Lives inspire him to sketch toons
CHENNAI: Have you ever read a children’s magazine and wondered who was behind the wonderful artwork on the panels? Or saw a film storyboard and wondered who brought to life the characters in the story through artistic narration of the script? Well, they are the creation of talented cartoonists and illustrators. City Express got to talk with artist Shyam Shankar, a 38-year-old illustrator who has been at this task for the more than two decades. “As a child, whenever I used to have dreams, I got up in the morning and immediately drew them on paper,” he says when asked on how he developed this talent.
Though he could not remember most of the characters that were part of his dreams the next day, he used to draw with the impressions he got of them and tried to reproduce that on paper. “By the time I was 12-year-old, the walls of my room were full of drawings and paintings stuck on them!” he remarks. His grandfather was appreciative of his keen interest in drawing sketches and even refused to whitewash the walls of his room because of his paintings. But Shyam’s parents were not too supportive of his passion.
After he completed Class 10, he came to Chennai and immediately found work in a children’s magazine. Within a short period, he was into illustrating more than 120 magazines, including ones in Telugu, Tamil and English.
“I started earning from my projects at age 15. Had I started at age 5, when I first began drawing, I would have made big money by then!” he chuckles. But is a cartoonist’s job merely to draw characters? “Not just characters, but an entire situation must be visualised in one’s mind,” explains Shyam. “You will be given the entire script but unless you observe the situations people live in, you cannot commit it to paper. For example, if you are told to draw the main characters —a fishing couple — you cannot draw it unless you have actually been to a fishing community and observed their life. What is expressed in one sentence in the script must be exactly portrayed in the illustration,” he states
Most budding artists today fail to observe and hence don’t succeed, he adds. He, however, rues that this means he does not have much competition in the field. “My entire life has been like a single racehorse. There are very few peers in my field. I often tell the artists I meet to develop their talent and then I myself will introduce them to major magazines. What’s the use in having talent without competition,” he laments. Shyam urges new talent to nurture their creativity and attend workshops. “I frequently conduct workshops along with Ramakrishnan, a prominent cartoonist, which is open to all ages. I urge them to come and showcase their talent.” Shyam has also illustrated film storyboards and concept movie posters.
All his drawings and paintings are manual as he says he does not like digital methods. “If you press a red colour on a digital screen, it will be no different from the one another person has. However, in manual art or water colour, there is a marked difference in the shades of red each person chooses, how he mixes it and so on,” he says. Shyam is grateful to god for having bestowed this talent. Also, he never mixes his work and personal life. “I don’t believe in visiting cards. My work is my visiting card!” he concludes.