“Illustrations cross all barriers of language”

Says Deepa Balsavar, who is a writer, illustrator and educationist, who has contributed significantly to the children’s literature space and has award-winning children’s books to her name such as ‘The Seed’, ‘The Lonely King and Queen’ among others.


Deepa Balsavar has spent most of her professional life (almost 20 years) working on putting together material for a variety of educational programs.

Love for words and pictures…

Deepa’s love for words and pictures started at the tender age of five when she could first make out what a stop sign said on a road trip with her family. Even as a kid, she would spend many nights wide awake, her nose glued to her book. Born in Mumbai and having cultivated a profound love for animals, books and drawing since her childhood days, Deepa decided she would write and draw stories about them, and about people and the world.

“I have always been writing and drawing. They were things that came, if not expertly, at least easily and gave me great pleasure. As a child, I was sure that I would grow up to be a wildlife vet. Things happened however, I made my choices and ended up getting a degree in Applied Art. Now I write and draw and live surrounded by animals. Inspiration comes from everywhere. Sometimes it comes as the germ of an idea that nestles in some warm corner of the brain, waiting for the right conditions to make its presence felt. At others it springs forth full blown knowing where it come from and where it’s going. But inspiration never comes in a vacuum. It comes because we can see and feel and hear and sense,” she says.

On illustrating…

“I got a job at a wonderful NGO where creating visual material was a part – a very large part, but a part nonetheless –- of the work I did. Writing and illustrating for children’s books came as a natural offshoot to that work. As for my medium, I find that the needs of the story largely dictate the medium that I use. I have used inks and colour pencils, poster colours and collage work, thumb prints and cut paper,” adds Deepa.

Role of illustrations for kids…

So what is the role of illustration is books? To this, Deepa replies, “Look at good illustrations in a book and the answer becomes self-evident. We ‘read’ pictures just as we read words, so good illustrations are not there to embellish the text but carry it forward, extend it, tell you things that prose may not. Good illustrations expand the imagination and open windows to other possibilities. Illustrations of course cross all barriers of language and for children on the brink of developing a relationship with the written word, they are a world that can be interpreted.”

Importance of title cover…

“The cover is the first introduction to the book and must attract enough attention for someone – adult or child – to want to pick up and browse through. The image and text therefore work together to appeal and pique interest. The ‘aesthetics’ of the book – clean or cluttered, predominantly image or predominantly text, the colours used, are all a function of the kind of reader the book seeks to attract and the impression that is sought to be created. So there are no hard and fast rules,” she adds.

On her books…

“At last count, I have done something over 30 books. I have written and/or illustrated for, among others, Tulika, Eklavya, Pratham, Macmillan, Tata Donnelly, NCERT and several privately published books.Some of the books that I have written and illustrated include The Seed; The Lonely King and Queen; Round and Round Books; Baby Beboo Bear; Some books in the Thumb-thumb series; and Nani’s Walk to the Park,” she says.

“Every single book is challenging until I understand the heart of what it is trying to say. Not all turn out as I want them too, but with all I try my very best,” adds Deepa.

Working with authors…

“I do have one grouse – traditionally, artists and writers (particularly of picture books that are predominantly visual) do not get to talk to each other. The publisher sends the manuscript, forwards any directions, or comments and approves the roughs, layouts, and final artworks. There is barely any communication between the creators of the book. That is slowly changing, however. For my latest picture book with Pratham – Our Library – I was able to have long and detailed conversations with the writer Raviraj Shetty to understand the images and ideas that he had in his head when writing the book. Ideally the writing of the story and ideation of images should go hand in hand, with writers and illustrators working together from the very beginning,” she says.

Advice to budding authors/illustrators…

“Whether you write or illustrate, own your work and be proud of every word and brush stroke you create. Only when you are satisfied and your work reveals your own soul, will it touch others too,” tells Deepa.

What next?

“There are always projects. As I grow older, I can concentrate on issues and stories that are important to me – living together, understanding, and celebrating similarities and differences, creating awareness about the choices we make and consequences we face…,” concludes Deepa.

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