April 25, 2023

Let's Talk Illustrators #246: Sandhya Prabhat

I am so pleased to present my interview with the unparalleled Sandhya Prabhat, illustrator of A Garden in My Hands by Meera Sriram, today! Sandhya's illustrations are always colorful and full of attention to detail, and it was such a blast talking to her about her work. I hope you enjoy a peek at this prolific illustrators process!

About the book:
There's a wedding tomorrow! And one little girl sits patiently while her mother tenderly applies intricate, delicate henna designs on her hands. As she does, she shares family stories--about weddings, monsoons, and ancestors long gone. The little girl must be careful to protect her hands as the henna dries--one smudge could ruin a story! After a whole night of anticipation, when the flakes are washed away, what will they reveal?

Peek underneath the dust jacket:

Let's talk Sandhya Prabhat!

LTPB: How did you become the illustrator of A Garden in My Hands? What were the first images that popped into your mind when you saw Meera Sriram’s text?

SP: I was approached to illustrate A Garden and I was absolutely delighted. Unlike texts that require research or a few readings, one reading of Meera’s text was enough — I was sold! This is because the situation captured in the story is one that’s too familiar to me, reminded me of my many summers where I’d practice drawing mehendi on my own or others’ hands or get mehendi done. I instantly saw the text visually spring to life in my imagination as I read it.

LTPB: What is the first thing you do when you receive a new project? How do you make a conscious effort to tailor your illustration style to each new manuscript? Did you have a clear vision for the illustrations when you saw the text?

SP: The texts I draw are vastly different from one another but my style remains similar/same throughout them all. I try to find the thing that speaks to me in the text first - this is not always what would speak to another reader first but this thing helps me befriend the text. It sometimes is a character, sometimes a situation, a culture, an experience or sometimes a line that stands out! I don’t think about the artwork at all until very late. I read and re-read the text until it starts to play like a movie in my head and I start to see the pages as I read it!

Only after I feel like the text is really familiar and comfortable, do I start to draw.

LTPB: What did you use to create the illustrations in this book? Is this your preferred medium? How does your process change from book to book?

SP: I use a digital medium to create all my images, Adobe Photoshop in specific. About ten years ago I started using this since I found that I was super fast with it (I’d started drawing on Photoshop about 6 years prior to even that). Now it’s what I’m fastest at. Therefore, the tool is not something I need to think about anymore. My familiarity with the digital tool releases me to focus on the drawing and the details rather than the medium. I’ve stuck to this for over a decade now.

For A Garden in My Hands, I started to draw this image of a mother helping a girl eat/drink after her hands have been covered by Henna, as one of the first images. Although it captured the situation of what I wanted to capture, it didn't feel quite *magical* to me. I don't think I shared this with the art team (or did I? ). I used this as a basis for my further designs but never went back to it as is. I tried these colours first:

But I liked this way more because the greens felt more 'Gardeny' to me, in keeping with the theme of the book: 

I used the colours of the earlier image to make this first image that I painted that really worked for me is this. This captured the magic way better than the earlier image did and I was confident about moving ahead. I was so thrilled by the magic of this image, that I made a second image. It was a sigh of relief when the team liked both the images and this gave me a foundation to move on to the thumbnails with confidence. I could now sketch all of Meera's verses with great ease (surprisingly) because every element of this book was very familiar. Every emotion and every big of nostalgia were what I'd felt before.

One of the first and only times when an art team had almost no changes for me on the thumbnails, was for this book. This was incredible! This means I could jump right into painting - my favourite stage. Meera's notes on how the feeling of nostalgia was to be captured were perfect! She allowed room for me to interpret her notes and add visual elements to the scene like the umbrella, the cow and the people. I was most grateful for the team and Meera being open to my ideas as well. In the page below, I thought it might be nice to have the girl helping her mother get dressed up, instead of the other way round.

Illustrating this book has been a wonderful and magical journey. I hope our readers will enjoy the book as much as we do!

LTPB: What are you working on now? Anything you can show us?

SP: I’m working on a few books at the moment to be out in the next year and the year after that. Please allow me to check with my agent on what I’m allowed to send to you to publish!

LTPB: If you got the chance to write your own picture book autobiography, who (dead or alive!) would you want to illustrate it, and why?

SP: My sister, Chaaya Prabhat, is also an illustrator. Naturally, she’d be my first choice. She’s definitely alive.

A million thanks to Anna for taking time to answers some questions! A Garden in My Hands published last week from Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers!

Special thanks to Sandhya and Knopf for use of these images!

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