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Art from India


India has a rich oral tradition and children's books being published today, particularly by Tara Books, reflect the work of some of the folk and tribal artists, from rural and remote communities, who painted according to certain traditional styles.  Much of this art arose from common everyday sources such as the decorating of homes, community spaces or places of worship with much of it painted on walls and floors.  Tradition is something that changes constantly and the challenge for Tara was how to bring these art styles into contemporary children's books, without losing the original essence.

Below are just a few examples of the varied styles of art from the many different regions of India based upon the Outside In World collection.


Warli tribal art comes from the Maharashtra region of western India.  It is a typically rural art tradition that is both narrative and descriptive.  Traditionally it is the women of the community who paint the walls of their home, especially during festivals and family occasions.  The walls are washed with brown cow dung and a special mud. The images are created in white paint made from of lime and a type of chalk, and the brushes used are made of bamboo.    Both men and women paint in this style today and as well as being used in the traditional way, the art is used commercially on canvas, paper and cloth.




An example of this traditional style is Do!  No ordinary picture book, this is a unique mixture of action pictures, almost fluid like pictographs. The intriguingly simple yet detailed illustrations by Indian illustrators Ramesh Hengadi and Shantaram Dhadpe are of scenes full of people and animals doing all sorts of things, the figures are not static as they are constantly on the move – hence the title of the book and the concept behind it. This book is silk-screen printed on recycled Kraft paper to recreate the mud walls of village homes.  


© Indrapramit Roy, The Very Hungry Lion, Tara Books


Another example of Warli art is The Very Hungry Lion, an adaptation of an ancient East Indian folk tale about Singam, a very lazy lion who would rather trick other animals than hunt for food, but in the end is the one who is outwitted by his prey.


The six-colour images are silk-screened by hand onto paper made from rice husks and recycled fibres.  One double-page spread features the lazy lion in blue and gold while another page displays a train full of people as white silhouettes against a dark green background.  Singam is shown on the right-hand page surrounded by a gold background, with his face a mixture of gold and red to show his fierceness.  The whole book itself is a work of art.


The Mithila style of folk painting originates from Bihar, eastern India.  Following My Paint Brush is the story of Dulari Devi's momentous journey to become an artist. She was born into a life of poverty, her childhood hard and relentless labour never knowing anything other than work.  As she learnt to paint and draw she very soon began to develop her own expressive style.


© Dulari Devi, Following My Paint Book, Tara Books

Dulari's story is told through her own paintings which have a charming simplicity with their repetitive geometrical patterns and bold colour, making this book a truly inspirational read as well as being a showcase for Indian folk art.


Indian Miniature Painting




Hen-sparrow Turns Purple is reminiscent of elaborate Indian miniature paintings.  Award-winning artist Pulak Biswas has created exquisite silk-screen illustrations on brown paper and hand-pasted coloured artwork. A retelling of an old Indian tale, the book has been designed in a very original accordion-style, that enables the book to be used as a wall-hanging.




© Bhajju Shyam, 'King's Cross' The King of the Underworld

    The London Jungle Book, Tara Books

The London Jungle Book by Bhajju Shyam reflects Gond tribal art from central India.  Shyam comes from the village of Patangath.  He was commissioned to decorate the walls of a restaurant in Islington, London and this book is the result of his two months' experience of living and working in the city and his personal views of people, places and customs. Through his paintings, he manages to give an interpretation which is closely associated with the Gond art of his home region. This book successfully brings together the two different cultures through expressive folk paintings, with the added bonus of having the artist himself explaining each piece of artwork and, in doing so, placing it in its wider cultural context.


© Bhajju Shyam, 'Deer-oise', That's How I See Things, Tara Books


Another good example of Gond art is That's How I See Things also by Bhajju Shyam. A very unusual book as the artist Siena Baba does not see the world the way other people do. When he wants to paint some animals to liven up his wall, he decides to create some magnificent new creatures – Pea-pig, Croco-rooster and Monkupine.  The simple illustrations make it clear which two animals have been spliced together.  The flat patterned technique with its rich colours allows the text to carry the emotions of the animals.




Kalamkari textile art originated on the south eastern coast of India in the 17th century.  'Kalam-kari' literally means 'pen-manship'.  It was originally used to illustrate the Indian epics on large pieces of textile which were hung in the temples.  The Kalamkari fabrics, with their beautiful and intricate hand-painted designs using natural dyes, came to be admired around the world leading to a textile trade with England, France, Holland, Persia and Indonesia. Eventually they developed their own form of printed cloth called Calico.


© T. Balaji, Mangoes & Bananas, Tara Books


Mangoes & Bananas is a retelling of a popular Indonesian and Malaysian trickster tale featuring Kanchil, the mouse-deer who lives in the rainforest. 

The exquisite textile art by T. Balaji has been done in the traditional Kalamkari style; painted on cloth with the images created using bamboo pens and vegetable dyes. This is the first time that Kalamkari art has been used to illustrate a book. 




