Meet the Illustrator : Maya Ramaswamy

For the first time, Pratham Books is launching a digital version of a book ahead of the printed book. Written by eminent scientist Dr. Madhav Gadgil and beautifully illustrated by wildlife illustrator Maya Ramaswamy, ‘Muchkund and his Sweet Tooth’ is a tale about a fictional bear called Muchkund and his bright gang of ghosts who negotiate with bees and come up with a clever way to live in ecological harmony. Fact and fiction go hand in hand to give you an entertaining presentation of ecological realities.

Our editorial team caught up with illustrator Maya Ramaswamy to chat about her latest book ‘Muchkund and his Sweeth Tooth’. Maya Ramaswamy is wildlife illustrator working for awareness and education in the Indian subcontinent. She is a keen student of natural history and conservation. Maya is based in Bangalore.

1. You have a passion for Wild life and Nature. How did it all start?
Well….we had wild gardens everywhere we lived when I was a kid. Since our parents never asked us what we were up to in our free time, we were forever running into wild creatures around us. There was no such thing as TV. Children need wild spaces to play in. We must let the wilderness in. Exotic imported plants guzzle water and are only good for ‘show’. They do not support natural wild creatures.
2. Animal life comes alive with lot of details in your drawings. What are the key things in such drawings which make all the difference?
Kids who are really interested in art, should be allowed to take it seriously. It is a long, long process of learning and observation. A life-long commitment.
3. Would you tell us a little about the process of illustrating for a book like this? How long do you normally take? How do you maintain consistency in style and colours?
I first read the manuscript a few times, just enjoying it and feeling the nuances. On the third read, I highlight paragraphs and lines that appeal to me or set off exciting visuals in my head. Then I set down very rough thumbnail sketches for the whole story, maintaining the flow for the main characters. This is similar to storyboarding and helps to keep consistency in characters. Style and colour consistency requires years of dedicated practice.
4. Any special moments while working on Muchkund?
Dr. Gadgil is a gifted storyteller. He weaves together nature and culture, fiction and fact, timelines and characters with incredible ease. Muchkund was special and sparkling all over. 
5. Do you illustrate in any other style also? Your natural realistic style works wonders with nature and wildlife but would you also accept a sci-fi manuscript?
I use the realistic style for a reason. Children in India are losing touch with the natural world at an alarming rate. In deliberately keeping my style close to nature, I hope I can excite their interest in the wilderness heritage of this amazing subcontinent.
Sci-Fi…well…”Muchkund and the sweet tooth” is wildlife Sci-Fi, isn’t it?
6. You are interested in conservation. How could we reach out to children and motivate them to involve in such activities? Especially through Art?
Natural ecological landscapes must be preserved even around cities. 
Corporations, municipalities, school-boards, ‘developers’, city planners; they all treat natural grasslands, lakes and wetlands as ‘waste’-lands and dumpyards! We allow them to be ‘developed’ with concrete and stone edges, benches and walk-ways. 
When left alone and protected, natural areas are incredibly rich in wild creatures. Every school should have a ‘Nature-Consultant’. People should consult ecologists, naturalists and birdwatchers before they ‘invest money’ in ‘landscaping’. 
As children, we did not sit inside worrying too much about ‘Art’. We went out and watched birds, plants, frogs and insects. Children need to climb trees, play with mud, weave grasses, and catch bugs. Children need unrestricted ‘playtime’ in nature. There is no creative learning better than that.

Read ‘Muchkund and his Sweet Tooth’ in English, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi and Telugu.

Read more interviews with Pratham Books authors and illustrators.

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