Vandana Singh, the illustrator of Something Fishy, which will be in bookshops soon. She is interviewed by Archit Taneja, software professional and novelist. Archit says: ‘With a lot of pleading, we managed finally to get an interview with Vandana. We had to plead because she doesn’t like interviews, and not because she’s a snob.’
AT: Hi Vandana. So, you trained to be a pilot, but became a wrestler, and now you are an illustrator and designer, what’s up with you?
VS: I worked for WWF(World Wide Fund for Nature). That doesn’t have anything to do with wrestling. I’ve heard that so many times now, I’m beginning to wish I actually was!
AT: What do you like to draw more? Humans or Animals?
VS: Okay, the answer to that is…Sorry, what was the question again? I suffer from memory loss.
AT: What do you like to draw more? Humans or Animals?
VS: Aren’t we all animals? I feel humans are easier to draw, and drawing an animal needs a lot more research. But I love drawing both.
AT: Yes indeed, we are all animals. Please don’t cross question the interviewer.
Okay, next question. Your illustrations are really weird and trippy, why is that so?
VS: Maybe it’s because I am a weird person? Maybe I’m not a person at all. Do you still want to do the interview?
VS: Okay, continuing with the answer. I like having fun with characters. I like being friends with them talking to them or scolding them or knowing what they are doing when they are not on the page. And while all this is on…things just keep drawing themselves and characters talk to themselves and somehow make their own world. Sometimes I fell i’m just an outsider. So, the bottom line is that you can’t blame me for my illustrations being trippy.
AT: How did you get into illustrating?
VS: I am not an “illustrator” illustrator, if that makes any sense. I got into it by accident!
AT: Could you please describe the accident?
VS: One day while sulking in office, a colleague came to me and suggested that I take part in this
online illustration competition thing. After neglecting it for a few days, the colleague took over my computer and registered on my behalf.
That’s how the book started. It’s called “I am Najar Am Radh”. It was a very collaborative process, where conversations with friends gave me ideas on how to go about it. For example, a friend once called up and said:
“Why don’t you make the bark of the tree look like the wizard’s hair!”
“Oh yeah! Let me put that into the drawing!”
After that, I got a hang of things. There isn’t as much collaboration as there was the first time. But it’s still fun to call a friend once a while and get feedback on how things are going.
AT: How do you start off with making an illustration? What are the tools of the trade?
VS: I start off drawing by hand. It could be water colours, or pen and ink, or a mix of different mediums. I love to put a lot of texture. I tend to work on backgrounds and foregrounds separately, and then do Photoshop voodoo to merge the layers together. Other times, it just makes sense to do it together in a pile.
AT: It seems like you mix drawings with photographs, and they tend to blend in seamlessly. Is this your invention, do you have it copyrighted?
VS: No. A lot of people do it! Since the illustrations are black and white, it’s easier to blend photographs and drawings. If it were color, things would have been trickier because of the lighting and shades and so on.
But this is the first time I have tried this method. I used a lot of real images, and a lot of Photoshop for this book. It was a lot of fun (it’s finally about having fun).
AT: Do you leave a secret sign, or a message in your illustrations, like famous artists do?
VS: I haven’t done that so far. But it’s a cool idea. I’ll think about trying that next time.
AT: How was it like to work on Something Fishy?
VS: I enjoy reading stories a lot, and re-reading them. I read the story, slept over it, and let it sink into me. I talked to the characters. I initially scolded them for looking awful. They then talked back to me, and I improved them. It was a lot of fun.
Mira is this cool detective kid, and I could relate to my kid-self with her. It’s always fun to ask myself “What would I have done if I were Mira??”
As kids, we opened this Detective Agency thinking that it would get us cases and adventures. Our Sherlock Holmes was called ‘Private Detective and Investigator Muchchandar Chabli’. Dont ask me where we got that name from but I do remember it involved a lot of research and brain storming! Maybe that’s why we never got a single case 😦
So yes working with Mira was kind of deja vu for me.
AT: Who is your favourite illustrator?
VS: My favourites keeps changing. My current favourite is Jon Klassen, and I really like Mark Fearing! There are lots of them!
I don’t know about the classic illustrators since I never went to illustrator school. I am a fine art school drop out and I studied film making (which I completed, by the way). So I pick up whatever I find.
AT: Is it fun to be an illustrator?
VS: Yes yes! I can get to be horrid and wicked in my head(for the sake of creativity) and its so much fun! In fact many of my friends have caught me staring at the computer/paper with this wicked grin on my face when something really evil is brewing in my head. And I discovered another advantage – I get to soil my hands and clothes and no one can ever compain!! In fact the messier you are the more professional you look 😉
But jokes apart, I trained to be a filmmaker so yeah i always knew I’d see my name up there and It’s nice to get credit for the films you make. But getting published, and being called an “illustrator” is something I never really expected. So it’s super cool!
AT: Thank you Vandana, it was great to understand how you illustrate, especially how you scold the characters to improve them. Nothing weird about that.