Thursday, September 12, 2013

Process for the book My Journey

Sometime in May and June, I was asked by an art director for a Delhi publisher to illustrate some stories written by our esteemed and very venerated former president Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam.  Like a photographer has to get to know her subject in order to capture spirit and essence  for a good portrait, the illustrator (in this case) had to capture the energy of the author through his autobiographical recollections. 

When I read through the manuscript with an open mind, two things stood out constantly in the writing- the simplicity of this man and his strength. These are the two qualities I have tried to bring about in my illustrations through strong black and white highly stylized images contrasting against stark white backgrounds. All unnecessary detail is completely removed. No waving coconut trees of Rameswaram, no giant-eyed, saccharine-faced maternal women, no idyllic Indian temple illustrations, no curly twirly embellishments and decorations…. Here, for this book, only the key elements of the story are used in the illustrations to compliment a simple and beautiful narrative.

While I spent about a month figuring out factors like approach, style and suitable materials for drawing, the actual process of drawing these illustrations took about 20 days. That is about a day or two per illustration. This is more or less akin to speeding on a motorbike like this >> The adrenaline rush is immense. The illustrations are charcoal drawings cut out and collaged to form suitable compositions. I have made an attempt to describe the process as requested by some blog readers, further down this blog post.

All the illustrations I did for My Journey can be found at my website by clicking this link >>
An extract of the book with some illustrations can be found here >>
But here are some of my favourite illustrations from that book

I try to imagine him walking on those quiet roads, long before the day made its many demands on him...I was always sure that the morning walk added somthing to his personality, an element of calm that was apparent even to strangers.

I always remembered the look on my father's face the day after the storm. It was an acknowledgement of the power of nature, of knowing what it means to live by the sea and make your living from it.

...but because you kept eating, she kept serving you, and tonight she will go hungry because there is nothing left for her to eat.

I have seen both sides of the coin and have learnt life's toughest lessons when I have stared into the pit of despair that failure brings with it.

All around me, I observed that we were being encouraged to leave behind traditional ways of thinking and embrace this new climate.


When the art director asked me to illustrate Dr.Kalam’s stories, she, a woman of few words said she wanted ‘something abstract’. I had absolutely no idea what she meant and spent a lot of frustrating days dithering around in circles. 

I gave her work like the ones above, where it was obvious I didn't know what I wanted to do. However, when the art director said, “ I want much less detail” the words struck a chord. By abstract, she had meant ‘stylized’ drawings. And that moment, at the end of an entire frustrating month was like finding an opening to the maze that would take me to the other side.

This picture below is the same subject matter as the one above, but after I knew what I wanted.

These are some of the key sketches I made to clarify to myself what image accompanies each chapter.

I thought I would use Canson paper which is excellent for charcoal drawings, however at 45 rupees for a half-imperial sheet they are expensive and I knew I would be using a hell of a lot of paper for this project. The next best paper for charcoal is what used to be found in the now discontinued Nightingale Drawing pads. To find a source for similar paper, I messaged my helpline, Doctor Gumani, who is an expert on everything art material. She directed me to Marudhar paper mart in the bylanes of Commercial street where I asked and showed the sample Nightingale paper. The Marudhar men went into their godown and came up with an excellent substitute - the mysterious M422 paper. These are giant imperial size sheets at some 35 rupees a sheet. I came back home lugging a roll of 40 sheets of this paper. It was utterly absolutely super for charcoal (Mungyo charcoal in this case) and I didn't have to feel self conscious about the price which I would have had I used Canson paper.

For 12 illustrations, I used some 35 of these sheets. I worked in a whirlwind of charcoal dust and torn paper. I'd carry dozens of trashbags of cut up paper to garbage. I'd get up and practically hurl myself on my desk to meet the 20 day deadline. I went into hermit mode. I deactivated from Facebook. I survived on Falafel rolls. 
Here is the building process for some of the illustrations -

This is what one wants to avoid, trite palmtrees and repetition of the text

Paring down to the essentials. Just the feet. 

The feet are too smooth and sophisticated here.

Feet with more personality.

Those hands. Remember this picture >>> ?

The size of the actual illustration compared to the print in the book.

When will this ever end? Here are a few more images. 
Now you probably get an idea of some of the process that was involved in 
creating these illustrations.

The final illustrations where shot on manual mode with my brand new DSLR camera which made the background stark white and brought out the excellent quality of the textured charcoal.

Here, I have to add that I could not have done this without the help of my many wonderful friends.
Thank you to
Gumani, for all art material help and for recommending Baby wipes to clean charcoal off
my hands. It has saved my skin.

Mr.A for inviting me to his warehouse to help myself to excellent Mungyo charcoal at a hugely discounted price

Nancy for her helpful information about camera lenses :)

Slogan Murugan who kicked my ass to make me stop researching on the net and go buy that DSLR. 

Sweet Cop Shiva who told me where to buy that DSLR. Both men recommended the same particular camera :)

Computer man for installing a much needed software on the last day of the deadline in spite of his unbelievably busy schedule. (If I thought I had too much work, you should see him).

Electrician who kept his word and came to repair the blown fuse also on the last day of the deadline.

My wonderful kind and patient art director who had more faith in me than I did in myself and who steered me gently and firmly back to charcoal.

Thank you.