  © Swarna Chitrakar, Monkey Photo, Tara Books


Monkey Photo features Patua folk art from Bengal.  Monkey lives in the jungle and is fed up with the constant stream of tourists taking pictures of him. So one day he decides that he would like to take photos too.  Swarna Chitrakar's brilliant folk-style illustrations really bring this book alive.  Every page is a feast of strong-lined rich vibrant colour. 




Patachitra art originated from Eastern India. Its artwork is ornamental temple mural painting that started around the ancient temple of Puri, Orissa.  Patachitra means painting on canvas – Pata is a special canvas made from cloth, and chitra means painting.  In the temple artists used to paint the walls with images and stories of local gods.  They would also create scrolls and cards with traditional stories and tales for visitors as a keepsake from their visit which were known as Patachitras.  Traditionally, artists only used white, yellow, red, black and blue – colours that came from plants and minerals found in the area.


© Radhashyam Raut, The Sacred Banana Leaf, Tara Books


The Sacred Banana Leaf is a re-telling of a folktale about Kanchil the mouse-deer and the artwork for this story has been created by Radhashyam Raut.  The sand-toned pages contrast beautifully with the saturated colour of the clearly defined animals; Kanchil appears in a rich red with small yellow dots while the snake has blue and black scales with a pale yellow under-belly.  The wild boar is depicted in a dark green with a splash of red and the tiger is a vivid orange with small black stripes.  The illustrations include symmetrical foliage that suggests the forest setting and the pit appears as a series of circles with a variety of coloured and decorative borders. 


Mixture of Styles


I Like Cats features an irresistible gallery of feline characters in this hand bound and silk screened book from some of the best-known tribal and folk artists of India. 


© Eknath Gangavana, Art: Chitrakathi, Area: maharashtra
I Like CatsTara Books


There are eight different styles of art from across India – Patua scroll painting from West Bengal, Gond tribal art from central India, Meena tribal art from Rajashthan,  Sohrai from Hazaribagh (Jharkhand),  Pithora from Gujarat, Warli from Maharashtra, Patachitra from Puri, Orissa and Chitrakathi from Maharashtra. Each style is quite distinctive with rich deep colours that help to define these majestic creatures. 


 © Artist Unknown, Art :Meena Tribal, Area: Rajasthan, I Like Cats, Tara Books


The Flute published by Tradewinds is illustrated by one of India's most celebrated illustrators Pulak Biswas.

This is a folktale of resilience and hope. When the swollen river bursts its banks during the monsoon rains Chandra's mother and father are swept away. Due to her parents' foresight Chandra survives because they place her in the branches of a tree. Chandra is forced to live with her uncaring aunt and uncle who mistreat her and work her mercilessly and her only source of comfort is the wooden flute her mother gave her.













The black and white illustrations are contrasted sharply with vivid splashes of primary colours – red for Chandra's sari, blue for the river, and a dash of yellow representing the sun and the moon. The illustrations are simplistic and the smudgy black textures of the charcoal black figures have the appearance of woodcuts or engravings as they stand out against a stark grey/white background.


© Kanyika Kini, The Rumour, Karadi Tales


The Rumour published by Karadi Tales is a delightful nonsense verse story by award-winning writer Anushka Ravishankar. One day Pandurang has a strange experience when he coughs up a feather.  Wanting to keep it a secret he tells his wife not to tell anyone else. But in Baddbaddpur it is just impossible to keep a secret and of course the incident is relayed from person to person until the rumour becomes quite outlandish.


Illustrator Kanyika Kani has used a mix of ink and colour pencils to create the appealing illustrations.  Her vivid palette of strong colours and the interesting slants of perspective together with the expressive characters, complement the text perfectly.  The illustrations are full of humour and the enormous centered illustration that shows Pandurang's wide mouth full of animals from the forest is engagingly quirky.


Deborah Hallford
Outside In World, 2012




Tara Books
Do! Gita Wolf, illustrated by Ramesh Hengadi & Shantaram Dhadpe, (2009)
Following My Paintbrush, Gita Wolf, illustrated by Dulari Devi, (2010)
Hen-sparrow Turns Purple, Gita Wolf, illustrated by Pulak Biswas, (2002)
I Like Cats, Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by various artists, (2009)
Mangoes & Bananas, Nathan Kumar Scott, illustrated by T. Balaji, (2006)
Monkey Photo, Gita Wolf, illustrated by Swarna Chitrakar, (2010)
That's How I See Things, Sirish Rao, illustrated by Bhajju Shyam, (2007)
The London Jungle Book, Bhajju Shyam, (2005)
The Sacred Banana Leaf, Nathan Kumar Scott, illustrated by Radhashyam Raut, (2008)
The Very Hungry Lion, Gita Wolf, illustrated by Indrapramit Roy, (2003)
The Flute, Rachna Gilmore, illustrated by Pulak Biswas, Tradewind Books, (2012)
The Rumour, Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Kanyika Kini, Karadi Tales, (2009)


For a pdf version of this article please click below.


Art From India (2012)
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