Finding the Core “me-ness” of an Artist!
“Art was not merely something to be consumed but also something that could be created.” The line that catapulted Krishna Bala Shenoi into the world of camcorders, building blocks, clay models and art.
How did you step into the colourful world of art and illustrations?
Krishna: Saying I stepped into the world of art would be misleading; my mother led me into it. She introduced me to the films of her childhood, the storybooks in nearby bookstores, and most importantly the radical idea that art was not merely something to be consumed but also something that could be created. That might sound self-evident, but from my point of view as a child, it was an absolutely revolutionary idea. She would draw just to show my sister and I that we could. I'm grateful my mother bought me art supplies, and I'm grateful my father later allowed me to use our family Handy Cam. Being surrounded by amazing art showed me the door, but being given access to the tools pushed me in.
How do you approach creating illustrations that capture the attention of both children and adults?
Krishna: I honestly don't think about it that way, which might explain why my art for younger children might skew a little too "mature" and my art for older audiences might seem a tad childish; while obviously respecting common sense ideas of what's appropriate for a particular audience and all, I ultimately just make art that is compelling to me without concerning myself too much with targeting specific demographics. I assume my editors will point it out if I'm way off course.
How do you integrate visual storytelling techniques into your illustrations to make them more engaging for young readers?
Krishna: Not to be repetitive, but rather than worrying about engaging a hypothetical child, I simply think about what I find interesting. Borrowing heavily from cinematic influences, I try to bring a variance to my angles and frames, I try to use those angles and perspectives to externalize the interior feelings of my characters, I try to use lighting both to emphasize particular objects and create a specific mood, and so on. In a manner of speaking, every visual choice you get to make is an opportunity to do some visual storytelling, from the thickness of your lines to the choice to look upon a scene from above or from below.
Your Instagram is filled with a lot of process images with your own tips and tricks behind creating any design. How important do you think following a set process is in design? Does it work better than just winging it?
Krishna: Winging it is a process that I'm sure works for a host of artists, but alas! It does not work for me. Increasingly, I find myself building my images on a very solid foundational sketch, where nearly every element is pretty much set in stone. I'm happy to mosey around while sketching but I'm not fond of meandering while painting. I'm sure I'm losing some spontaneity in both my process and the outcomes, and I sometimes worry that this linear process renders my art just a tad bit cold and lifeless. But I'd rather find ways to counter those effects within this process than be paralyzed at the painting stage because I wasn't confident in my sketch to begin with.
How do you balance creating art as a profession while still maintaining your passion for it?
Krishna: I could answer this question with more pride if I had struck this balance; I haven't painted a single purely personal painting in over a year. That said, here is the best tip I can give to someone who's worried about retaining their passion while working on commissioned projects; make it personal. Find some way in. If not, a core thematic connection that resonates with your own lived experience, then at least find some process-oriented or technical aspect that will keep it compelling for you. I do this with every single picture book I work on because those can mean months of serious commitment. Obviously, a painting of celebrities for, say, Netflix is not a terribly impassioned statement from the heart, but even on those I at least try to challenge myself technically.
In your own words; you try your best to bring something a little different, tonally, stylistically, to each project you tackle, while also "retaining some kind of core me-ness." How do you manage to do that when the demands of each text is very different?
Krishna: The very fact that every text is different compels me to bring something unique to each project; I can't have a funny story about a girl and her pet camel look the same as a bittersweet vision of a post-apocalyptic Earth. I keep things different by utilizing different types of brushes, styles of character design, visual languages, colour schemes and so on.
If the question was how I retain that core me-ness, as I now realize it was, there's a set of stylistic choices I make that carry over between projects. I don't know if I make those choices to intentionally retain some core “me-ness”, as I apparently said in the quote, or if I do those just because they're default decisions that come easily to me. The quote you have from me kind of sounds like I struggle to retain the "me-ness," but actually I think I struggle to embellish the differences. The "me-ness" comes more organically.
Can you discuss any unique or innovative techniques you've used in your illustrations that you feel set your work apart from others in your field?
Krishna: I would be much more comfortable if someone else pointed out what sets my work apart so that I might expound upon that aspect, but I think there's something about my lighting that is distinctive among Indian children's illustrations. Children's illustration understandably tends to simplify things to their essence, using local colours and flat lighting, but, almost due to a lack of imagination and a somewhat conservative adherence to some sense of reality, I end up rendering things more realistically using distinct light sources.
Can you give us a little insight into your design process? Especially with artworks that have multiple elements, do you take multiple references, paint them separately or the entire scene comes to you in one go?
Krishna: Back when I painted elements separately and then married them together, I used to still keep the overall lighting and whatnot in mind the whole time. For the last couple years, though, I've painted on a single layer (digitally) for nearly every painting I've ever done, creating an intricate composition at the start at sketch stage and then painting the whole thing at once.
More broadly, this is how the design process goes: read text, make notes, do research, gather references, storyboard, draw, paint.
As a portrait artist, what advantage do you think portraits have over pictures?
Krishna: I don't think there's that many advantages if I'm extremely honest, speaking only of my own portrait style which isn't terribly stylized. Even so, most of my portraits were made for a podcast, Talk Easy, and I think having all the episode covers rendered in a similar aesthetic (as opposed to being an array of disparate photos) brings to the whole series a sense of continuity and personality. And for sure, there's some nebulous beauty to a hand-crafted recreation of something real.
Could you share a specific instance where a child's response to your illustrations surprised you?
Krishna: I've had several very wholesome interactions with children about my art throughout my professional career, but my favourite actually happened when I was in the third grade myself. A classmate saw me drawing something, probably Superman, and said, "Wow, Allah put a printer in your stomach." I will never forget those words.
What do you hope young readers take away from your illustrations?
Krishna: I would like for my work to do at least 12% of what my favourite art did for me as a kid; it offered me a window into a set of external worlds that didn't exist and also some insight into my internal world. If that's too lofty, I'd like for my work to assure a kid that things were going to be okay. That's important to me. If that's still too lofty, as perhaps it is, then maybe I'd like a kid somewhere read a book of mine, go to sleep, and then suddenly find themselves thinking about it during class the next day or something. Maybe they draw something from it in the back of their notebook. That would be pretty neat.