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More should be spent on children’s writing, feels illustrator Priya Kuriyan

Wielding her illustrative pen: Priya Kuriyan says what we spend on celebrity authors should be spent on children’s writing as they are our future readers and need to be nurtured

Bengaluru-based Priya Kuriyan is one of India’s noted illustrators. When we meet her at MG Road for an interview, Priya is quick to dismiss any claims to greatness: “I haven’t counted the number of books I have illustrated,” adding: “I don’t approach projects thinking they are going to be a magnum opus and that is what I teach my students too. I try to push myself to be better with every project.” However, Priya’s works have consistently been of high quality, bearing a distinctive, signature style. She is a book artist, comic book illustrator and animator, and has collaborated with well-known names in the publishing industry, including Tulika Books, and authors such as Manu S Pillai.

Excerpts from an interview, in which the graduate of The National Institute of Design, talks about winning the Big Little Book Award 2019 for the best children’s illustrator, instituted by Parag, which she received during the Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai Litfest 2019, and her career so far.

The jurors comments at the Big Little Book Awards were ‘Priya Kuriyan has the rare ability to get inside a child’s mind with her illustrations... the story emerges through her lines, textures, colours that harmonize to allow the illustrations not only to speak with the text but also read the subtext’. How did this style evolve?

When I began illustrating children’s books, I didn’t consciously think about these things. Over a period of time, with experience, I felt subtext was important in terms of creating atmosphere, even making a book being politically conscious.

You worked as an animator in a production house in Mumbai that made commercials and later for the Sesame Street show (Galli Galli Sim Sim) in Delhi. How did you journey into illustrating children’s books?

At the production house, they made ad films . At some point, I felt I should be doing better things with my life. The workplace was good and I had a good boss, who mentored me well. When you are working in a production house, there are tight deadlines, so you have to finish something well, yet on time, so those are good lessons to learn from your first job. But at the end of the day, you have to push different products and I got a bit tired of that. There was this production house in Delhi that produced the Sesame Street show. That is when I started working on children’s content specifically. The show however didn’t get good TRPs, so it wrapped up. I was also doing illustrations on the side for children’s books. Once I decided to freelance, somehow through word of mouth, I got more and more work. Even at that point of time I was not looking at children’s illustrations as a serious profession. Also, once you illustrate a children’s book, people continue to think that you are an illustrator and you start getting similar kind of work. But I started enjoying illustrating. I think the possibilities are much more, while illustrating children’s books.

How does the creative process work between the author and illustrator?

In some cases the publisher acts a mediator between the author and the illustrator. Sometimes the author and illustrator don’t talk, but that has become less of the case now. I prefer, especially if it is a picture book, to speak to the author from time to time. When it comes to picture books it is a collaboration, where half the work is the illustrator’s and half the work is the author’s. I read the script entirely to get a sense what the story is about and send rough sketches, which the publisher and author see and get back to you.

When I was in Delhi, I wanted to write a children’s book. I was illustrating other people’s stories and I thought it was time to write my own. The story was about my grandmother. I had gone to the workshop in Delhi in 2014, conducted by Anushka Ravishankar and Anusuya Basu. I had developed a story there, done sketches and written the text. When I sent it to the publishers, Tulika, they suggested I remove the text, as the book works well with just illustrations.

Was the idea for Ammachi’s Glasses always with you or did it suddenly spring up?

The idea was always there, not the losing the glasses part, but maybe having my paternal grandmother as a character. I lived with her in Kochi for two years. She also had a cat at home. She hated the cat and thought cats should not be domesticated. Somewhere all that kind of came together.

More should be spent on children’s writing, feels illustrator Priya Kuriyan

Tell us about your collaboration with writer Devapriya Roy on Indira, the graphic biography of Indira Gandhi.

Indira involved a lot of research. Devapriya and I travelled together to Allahabad. I would also keep visiting Delhi because I felt it was important to visit the places where certain parts of the book were set. I have visited the Parliament before, but I revisited spaces within the Parliament, where some parts of the book are located. Devapriya started work on the project much earlier. She spent a lot of time in libraries. I went through visual archives and talked to people. It took us six months to put the book together. The book is a way to introduce Indira Gandhi to the millenials.

More should be spent on children’s writing, feels illustrator Priya Kuriyan

Since 2003, when you began illustrating for children’s books, have you seen a change in the industry?

It is definitely better than when I started out. At the time there were very few publishing houses and the established publishers weren’t really bringing out picture books. But things have changed drastically over the years. Yet, I think it is not enough, children’s literature needs much more attention. I still feel it gets a bit of stepchild treatment. I find it strange because these are your future readers, you need to nurture them. What we spend on celebrity authors should be spent on children.

What would you consider a turning point in your career?

I think one of them is when I illustrated Devashish Makhija’s When Ali became Bajrangbali. That was the first time I understood how political picture books can be. It had so many layers. I enjoyed doing it, and that changed something in me.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 6:33:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/wielding-her-illustrative-pen/article30328439.ece

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