Bring out the child in you!


This is the success mantra popular illustrator Priya Kurian follows. This artist has brought smiles to numerous children through her illustrations, which form an integral part of the children books. Here, in conversation with Varsha Verma, she reveals how she became a children book illustrator and how she comes up with a perfect illustration every time. The beginning…

Priya KurianPriya Kurian is an established children artist, who is trained as an animation film maker at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. “An important aspect of conceiving animation films consists of creating ‘Concept Art’ which involves illustrating various scenarios for the main characters of the film by using different visual techniques, mediums and treatments that really inspire one to think freely. Not all the scenarios created during this process are always 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. 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 called Bahadur who forgets how to sleep. The book is called I’m so Sleepy and is written by Radhika Chadha. The book turned out to be quite popular and I went on to illustrate a series of books with the same character. The series was called ‘The Baby Bahadur’ series,” tells Priya.

Later, Priya worked as an animator in a production house in Mumbai and then Seasame Street in Delhi. “Working at an animation studio didn’t leave me with much time to pursue illustration very seriously, but by the time I decided to become a freelancer, which was after a year of working with Sesame Street Preschool, I had a small body of work that I compiled into a blog which I still maintain, and sent it to various publishers in Delhi. Since the first few books that I worked on were for a children’s book publisher, I think most publishers assumed I illustrated only for kids books and the kind of work I received was mostly in the same area,” she recalls.

“Infact, I illustrated a few books for Puffin and Scholastic, and slowly over the years, more people in publishing got familiar with my work. So far, it’s been really satisfying working on different kinds of projects with so many different people and I have realised how much I like working on children’s books rather than illustrations for grownups,” she adds.

Hardest part of illustrating…

“…Getting started, I think. Because, that’s the point where one needs to take the most amount of decisions and face the maximum number of choices in terms of what needs to be done with the characters and the treatment of the book. Sometimes, I find that these decisions can’t be made in one sitting, but can take over a period of days and sometimes weeks,” replies Priya.

“Also another challenge is to put yourself back in the shoes of the child that you were. I think adults (including me) sometimes have a poor memory of what they were as children and what they felt like as a kid; what hurt you; what made you feel insecure. It is important to be able to tap into that,” adds Priya as a matter of fact.

Factors kept in mind while illustrating for children…

“I always try avoiding clichés, especially when it comes to creating characters. I like illustrations with enough details so that a kid can come back to it again and again, and perhaps spot something new each time he or she does so. I always like adding a touch of humour wherever possible in the details; something like a side joke which might really be part of the text. Also, one has to keep in mind that your audiences’ experience of the world would cover the last 8 to 10 years as opposed to the last 20 and above. So, one should always keep up with what children find fascinating and be careful to use examples from popular culture and metaphors in your work that they understand,” she explains.

Real life influences…

“I love travelling and keep a record of places I visit. However small or big the city/village /town, one always comes back with quirky stories. Sometimes, the interesting characters I meet later find their way into my illustrations. So, I like to keep memories of those people and places in my notebook so as not to forget these,” she adds nonchalantly.

Advice to aspiring artists…

“Continuously keep at what one likes doing, work earnestly and honestly and don’t compare yourself to another. Also, do some projects just for the love of it without thinking too much about what it would lead to. Compile your work online as well so that people can access it easily,” she advises.

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