Thursday, April 01, 2010

Interview with Ashok Rajagopalan

Ashok Rajagopalan - an illustrator, a graphic designer, an animator and also a writer of children's books. He has illustrated more than 500 books for children in the last twenty years, for publishers like Tulika, Scholastic, Macmillan, Oxford University Press and Orient Longman.

In 2007, he made his mark as a published writer as well and since then he has written three books - retellings of the Odyssey and Iliad for children and Ajit the Archer, a novel for children.

His illustrations, be it simple pictures in Thumb Thumb books ('Mirror', 'Flower', 'Where is Thangi' and 'Up Up') or soft pencil sketches in 'Andamans boy' - have been mesmerising children and adults alike since last two decades.

They just enthused me so much that I could not resist the temptation to conduct an interview with him and he was very kind to take his time out to answer my questions. Here is the brief question-answer session with him, peppered with some of his beautiful artwork

1. How did you get into Children's book illustrations?

Always wanted to be one. Chandamama had started a children's magazine called Junior Quest in 1989, and I approached the editor, Aditi De, with sample illustrations. She gave me my first break. After that, I used my 'published illustrator' status to get work from textbook publishers. Magazines and books for grown-ups don't require as many pictures as those for kids, so I found myself specializing in illustrating for children.

2. After having seen some of your artwork, you seem to be comfortable in pencil sketches, pastels and computer imaging. If given a choice, which medium would you choose? Or which is your first preference?
The style and treatment of the text usually influences my choice of medium. Otherwise my choice depends upon what I am experimenting with at that point in time. Sometimes the publisher requests a particular style or treatment. I always love pastels and use them when I wish to create an emotion-rich picture. The 2001 Tulika Diary of Seasons was done that way. These days I am going green, my studio is almost paperless, and my first preference is computer graphics.

3. How do you select the projects, especially when a selection has to be made between the ones that interest you and the ones that are offered to you, how do you make the decision?

I rarely say no. Refusal to take up a project could only mean that I don't have the time.

4. You are a source of inspiration for many but who/what inspires you creatively?

Am I? Thank you for telling me. People usually don't tell me these things lest I think too much of myself. To answer the question, I am inspired by them all! Leonardo. Michelangelo. Turner. Monet. Van Gogh. Dali. Teniel. Charles Schulz. Uderzo. R.K. Laxman. Mario Miranda ...and many others.

5. I have observed that the artists generally travel a lot, is it a wrong generalization to make?

Absolutely wrong in my case. Unless travel is a relative term, because I walk a lot. I am usually at home, and take the family out on an annual vacation to some spot. The first time I flew was when I was 43, in 2007 and the northernmost I have travelled is Goa. I have never been abroad.

6. What are your current and forthcoming projects?

Just finished a book for Tulika. For a year now I have been working for two children's magazines: Impulse Hoot and Impulse Toot. Then I do the storyboards for a comic called the Dynast, which will be published this year. Last year I did the design and illustration of many textbooks. English is over and GK is planned for this year, the publisher tells me. After Penguin India published my Witchsnare, a gamebook I have written, I manage to get writing work too. Ajit the Archer, a novel for children will be out this year. Thinkbig Books are the publisher. I am at work on a picturebook, too, one that I will both write and illustrate.

7. How has your art/style changed since you first started?

My art and style changes with every new book I do. I call it variety and growth but my critics could call it inconsistency.

8. What does a typical day look like for you?

I have very few typical days. I start work at 6 am in chunks of worktimes. 6 -8 some work. 8 - 8.45 take second chap to school. Breakfast at 9 am. 9.30 - 11.30 - some more work. I take a short walk to the local teashop and either resume work, or talk to my wife, or friends on chat, or play a game on the computer. 12.30 - 1.30 Wife and I have lunch and watch two soap operas together. 1.30 - 4.00pm: More work with small breaks. 4 pm: tea and conversation. 4.30-6.30 Work. 6.30 Teashop, phone a friend and go yak yak. 7 - 9 Work, but work that doesn't require great creativity, only execution skills. I even work on the laptop and watch TV during this time. And talk to family members, of course. 9 - 10pm: Dinner and two soap operas. 10 to 11pm: Read bedtime stories to the kids, conversation and sleep. zzzzzz...

9. What do you hope to accomplish in the future (artistically or otherwise)? Any dream projects?

I want to do fine art, you know, the kind that hangs on a wall, and write at least one novel a year. That's how I see myself in ten years. One day, a movie, or a series of movies, will be made based on books I write. That's another dream and plan.

10. Did you have any formal training and what are three pieces of advice you would give to someone just starting out?

Not in Art. I have been formally trained in Mechanical Engineering, but know more about Gauguin and gouache than gears or gaskets. Artists need passion more than formal training. Pieces of advice for an aspiring illustrator of children's books:

1) Never lose the child in you. Keep that kid alive by remembering how you were as a child. For example, always remember that little children see the world from a low angle, and that they can see your nostrils, and are closer to adult feet than heads.
Let that inner child relate to the kids of today and update itself.

2) Always have fun. Art is meant to be play, not work. The moment you stop doing that, it will show in your work. When you are in form, your pleasure will visibly vibe through your pictures..

3) Be a good reader. The good illustrator respects the text, reads it, enjoys it, and draws pictures that are not only faithful to it, but lifts the book to another height. Wishing all aspiring illustrators the best!

Thank you very much. I enjoyed answering these questions, some of which set me thinking deep about some aspects of my work.

Ashok Rajagopalan.

A very big thanks to you, Ashok!
XPosted on LiterarySojourn


sathish said...

Ah! very nice.

Ashok, we enjoy your books a lot at home. keep them coming!

Choxbox said...

One of my favourites!

Thanks for this Vibha.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Vibha, Satish and Chocbox! Delighted!

Sheela said...

Very nice to read your thoughts shared here, Ashok. And, thanks Vibha for bringing it to us.

utbtkids said...

No formal art training!

Wow , I am impressed.

Thanks for the interview Vibha.

wordjunkie said...

Thanks Vibha.

Ashok, thanks for the inspiration. Have read ad re-read this interview several times over.

Vibha said...

Sathish, Chox, Sheela, utbt, wordjunkie ~ glad you all enjoyed reading the interview as much as I did doing this QA session with Ashok.

Ashok ~ thanks for your really inspirational straight-from-the-heart answers.

Praba Ram said...

Invigorating set of Q&As, Vibha & Ashok. Can't get better than this. Thanks! :)

Unknown said...

Thank you, Sheela, Utbtkids, Wordjunkie, Vibha and Praba!

Banyan tree, one ought to be impressed only when someone draws good in spite of formal training. :D

Wordjunkie, you had to reread? Sorry, I can be vague sometimes. :D

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