Tanvi Bhat, who illustrated Ashoka and the Muddled Messages in the History-Mystery series is interviewed by historian and writer, Devika Cariapa.
DC: Tanvi, tell us a bit about your background. You are a self-taught artist; so at which precise point in your life did you decide that you wanted to become an illustrator?
TB: Yes, I am a self-taught artist. I was always fond of drawing but according to my teachers, never drew “correctly”. Which for a young kid can be so discouraging. When I had to choose a career I drifted towards animation because I loved art and films. But at my first job at an animation studio all I did was draw concepts. At the end of my year there, my senior took me aside and said, “Why do you bother with animation? Just be an illustrator already!”. So I be-ed!
CD: Did you get in trouble at school for doodling away your time?
TB: Oh you would have to search for notes among pages after pages of doodles (and FLAMES). I had a super considerate bestie who would photocopy her notes for me before every exam so I could happily zone out and doodle in classes.
DC: What actually goes on when author and illustrator meet?
TB: The sad part of working alone from home is that you don’t get to interact much with the publications and authors. BUT, I did get to meet Natasha before and after Ashoka and the Muddled Messages and every time I meet her, she has an infectious inspiring energy about her.
DC: Is Ashoka and the Muddled Messages your first experience of illustrating a work of historical fiction? Did you have to do a lot of homework for it?
TB: Yes, it was my very first experience working on historical fiction. Thankfully for me, this time, Natasha was the one who photocopied all the notes for me. Some things never change. However, I did make a trip to Kanheri Caves where there were sculptures from the Mauryan era and it really did help with the drawings!
DC: I love the depiction of Ashoka’s all-female bodyguard–they looked very Amazonian and liberated!
TB: Drawing the tremendous ten was the biggest challenge for me–their armour, the weapons and these crazy poses that they assume.
When I first read the story I was so intimidated! The comedy in the story is fabulous and I really wanted to strike the right balance in my illustrations where it isn’t parodying it too much but it’s still awkward and funny.
DC: Who or what has been a major influence on your illustrating style?
TB: The visuals we get to see on Indian roads, cities and villages are so rich and colourful. Growing up in Calcutta, we were always made to notice the beauty and art in simple things. There’s so much art around us that it’s bound to leave an imprint on our minds. A few of my big illustration idols are Quentin Blake, Maurice Sendak, Pulak Biswas, Priya Kurian, Prashant Miranda, Anitha Balachandran and the list can go on and on!
DC: Is there an existing book with illustrations that your finger itch to re-draw?
TB: Yes! I really want to draw Esio Trot. The story is one of my favourites and I want to know how I would do it. (But nothing can touch the original Blake’s illustrations for it!)
DC: If not an illustrator, what would you have been?
TB: It was between being an illustrator and a story-spewing-fairy-with-colorful-confetti-shooting-out-of-my-ears. I’m glad I chose the first option!