Saturday, January 30, 2010

Priya Kuriyan - Interview

Once in a while, I come across some illustrations during long web crawling sessions and I whistle! Let out a small sound of joy at the exciting and fascinating pictures leaping out of the page. Priya Kuriyan's blog etcetera etcetera, the illustrator of the book Taranauts, made me whistle and shout out with joy.

Many folks enjoyed the wonderful interview with the author of Taranauts, Roopa Pai. Here is an interview with the illustrator of the same book - Priya Kuriyan. Thank you Priya for writing back in detail to us.

How did you get into children's book illustrations?
In the beginning, I never consciously thought of illustrating for children per se . I studied animation film making at a design school where one is exposed to so many different kinds of exciting visual media. As a student of animation, one was expected to draw -a lot- and also experiment with all kinds of storytelling methods, character development, visual techniques and treatments at the conceptual stage of film making. I enjoyed this stage of the film making process immensely. I think my interest in illustrating for books was an outcome of that.

However it wasn’t until I approached Tulika books, a publisher based in Chennai, that I got my first real illustration project. They were kind enough to look at my work and give me a chance to work on an endearing children’s story called ‘I’m so sleepy’ written by Radhika Chadha. Later, I also did some sequels to the book and wonderfully, they did get noticed by other publishers of children’s books and one thing led to another. So it was really by default that I started illustrating children’s books ..and loved doing it.

What are you inspirations in the illustration world?
Oh many! Quentin Blake has been an all time favourite. I have always loved Mario Miranda’s work.Tim Burton’s concept drawings for all his films are a treat to go through. As a kid I also loved books illustrated by Mickey Patel. Prashant Miranda (compiler's note:- oh my god!. He has some amazing stuff!) is another artist whose work I really admire. I also love the work of graphic novelists like Niel Gaimen and Marjane Satrapi. I absolutely adore the work of Piet Grobler. I can just go on. Also, with the internet , there is so much more exposure to what is going on around the world. People are constantly exchanging links saying ….”have you seen this…?” or they are posting interesting items on their facebook profiles. It is really amazing how many talented contemporary artists there are in obscure corners of the world whose work I have stumbled upon work trawling the web . Its wonderful that one can actually access the work of these artists and actually personally get in touch with them through their blogs .

How does it work out when the illustrator and the writer are not nearby. I was surprised by the amount of cohesion there seems to be between the words being written by Roopa Pai and your illustrations next to it. Did you read the book before the assignment or did you work in parallel?
Well, I definitely did read the book before beginning to illustrate it . It would be impossible to do so otherwise as one has to really gauge the mood of the book and understand its characters completely.

I don’t think physical distances matter as much especially in this day and age when so much work can just get done online and by having a couple of phone conversations. Most of Taranauts was actually done in this way .I met Roopa in person only once the book was launched. Credit does go to the Vatsala the editor at Hachette who actually co-ordinated between us. Roopa had conveyed a very clear vision of what she wanted but at the same time gave me enough space to imagine and elaborate on the world that she had created. In cases where my visualization was a little way of target , a simple email explaining the error would suffice. The process always involves a little bit of back and forth depending on the feedback the author gives. I think once you have understood the characters and the genre of the book you are pretty much set. After that it is merely a question of executing those ideas.

There have been many occasions when I’ve illustrated for books and have never ever met the author or even spoken to them for that matter! It is however always nice to meet writers of these books personally not so much because it helps illustrating them, but because of the fact that they are usually interesting people!

As an illustrator, you would have your own pet projects versus projects being given to you by publishers. How do you balance your own interest with what you have to deliver.
Well, the answer to that I guess is simple . If you love and enjoy what you are doing , then nothing is really an effort. So I usually try and squeeze in sometime every other day for something of my own. I must admit that personal projects without clear deadlines are not the easiest to complete quickly.

Sorry if this take sounds stupid - like a writer's block, is there an illustrator block?
Well there are definitely some spells when one doesn’t know how to treat a certain story or doesn’t feel inspired enough... But I think a short walk or run in the outdoors or a day of doing absolutely nothing about it is a good enough antidote for illustrators block (thank you for the nomenclature. I now know what I occasionally suffer from). I always feel one mustn’t take a project so seriously that it ruins the spontaneity of it .

