Children understand the world through books and the vivid illustrations in them. An illustrator has the enviable but daunting task of getting into a child’s mind to communicate meaningful messages through pictorial sketches that play a key role in influencing a child’s overall development.
Joyeeta Neogi, our next pathbreaker, Children’s Book Illustrator, collaborates with art directors and clients across the globe to produce illustrated materials from sketches to final renderings based on the character and story.
Joyeeta talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about always being an illustrator and painter at heart and fortunate to be able to apply her creative strengths to reach out to kids in a lively way.
For students, look back at your roots and you will always find your favourite illustrations come to life. If you want to influence the next generation through your renderings, become an illustrator !
Joyeeta, tell us about your background
I was born in Silchar, Assam, to Bengali parents. Since my father was in Indian Railways, we travelled around Northern India from small towns in Jammu / Kashmir to Ambala in Punjab and Kota in Rajasthan. My childhood was in the midst of nature in small towns, with small houses, and gardens. My Mom was a fine artist and I took inspirations from her. I was also into music, vocal and instruments, like Sitar, and took a few certifications in Indian classical vocal.
My passion for drawing started when I was a kid. I can still remember the time when the entire class was busy reviewing for an exam, there I was still doodling on my notebook. Most friends eventually discovered what they were good at but I knew about my passion in illustration very early.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
Initially I did a graduation in bio sciences. But I soon realised that I need to do something that is more creative and aligned to my strengths. I went to NIIFT Mohali and graduated in Fashion Design.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
I worked in various companies in the garment industry for few years. The long hours in offices were not always spent on what I loved to do the most – I was always an illustrator and painter at heart. I wanted to do something more creative independently to spend more time on what I really loved to do. I was married by then and moved to Pune. My daughter was just born. My husband was a Computer Scientist but we shared a common passion around creativity. I decided to take the plunge into an alternate creative career where I could interact with the world but digitally from home.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted?
I realised that if I have to move to a career as an independent artist, I needed to take several concrete steps. First, I realised that the world is also moving towards a digital medium, especially if art was to be my full time profession beyond selling paintings. So I took a course on graphic arts and illustrations to learn the modern tools for digital illustrations. Second, I needed focus within the creative domain. I restarted my career as a freelance children’s book illustrator. Third, I had to learn, beyond the technical skills, how to engage directly with clients, get work and build a name for myself. It is not about just art talent and what I learnt in courses. I also had to learn about online portals that provide work, how to assess projects and clients that are a great match, how to work with clients to build trust and get good ratings. My online and digital journey started a decade back.
How did you get your first break ?
I don’t think it was one big break. I started with a small freelance job from an online portal. The story was called “Home Away From Home”. It was about how a brother and sister learn, in a healthy positive way, to cope with living in two different homes due to separation of their parents.
I took tiny steps, one at a time, hoping I was heading in the right direction. Started with small illustration jobs when they came along. Bit by bit I found my way, one illustration job led to another, and another, and another. I’ve been happily illustrating picture books ever since.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
There are many challenges but I will mention 3.
In a creative career path, one has to leverage one’s strengths to sustain and be very focused. I chose to take up children’s book illustration as a primary focus, though I spend a lot of time in painting in traditional art mediums – watercolour, oil, acrylic and have even managed to sell a few.
Second, a career also needs to be built on the eco-system and clients, which takes time, hard work and patience. I work with and learn from fellow artists and authors. I keep my mind open for what’s new. I study hard to understand my audience for every book. I keep honing my skills to empathise with what my client’s dream.
Third, specifically about children’s illustrations, a unique challenge is how to appeal to my audience being an adult. Creative work anyway has so many possible expressions. E.g. styles vary from the cartoony line work of Dr Seuss to the painted fantasy realism of Beatrix Potter. The story lines are diverse. I try to understand my author’s intent and what resonates with young minds. I research what other artists are creating and what may fit well in a certain setting. I have to make hard choices on what can work well. Of course, having a portfolio that demonstrates your work is a must for getting hired and discussing possibilities. Honest communication is key when building collaborator relationships.
What do you do currently?
As a freelance children’s book illustrator, I collaborate with art directors and clients across the globe to produce illustrated materials, from sketches to final renderings. My work starts from character and story development to page composition and pacing. I use both traditional and digital mediums.
I have personalised my artistic work process over the years. My typical day is spent in various activities that are part of this process for a client project. After reading the manuscript from an author and understanding the “heart” of the story, I begin my quest by finding a suitable visual appeal for the book. I do lots of research on the Internet, looking at reference images, videos of animal anatomy, expressions, and cultural / historical details for a setting. The process is similar to a chef finding a recipe for a new dish. After that, I start with the character sketches, thumbnail sketches, interiors of the book, playing around with story, compositions, and page layout. At the end, I move to the final rendering phase and ensure that the whole book is visually consistent.
What do you love about your work?
I love the creative process and drawing inspiration from different things around me. I usually do the illustrations on paper, then scan the image and then do the colors digitally. However, when the deadline is tight, I do all the illustrations digitally on the computer in Photoshop with my Wacom tablet. It usually takes me one to two months to finish a 32-page children’s book. It depends on how the preliminary sketches go. Usually, a book is finished when both the author and I are happy with the illustrations.
In between my illustration work, I relax by doing watercolours mostly, and sometimes oil or acrylic paintings. I put them up occasionally for exhibitions or on social media. Sometimes, people love a piece of art and buy for their home. On a few days, I also spend time attending online classes by master artists. There is always so much to learn, especially in traditional mediums.
How does your work benefit the society?
I truly believe that the world is in need of more love, compassion, joy and creativity. As a children’s book illustrator, I strive to capture the essence of the characters created by the author and bring them to life in a unique and beautifully educative way. Often these characters and stories are very relevant to social and family issues and how people handle them positively. I do a lot of books about minority communities, written by women authors and about people who have made a huge contribution to society. I feel so fortunate to be able to do this for a living and I am grateful to every client I have worked for.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
I am very happy and proud to be the illustrator of the book “Audrey Evans: Not Your Ordinary Doctor”. This is a biography of Dr. Audrey Evans, a paediatrician who has been called a medical pioneer for discoveries that improve treatment for children with a form of cancer called neuroblastoma. She is also credited with making hospitals less frightening for children and coming up with the idea for Ronald McDonald houses, that provide families with an affordable place to stay when their children are hospitalized. After retirement, she co-founded a faith-based middle school in inner city Philadelphia.The book includes entertaining stories about her childhood as well as information about her medical career and hobbies. In a review, a teacher wrote, “The book is more than a platform for encouraging ambitious career goals. It includes references to history and geography, instances which demonstrate character development, and nuggets of wisdom about the value of caring for others. In its pages readers will find compelling lessons about growing up to live a meaningful life.”. It is written by Heidi Bright Butler , and published by Bright Pages Publishing. You can check at:
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Pursue something that you think you are good at. Keep on practicing and improving your skills in that area. Never be shy about putting up your work out there for others to see and review. This has helped me personally to develop my style and yet be flexible. I think if you are feeling happy and inspired and are true to yourself, it shows in the work.
Future plans ?
I will be fortunate if I can continue to learn more in the work I do and create illustrations that my authors and kids keep enjoying. I also plan to expand my horizon into watercolour painting.