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In Conversation With Pallavi Datta, An Illustrator And Brand Designer

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Appreciated for her unique style and art, Pallavi Datta is a Creative Strategist and Brand Designer based in London. Pallavi enjoys illustrating, and is one of the illustrators of our title My Big Book Of Kindness. She works with clarity and reason, and has a distinct style of working.  We got a chance to talk to her about her unconventional leadership journey, art, children’s literature, and a lot more. The following are a few excerpts from our conversation.

Katha: Tell us something about the diverse range of experiences you’ve had —from being an illustrator to a Brand Executive. What made you pursue this journey? Are there any highlights that you’d like to share?

Pallavi Datta: While I was doing my undergrad from Srishti Institute of Art, Design & Technology, Bangalore, I tried my hands on different areas of visual communication — graphic branding design, publication design, illustration, and a bit of motion design. Illustration was something I really enjoyed — a lot of projects gave me a chance to explore styles and concepts, including a semester-long project with Katha, where I came up with a series of children’s books called The First Hellos. It comprised three books that explored the ideas of empathy and friendship. I really enjoyed the process and was thrilled to have one of the poems published in the My Big Book of Kindness.

In the years to follow, working as a graphic brand designer for various studios, my work evolved, but I kept illustrating on the side on cynical digital self-portraits. Illustration became more personal for me and I decided to keep it that way.

Professionally, I realised that I could be a Brand/Creative Strategist because it gave me the chance to collaborate with lots of multidisciplinary designers and dabble in different forms of media while leading projects. I think it has been quite a roller coaster and I’m really excited to see what the future holds!

Katha: What is your idea of a picture book? What do you think makes an illustration powerful for kids?

PD: I think a great picture book doesn’t treat the text and image as two different entities, but combines them in a way to ignite the child’s imagination. Picture books usually have one or two characters that are larger than life, and that takes the child through a journey. It’s more interesting when inanimate objects are brought to life or given a voice; it opens the child’s mind to a non-linear way of thinking and makes the story memorable. This is important, especially at a time and age when the closest relationship we have is to an inanimate object — our phones.

Katha’s My Big Book Of Kindness, co-illustrated by Pallavi Datta.

As kids, books and illustrations are a gateway to an alternate universe, especially in present times as health and safety require children to be within the confines of their homes, without a lot of physical interaction. Books can be an important prompt to learn about things they would have otherwise experienced on playgrounds or in crowded classrooms.

Katha: Unlike the conventional definition of leadership, the poem ‘Me And We’ from our book My Big Book Of Kindness subtly talks about it through the values of empathy, collaboration and equality. What role do you think illustrations play in conveying the message to children? Do you think it’s important for kids to revisit the concept of leadership?

PD: The style of illustration for the particular poem ‘Me And We’ is part digital and part analogue. The combination of a collage and colouring pencils gives it an imperfect touch with a burst of colour that makes it more believable and true to life. The thought and concept of all the illustrations was to bring out playfulness that can be instilled while trying to make children comprehend deeper ethical values. A lot of times, we assume that morals can be “taught” or imposed, but in reality, ethics are way more complex than that.

We need kids to believe in themselves more, and move away from the idea that there can be one central authoritative figure — in friend circles or in politics — we need all kinds of people who can work together because no single person has an answer to fix everything in the world.

Katha: Tell us a little about your artwork. What is your usual style of work? Are there any particular artworks of yours that are your favourites?

PD: I use Adobe Illustrator for most of my artwork. I usually practice a personal style of work, which mostly includes self-portraits that capture moments of reflection, grief, or nostalgia. The pen tool is my tool of choice and I use it to create fluid lines and slightly morphed perspectives with a predominantly pastel palette, covering greens and oranges for the happier ones and neutral tones for the more subdued ones.

This artwork was done by me almost five years ago, but is still impactful for its time. It was inspired by one of Salman Rushdie’s tweets on the ban of cow slaughtering in Maharashtra: “Congratulations Maharashtra: It is now safer to be a cow than a woman, Dalit, Muslim in the state.”

Katha: Let’s talk about inspiration. Are there any artists or designers who have influenced your work?

PD: I have so many favourites and there are lots of talented artists and designers out there! From a publishing perspective, I absolutely love Marjane Satrapi, the Iranian graphic novelist and illustrator — her artwork has such a distinct, powerful style that beautifully combines image and text, almost transporting you to every scene she illustrates.

I think Jacqueline Wilson’s book covers have subconsciously influenced my style — there is always a female character in the centre, with all the elements of her narrative illustrated around her in these morphed shapes and dimensions, which kind of sum up the storyline in a way. Apart from that Wasted Rita, Lisk Feng and Taarika John are some of the illustrators whose works always inspire me. They have very different styles but unique abilities to find joy, humour or melancholy in mundane, everyday situations.

Katha: If you had a piece of advice for budding artists who might be reading this, what would it be?

PD: I would ask every creative person who feels a bit overwhelmed by everything that’s going on right now to keep doing their thing. It’s okay not to know exactly what you want or where you’re headed, but as long as you’re sincere to yourself, it’s all going to be okay!

You can get in touch with Pallavi on her website and Instagram.

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