Lola would creep tenaciously into the drawings of Prabha Mallya. The orange coloured office cat, naughty and doted upon, invariably entered the works until she evolved into a pert little side character. “She walked in and out of my drawings,” recollects the young illustrator witha proclivity for birds and animals. The feline’s conspicuous omnipresence, caught in her different moods, was noticed and led to Prabha’s first major assignment - illustrating Nilanjana Roy’s The Wildings , a story on urban wild life. This was followed by another work, related to the wild, for popular writer Vikram Seth’s Beastly Tales From Here and There and then the sequel to Roy’s work. It established Prabha as a graphic illustrator in an evolving field of graphic story telling. The artist, writer was in the city to conduct a sketching workshop at Studio Kokaachi in Panampilly Nagar.
Prabha’s world of drawings is peopled by creatures from the animal kingdom, her main aim currently veering toward animal activism. She believes that such visibility will help the cause of wildlife conservation and the rescue of unlucky animals who stray into human habitation. Stray cats, dogs and leopards caught in the crossfire of urbanisation are sketched by her. Her Jungle Book illustrations are on wolves.
“I find it fascinating that such a large animal, like the leopard, lives alongside human habitation; it observes us quietly,” she says on her series Found Lepard , where her leopards get spotted and are found. Her fascination for the wild originates in spending a childhood, growing up singly, near a forest in Goa.
Free time then was about observing the wild, writing stories on it and illustrating the creatures that inhabited therein. She did so along with her cousin. The Nancy Drew type thrillers were illustrated and retold. A course in Mechanical Engineering from BITS Pilani too did not relegate her passion for drawing. It persisted much like Lola in her works. A few internships in art, along with her graduation, and Prabha decided that a corporate job was not for her. Her calling was art, drawing, sculptures and writing. “I felt I could do art for a living rather than be an engineer,” she says.
“The Wildings came about because of the cats. The motivating part of illustrating the books was that the writing appealed to me, the verse and the stories were great. If the writing is inspirational the drawings reflect that,” she says. Currently based in Stanford, Prabha freelances as an illustrator and is at an exciting professional juncture with the graphic novel in India establishing itself. She finds it to be an interesting time for illustrators, a time to experiment.
Her choice of using the pencil as tool for expression and the straight line as the medium was made early when she felt that the line and monochrome were best suited for her narrative. Introducing and familiarising graphic narrative to youngsters, she believes is nudging children to observe illustrations, “it is about communicating an idea through a medium. It takes a bit of thinking visually and to be able to draw. It’s is like playing Pictionary,” she says.
Her current works are with a publisher in France for a colouring book and illustrating a book with Kokaachi for their series Twelve. She has illustrated for The Small Picture and recently done a comic. A graphic novel is on the cards.
An illustration should – show not tell, she says about the balance a graphic drawing needs to achieve in contrast with cartoon, caricature, animation and comic, the different forms of visual art.