Friday, September 18, 2015

Meet Soumya Menon, the Illustrator Who Made Ammu Twice as Adorable

Over the past few years, Soumya Menon has created many, many endearing characters for Pratham Books. And well, we're mighty thrilled that she continues to. Just last week, StoryWeaver published 'Ammu's Puppy', a clever and entertaining story illustrated by Soumya Menon and written by Sowmya Rajendran. Ammu, her gang of friends and her puppy are certainly an adorable lot, and what also contributes to the undeniable charm of 'Ammu's Puppy' is the combined wit of the talented Sou(w)myas.

In this short but fun chat with Soumya Menon, the StoryWeaver team gets insights into Soumya's illustration process and also manages to catch a glimpse of her cozy work space (can you spot Ammu in the photo below?).

You've done plenty of work with Pratham Books and you were an Illustrator Guru, a champion of sorts, for our #6FrameStoryChallenge. What did it mean to you to be a Star Illustrator for StoryWeaver's launch?

I think that StoryWeaver is a wonderful idea with great potential to grow and I am excited to see this happen and to participate in this process. I have been glued to StoryWeaver since its launch (it is very addictive to have an entire virtual picture-book-shelf online) and it is very inspiring to see picture books translated into Assamese, into Konkani and a whole range of African languages. I also like the idea of stories by and for children, and hope this inspires children to create books of their own.

Which medium have you used for 'Ammu's Story'? How do you normally decide the treatment for a particular story?

I used pencils, pastels, inks and also coffee for Ammu's story! I wanted the illustrations to have a raw, sketchy feel, with minimal backgrounds as I felt that this story is very character driven. But I did want a bit of Kerala in the background (since this is a story set in Kerala) - laterite walls and red oxide floors and a hint of greenery outdoors and so on. Though this sounds general, I think the medium used has to give a sense of the setting, and convey the 'feel' of the story. I try and play around with colour and texture too, where I can. Sometimes it takes a few rounds of experimenting before I zero in on a particular treatment for a story.

Do you feel that it's important for an artist to find a distinct style, or is it more important to be versatile?

I think this is subjective, and depends on the working process of an artist. In my case, I love to explore as much as I can, so I like the idea of being versatile. I also think the style of an artist invariably shows in their work, irrespective of whether one consciously tries to develop it.

Is there a certain kind of book or story that you have fun illustrating?

That is a tricky question. I think more than going by a particular theme or genre, I have fun illustrating a story when I liked reading it. And I feel this is important to be able to get the pulse of the story, and to get the characters 'right'- something I tend to give precedence to. Sometimes (like in 'Ammu's Puppy') the characters leap right out of the page, and I want to start sketching as soon as I'm done reading!

What do you do and where do you go when you desperately need inspiration to draw? Yes, we're asking you to spill your secrets.

Just getting away from my desk and taking a walk helps greatly. I find that travel and travel-related places, like railway stations and bus stops are full of life and are wonderful spots to head to. When this isn't possible, reading helps too- so I dive right into a book.

Describe your work space to us.

My workspace is something that undergoes considerable metamorphosis from time to time- to accommodate an assortment of paper and paints, lightboxes, the computer- and sometimes all of these all at once! While I like to be surrounded by plenty of artwork, animal figures, masks and maps on the walls, I try and keep my work surface as uncluttered as possible. Especially while drawing - it is imperative to have plenty of room, and to be able to find things easily :)

As part of StoryWeaver's 'Weave-a-Story' campaign, we're asking our vibrant and supportive community to help us translate 'Ammu's Puppy' into as many languages as possible. Would you like to join us?

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