Till a few months ago, Thiruvananthapuram-based Simi Raghavan was hoping to pick up her career as a freelance online graphic designer from where she’d last left off three years ago to have her second baby. But today, she finds herself in a new role - that of an illustrator of adult colouring books.
For many buyers of her first book, Halloweenby Simi , in the United States, the festival would have proved a far spookier experience than the regular fare of trick or treat. Simi herself though is a bundle of giggles, exhilaration and wonder. She is already at work on her second book that is due to coincide with the Christmas season. “I had no clue that adult colouring books were in trend,” she says. “I saw a lot of client demand for artworks exclusively for adult colouring books and thought about giving it a shot.” Working on Amazon’s self-publishing platform CreateSpace, she sent in her work, admitting that she had no experience, but they were impressed.
With festival themes in mind and Halloween around the corner, Simi set to work on pages where witches, ghouls and all things eerie came to life. Halloween by Simi went up for sale on Amazon.com for $9.95 in September. As the illustrator, Simi has the pleasure of sitting on this side of the world, grinning away when her book has had another sale online.“I have had the most sales in the U.S. so far. The satisfaction when colourists send you their completed works is immense,” she says beaming.
Simi recalls being led by the hand, doodling on any surface right from her school days. “It has got me into trouble. I’d end up scribbling on completed projects. Even now, I have to keep my daughter’s homework at a safe distance.” Raised in Dubai, Simi remembers her father being most supportive of her artistic talent.
Simi pursued computer science engineering at college but also studied graphic design for a month, working for a year in the same field. “I always found coding mind-numbing,” she says, shuddering at the thought. “Working for a company also came with its own limitations. Experimenting was hardly encouraged.” Keen to resume work once her first-born started school, Simi found plenty of projects online using freelance portal Upwork where there were plenty of takers for her graphic designs and hand drawings. “Now I get paid to do what I love,” she says.
Simi is self-taught, a month of pencil sketching during middle school being the only formal training she has had. In her new job, Simi finds that her skills as a graphic designer and freehand artist hold her in good stead. “There are clients who specifically ask for hand drawings because there is a lot of manipulated work available online where people compile pictures off the Internet and publish them in book format. There are other works done entirely on Photoshop or Illustrator. Thanks to my last job, I already know the technical aspects, like the resolution size at which I needed to scan and upload my works to send to the publisher and the like.”
Going through various comments posted by colourists online, Simi was also able to assess their preferences. “I was surprised to find so many colourist groups. They would share their works, discuss what mediums to use. I found that many colourists liked to frame their works. So I kept my drawings on one side of the pages with the option to do cut-outs and pin them up. It is important to keep in mind the people who are going to colour it. Some illustrators give more black areas. I deliberately have more white space as people who are colouring want to decide the colour.”
Simi is still learning on the job. “I didn’t tell my friends circle till the book was out. Now I’ve created a Facebook page for the book. I also have to improve my timings with deadlines too because now I notice that sales tend to dip after the holiday season for a particular festival is over.”
She hopes to publish the Christmas-themed book locally and has plenty of ideas lined up for future projects. “India has no dearth of festivals. I also would like to create a book dedicated to different countries,” says Simi who usually jots down ideas when they occur to her so that when she sits to work, the images come effortlessly. It is hard not to notice the elements usually related to folklore surrounding her art. “I owe it to the many Enid Blyton books on fairies that I read as a child,” she says.
“Fortunately I don’t need much time with the drawings. I work when my children go to school. My daughter is a bookworm so she isn’t interested in my work. In fact, a lot of the drawings for the Halloween book came while I was sitting on a bean bag at The Reading Room library in the city where my daughter attends story-reading sessions.”
Simi is a fan of Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford whose series of colouring books for adults turned it into a fad that is yet to go out of fashion. “I also like Millie Marotta’s drawings,” Simi adds though she confesses to being impatient when she tried to colour one of her own works. “I just couldn’t sit with it,” she says. “I have read that it is a great stress reliever for many people and is even recommended by psychologists. I would like to have my work have that sort of effect on people.”
Halloween by Simi: An Adult Colouring Book is also available on Amazon.in for Rs. 702.