Don’t be surprised if you see a lion with a multi-colored mane sitting next to a cute little boy on the cover of your child’s storybook. You’re not turning colour blind, it is the beautiful imagination that is put on paper by the children’s illustrator Venki. Meet 44-year-old Venki, a man who dared to dream and with persistent focus, made it to the top of his profession and gave a whole new meaning to children’s books by bringing them to life with bright and colourful illustrations.
Born in Palakkad in 1967, Venki is a Commerce Graduate from Government Victoria College, Palakkad (1987) following which, he went on to purse Bachelors in Fine Arts from the College of Fine Arts in Trivandrum. After his 10 year stint with The New Indian Express in Kochi, Venki has launched his own studio and works independently from Kochi. After winning the Bhima Balasahithya Award for the Best Cover Design twice in 1992 and 1995 and State Award for the Best Illustration and Book Design from State Institute of Children’s Literature twice in1998 and 2010, there has been no looking back for Venki.
How did it all begin?
Venki had always been interested in drawing and painting from his school days. He continued the same in college and has won many prizes in the University Arts Festivals. Along with a group of artists in the Government Victoria College, he would conduct art shows and discussions every year to keep their interest and passion for art alive.
“I graduated in Commerce first and then realized that this is not my area. I knew that a profession in Commerce will never be enjoyable to me and so I decided to join art school. I was not sure whether I will get a job after a graduation in fine arts, but since I was so much in love with art, I decided not to choose any other profession. So right after graduation, I decided to take up art as a profession and joined the College of Fine Arts in Trivandrum,” quips Venki.
It all started with his first book that he got to illustrate from State Institute of Children’s Literature, in Trivandrum during his final year BFA in 1991. The name of the book was Plavila Thoppikal (Caps made of Jack fruit leaves), a drama book for children.
Venki mentions, “Even though it was my first professional assignment, I really enjoyed working on the art work, especially the cover. The book was about the beauty of life. The story erases the fears about death and negativity about life from the hearts of children. The main characters are Umakkutty, a little girl and her Grandma. In the cover, I had illustrated Umakkutty standing with a cow in a serene landscape. I always try to bring nature into my works, which shows people in harmony with nature. I firmly believe that there is no life without nature. In this cover my effort was to bring the beauty of natural life. At that time, majority of the fine arts graduates migrated to ad agencies, but I was interested in taking illustration as a career. Since the scope was less for full time illustrators, this book gave my career the much needed push.”
Prof S Sivadas, a renowned children’s writer in Malayalam saw this book and wanted Venki to illustrate his book called Umakkuttiyude Ammoomma (Umakkutti’s Grandma). Venki gladly illustrated the book for him and got an encouraging response by Prof. Sivadas.
“He advised me to focus more on children’s illustrations. His words gave me great inspiration. He is the person who made me a children’s illustrator today. He had a fine understanding of my work and offered creative support to me. He always discusses the content with me before illustrating. He is an author with a keen interest in visual arts and offered tips on illustrations. He also tells the publisher that this book needs Venki’s illustrations and such books have made a difference. Even today, our author-illustrator relationship is still growing,” mentions Venki.
Moreover Umakkuttiyude Ammomma got the prestigious Bhima Balasahithya Award for its cover design in 1992 and that was the first recognition for Venki as a children’s illustrator. This encouraging response made Venki concentrate on children’s illustrations wholeheartedly and from 1991 onwards he has been illustrating children’s books and publications and has more than 300 books for children to his credit.
After he finished his graduation in Fine Arts with a focus on illustration, Venki saw that there was no space for full time illustrators at that time, as advertising agencies were the main job places for fine art graduates. “Until 2006 when I became a full time children’s illustrator, I had to work in many firms to learn and make a living. But even during that time, I was illustrating for various publications and I joined an animation studio called Prasad Videos in Chennai and learned cartoon animation for two years,” says Venki.
Back in Kerala in 1994, he worked at an ad agency for two more years and then joined The New Indian Express by 1996 where he enjoyed working for them for 10 years. There he was involved in editorial illustration, information graphics, page design etc. for the Youth Express and Express Vibes.
