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Redesigning a Children's book

Gup-Shup with Bhavya. D I Illustrator

Bhavya, a visual designer from Chennai talks about his work on redesigning the visuals of an existing Children's book and takes on the factors to be considered.

You were recently approached by a school to work on the visuals of their existing storybooks. The approach was truly remarkable as less people think of improving the dull visuals of Children's book.

What do you think should be a primary factor while designing those?

My recent project was to redesign the visuals of the existing books of an International school in Chennai.

These books are for the kids of standard one and heavily rely on visuals as children of that age easily tend to understand the language of visuals. The original story line was built around a rat and his exploration and I felt it needed a sense of belongingness so decided to pitch human characters "Rani and Manu" something that a first grade kid can easily relate and become friends with.

The type of visual you select particularly depends on your targeted audience. You can have the same style yet play in terms of visual weights, detailing etc. and span through all ages.

For example, probably one obvious difference would be the increase in text and the detailing in terms of characters, Less weight age on the expressions for the higher grades.

Whereas, kids - they only understand visuals. Visuals can get them excited about a book or turn them completely disinterested in the story line so maintaining a balance and keeping it light and enjoyable is a huge responsibility.

A primary factor that I like to focus on is the detailing. With the graphics I use, I don’t want to overburden the children with using over the top bright colors or too much of graphics. Minimal and attractive works the best for them! For instance, you only work and highlight the main characters (50%) then the secondary characters can be (30%) and then the background or the setting can be another (20%) in terms of visual weight, detailing and colour grading.

Redesigning an existing piece, comes with a great sense of responsibility and understanding of the topic. Is there some methodology or research that you adapted to deliver the product?

Yes, it’s indeed true.

I would like to compare two projects here to give a better understanding of how methodology differs.

I worked on the graphics for a government school in Bihar and another one for an International board school in Chennai. Here, the user groups were the same but belonging to two different classes of society, raised in a different environment and brought up in a different culture.

Although technically, the Theme of the books were standard. The thought process followed was totally different.

For the International school children, an adventure to the jungle on a gypsy is pretty normal and not something they would be wowed about. So, I wanted them to explore the jungle barefoot, giving some touches of the rural India that takes them to a fantasy land, so introducing bata shoes, square back-packs played an important role.

For the government school however, introducing alien elements - things that kids of the international school are used to seeing eg. cars, running shoes, laptops etc. would have caused a discomfort to them. As it puts an impression of "this is the way you live life and be happy" so I decided to follow the tones and moods familiar to them.

Elements there were chosen extremely carefully and visuals they are comfortable seeing and interacting with.

Developing a character style is a long process of trails and understanding your calling. How important do you think adapting to a character style is? Did it come naturally to you, or was it a long road of self explorations?

Character development is a long road of trying out what works for you and sometimes takes ages exploring.

For any visual designer, developing a character style (or styles) is a must before you start taking up such projects. Once, you are comfortable with how your character looks like (while sleeping, eating, fighting etc.) You can then concentrate on the expressions, which is the most fun part and helps turn static characters into dynamic personalities.

How do you go about an illustration? Can you give some insights on what a general process adapted looks like?

As soon as the brief comes in, I invest a lot of time , studying the brief and collecting references. For me, studying a character always comes with studying the culture and setting up a foreground. So I like to travel to the place ( if possible) and collect first hand references. If not, ask for pictures or do my internet study. It's always a cherry on top to introduce a cultural element - for eg. The obsession of gold in South India or the traditional kolum (rangoli) However small the detail is, it ties up the entire theme and makes the user comfortable and at home with the book.

Once I’ve figured out the foreground and the setting, I prepare a rough draft and concept sketches - sketching on a paper works the best! The more the scribbling the better the outcome! I always make sure to preplan the color key and mood board in the preproduction stages as it gives a clear picture of how it will end up looking like.

It’s not a compulsory practice though, sometimes I like to play with colors after the entire piece is sketched. Later once the sketches are finalized I compose , work on the details and prepare the final drawing.

That pretty much sums up a piece of illustration for me.

Gup-Shup with Bhavya



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