What are the books that you love?
Among children’s books, I love all of Roald Dahls books . Of course Quentin Blake’s illustrations only add to the charm. I love his impish and often mean sense of humor . Piet Grobler illustrated this book written by Anushka Ravishanker called ‘Today is my Day’ which I like a lot. Like every other kid I grew up on my quota of Enid Blyton. One of my favourite books as a child used to be ‘the Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss. The whole idea of a family getting shipwrecked on an island and building a life for themselves was fascinating. I still love Asterix and Calvin and Hobbes. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is also a favourite. I love all of J.D Salinger especially his compilation of 9 short stories. There are hundreds of other books I would like to name but since they might seem a little out of the context of this blog, I shall refrain.

Anything else that you would like us to know..
I guess that’s all for now. I hope I’ve answered all your questions. Thank you for the opportunity and your interest in my work.

Thank you Priya.


Eni said...

So you grew up on your quota of Enid Blyton books like many of us. Thus, you are not alone. My nostalgia for many of Enid Blyton's books led me to publish a book on the writer, titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (
Stephen Isabirye

Praba Ram said...

Refreshing to read an illustrator on ST. Nice Q & As.

My 7 yr old loves Quentin Blake's cartoonish, scribbly line illustrations - one of the main reasons my 7 yr old's has enjoyed RD's books so much! :-)

I have a quick question for Priya...My daughter clearly enjoys drawing and we have noticed she captures depth and movement very naturally and has fun with it. She also loves humor in art. We havent put her in any art lessons as yet. Debating. Wondering if it's needed at the age of 7.

So, any advice for parents like myself on exposing children to any formal lessons to learn specific techniques - if at all they need one? :-)

Thanks in advance, Priya.

And thank you, Sathish for this awesome interview.

Choxbox said...

Awesome Sathish!

Priya, been following your blog for a while now. Nice to read this interview. My kids loved the illustrations in Colour Colour Kamini and the Snoring Shanmugan, as did I.

@Praba: Jumping out of turn here but I'd say it would depend on the teacher's style of instruction right - encouraging creativity vs. restricting it?
Would love to know Priya's POV.

Priya Kuriyan said...

@Prabha , by the sound of it your daughter is having a really good time on her own :). Ironically Praba, I don't particularly like like art classes because most of them try and teach you 'a' technique at a very young age. So, I couldn't agree with more with Choxbox's view that it totally depends on how the class is being taken .. I think the best judge would be your daughter herself! If she does go to one, the most important thing would be to see if she's enjoying going there . If not , I'm sure she will be the first one to tell you that:) .
My extremely personal take would be that at the age of 7, some one like your daughter, who has acquired such great taste in books :)because of the wonderful exposure you have given her will intuitively pick up a lot of things and devise her own way of doing things. The best thing to do would be to continue exposing her to all sorts of things that will inspire her and also continue encouraging her to draw at her will . Let her worry about techniques once she's much older :)
@ChoxBox Thank you so much . It makes me especially happy to hear that your kids love the Tulika books.
@Stephen A book on Enid Blyton seems like it woud be an interesting read .

sathish said...

Thank you Priya. I love your statement - "Let her worry about techniques once she's much older."

Enjoy illustrating/drawing/painting and worry about style and other details later! Thanks for the wonderful message.

Poppins said...

We love I'm so Sleepy out here in our house.

Priya: And this only validates what I've always thought - that drawing "classes" for children very young does more harm than good.

Praba Ram said...

Hi Priya,

Coming from a wonderful illustrator, can I ask for anything better? Thanks for those kind words. And I sure loved your "extremely personal view". Will continue to let her explore her artistic side on her own, and at her own pace! :)


Unknown said...

My 10-year-old Nirmal and I did the first of the Taranauts books for bedtime and are eagerly waiting for the second. For us, the illustrations and story are inseparable, and we derived great pleasure looking at the both the big pictures and the little ones all over the book. I think both text and pictures dance like those of Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake! :)

sathish said...

Thank you Ashok for your comments. We are looking fwd for the next book in the series.

Unknown said...

In a week! Waiting with bated breath :)

Unknown said...

Nice Reading Your Blog by

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