I met Tapas Guha for the first time in 1988 when I was working as an editorial consultant with Target, a popular children’s magazine. I realized at the very outset that here was an illustrator who was different from the others. Not only was his work good but unlike many others, he took his deadlines seriously, always delivered what was expected and threw no ‘artistic’ tantrums. I was even more surprised when I came to know that Tapas had strayed into the field of art without any formal training from the world of commerce. But obviously he had come to stay and rose rapidly in a highly competitive field with ease and élan. A popular choice for book covers, Tapas has designed many books, including one of mine (Stories for a winter night). I feel sure that the young readers would like to know more about him.
New Delhi-born Tapas Guha did his Masters in Commerce from Delhi University and is one of the most prolific, popular and sought-after illustrators of children’s books in India today. Starting off as an illustrator for well known magazines like Target, India Today, Namaste, Cosmopolitan and national newspapers such as Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express and The Telegraph, Tapas went on to make his name as an illustrator of books. He has done books for Dorling Kinderseley, Oxford University Press, Penguin, Scholastic, Puffin, Ladybird, Harper Collins, Rupa & Co, Children’s Book Trust and National book Trust, among others. Tapas also specialize in comic strips and is currently doing a series for The Telegraph based on the popular stories of Satyajit Ray. His hobbies include photography, reading and listening to music, especially soft rock. Here is his candid reaction to my rapid fire questions:
SD: From when did you first get interested in art? School, college or later?
TG: Well, I think I have always been interested in art – ever since I can remember.
SD: How come you decided to go for commerce in the first place rather than joining an art school?
TG: It’s because of my parents. They wanted me to go for commerce and were sure that they knew what was good for me better than I did. So I had to take it up.
SD: When did you first realize your potential as an artist/illustrator?
TG: After I completed my Masters in Commerce. When I saw the work of other Indian illustrators I felt sure that I could do as well as some of them, if not better!
SD: Doesn’t that sound a bit aggressive?
TG: No. I was merely confident about my own ability.
SD: Did you dream of a career in art?
TG: Actually I was totally confused about my career at first. But I knew that I loved art more than anything else.
SD: When did you realize that you wanted to take it up seriously?
TG: When I received my first payment for an illustration. It was peanuts but even then I knew that it was what I really wanted to do.
SD: Who encouraged you to become an illustrator?
TG: No one! No one, at all. In fact, everyone discouraged me.
SD: But why?
TG: I told you, because no one wanted me to be an artist! They wanted me to be a Chartered Accountant.
SD: When you first decided to take matters into your own hands, how did you fare? Were there any disappointments at first or was it roses all the way?
TG: There were many, many disappointments! But I believe in living in the present without looking back at the dead past!
SD: Did you ever feel that not having studied art formally was a handicap?
TG: Not at all. I am glad I didn’t go to an art school. I feel that a lot of things taught there are not really indispensable for a career as an illustrator, at least the kind I had in mind. And I was keen to make a start rather than spend five more years studying.
SD: How did your publishers/editors feel about it? Did you feel that it made any difference with them?
TG: They have never been bothered about my formal qualifications. All they cared about was the quality of my work - whether it came up to their standard or not.
SD: What was your first ever assignment as an illustrator?
TG: Some cartoons for a magazine, done while I was still at school.
SD: What was the first book you illustrated? Who was the publisher?
TG: I had been working for quite a few publishers simultaneously and I can’t recall at this point which of my books came out first.
SD: Do the publishers give you a free hand where illustrations are concerned or do they suggest how you should work?
TG: unfortunately, some of them do. But only those who don’t understand how one should deal with an illustrator. Some publishers feel it is their duty to make suggestions, relevant or not! They feel that they are being paid for interfering!!
SD: Any particular publisher you particularly enjoy working for?
TG: I love working for whoever pays me well!
SD: Isn’t that a somewhat mercenary attitude?
TG: Possibly. But I believe in being frank.
SD: How competitive is your field? How supportive are your fellow illustrators?
TG: Doing good illustration is not easy...so there are not too much competition in the field. But I’m not complaining!
SD: Do you feel that you would have been more successful in the field of commerce?
TG: Not at all. I’d have made a horrendous Chartered Accountant!
SD: Your comment on illustration in Indian books for children.
TG: It’s not too bad but you come across the same lot of illustrators everywhere and meet very little fresh talent, which is disappointing.
SD: Does it mean that few choose to take up illustration and opt for abstract art instead?
TG: Looks like it, doesn’t it?
SD: Why is that?
TG: Because it’s easier to do abstracts, I guess. Or there might be other reasons I am not aware of.
SD: Well, Tapas, you are certainly one of the most successful illustrators today. I wish you all success.
TG: Thanks, Swapna.