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The art of visual language

The art of visual language

Posted on : 09/01/2015 12:19pm
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Art is used as a creative medium to express stories better. The importance is evident from several authors teaming up with illustrators for pictorial images to complement their text. Illustrators are professionals who enhance the written word with their visual representation corresponding to the content on digital and print media.


Akshayaa Selvaraj, a city-based architect, began her journey as an illustrator with her pet project Undelivered Letters. She illustrated the cover page for all the four editions of the book by Cycling Yogis, which includes Cycling in Madras, Madras by Cycle, George town bicycle trails and OMR-ECR trails.
“The professional role of an illustrator has become important and the responsibility has been set high. Illustrating is not defined by just transforming words into strokes and lines but it revolves around the challenges and curiosity of bringing out the essence and emotion of a book right from a cover page.


The key role of any illustrator is as sensitive as any illustration be it a character or cover page since it gets etched as mental imagery about that character, place, story, book forever to generations,” says Akshayaa, who is currently working with two independent authors.


The artist prefers sketch papers over iPads. The design is illustrated with micron pens and water colour or with mediums like acrylics, inks and brush pens. The final stage involves digitisation of the handmade work and colour corrections before printing. She does not confine to a single medium. “We do choose subjects based on a few factors. I start with completely understanding the intent and subject of the whole project if it’s about a book. It also involves a series of brainstorming sessions before zeroing in the final idea. Illustrators become the alchemist in trying to transform the weight of the words into a visual language that conveys the intent and emotion of the context to the people. The most important part is being sensitive in conveying it visually,” she shares.


For most illustrators, the profession is less of a career choice and more of finding a purpose in life. It requires a broad range of art skills and imagination. Amateurs begin by starting a social media page to showcase their work seeking employment opportunities. Eventually, artists make their way into graphic designing, animation, teaching, make-up artists and freelancers for magazines, local publications, novels, product labels and websites. As the number of content providing platforms increase, so do the opportunities for illustrators.


Each one has a style of working and a sense of purpose behind the projects they undertake. City-based artist Hemalatha Venkataraman is currently pursuing her Master of Fine Arts at The Ohio State University. She is in the process of working on passion-design projects that involve art, architecture, and community at the moment through a series of visual documentation. She likes bold experiments with all kinds of mediums from blogs to creative art. She recently documented Madras’s culture, architecture and people through mini cut-out live sketches. The series of six mini sketches became the talk of the town. Her latest is 100 days of teabag art, which is a relatively new concept. She has completed 57 designs exploring Indian folk art, artists of colour and brown women.


“I grew up reading Amar Chitra Katha. The pictures made a huge impact in understanding and processing information. Art is used not only for light stories but also for serious topics to emote sensitivity in content. It’s a great way to tell stories. I’ve also tried my hand at drawings inside an eggshell to explore the medium. Illustrations can make a vague subject interesting. My latest work was for my professor David J Staley’s book titled Alternative Universities Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education,” says Hemalatha.


For any project, there has to be a mutual understanding between the author or any content provider and illustrator in case of shared works. “Be it any book or digital platform, what attracts us first is the book cover or website cover. Is it possible to read a text-heavy content at a stretch? Pictorial images are used to balance the process. An illustrator must have equal imagination as an author or the content provider. Understanding the crux is most important. Each other’s creativity must be respected and creativity must not be compromised,” explains Thirupurasundari Sevvel, a children’s book author.

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