Friday, November 17, 2017

Q and A with Lavanya Karthik

A Walk with Thambi is our latest book which will be released on Sunday 19 November (11 am to 12.30 pm) at the Anna Centenary Library (Gandhi Mandapam Road, Kottur Gardens, Kotturpuram, Chennai) in partnership with Chetana Charitable Trust, which is celebrating the first anniversary of the Chetana Accessible Reading Material Library. Do come if you are in town!

Here is what Lavanya Karthik has to say about the book, and writing and illustrating.

Tell us the story behind A Walk with Thambi. What inspired you to write it?

I had been thinking for a while about a story with a boy and a dog in a small Indian town, with that little twist in the end. But, despite several rewrites, it never quite fell into place; I always felt something was missing. When Duckbill and the Vidyasagar Trust announced the Children First contest for books featuring positive representations of children with disabilities, the missing piece in the puzzle clicked into place. I decided to make the boy visually challenged, which at once changed the dynamic between him and his dog, the way he experienced his environment,  and added a lot of layers to the story. It eventually lost out – to my other entry in the picture book category, Neel on Wheels.

From 'A Walk with Thambi'

Thambi has very minimal text but conveys so much. How did this come about?

From the outset, I intended it to be a story conveyed largely through the illustrations. In fact, I submitted a manuscript with spare text and detailed descriptions of each spread which explained how the plot was moving forward. You experience the day the dog and the boy are having, by actually seeing them enjoy themselves, see how they negotiate their way through the town, and deal with the problem that pops up towards the end. I pared the text down; my editors at Tulika pared it down even more!

Thambi is an everyday story about a boy and a dog and also a sensitive comment on disability. The fact that the boy is blind comes through subtly. The reader has to infer it from the pictures and sensory descriptions. Do you ever think that this subtlety might not be picked up by every reader? Especially when the story also works well without it.

Not at all. I think young readers will see that he is blind, and also that that is just one aspect of his life. It’s also a book about friendship, and friends helping each other in sticky times. The boy is visually challenged, but this is something he takes in his stride. He is an integral part of the larger fabric of the town, his group of friends – just a regular kid.

From 'A Walk with Thambi'

You are an author and illustrator. When a story idea is waiting to make itself known, what comes first – the text or image?

Usually an image, around which I start developing a story. But sometimes a single word or phrase can pop into my head, and trigger off all kinds of ideas and images too.

Which do you enjoy more – writing or illustrating?

I enjoy both for the same reasons – the challenge, the constant revision required, the enormous sense of satisfaction you feel when you know you’re done – and the mountains of chocolate I eat as deadlines draw nearer.

You have written Ninja Nani for older children and you have written several picture books. Which genre do you find more challenging?

Both genres present their own unique challenges. Picture books need to be very precise in their text and to be experienced in terms of both words and pictures.Novels give you lots more pages to develop plot and characters, but that in turn means the writer has to work that much harder to keep their young viewers interested.

What is the most challenging book you have worked on so far as a writer?

Ninja Nani and the Zapped Zombie Kids, published by Duckbill Books.

From 'A Book is a Bee'
Which book do you consider to be your best?

I’m just getting started…ask me after another two decades or so ☺.

Which Indian children’s author and illustrator do you admire? (They need not be the same person.)

There are so many! But right at the very top of my list would be Pulak Biswas, Mario Miranda and Atanu Roy for illustration, and R. K. Narayan for writing.

From 'A Book is a Bee'
Is there a book/story you wish you had told but someone else got to it first?

Pretty much anything by Terry Pratchett.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am writing the third book in the Ninja Nani series, and another middle grade fantasy novel.

When Lavanya Karthik was a little kid, all she wanted to do was make up stories and draw pictures. Now she’s a slightly bigger kid, and that is pretty much all she does. She lives in Mumbai. Apart from ‘A Walk with Thambi’, she has written ‘A Book is a Bee’ for Tulika. 

Her books are available on our website.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Guest Post by Niveditha Subramaniam: Stepping away from the Storyboard - thoughts on finding my visual voice

Tulika author and illustrator Niveditha Subramaniam describes what she learnt about illustration during her master’s degree in this guest post.

Though I did Art and Design in senior secondary school, I am a self-taught illustrator. At Tulika, I had the opportunity to create my own work as a writer-illustrator. Being an editor, too, deepened my understanding of the visual. We naturally paid attention to structure, layout, design, composition and other aspects of bookmaking, and the collaborative nature of the work as well as discussions involved always opened up new dimensions. 

