Sunandini Banerjee of Seagull Books in a candid conversation with Elisabetta Marabotto
Book illustration isn’t easy—it requires a thorough understanding of the work and author’s style, and a tricky balance of enticing the reader and conveying the message. The artwork should complement the author’s tone, and the experience of reading and viewing should leave the reader satisfied. For Kolkata based Sunandini Banerjee, this balancing act seems to come quite effortlessly. As Senior Editor and Senior Graphic Designer at the renowned Seagull Books, she has over a decade of skill (and talent) backing her up. She joined Seagull after completing her Masters in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, in 2000, and soon delved into illustration. Anyone familiar with French author Diane Meur’s “In Dreams” (2013), South African writer Ivan Vladislavić’s “The Loss Library” (2012), and Austrian novelist, poet and playwright Thomas Bernhard’s “Victor Halfwit” (2011), would be acquainted with her digital collages. She now juggles adeptly between editing, translating, designing covers, and illustrating.
A limited edition of collages from Seagull Books’ annual catalogue is part of the Thieving Magpie collection on StoryLTD. I interviewed her on her foray into illustration, her work, and her source of inspiration—a much-dreaded question for many artists and writers—which Sunandini tackled with poise:
Me: Coming from a literature background, how did you get into illustration?
Sunandini: I think my literature background was absolutely essential by way of preparing me for my foray into design/collage/illustration. The pictures in my head are intimately linked to both the words on the page I am reading and to the words in my head from other books I have read. Memories, stories, echoes of other words help me think of images, pictures and colours, all of which then come together in a collage. The words are the inspiration, and in this my degree in literature helped for one of the most important things I was taught during my college and university days was to not only read the words that were being written but to also hear the words that were being left out.
Me: How do you balance your several jobs? Does one take over the other at times?
Sunandini: With a lot of coffee, and with an incredible amount of support and good humour from my colleagues. Yes, sometimes being an editor and a graphic designer for a small publishing house can be quite a challenge. But this is the only job I know (I’ve never had another) and this is the only way I know how to work—juggling, flowing from one to another, fighting down panic on some days and being infinitely zen on some others. Sometimes I edit more than I design, sometimes the other way around. Depending on the deadlines, sometimes one does take over the other. Sometimes, one also affords a certain relief from the other.
Me: Where do you find your source of inspiration?
Sunandini: In the books I read, in the people I meet, in the music I listen to, in the films I watch, in nature, in the flower market, in the saree shop, at the bangle-seller’s, in an online shoe store, in comics, in conversation, in the middle of the night, in a plate of chicken biriyani . . . in life, actually. It’s all around me. It’s hard to switch it off sometimes.
Me: Do you create artworks apart from book illustrations?
Sunandini: I’d love to but no. I’m still enjoying the interacting of word and picture. Perhaps some day my pictures may break free of the word. Who knows?
Me: Being both an editor and illustrator, do you think words are more powerful than images?
Sunandini: Not at all. A well-written novel can move you just as much as a beautiful collage.
Me: What is your next project?
Sunandini: Books, books and more books. And designing posters for the Berlin LitFest in September 2014.