk about various toxins in the environment.
Whispers in the classroom, voices on the field, an anthology of school stories published by Wisdom tree, is very special to me. The editor, Richa Jha convinced me to do a visual piece for the anthology (called school daze), for which not only did I illustrate but I also wrote a little. The Pratham Books calendar is really special, simply because when I did it, I didn't expect it to reach so many parts of India, including Ladakh, and that so many kids will get to see it.

Aha! The calendar! Tell us more about that and the Rituchakra series that you worked on.
Sometime in November 2011, Pratham Books got in touch with me to see if I was interested in doing a calendar similar to the one that I had done earlier for Manipal press. I was thrilled, but there was very little time in hand and it would not have been possible to do a hand drawn set of twelve months in the available time. So I tried something that I hadn't tried before, which was vector based illustrations done entirely on a computer. I had no idea that the calendars would reach so many people and children. This makes me very happy.

The Rituchakra series was my first project with Pratham Books. I had read about the organisation, and was amazed by the fact that the books reached millions of children in remote parts of India and therefore, I was only too happy to hear from you. Five scripts were given to me, with the freedom to do what I wanted. My favourites are the autumn and winter stories, perhaps because they are my favourite seasons too! The authors took great care in helping me present subtle but important points; like a child walking in the garden should be barefooted or how a snowman in Shimla would look different from one outside the country. I also have to mention that the editors at Pratham Books are some of the most appreciative and encouraging! I must sheepishly admit that they are extremely patient too. As all the books were supposed to be done in a single season, I took the luxury of going through at least three seasons in order to finish the books. :)

Oh, well thanks. That we are, that we are! ;-)
Finally, out of all those colours that you use, what's your favourite?

This is by far the toughest question!!! I think I will say yellow... it makes me happy... no blue... Rani pink?? aaargh!

Read more interviews with Pratham Books authors and illustrators.

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