The Charles Wallace India Trust Award (2015-2017) enabled me to pursue the MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. I felt that this specialised Masters Programme would give me the exposure I needed to evolve as a visual storyteller. My relationship to my work and its making, and my understanding of the children’s book (the picture book medium, in particular) has undergone such a transformation through the course of the Masters.

Much of this is owing to the programme being steeped in the practice of observational drawing. The sketchbook is the illustrator’s playground; the place where the most uninhibited and freshest work happens; where self-expression is discovered through experimentation; where ideas for a children’s book emerge from a tiny scribble. However, observational drawing meant drawing from life and I had always drawn from the privacy of my desk. It was one thing to sketch in a real life drawing room but it was difficult to step out of my comfort zone and draw constantly in public places; in coffee shops, pubs, museums, market squares and so on. Cambridge is a small and friendly city, but I struggled to be at ease with myself and my pencil, often stiffening (sometimes because it was just too cold!).

At the one-on-one or group tutorial sessions where our sketchbooks were reviewed, my lecturers asked pertinent questions: 
Are you drawing from memory here or have you paid attention to what that person really looked like? Is this how the tree is shaped or have you simply looked at one branch and drawn the rest without observing each one? If A was the subject that attracted your attention, why is B taking up so much space on your paper instead? Why are you constantly attempting to ‘finish’ the drawing instead of first paying attention to your lines?

I began to pay attention to draughtsmanship, and realised that in my earlier work, I had made the transition to working on final images for book projects without doing enough sketches and studies.

Tsomo and the Momo
Slowly, through the course of the Masters, I began to ‘see’ with my pencil, and feel my way into the story. I saw the body language and gestures of my characters evolve. As movement and feeling filled them, my sketchbook began to have life. Then I hit my next challenge: bridging the gap between the observational and the representational. A problem that illustrators encounter is bringing the energy and spontaneity of their sketchbook work to the final artwork that is prepared for the book. We had been alerted that even if illustrators did have visual characteristics that marked their work, consciously adopting a style would confine rather than liberate us. Humour was intrinsic to my narratives, which were character-based. But quite a few of my tutors told me that I had to avoid making them ‘too cartoony’. This is a tricky balance to strike. On the one hand, the humour requires exaggeration. On the other hand, I’ve had to be careful about avoiding any kind of distortion that made the characters unconvincing.

Finally, I decided to abandon the idea of creating one set of ‘perfect’ final pictures that I would then use to make my picture books. This change had a significant impact on my work. I was able to:
a. rediscover the relationship between the characters without over-thinking anything; whether it looked ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ or whether I would use them at all.
b. tie in particular features of the individual characters with the moods I wanted to express through them.
c. make better mistakes; apprehend what wasn’t working and why it wasn’t working because I was no longer thinking of a single ‘perfect’ illustration.

The Sky Monkey's Beard

My interaction with my tutors and peers gently nudged me out of pre-conceived notions of what constitutes ‘good’ drawing. But learning to trust my own instincts and not second guess myself has been a crucial part of this journey. Cultural perceptions deeply inform and shape artistic sensibilities. For instance, a limited colour palette that might suit one particular kind of visual narrative need not work for another. A rich palette, where the use of each colour is not merely decorative, says a lot about a place, its people, and ways of living and being. Being aware that feedback too can be coloured by embedded attitudes and at the same time, taking thoughtful decisions about each aspect of composition is a big challenge. Small but significant breakthroughs happen when one begins to consider these questions seriously.

Niveditha Subramaniam is a children’s book writer-illustrator. She particularly loves picture books, wordless narratives and comics. She has published several books with Tulika.

Here are the books that Niveditha has written and/or illustrated for Tulika. They are available on our website

Monday, November 6, 2017

Talking About Pictures

Tulika author-illustrator Deepa Balsavar spoke about her thoughts behind creating illustrations for picture books in a video event for Kahani Takbak. Find out all that goes on behind the scenes in the Facebook video. Click here to see it.

Deepa Balsavar was involved in a curriculum enrichment project for municipal schools in Mumbai while she worked at Avehi-Abacus. ‘Sameer's House’ co-written with Deepa Hari and published by Tulika is a re-telling of an Avehi-Abacus story for children. She is also the author and illustrator of Tulika's bilingual picture book, ‘The Seed’ that was conferred the honour of being included in the prestigious White Raven's Catalogue 2007 at a special evening at the Bologna book fair. After her popular ‘The Lonely King and Queen’, Deepa has crafted the well loved ‘Round and Round Books’.

Here is a list of Deepa Balsavar’s books that she’s written and/or illustrated for Tulika.