When it came to support from family, Venki makes a special note of his brother, T K Sankaranarayanan, a Malayalam writer who contributes to all major Malayalam publications and who has written two novels and seven short story collections in Malayalam, where Venki got to design the covers for his books. Venki mentions that he gets plenty of insights into art from him and his parents have never discouraged his interests in art.
“Even though there are very bright illustrators entering the field, we are facing a lot of threats where some publishers depend on clipartish images for contemporary story books and activity books. There are illustrators who just Google, cut and paste images and take credit for such acts,” says Venki.
When talking about plagiarism as a threat, Venki mentions that he had a bitter experience once and started a campaign in a social networking site and few online groups to fight it. Venki started an initiative called ‘heartless art’, where he brought to the forefront the names and images of publications who have used his designs without his permission. He spread the awareness about plagiarism and of protecting his art, by posting it on Facebook and has got a good response for the same. He won this battle by getting apology letters from two editors for copying his artwork without permission.
Venki operates from his studio in Kochi and works for various publishers in India and abroad. He provides illustrations to major stock image agencies like gettyimages.com, corbis.com, shutterstock.com etc.
Venki is very comfortable with pen, ink and computer. Pen and ink means manual illustrations or hand drawn illustrations, where he prepares his artwork first in black and white on paper, scans it and then colours it on the computer. “While digital illustrations are generated directly on the computer, I use both according to the nature of work. Even for digital images I do preliminary sketches on paper. I use the computer just as a tool and I take extra care not to make my work look like ‘computerized art ‘as I feel that art should come from the heart,” quips Venki.
Favourite cartoons and illustrators
His inspiration consists of superior illustrators in his field. Venki regularly explores good illustrators’ portfolios that help him to stay updated in his field, as he feels that in the present world, art is changing fast and one needs to stay updated.
On asking his favourite cartoon characters and cartoonists, Venki says with a childlike exuberance, “I love Dennis the Menace by Hank Ketcham and Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz, as they are real geniuses sent to earth exclusively for cartooning!” Among the Indian illustrators, Mickey Patel and Pulak Biswas are his favorite children’s illustrators in India, while favourite foreign illustrators include Brian Biggs, Sara Fanelli and Cristina.
DC Books publishing house has been one of the major contributing factors in his career, where he has worked on at least 150 books since 1992. He has worked on a series of 14 books for pre-schoolers published by Mango Books (The Children’s Imprint from DC Books) that he considers an important series in his profession.
Venki mentions, “When my son was three and a half years old, I realised that there are no professionally produced books available in the market. There were plenty of books in this category but none of them were kids friendly. These books contain inferior quality visuals and cluttered layout. This made me create a series, where children should love the images and they should be able to register the information effortlessly. Good illustrations can fulfill both this aims.”
‘My Little book of Alphabets’ (Numbers, Fruits, Animals) is one such unique collection, where Venki has used only one image per page, unlike other books that are cluttered with images
which create confusion. Children can now enjoy these books with the illustrations, where one image per page gives absolutely no strain to young minds.
“I have created the illustrations in such a way, that it involves no complications or technicalities. If a child looks at the elephant, he/ she should feel like sitting on its back. I have used contrast colours in all the illustrations as children like colours and they use contrast colours when they paint. For instance, to make learning easy, I will draw a child walking happily with a water melon to describe an oval shape,” adds Venki.
The series from Mango Books was his first project at DC Books. The topics are usual but the presentation and treatment are new. He showed a few samples to Mr. Ravi D C, the owner of DC Books, who liked his designs and encouraged Venki to continue his work. Venki adds, “With the guidance of Mrs. Sarawathy, the Editor of Mango Books and the encouragement by Mr. Ravi DC, we got a good market response once the books were published and out in the market.”
Some of the books illustrated by Venki that you can look forward to are – My Little Book of Animals, My Little Safety Book, Jot a Dot and My Dear Angel which is written in Malayam.
Get a copy today and unfold a whole new world of colouful animals and a beautiful world that your child can befriend in his/ her growing up years.
Adress: BF-2, Sterling Sarovar, Kosserri Lane, Edappally, Kochi 682024