Picture books, as the name suggests, often rely on illustration to push the narrative, enhance the setting, and absorb a young reader into the story. Young readers are introduced to the world of reading with picture books, and many leave an impact that become fond memories down the road, later in life.
We wanted the answers to what, why, and how illustrators dream up their pictures to tell stories for children. To decode the process, we had a chat with Vinayak Varma – author, illustrator, art director, guest editor, and the creative mind behind multiple picture books published by Pratham Books.
Alongside the plot, illustrations are among the most important parts of a picture book. As a writer and illustrator, how do you fulfil both roles and how are they distinct from each other?
Vinayak: Well, in the case of picture books, these two roles aren’t all that distinct – any overlaps between the two are essential features and not accidents. The text and illustrations in a picture book must seamlessly work together to serve the overall story / theme, so the artificial distinctions created by a process where the art simply follows / bows to the text, or vice versa, can often work to the detriment of the picture book. If you’re able to both draw and write, you have something of an advantage, of course, because any distinctions between these narrative forms will (ideally) fall away. As to how one may do this, without going into specifics (of which there are many) – knowing the inherent limitations of each form of expression can help you understand how best they can complement and enhance one another.
The artwork in The Sunshower Song shifts between illustrations that are detail-oriented and geometric shapes that almost look abstract. Tell us how this differentiation is important to the story?
Vinayak: The logic is fairly straightforward – the more sketchy illustrations depict reality (where the narrator and, by extension, we who are narrated to, exist in the present) while the more geometric illustrations show the story within the story (the abstracted past, as it exists in the jackals’ imagination / memory).
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Vinayak: Sundry books, movies, music, the internet, etc. Same as everyone 🙂
The Sunshower Song, Angry Akku, and Jadav and the Tree-Place are all differently styled. How does the storyline, theme and setting of the book influence the drawing style?
Vinayak: I honestly don’t know. I’m afraid I don’t follow any specific method to arrive at a style. I go with the mood of the story, or sometimes even just my general state of mind when I start drawing, and try not to agonise over the intellectual import of these choices. I find it’s more fun to improvise in the moment and let my instincts guide me.
How did you fulfil your roles as both art director and one of the authors of Ammachi’s Incredible Investigation?
Vinayak: Tea. Lots of tea.