“Books teleport a child to fantasy land”

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shares the dynamic and successful children illustrator Nancy Raj.

Nancy RajNancy Raj graduated with a master’s degree in Fine Arts and specialization in Graphic Design from Stella Maris College, Chennai. She has been in the field of illustrations and design for a decade, with hands-on experience with many children’s book publishers and organisations for children in India and across the world. Some of her important accounts include World Health Organisation, Deaf Child India (NGO), SRA McGraw Hill, Oxford University, Tulika Publishers, NCERT, Katha Publishers, Sesame Street, Chandamama children’s magazine, etc. Her book Days with Thathu by Katha Publishers, has been selected in the 101 Best Indian Children’s book list recently. While, Malli and Mala’s Silver Anklets by Tulika Publishers, has been recommended by CBSE for schools. Here’s more about this prolific illustrator.

Artist since child…

Normally, children exhibit their strengths right from childhood. “My interest to draw and doodle began when I was a child. The clean whitewashed wall of my little house was an inviting canvas. I remember making many mad curls, lines, circles, sun, moon, girl, boy, house, apple, mango, vegetables, flowers, leaves and so on. Every Christmas the house would be whitewashed and my mother would warn me not to “dirty” it again. Anyhow I would be at it – I would start with a small dot which later would transform into gigantic flowers,” laughs Nancy.

She started illustrating when she was in her last year of graduation. “It happened when there was an ad on “artist wanted” put up on the notice board of our department. I was the only one who got in touch with them. It was a small NGO for children with hearing impairments in rural schools. I drew simple pictures for flash cards, story boards, greeting cards, posters, etc. These study materials were used to teach the children with hearing and speaking disabilities. I loved making quick sketches of the boy and girl, mainly because the organizers liked my “style” – I drew “local” colourful south Indian scenes such as dark skinned cheerful children, fat rounded dads in “baniyan and lungi”, thin, dark and beautiful featured mothers with a big bun and jasmine flower around it. This style of illustrations helped the children connect to their real lives. I loved my first assignment, though it took me a lot of hard work to balance between my college assignments, and I was paid very less, or sometimes nothing,” she remembers.

Her actual commercially published first book was Malli with Tulika publishers. “It’s the same girl I drew for the flash cards for the NGO. Malli is an extremely cheerful girl, typically south Indian in style. This book is still a hit! I’m glad to announce that this book has been recommended by the CBSE for schools recently,” she adds.

The most difficult aspect of illustrations…

People may think the hardest part in illustration would be the anatomy, proportions, perspective and shading… but Nancy says that the challenge in illustration is to capture the spirit or rather exuberance and feeling of the characters, that’s the life giving factor in a picture book. “It’s also the elements we combine to form a composition that adds to it. For example when I say ” A south Indian grandfather, in his room” – I would show a wrinkled, toothless old man, lying in an easy chair, reading a book, and next to him is little window, and the curtain flowing in the breeze, a small coffee tumbler on the floor, a table with books and a pen and on the wall is a calendar, in the corner of the room is a mosquito coil…Bringing together these elements in a composition captures the feeling and the spirit of the character,” she explains.

Besides, another difficult and interesting thing is to keep the child engaged throughout a book. “While I’m sitting with my pencil and papers, squinting at my latest character with a big nose and maybe curly hair, and wondering if that is enough for my little reader… I’d rather finish by adding in the corner of the page a branch with a nest and a little bird it – this element would teleport my little reader to a new world of fantasy. I always think children like watching even the smallest and un-noticed things. I like doing it too; I go away from the actual story track and look into the details that will tour you to a sweet memory left behind in life…that’s the aspect I try to bring in my pictures. This is a kind of a creative exercise that helps creative thinking and imagination in a child’s mind,” she adds.

Inspirations…

“My illustrations are strongly ‘South Indian’ as I am attached to the ethnicity of my land, the colours and culture. Local people and life around are my great inspirations – fussy children, loud hawkers, motorist, overflowing buses, shared autos, markets, greasy mechanics, grumpy neighbourhood and so much more to watch around. I love pets, I never miss to capture a pet in my story, and it could be a baby goat, cat, puppy, or a hen. These are some interesting motifs that one can always expect in my art,” she tells amusingly. And yes, artworks of other illustrators are inspirations too. “My favourite artists are Bill Watterson, Quentin Blake, and most of the children’s book illustrators from publishers like Tulika, Katha, Tara, etc. I pick inspiration from anything that’s interesting to watch,” she adds.

Publishing advice to artists…

“Well, the only advice that I can share with budding artists is to “love” what you are doing! This is not a get rich quick field, but there are many pockets in illustrations like newspapers, comic books, magazines, animation, etc. Just let your creativity wonder and do a mix of things. Don’t give up and this is where the loving what you are doing kicks in. Also keep watching, sketching, reading and spend time with children and pets…this will make you stay creative,” shares Nancy.

Encouraging reading habit…

Nancy hopes that more publishers, writers, illustrators, readers, buyers, critics, art schools will emerge and evolve in India as there are numerous choices for entertainment around that’s hiding books from children. “I would recommend parents to gift their children Indian picture books to encourage reading. For children, I would like to say that reading books is a hep and cool thing to do! And start with picture books, as the pictures in it will actually ‘teleport’ you a beautiful world of fantasy. Try it!” Nancy concludes happily.

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