Last Wednesday we introduced you to the first of our Traditional Scottish Tales illustrators, Matthew Land – illustrator of Theresa Breslin’s The Dragon Stoorworm – and this week we have the fabulous Ruchi Mhasane! Ruchi is the illustrator of Janis Mackay’s beautiful tale, The Selkie Girl, and here she is to tell you all about her work!
Hi Ruchi! We’re so excited to hear all about The Selkie Girl. So how did you get started?
I looked at a lot of Scottish landscape photographs, some kindly sent to me by Leah and some by friends who’d been there. I had also seen some observation drawings by a good friend who had visited Scotland for a birding trip, and had heard and read about it. There is nothing like visiting the actual place to be truly inspired, but unfortunately, I only managed to visit Scotland many months after I’d finished the illustrations for The Selkie Girl.
We think you captured Scotland beautifully, and we’re glad you finally had a chance to visit! The Selkie Girl is a very emotional story, but what aspect gave you the strongest visual image?
I think the entire story is very evocative. The scenes at the beginning on the beach where Fergus finds the fur, were really very clear in my mind. Perhaps that is because the scene is built up over a couple of spreads, but I could really strongly see them.
Fergus finding the selkie skin is one of #FlorisDesign‘s favourite spreads! The contrast between Shonagh’s panic and Fergus’ happiness is really clearly shown. Do you have a favourite?
Yes, the one where Shonagh looks out at the moonlit sea! I feel like that really touches the core of the strong sense of belonging that she has towards the sea.
We agree, she looks heartbroken to be separated from it. One of our favourite elements of The Selkie Girl is the use of colour, how did you decide on the colour palette?
I knew that it had to be gentle and magical and include the natural colours of the Highlands, but it took a while to get the balance of gentle and vibrant right. I tend to enjoy subtle colour so it is sometimes a challenge for me to keep my images from being too dull.
Well we think you achieved that balance perfectly – The Selkie Girl is far from dull! Now, we’ve been asking our Traditional Scottish Tales illustrators if they have a favourite folk tale or if they were read any as a child, do you have any childhood favourites?
I listened to many Indian folk tales of talking animals and birds with humour, wit and much wisdom woven into them. I don’t quite have a favourite, but a funny one I remember being told (almost sung to) was about a poor little mouse who finds a piece of cloth and wants to make a hat out of it; he asks for help in the washing, dyeing, stitching of it; nobody takes him seriously at first but he perseveres and at the end makes a hat he thinks is finer than the king’s!
In terms of books, we had some Russian picturebooks which had Russian folk tales; one that I used to adore was about a clever little hump-backed horse who helps his young peasant owner in his troubles. We had the ballad, richly illustrated, in a thick large book, and I enjoyed the beautiful illustrations immensely!
Those stories sound very sweet and a lovely introduction to folk tales. We imagine those illustrations were very inspirational, but what made you want to become an illustrator?
I’ve been drawing all my life. Both my parents are artists and they gave my drawings full rein from my childhood. When I got into art school, illustration naturally seemed the way to go. Almost as if it was impossible not to choose it!
It sounds like fate! But is this what you expected working as an illustrator would be like?
To be honest, I didn’t quite expect anything. I never dreamed of being an illustrator as in India I didn’t see it as a major career choice, or even know of any illustrators while growing up. It just happened and I was doing drawings before I had time to think about how I’d like work to be. But in all, it has been very pleasant. I love getting new projects, building it all up in my head and I love doing the artwork. The job can be a bit unsteady at times, but that doesn’t bother me much when the work is so absorbing.
That’s great to hear, and we’re certainly very happy you chose it as a career! Do you find it different working under contract than for personal projects?
Not very. I think there are some differences with timelines, or with inputs from others, but those are easy to handle if you are working with nice, understanding people. I’m glad that the Floris team was really nice throughout the process and I didn’t feel the work restrictive in any way.
We’re so glad to hear you enjoyed working with our team, you were an absolute joy for us! So where do you like to work on your illustrations?
I am quite flexible when it comes to workspaces, especially as I’ve moved many times in the last few years. But I do like lots of natural light, and a bit of space around my artwork which I can clutter up (in the order I choose). Some peace and quiet is a must!
Thanks, this is is a great picture! It’s always interesting to see our illustrators’ workspaces. Now, we can see both a paint palette and a laptop on your desk, do you prefer traditional or digital methods when creating your illustrations?
Oh, I’d prefer traditional over digital anytime. It allows for much better mark-making which you can never quite achieve digitally. I’ve found it is stricter as you cannot erase your mistakes easily, and it teaches you colour as you have to mix and create the right colour as opposed to choosing it on a screen. Traditional media is the more difficult choice, but it trains the artist more thoroughly. Having said that, using digital techniques for small corrections and enhancements saves loads of time and is definitely a practical option.
It’s always great to be able to use both, it seems that most of our illustrators use a combination of the two. So what do you do if you get illustrators’ block on a brief?
It is hard, but I give it time. Some free experimenting and playing with work helps a lot. It is important for me to keep trying something, perhaps other than the brief, instead of completely giving up all drawing. But complete breaks can also help, a day out with friends, or a walk or even a good book can all help ease the stress and I can then come back and look at it afresh.
And finally, who is your favourite illustrator or designer and why?
Oh, so many to list, but I love Lisbeth Zwerger! Her use of watercolour is amazing, I cannot stop looking at her images. Her tones and composition and weirdly strange characters just all come together very beautifully.
Click on the cover for more info on The Selkie Girl and to see more beautiful illustrations using our See Inside feature. You can also see all of our beautiful Traditional Scottish Tales on our big sister website florisbooks.co.uk!