Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
I was drawing even as a little kid and was lucky enough to have an ever-growing collection of a ton of eclectic books at home to read and be inspired by. Growing up in Goa was tremendous fun. There were lots of trees to climb on and birds and street dogs to watch and streams to jump over – all fuel for ideas and adventures (still!)
Back then I didn’t really know much about what I wanted to do for a living, and studied engineering like almost everyone I knew. Studying it at BITS Pilani made all the difference, though. I was helping build sculptures and paint murals outside of classes, and enjoying a relatively open-minded curriculum that let me choose advertising electives if I wanted to!
I realised that I really wanted to draw all the time instead of taking up a software job; so after BITS I enrolled at IIT Kanpur for a Masters in Design & Visual Communication. Here, I got an exposure to so much – from product design to photography to stop-motion, and so eventually found my way to book design and comics and illustration (in that order!) in an informed sort of way. Later, studying at Savannah College of Art and Design (graduated in Illustration) was time spent discovering illustration in a place where everything, everything was an inspiration – graffiti, old people, haunted houses, jam jars!
After graduation, I worked for a time at Pencil Sauce in Bangalore, while art-directing for Manta Ray. I’ve been illustrating books and comics on my own for a few years now. Iam also a contributing creator to the Small Picture, a full-page comic that appears every week in Mint. Iam also a collaborating artist with the Kulture Shop, have also illustrated many books and collaborated with some brilliant writers including Vikram Seth, Nilanjana Roy.
When were you sure that this is what you wanted to do?
Sometime during my final year of studying engineering, I took up some advertising electives for fun. I had been drawing on the side all the time up to then. It was the first time I had ever heard of design and the very real possibilities of drawing for a living. I decided to study visual communication design after graduating, so I could give myself some time to figure out what I wanted to do creatively, and get lots of exposure to different kinds of creative problem-solving.
You have to spend a whole day painting only one animal. Is it going to be a cat, an owl or a dog?
Right now it could be a cat – a BIG cat, a leopard. And, I actually did spend a whole day painting leopards recently. There’s plenty more leopard-ish ideas though, and I will possibly take another day out to draw those.
What is the best thing about drawing/illustrating and writing?
I find many of my drawings are inspired by random strings of words overheard, lines of poetry, other languages, interesting passages from books. And when I write, there’s almost always a visual lurking behind the words. The part I enjoy the most of how I work (on graphic stories) is I get ideas as a sort of inseparable combination of words and pictures, like the two were meant to act together. So what goes on paper right in the beginning is a stick-figure drawing and a scrawl of story, and I build it up from there.
Which has been your favourite book and author to work with?
I really enjoyed working on Nilanjana Roy’s The Wildings. Making illustrations for this book was a great combination of a well-crafted story (the fact that it was filled with cats and other urban wildlife was an added plus!) and a writer whose thoughts and ideas I continue to be inspired by.
You’ve been drawing accompanying illustrations and book covers for author Nilanjana Roy’s books – how did that come about? What are the things to keep in mind while illustrating for a book / story?
Nilanjana Roy’s The Wildings and its sequel, The Hundred Names of Darkness were both great stories that hooked me as a reader and had me visualising the world of the wildings right away. For The Wildings, I was inspired by several of the kitties in my neighbourhood and little details of the urban wild around here. For The Hundred Names, I got to use what I saw and photographed in Nizamuddin during a walk among the real wildings with Nilanjana.
I like to stay true to the tone of the story when illustrating for a book or a story. Drawing inspiration directly from events and characters from the story is key to my role as an illustrator – but getting the visuals to wander a little into the world of the story and bring in hints of interesting new information adds a lot of fun and depth to an illustration.
Tell us about your work in comic book making. You’ve been art director at Manta Ray, who’ve put out some great stuff. What are the different styles one could work with?
PM: I was reading a lot of comics in IITK and in SCAD, analyzing them in a literary way and using things I learnt from these breakdowns to make my own comics. Illustrating and designing for Manta Ray was an exciting way to see in real life the comics processes I’d only read about in school. It was a chance to work alongside some truly brilliant creators who were telling stories that were heartfelt, immediate, and perceptive responses to what was happening in the world around us. Later on I began to make tiny comics in my sketchbook, and eventually scripted and drew my own graphic stories for Manta Ray’s comic column The Small Picture and other stories.
Your most challenging project?
So far – illustrating the Beastly Tales. Developing a new visual interpretation of the tales, especially one to suit a young audience wasn’t easy, because I’d always thought of the tales as meant for grown-ups. And I really loved Ravi Shankar’s black and white line illustrations for the original edition. It was helpful to discover an approach I liked, and my own way of working, with some relevant sketchbook work – and the rest of the illustrations grew from the mood and concept of one of these personal pieces, ultimately very satisfying and lots of fun!
Where do you think the illustration and design scene in India is headed? Do you feel a place like KS can help catalyze the situation?
PM: The Internet has been a huge catalyst making illustration and design more visible as an industry, and has so many ways illustrators can display their work and collaborate with like-minded people across diverse disciplines. I think the mix of global perspectives with our uniquely Indian artistic sensibilities make for some really exciting work in illustration now.
Places like KS help in promoting illustration and design as an exciting and effective visual communication device, and showcase the best of what’s brewing in the industry.
What would your advice for young people who want to become illustrators be?
PM:Draw what you really want to draw (as much as you can!). Draw a lot to discover what you can do and how you can think as an illustrator.