It has been a year full of trees for us at Tulika.The bright blue Let’s Plant Trees.The resplendent red The Coral Tree.And as the year draws to a close, two more tree books are ontheir way…Artist Malati Shah, author of Magnolias, one of forthcomingpicture books, shares the how and when of this dreamy book,while illustrator Amrita Kanther talks about the challenges ofrendering the soft white ‘flower like the moon.’
I sat in the deep verandah of our Shimla home, drinkingin the long summer sunset before my eyes. Isnapped out of my reverie when the gardener suddenlyappeared at the bottom of the steps with a magnificentmagnolia bloom floating like a moon in his arms.
"For you, didi!" he smiled up at me in the gatheringgloom. And seeing my delight, he added, "I was bringingyou many more, but everyone whom I met on my wayhome, took one from me!“
Far away from India, I would walk again the familiarstreets of Shimla in my mind, recalling the gentlepeople, one by one…
Shimla was home to the Tibetans who came asrefugees from China, was home to Kashmirislooking for work, was home to us all summer long,escaping the heat of Delhi and enjoying the pleasures ofa pony ride or a ride on the narrow gauge train whichwhooshed through tunnels and puffed merrily alongbeneath the pine trees and the deodars.
It was a place where there still was a sense of the past,when one would come across a graveyard full of angels andcrosses or see a Tudor style building with a trellis of yellowroses blooming in the sunshine.And so, as I painted, the story took shape, till it got writtenin a day.A very long sunset with magnolias it was!
Malati Shah studied Art in the USA and has had several one personand group shows. She grew up in a joint family in Delhi, and spent alot of time looking for quiet places to hide and read. She lives in theUSA and in India, with her husband and black Labrador namedKaza. Her two children are almost all grown up now.Malati did a series of evocative paintings inspired by the Magnoliaincident that took place in her Shimla home. Read an interview here.
Amrita has adapted the Pahari miniaturestyle, as suggested by Malati Shah, inMagnolias. She has grown up seeingRajasthani miniature, and also done hergraduation project on Udaipurminiatures.
“I looked at a few plates of Pahari miniature paintingsand tried to understand differences in style, proportionand compositions,” she says.Miniature paintings are done on cloth using naturaldyes. Amrita worked with poster colour, which shefeels closely resembles the opaqueness of gouache. Shechose watercolour paper as the base to wash andreapply the paint if she needed to give the pictures alayered feel.
Her biggest challenge was the magnolia itself. It tookher two to three iterations, she says, before she was ableto render its moon-like quality on paper.
When asked if and how illustrating for children isdifferent, Amrita says that she tries to understand what achild would look for on a page. “Most of the time, I amthe child who goes through each page and looks for thestory in the picture drawn.”
Amrita Kanther has a Master’s in Design (Visual Communication)from the Industrial Design Centre, IIT Bombay. She is interested indesigning for children, bi-cultural design, publication design andvisual interaction design for digital media. Her earlier book withTulika was The Lion and the Fox.
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