March Authors Forward interview with Shetal Shah and Kavita Rajput

March Authors Forward interview with Shetal Shah and Kavita Rajput

Welcome to our Authors Forward series, where our innovative and talented Books Forward authors interview other great, forward-thinking voices in the industry.

Kavita Rajput is an illustrator and surface designer based in New York City. Born and raised in Mumbai, India, she draws inspiration from her childhood and the rich folk art of India in her playful artwork. Her latest work as illustrator of the children’s book, Shakti Girls, reflects her vibrant and colorful style through inspiring portraits and floral motifs. Learn more about her journey and experience working on Shakti Girls!

How did you become an illustrator? 

I believe the idea first took shape around 2010-11 when I used to read picture books to my toddler every evening. One day on my way to work, I cooked up a simple rhyming text which stayed at the back of my mind for around 6-7 years. During that time I quit my finance job and had become a full-time watercolor artist. In 2018, I finally turned that rhyme into a children’s picture book filled with 16 full-color illustrations. I guess that was the point when I knew that I wanted to become an illustrator professionally. I didn’t know anyone within the publishing industry or even what skills were needed to become a children’s book illustrator, so I spent the next few years stumbling around, figuring out my path to illustration. I took graphic design courses and children’s illustration courses and started posting my illustrations on Instagram. That’s where my first author, and then Shetal, found me. I have now illustrated three picture books and I know that this is just the beginning. I can’t wait for all that’s coming. 

What type of illustrations do you enjoy working on? 

Very simply, I enjoy work that makes me feel warm and fuzzy which is why making children’s illustrations feels great. Sketching innocent faces that tug at my heart, using vibrant colors that remind me of home, and creating soothing patterns that feel like meditation make my art process an emotionally immersive one. I use my joy as a guide when I work and I hope that this joy shows through in my work and uplifts people who see it.

How would you describe your art style?

My art is driven by color, pattern, and joy. My work is a hybrid of traditional watercolor and digital art techniques and my style could possibly be described as decorative and lightly inspired by Indian folk and miniature art. 

Out of all the illustrations you have created, which are you most proud of and why? 

That’s a tough one. I’m not sure if I can pick one piece but the entire Shakti Girls collection is definitely what I am most proud of at the moment. It’s a very meaningful project for me, especially as an Indian immigrant woman raising young children in the US. 

What drew you to the Shakti Girls project? 

I had wanted to create portraits of inspiring Indian women for a while so when Shetal wrote to me about her book idea, it was like a wish come true. I love the Rebel Girls series and I love creating decorative portraits of women. This project gave me everything I wanted to do in addition to getting a talented and driven partner for a wonderful collaboration. I couldn’t say no!

What was your experience like illustrating for Shakti Girls? What was your process like?

It was absolutely wonderful from start to finish. I think Shetal and I connected instantly and I could see that we had a very similar vision for the book and we were excited about the same things. I loved that I was given the freedom to add my own vision to the illustrations and I believe we created something magical together. My illustration process started with detailed discussions with Shetal about what she was looking for and from there I went to the drawing board for the sketching phase — first for the book cover and title art and then for each portrait. Once the sketches were finalized, I moved to painting and digital finalizing. At every stage we reviewed the pieces, making changes where necessary till we were both satisfied with the finished illustrations. I really loved creating the illustrations of Shakti Girls and collaborating with Shetal was icing on the cake. It was very clear that giving this book our very best was a priority for both of us and we were ready to go through endless iterations to make it happen. 

What was the most challenging aspect of illustrating for Shakti Girls? 

The portraits! I have done a little bit of realistic portrait work in my early years as an artist but more recently my work is largely sketched from imagination using several reference images for inspiration. Trying to draw a likeness to someone always stresses me out a bit. To add to that, we wanted to make the portraits child-friendly — slightly less identical and more representational to the actual person and yet, not make them like caricatures or cartoons. The portraits were the main subject of this book—- they were what drew me to the project but they were also my biggest challenge. I wasn’t completely relaxed till all the sketches and finished pieces were liked and approved by Shetal and a few of my trusted peers. 

Is there a particular portrait in Shakti Girls that you are most proud of?

There are several favorites: Indira Gandhi, Kalpana Chawla, Sania Mirza and Shakuntala Devi come to mind immediately. I don’t think I can pick one. Oh and I absolutely loved how the cover turned out. We devoted a couple of weeks to it and it’s something I am really proud of too. 

How do you want young readers to react to your illustrations in Shakti Girls

I want young readers to dream. This book is about women who made their dreams come true and it’s made by women who are pursuing theirs. I want young readers to dream big and chase those dreams and one day see their own faces in a book like this one. 

Where can people find your work?

They can find me at my website and on instagram @kavita_rajput