Ajanta Guhathakurta Das is a major contemporary children’s book illustrator. As her name implies she is an Art in herself! An apt name for an apt personality! Her works like Golu, the Goldfish, Tiger Call, The Auto That Flew, The Sweetest Mango, Carry Me, Mama!, Watch Out!, Boond etc would be the names your child would definitely love to delve deep into!
Her lovely and cute characters float, walk, run, and slide past into our little ones’ world with such verve and vivacity that it fills their fantasy with fluid and exploding colours. They weave magic intertwined with their tales that holds the hands of the little ones and fly them into a realm of their own!
Friends, be ready to welcome the most talented, Ajanta Guhathakurta!!!
Deepa: As the tradition goes, let us begin with a little background about you. Family education-marriage-work-art etc.
Ajanta: I was born in Kolkata but brought up and educated in Delhi. I did my degree course in Fine Arts from Delhi College of Arts. Established my career. Got married to a like-minded friend much later in life and now am in a space in life where am discovering many new facets of creativity.
Deepa: How did you get into illustrations? What inspired you to take up illustrations as your career? Are you formally trained?
Ajanta: I wanted to wait for sometime to do my solo show of paintings, hence started pursuing my career in children’s illustrations. I have grown up enjoying illustrated books so the pull towards illustrating myself came very naturally. If you can draw well, you can illustrate. With experience and constructive feedback, one grows in emoting the story well in ones drawings.
Deepa: Who is (are) your inspiration(s)? How did they attribute to your development as an illustrator?
Ajanta: I have no favourites but I draw inspiration from the works of people, irrespective of their popularity and success, that captivate my attention and I enjoy viewing their work again and again.
Deepa: What inspires you the most? Is it the people and/or places, cultures and/or traditions, rituals and/or customs?
Ajanta: Different cultures and how people of different places emote in their cultural activities, say their art, music, dance or crafts. This desire to know more about what different places have to offer has made me travel a lot and this in return has always kept me very versatile in my work.
Deepa: How do you illustrate when there is a need for something specific from the seeker/publisher…do you undergo any kind of pressure/stress? How do you prepare for it?
Ajanta: I thank my stars , no project was ever pushed down my throat. I chose every project as a challenge and experimented with different styles which paid off. From realistic to stylised work, I have done it all. All my publishers were kind enough to give me the space I required to give something of me in the style and at the same time I took care of the expectations they had from the book. If I have confidence in what I do, I can transmit the same. I don’t choose projects where I have to copy someone else’s style.
Deepa: Do you come across artists’ block? If so, how do you overcome it?
Ajanta: Yes, I do. Its part of growing as an artist. These blocks are necessary to do some introspection and keep your heart and mind open to new experiences. During one such phase, I was invited for a workshop where an illustrator had to develop a wordless picture book. I didn’t care about failing or succeeding, I just wanted to see whether I have it in me. I enjoyed the struggle of pushing the block aside and discovering a fresh new potential.
Deepa: Which is your current project? Please do share your views on it?
Ajanta: Right now am working on a novel. This one is for all age groups to read. It will have some realistic black and white illustrations evocative of the old classics look.
Deepa: You have published several, varied works. Which do you think is your favourite?
Ajanta: I like one story I did for Mahashweta Devi ‘The why- why girl’ and I liked doing a book on saving the tigers titled ‘Tiger Call’ for which I fetch my first international award in Basel.
Deepa: Do you harbour a dream project? If so, what would that be?
Ajanta: My dream is to do my own written and illustrated picture books.
Deepa: Which is your favourite medium to illustrate? Do you use digital techniques too?
Ajanta: No favourites again. I choose my mediums according to the subject. I don’t do digital art.
Deepa: You also design book covers; I particularly love the intricate floral and leaf patterns. How is it different from illustrating for stories? Which one do you enjoy the most?
Ajanta: To be a good designer along with a successful illustrator is like having the best of both worlds. A book cover is the face of the book. A book cover should not give away the story but at same time should arouse curiosity. Both are enjoyable.
Deepa: Durga is one of my favourites. Is it part of a book or a solo work?
Ajanta: It’s a part of a collection of stories. You see the painter in me in this work.
Deepa: I see a huge change in children’s books in India these days. It’s developing fast and in a much better way compared to what was available until a few years earlier. What are your thoughts on it? How challenging is the situation in India right now?
Ajanta: I also see the change evolving and appreciate the publishers who do things differently and don’t rely on safe play. The challenges I see are of two kinds: 1) Not enough marketing and visibility of these amazing books. They disappear amidst the foreign counter parts. 2) The parents who are actual decision makers of what to buy make the choices on behalf of the child. Once I saw a child telling his mother,” I want this book, I read it in my school library. I want it for myself”. Mother’s reply, “ No need to buy a book which you have already read in library.”
Deepa: Are Indian illustrated books globally accepted as compared to their foreign counterparts? What do you think needs improvement, if any?
Ajanta: The challenge India faces is the Indian mindset of buying and show casing foreign publications.
Deepa: What are your other hobbies/interests?
Ajanta: Music and cooking.
Deepa:Where can my readers find you?
Thank you Ajanta for taking time and effort amid your busy schedule to converse with me and to give an insight into your world of illustrations, likes and opinions, thoughts and interests. Thank you!
Best wishes from HuesnShades and the lovely readers in all your future endeavours :)