October 2, 2018

Let's Talk Illustrators #84: Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry

Given the success of You're Safe With Me in the United States earlier this year, it's hardly a surprise that Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry's companion book You're Snug With Me was released so quickly after. You're Snug With Me continues to explore parental love and the bond between mother and baby––not to mention features similar geometric illustrations––but this time we move from India to the frozen north. Chitra and Poonam prove themselves to be a powerful team who can keep their ideas fresh, and I got a chance to sit down with both author and illustrator to talk about their processes.

About the book:
At the start of winter, two bear cubs are born, deep in their den in the frozen north. "Mama, what lies beyond here?" they ask. "'Above us is a land of ice and snow." "What lies beyond the ice and snow?" they ask. "The ocean, full of ice from long ago." And as they learn the secrets of the earth and their place in it, Mama Bear whispers, "You're snug with me."

Let's talk Chitra Soundar and Poonam Mistry!

LTPB: This is your second book in the series, so what did you both learn between the last book and this one? 

CS: We learn all the time don’t we? The first book was with me for many years before it got commissioned. By the time I wrote the second book, I’m sure I had changed as a writer and as a person. Having said that, a second book is not as free as the first one––in terms of where my imagination might lead. It needs to fit within the vision of the entire team and is no longer a lonely venture. There is a pre-defined structure and pattern that it had to conform to. And there is a deadline too. Check out my blog about writing an accidental series here.

PM: I suppose it would be that I learned to trust my instincts and my style. With the first book in the series we took a bit of a risk by creating something quite different to your typical children’s book. You’re Safe With Me was a lot easier to illustrate than the most recent book because the first book was set in India, and I was drawing things I was used to creating. We were so lucky that it was so well received, but I guess there was a bit of pressure to make sure this one matched the quality of You’re Safe With Me but was different enough to gain its own recognition.

There was a point during the second book where I was just not happy with the images I was making. I didn’t feel like it was my work or showcasing the true beauty of Chitra’s words. I had to stop and redraw a few of the illustrations and rework them around my style. A lot of new spreads were then sketched and the artwork began to flow better throughout the whole book. In the end we only scrapped one of the illustrations I had already finished. 

I learnt to allow my style to decide what the images should be. It’s why working with Lantana Publishing is great. They trusted me to go with what I thought would be best and allowed me time to change what I needed to so I would be happy with the artwork for the book.

LTPB: Poonam, what tools do you use to create your illustrations? What is your process like, and does it change from book to book? 

PM: The process doesn’t really change for each project. The only part that does is the research stage. I try and incorporate patterns that reflect the subject matter within my usual set. For You’re Snug With Me I looked at images of Inuit clothing and textiles as well as knitwear patterns and snowflake designs.

For the illustrations I begin by sketching the final designs in pencil. These are always larger than the actual size of what the finished artwork needs to be. Once I am happy with the shapes, I draw over them with black ink and fine liners. When all the patterns and lines are drawn in I scan the drawings onto the computer and use PhotoShop to add colour, arrange the final composition, add extra details and patterns and erase any mistakes I made during the drawing process. 

I usually have a colour palette picked out before I start work on the final artwork so I dip into these and decide where best the colours should be placed. I rarely get it right the first time. The colours will always swap around or change. A good example is a spread from You’re Snug With Me of a polar bear underwater watching some seals above on the ice. Originally I had pictured the polar bear being a pale blue to illustrate that it was in the water, but as the page came together it just wasn’t working and so I ended up using a cream instead. Generally, I use quite dark, warm, earthy colours so working on You’re Snug With Me was out of my comfort zone. I chose pastel colours and cool tones, but I really like the way it turned out. It’s refreshing to see my work and style used in a way I had never tried before. Hopefully everyone who reads the book will like it too.

LTPB: Chitra, how do new story ideas come to you? Where did you draw your inspiration for this book, particularly as a companion book? 

CS: The eternal question for all writers I guess. Everywhere is the right answer. But for this book, the remit was quite clear––it was going to be set in the polar regions and will involve polar bears. The new story idea came from a huge amount of research on polar bears and how a mother bear introduces this world to her cubs and how that can help us introduce young children to this world too. I find research documentation to be full of interesting picture book ideas.

When not writing, I read, cook, watch TV, draw like a child, tell stories and play with my nephews, visit art galleries and museums and immerse into Indian culture. Filling the well is an important process for writers and when the well is always full––you can always find treasures when you dip into them.

LTPB: What are you each working on now? Hopefully another book in the series?? 

PM: Maybe…… My lips are sealed. 

I am working on a few book projects at the moment. I can’t really say much about them yet but they are set to be released sometime next autumn. These are different to the Lantana books as some of the projects contain human protagonists.

CS: I’m always working on a new story or multiple new stories. As a working writer, and to practice it as a vocation, writing everyday is a must and so my virtual cupboard is full of new drafts. We hope to do another book together. Shh! Fingers crossed.

LTPB: The last question I’m asking everyone who participates in the series is, if you could choose anyone, dead or alive, to illustrate your picture book biography, who would it be and why? 

CS: It would be Floyd Cooper, who’s amazing and wonderful, who has illustrated some bestselling biographies. I had the good fortune of meeting Floyd almost a decade ago and his illustrations bring the subject to life. And it would be an excuse to take him to India and show him around too. Find out more about his work here.

PM: Oh that’s tricky. There are so many. I think I would choose Sanjay Patel to illustrate mine. I love his style and I have the most stunning book that he illustrated based on the Ramayana––the story of Rama and Sita. It is utterly gorgeous. Each page is a piece of art and the story is told so beautifully. His colour choices are perfect and his compositions are so varied and exciting. I think he would do an amazing job.

Thank you to both Poonam and Chitra for taking time to talk with me about their processes! You're Snug With Me published YESTERDAY from Lantana Publishing!

Special thanks to Poonam and Lantana Press for use of these images!

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