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How Illustration Transcends the Traditional Medium of Paper

The illustrator Ruchi Shah reflects on how illustration changes or retains form as it travels from one medium to another.

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Cover for the children’s book Grimms Fairy Tales.
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The making of the cover for the children’s book Grimms Fairy Tales.

While the Canvas becomes the message, Illustration becomes the medium

The job of a canvas is to effectively communicate the purpose of illustration. At the same time, illustration is a fitting medium that communicates the purpose of design. Together, they allow a designer to look at things from unlikely angles, allowing one to economise resources and break distinctions. This makes illustration a hybrid of different disciplines like art, craft, architecture and photography. Thus, narrating pictorial stories of the constantly evolving world.

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Front and back cover for the children’s book Grimms Fairy Tales.

Stories happen through Connections

Whether literal, physical or humorous, it is the connection that makes the style complement the idea. Space-agnostic illustrations are more skill-driven than conceptually steered. Thereby making the style of illustration following the idea. In such cases, the key is to know what can and what can’t be achieved through your form. The possibilities and limitations often declare the idea. Once you know your style well, it becomes easy to explore your idea further.

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The world through my window. Poster for an annual competition held by Association of Illustrators.

In the artwork, ‘The World through my Window’, the idea is a jumble of what has caught the illustrator’s fancy while travelling, expressed through a pop-art-ish route. The messy, clean and cozy windows that she observed kicked off the visual approach in her mind. The approach took inspiration from her cluttered workspace that is always scattered with curios, boxes, containers and papers. All these objects rearranged themselves to create the visual. With small niches and spaces it worked perfectly as big or small windows and buildings. The artwork is buzzing during the day, but actually comes alive at night. Being created with a mixture of coloured semi-transparent papers, it can be lit up during the night.

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The Rainmaker. Illustration for a children’s book.

The medium tells you what to do

An illustrator should let the form of illustration take shape according to what the medium allows it to do. This essentially means one needs to know the medium well. Does it bend? Does it fold? Where does it want to go? What does it refuse to do? The answers to these questions determine how one should go about the form, using the chosen medium. Keep exploring, make mistakes, characterise these errors and finally, build on some of them. The enhancement of the imperfections sometimes becomes the key to making a perfect visual.

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Purestone. Entrance graphics for a London based agency.

The brief was to design the entrance of ‘Purestone’ – a London-based digital marketing agency’s office. Part of a rebranding project, it was done in collaboration with Kyle Henderson. The 25ft x 10ft long space, had to be attention grabbing for potential clients, giving the office a strong identity. The style of both the designers on the project had a lot of detailed and bold line work, making it possible for occasional overlapping. Incorporating the window with a view of urban London that sat exactly in between the space, a visual was created that complemented style of both the illustrators on the project. As the space had a lot of geometrical niches and corners, a seamless graphic was preferred to run across it. The style nicely adjusted to the scale of the space and was received enthusiastically by the onlookers.

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The Rainmaker. Illustration for a children’s book.

Expertise is to know how to give context to everything

Of course, knowledge and skill remain irreplaceable. But expertise also comes with awareness that anything and everything can be used to express yourself. Either by essence or by form, if materials are captured and framed with singular or multiple contexts, brilliant results can be achieved. Turning snags into starting points for constructing the visual and keeping a balance between pausing and exaggeration define it. Unlearning trumps learning and knowledge of that facilitates expertise.

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The making of the Umbrella, the Rainmaker.

For the project, ‘The Rainmaker’, different skills were combined into one installation, where everything remained substituted. The fabric turned into rain, plastic pipes poured out paper puddles and real people became mere props. The idea was a transition between a sense of reality to conceptual and stylized depictions. The archetypal British summer was the inspiration behind creating the visual around rain, which the designer literally attempted to ‘make’. This was justified with a screen-printed fabric on which it was raining cats, dogs, fish, alligators etc., giant paper-cut ‘water’ and an intricately hand crafted umbrella, creating an image of the urban world above it, using mundane materials such as black strings and wires and things found in everyday life. This carefully arranged scene was a full-blown installation, letting people take the centre stage.

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The making of the Umbrella, the Rainmaker.

Sum up to your talent everyday, every moment

Learning and exploring are the two essential ways by which you can keep moving forward. Achieve that through travelling, developing new habits, observing anything and everything, miscellaneous conversations, following the trends in nature and the haphazardness of our responses to those trends. A culmination of all of these will be exemplified in your work.

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Umbrella for the Rainmaker Illustration.

Published in Issue 13

Coming from a country of stories and storytellers, Indian animation professionals are sitting on a gold reserve. Yet, we are miles behind the Western world. We spoke to few leading names to find out the reason and understand the Indian animator’s sensibilities and practices The house unanimously opined that we need to develop more original ideas and also create exclusive stories for animation, rather than going the other way round…

 

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