‘Draw’ing from the world for children

Proiti Roy

Illustrations: Proiti Roy

Sometime around the mid 1990s I decided to explore the possibilities of illustrating for children’s books. I had no idea where to begin. I was then living in Calcutta, now Kolkata. It took me a few years of working as a freelance illustrator and designer, as well as teaching children art and craft before I got the opportunity, in 2005, to illustrate a children’s picture book. Since then, it has been a journey filled with myriad shades of colours. There have been ups and downs but never a moment of regret.

Each project comes with a new experience, and with each one I have learned something new and grown as an illustrator. With my experience as an art and craft teacher and spending so much time with children of all age groups, I thought I understood children and could communicate with them in the visual language. But it was not easy to create pictures to narrate a story. Very often, I went back to my childhood and remembered the times I spent with books.

There are several stages that one has to go through when illustrating a book. Here is an account of how I work as an illustrator for children’s books. I learnt not to underestimate them as people. Their power of imagination is much more vivid than an adult’s.

I cannot function without my cup of coffee or chai at my worktable. And of course, my rescued dogs are by my side, always.

It starts with the text, which could be a story or poem. First, I spend time just thinking about the story. Then, I start scribbling and doodling ideas.

There are three visual elements that I have to develop before I start working on the actual artworks – character sketches, storyboard, and style of illustration.

I start by developing the characters. I draw sketch after sketch of the characters in various styles and personalities. A little bit of research is often required for details like regional attires and how the animal and natural world looks and behaves.

Then, I move on to try out a few styles and treatments of illustrations that I’d like to use for the project. If I’m very sure of what I want to do, I don’t waste time on other options.

It is while working on the styles and treatment, that I decide what medium I must use to create the artworks. Should it be water colours, pastels, colour-pencils, or mixed media?

Finally, I create a storyboard or thumbnails to break the story down visually, page by page.

I share all the work I have done so far with the publishers and wait for their feedback.

In a few days, I receive notes/comments and points from the publisher and after a few adjustments, I’m ready to start.

When I work on a picture book, there are some aspects that I enjoy immensely and some that can be frustrating and often boring!

I enjoy planning the pages… arranging the characters, objects, and elements on the canvas. Almost like a theatre stage. And then adding colours and bringing the pages alive.

Repeating the same characters on every page and keeping the continuity can get somewhat monotonous. But in the end, when I see the complete work, I feel it was all worth it!

Once all the spreads are approved by the publisher I am ready to send the high resolution artwork files along with illustrations for the cover and title page.

The day I receive a printed copy of the book that I had worked on for so many months, I feel like a child! I don’t think I need to explain why.

But after the excitement settles down, I go through the book and I see the flaws in the illustrations and get a little upset. “I could have done better or differently,” I say to myself. But this is also a moment when I feel I can improve, learn, and practice more.

My journey as a children’s book illustrator will not be complete if I don’t mention the animal welfare work I’m involved with. Somehow these two are connected. The rescued cats and dogs that live with me as well as all the other animals out there that need help, keep me focused on my illustration projects and make it my fulltime profession. The animal world is certainly a source of inspiration and much like children, they bring joy and hope. When I sit at my worktable, I am surrounded by my furry children, my mug of tea or coffee, and music… and I’m ready for yet another illustration assignment.

The author is an illustrator for children’s books. She studied fine arts in Shantiniketan, West Bengal. She taught children art and crafts for 12 years. She had been a part of the advertising industry in Bangladesh before settling down with the idea to become an illustrator and graphic designer. She is actively involved with animal welfare work in and around Shantiniketan, where she lives with many rescued dogs. She can be reached at proitiroy@gmail.com.

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