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.

April Whitney
Entertainment Publicist

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April Whitney

April Whitney

April Whitney is a Senior Publicist for the Entertainment category with an abiding love of pop culture. She just celebrated her 11th year at Chronicle Books.
April Whitney



  • Laila October 19, 2011 at 5:03 am

    My 6 year old son has been learning a little about religion at school, we are non religious so he gets none at home. He has obviously been thinking about it and asked me if we believed in god and all the usual questions you get from the little kids, he has declared his favourite is the monkey god – no reason but he likes him!


  • Scott Blagden October 19, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Kali is my favorite Hindu goddess. First off, she’s a snappy dresser. Any goddess bold enough to wear a girdle of severed arms, a necklace of severed heads and earrings of children's corpses can be regarded as nothing less than swanky and sophisticated. Second, Kali is the slayer of time and death which is a handy skill for a goddess since time and death can often be such a nuisance. Third, any goddess with less than ten arms is, in my humble opinion, lacking in seraphic skills. Fourth, she’s a fan of the band Kiss (I mean really, check out that tongue). Rock on, Kali!


  • holly cooper October 19, 2011 at 12:53 pm

    Kali ~ Because powerful and strong women are beautiful women!


  • kasey October 19, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    My favorite Hindu deity is Ganesha as well. The remover of obstacles and lord of beginnings. I keep a picture of him in my planner, which comforts me on tough days at work. 🙂


  • meeralee October 19, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    my favorite is ganesha, but i gotta say, scott's reasons for supporting kali are pretty convincing…


  • Nora October 19, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    the Goddess Lakshmi is my favorite, but Shiva is a close second.


  • Faye October 19, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Ganesh is my favorite. I have a baby Ganesh candle holder that has helped me through some rough times. He is so adorable, it cheers me up!


  • Victoria October 19, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Durga – She was created out of parts of all the other Gods, when they couldn't get rid of a particularly nasty demon. She carries several of their weapons, and rides on the back of a Tiger (my favorite animal). She's basically the embodiment of the expression, "If you really want to get something done, get a woman to do it!"


  • Daniel October 19, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Love Ganesha, but I'll choose Kali for this one.

    Love your work, Sanjay!


  • Aadip Desai October 19, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    Ganesh then Hanuman.


  • Noelle October 19, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Ganesh is the best!


  • Kali October 19, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Krishna! I fell in love with him when I was a kid reading the Amar Chitra Katha comic books.


  • April October 19, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    After writing this post, I started to wonder if I should be Ganesha for Halloween, but I don't think I I have the confidence show off my tummy like that.

    The Asian Art Museum has a sculpture of him that I Love. I keep a photo of it. He's sufficiently chubby & happy looking & really strutting his stuff as he dances. Go Ganesha!

    BTW- Rodrigo y Gabriela have a great song called "Hanuman" which you can preview here:


  • speedi_0724 October 19, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Sarasvati is my favorite. It was my Father's nickname for me growing up and now (b/c of your book) I understand why. I love your work!


  • vsoni October 19, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    Any of the goddesses…beautiful, strong women serving as inspiration the world over….love your work Sanjay!


  • Theresi October 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    I love Maa Durga who rides the great tiger and slays evil and ignorance!! She is shakti and the great protector! She is my inspiration and strength!


    • Theresi October 26, 2011 at 11:58 am

      Oo Oo Oo! I changed my answer,, ugh ugh.. I have two Goddesses close to me. Maa Durga and also Dhumavati. She who represents all of the bad and terrible things in this world. death, disease, poverty, starvation, misery.. the only widow of all the goddesses… But, she also represents the fortune born of misfortune. I live in a duality of Maa Durga and Dhumavati… 🙂


  • Ryan October 20, 2011 at 6:37 pm

    Vishnu would be my choice. That buys you all the avatars as well (Rama, Krishna, Kurma the tortoise, etc.).


  • Shanta October 21, 2011 at 9:12 am

    Soorpanaka! Yes, I went there. Absolutely thrilled for Sanjay Patel – the Asian Art is finally stepping into truly alive art expression and he's leading their way. ~Shanta


  • Doe Restrepo-Macias November 1, 2011 at 9:32 pm

    SHIVA!!! mos deffff…spiritual power/fun house!!!! STOKED to see the exhibit this month!!!


  • Sheetal November 20, 2011 at 1:05 am

    I was gifted the book by a good friend, and am blessed that I came across Sanjay Patel's work!!! A state of extacy is what I experienced as my fingers gently caressed the beauty in each of Sanjay's creations. As soon as I saw Divine Lakshmi, I felt all that she represents: "wealth, wisdom, fortune, fertility, generosity, and courage." I felt her warmness, love, and guidance in awakening our inner and outer spiritual abundance. Sanjay's depiction of Lakshmi emanates the totality of her Shakti.


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