Meet ‘Greystroke’ – The Man Who Loves 'Mangoes' As Much As He Loves 'Cats'!

Cartoonist, art director and illustrator all rolled into one – meet Shyam Madhavan Sarada a.k.a Greystroke. He is the man behind the lovely illustrations of ‘Mangoes for Moidootty’ the 7th story of our ‘Weave-A-Story’ campaign. 

Shyam is an old friend of Pratham Books. He has authored as well as illustrated many books with Pratham Books including ‘Wailers Three’, ‘Three for Free’ and ‘Magic Powder’, out of which ‘Wailers Three’ is a CBSE recommended reader. Shyam has also joined hands with Pratham Books helping us translate a few titles from English to Hindi. His venture on StoryWeaver resulted into a hilarious tale- ‘The Story Pooping Cat’ which left everyone in giggles. Other than creating stories, he has also released many of his other beautiful illustrations for people to use on StoryWeaver.

He is delighted to see his illustrations get a new spin and here’s what he had to say about illustrating, inspiration and much more, when we had a little chat with him.
How does it feel to see your illustrations get a whole new spin? What did you think of the story?
It has been a decade since the original books were published, in 2005, and it is fun to see the same illustrations come to life in a completely new context, and in a story that stands on its own. I understand that the author, Sreedevi Gopakumar, hadn’t seen the illustrations in their original context. Well, it doesn’t matter at all, because Malu and Moidutty have given them a parallel life, and Sreedevi has cast the right amount of magic to make it all work. I am thrilled to see the illustrations find currency again! What more could an illustrator want but for one’s work to be seen again and again in a very enjoyable, sweet story that people like!

Tell us a little about how you created these illustrations.

I was involved in the creation of some 20 titles in the early stages of Pratham Books’ advent as a publisher. The illustrations used in ‘Mangoes for Moidootty’ were part of a series of Pratham books on everyday science (The ‘Sister, Sister’ series, 2005) written by Roopa Pai. My team and I had great fun putting them together in some 7 or 8 different languages! By then I had moved completely digital for illustration but wanted to keep it somewhat real by using natural medium painting software that mimics real-life media. These illustrations were the result of my “oil-painting-without-paint” work at the time. No canvas or paint was used! Since then I have added pen and ink, even watercolour to my arsenal… all digital, of course.

You have been very active on StoryWeaver. Tell us about your experience with the platform.

Storyweaver has been fun. It takes some getting used to, but does a great job of giving people a platform to explore their skills as storytellers. I particularly like the idea of giving a random twist to well-known books by taking their illustrations and giving them a whole new context. Plus we get to use illustrations by some of the best names in the industry, wow! ‘The Story-Pooping Cat’ is one such effort of mine, which was a collaboration with my son, Aaron. He’s six and finds it “awesome” to come up with these ridiculous stories with illustrations that he likes. To further explore the platform, I collaborated with another writer, Nalini Sorensen, to republish ‘What Makes You Special’, a story that we had worked on together for the magazine ‘TOOT’. We used Storyweaver to give it a new lease of life, collaborating online, across continents, me uploading the illustrations, she adding the text. The platform makes it easy to collaborate and create content like this and the experience has been positive overall. I am looking forward to people adding more pictures to the bank, so that I can push the envelope further as a writer. I also hope to collaborate with other like-minded authors and illustrators on the platform.

What do you do and where do you go when you desperately need inspiration to draw? Yes, we are asking you to spill your secrets.

If I spill them, they wouldn’t be secrets anymore, would they? If I ever “desperately need inspiration”, I should stop doing it! Jokes apart, I try to find that space between the written word and the literal interpretation of the picture, and concentrate more on facial expressions and action. Most of my work ends up being close-ups or medium close-ups for that reason. I tend to sacrifice a lot of the detail of a scene, in my quest to create that magic we all love to see in the books we read. I always think that I shouldn’t interfere with the imagination of the reader, only nudge it a bit here and there. I don’t want to mess with the scene that the author has created for the reader… “the sky is blue”, but what kind of blue? Azure? Cerulean? Periwinkle? Powder, Prussian, Royal? Turquoise, Yale, Zaffre? See what I mean? It is endless! Let it be exactly the blue that the reader wants, not the blue I saw when I read the text! Being an author myself has helped find that balance… somewhat. I’d have failed as an illustrator if I could only paint the words and not what they mean. So there, that’s my secret. At least the tip of the iceberg, that is!

‘Mangoes for Moidutty’ – a delightful tale is currently available only in English. We want the story to reach far and wide in many many languages. You can help this tale reach more people by translating it into Hindi, Marathi, Tamil or any other language that you love! If there a language you’re fluent in, please go ahead and translate it. Together, let’s make this story available in multiple languages for more children across the world to read and enjoy. 

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