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An Illustrator's Journey


Ashok Rajagopalan


To become a successful illustrator, one has to know the right people. The right people in my life were my parents and later, teachers. My father taught me to draw and kept up a constant feed of pencils and paper, and my mother absolutely liked everything I scribbled. Smiling at my stick figures, a kindergarten teacher told me, ‘Ashok, you are an artist!’ I still don’t know if she really thought my art was great or was just being her natural encouraging self. I have been drawing since then, the child in me also trying to draw smiles of appreciation from kind grown-ups. And I picked up skills all these years to make their smiles bigger and bigger. That is why I draw. In hindsight, I realize that my illustrations are professional because I started my working life as a salesman, not an artist. Illustrations for stories, text-books, posters or whatever, have to perform at least one of three duties: they decorate the page, they dispense information, or they give pleasure to the reader. They are pieces of communi-cation, not fine art. That is the key. One illustrates to communicate information and feeling to the reader. My communication skills developed in my early jobs—marketing medical and later, metallurgical equipment. Those helped in two aspects when I went around trying to get work as an illustrator. One, my drawings did the job they had to, and two, I knew how to get appointments, work and payments. To be good at illustrating children’s books, one needs to be in touch with one’s own childhood, and with present-day children. I am happily eligible for my profession, since my maturity level, ask anyone around me, is that of a twelve-year-old. Sometimes, they say, only that of an eight-year-old. Seeing the world as a child sees it helps. You look down at them patronizingly and they run away; you look up to them worshipfully, they sneer at you; you play with them and they play with you. Good illustrations are playgrounds where you and your readers share space and spend time. My work, by the way, is also play, since this is what I had done before without pay. The challenge is not in executing work but mostly in finding work, and only in the initial years of setting up shop, as work will find you after a few years. Other ...


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