Catching up with Sanjay Patel
The last time we interviewed Sanjay Patel, he was talking about his illustrated re-telling of the epic Ramayana. Since then, Sanjay has become one of the Chronicle Books family by designing our Comic-Con tote bag and signing books at our booth.
Even though his job at Pixar keeps him quite busy, Sanjay had time to both create a new poster book for us and work on an exciting project for the Asian Art Museum. I wanted to find out more, so I asked him a few questions…
Congratulations on your newest work with Chronicle: The Big Poster Book of Hindu Deities. As the publicist working on it, I was excited to see your work in such a large format. Your style is complex with lots of details that I think this format enables your fans to study. How did you decide which deities to include and did the large format influence how you portrayed them?
One of things that I was most excited about with the poster project was to revisit some of the most popular Hindu deities and have another opportunity to redesign and re-imagine them. For instance, my original illustration of Shiva from The Little Book of Hindu Deities looks a lot like the character Pebbles from The Flintstones. When rather what I was going for was illustrating a friendly meditating aspect of Shiva. As for which deities to include, that was pretty simple. I knew I needed to start with Ganesha, being the god of auspicious beginnings, from there I wanted to include his father Shiva, his counterpart Vishnu, his wife Lakshmi and on, and on it went. Pretty quickly we had twelve deities.
A detail of Shiva: the god of transformation and regeneration.
I’ve probably told you this before, but Ganesha is my favorite. Like me, he has a bit of a tummy and loves sweets, but I could only hope to be half as useful in the world as he is. Do you have a favorite of the deities?
I really like Ganesha as well. My girlfriend and I are so smitten with him that he’s become the subject of my first children’s book. The working title is called Sweet Tooth (Fall 2012, Chronicle Books), and it re-imagines the story of how Ganesha breaks his tusk to write one of the greatest and longest epics in Hindu literature.
You have appeared at the Chronicle Books Comic-Con International booth for the past two years. What type of feedback do you get from the fans that you meet there?
I tend to get people who are so-over-the-top grateful that I’ve illustrated and retold a pretty obscure story in the West. Or I get Pixar fans that are animation students who really get into the hybrid design and animation look of my books. I’m always stunned when people say something positive about [my version of] the Ramayana, I worked on it for so long in isolation that I was convinced that it was a train wreck. Luckily my editor Emily Haynes really helped the project reach the finish line.
Sanjay’s hand-drawn sketch of Durga.
The whole Chronicle team is very excited to see the work you created for the upcoming Maharaja exhibit for the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (running 10/21/11-4/8/12). Can you describe what it was like to take on this type of commission? What direction/freedom did they give you?
The AAM thing was like a giant dream come true. After publishing my first book I had a secret dream of working with The AAM on a project or somehow collaborating. It wasn’t because I felt what I was doing was museum-worthy. It was because working with the museum would finally give my illustration the proper context and lead my fans to the real art, the South East Asian collection. Anyway, when the museum contacted me and gave me complete freedom on the topic of Maharaja, it left my head spinning. In the end both the board and the museum director were thrilled with the results and the collaboration. The Museum was so enthusiastic about my participation that they even asked me to emcee the Museum brand launch to the mayor, city council, and the press at large. Next thing I know, I’m on the seven o’clock news and in the New York Times.
How great to also have a gallery to display your own work at the Asian Art Museum [see Sanjay’s essay about it here]. What artwork have you chosen to show there?
My approach to the gallery setting was to cheer things up. I wanted to create a space inspired by Sanrio (Hello Kitty), or a Paul Frank store. The AAM galleries are pretty somber and stiff, and so I wanted to make my space feel loud and bold with color and imagery, kinda like India. I tried to include most of the work I’ve done with Ghee Happy in the exhibit. It makes the space feel really full. In fact one whole wall is dedicated to a storyboard of images from the Ramayana: Divine Loophole, while another wall is covered with sketches and doodles from my exploration of the Maharaja subject. The effect feels more like graffiti than gallery art.
Sanjay’s mural tells a story on the wall of the Asian Art Museum.
In both your Ramayana: Divine Loophole and The Big Poster Book of Hindu Deities you include concept sketches. Why?
I gotta admit, the concept sketches in both projects you mentioned are far and away my favorite parts. There is quality in looking at someone’s sketches that not only reveals thinking but also says loud and clear that there is no magic computer program that does the heavy lifting for you. Everything I illustrate begins with good old pencil and paper and is rooted in good draftsmanship. Also when my work moves over to a computer program like Adobe Illustrator (which I adore) my signature, my pencil weight, my mistakes all disappear and beautiful geometric vector are all that’s left.
What artists are you currently excited about?
I’m a big fan, friend, and collaborator of SF/NYC artist named Chiraag Bhakta whom people may know as Pardon My Hindi (*PMH). His apparel and prints help me feel proud to be brown. I’m also a big fan of Lab Partners as well as Katie Kirk’s new picture book, Eli, no!, over at Eight Hour Day. I’m a huge fan of Christian Robinson‘s collage work and iconic shapes. Oh and how can I forge Mr. Scott C? His new book, The Amazing Everything is my new favorite gift to give to people. The list could go on and on.
Sanjay’s exhibit, Deities, Demons, and Dudes with ‘Staches runs from November 11, 2011 until April 22, 2012, but you can meet him at an event at the museum on Saturday, November 12th. Can’t wait until then? We’re giving away a copy of The Big Poster Book of Hindu Deities. To enter, just leave a comment naming your favorite Hindu deity by 11:59pm on Monday 10/24/11. We’ll select a random winner and notify him/her by email.
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