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Those Mysterious Ways

Sandhya Prabhat, graphic designer and animator, talks to us about the unpredictable world of design as it flits between stillness and movement.. Edited excerpts from the article.

From the series Female Characters in Literature A-Z and 0-9 for 36 Days of Type (#36daysoftype), 2018.

There are no such things as coincidences. And, so, when I bump into Sandhya Prabhat a day after requesting time for an interview at a storytelling session for children, I find it completely natural. It is the fantasy issue, after all, and, as Chandler once said, ‘It’s jo-incidence with a c’.

I first came across Sandhya’s work when she collaborated with singer Srinidhi Venkatesh on her single, Lonely Sound. The animated video (directed by Shalini Shankar) with its warm colours and understated aesthetics, seemed to flow with the lilting melody of the song like a soft breeze through afternoon rain. I found the video just as riveting as the song, and somehow couldn’t separate the two – the song would seem incomplete without the video and the video wouldn’t exude the kind of magic it did without the song.

From the series Female Characters in Literature A-Z and 0-9 for 36 Days of Type (#36daysoftype), 2018.

As I discovered more of her work – including one of my favourite children’s books in recent times, The Colour Thief – I found that this was Sandhya’s quality – the ability to disappear into her work like an actor disappearing into her character. in one of her projects, the A to Z of Female Characters, in response to an Instagram challenge, I felt the same sense of casual fluidity, and her characters encapsulated not just the experience of the character in the book but, in a wildly improbable way, my own response to the character as well. No coincidence (ha!) then that her series was widely appreciated. ‘The challenge was called #36daysoftype (www.36daysoftype.com) where one had to create letters and numbers for 36 days in a row based on the English alphabet. I designed it based on my personal favourite female literary characters. I didn’t attempt to curate a ‘perfect’ set of characters. This was a personal series and it gave me great joy. I ended up connecting with thousands of readers online, who shared my favourites,’ she said over an e-mail interview.

Stills from Lonely Sound, Animated music video for Artiste Srinidhi's single, directed by Shalini Shankar and produced by Hermitage Records.

And she also assured me, almost apologetically, ‘I don’t really work in wise and mysterious ways, so my answers are pretty straightforward, just as I usually am. I hope that’s all right.’ I did an all-knowing smile, much like Phoebe did in response to Chandler, like the mystery and its hidden wisdom and humour, if at all, was so wisely and mysteriously unraveled.

Excerpt from the interview.

I often feel there is a distinct line between imagination and what we call ‘fantasy’, and that they suffer the effects of being misunderstood. I was curious to know how you would define the two. Do you see them as distinct entities or do you find, in your work across several genres, that they are constantly merging and conversing with each other?

Stills from Lonely Sound, Animated music video for Artiste Srinidhi's single, directed by Shalini Shankar and produced by Hermitage Records.

Fantasy could work as a subset of the Imagination. While it’s possible to imagine fantastic worlds, it’s also possible to imagine worlds rooted in perceived reality. However, to be honest, I find it nervous to draw with too much thought about genre, although this is a really interesting question. I typically focus on the content and design only, while creating. The end product then gets categorised into the various genres, but I’m not affected by this as a creator. In other words, if I find that a bunny in a spacesuit must be drawn, I draw one. This would, I think, be considered ‘fantastic’. If I find that I must design an astronaut, that might be considered imaginative, but not fantastic, necessarily. But, why bother?
Praveena Shivram is the Editor of Arts Illustrated.

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