Beautiful Books: Illustrating The Fish Eyes Trilogy

March 9, 2016

High school, as most of us know, can be a difficult time. British Columbia playwright Anita Majumdar takes readers back to high school, with its bullies, frenemies, and crushes, with the recent publication of three connected plays in The Fish Eyes Trilogy, from Playwrights Canada Press. Aimed at ages 15 and up, Fish Eyes focuses on three young women who share a passion for Indian dancing. In order to really bring the beauty of the dancing to readers, Playwrights connected with artist Maria Nguyen to illustrate the book. Below Maria takes us through the process of creating the images.

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High school, as most of us know, can be a difficult time. British Columbia playwright Anita Majumdar takes readers back to high school, with its bullies, frenemies, and crushes, with the recent publication of three connected plays in The Fish Eyes Trilogy, from Playwrights Canada Press. Aimed at ages 15 and up, Fish Eyes focuses on three young women who share a passion for Indian dancing. In order to really bring the beauty of the dancing to readers, Playwrights connected with artist Maria Nguyen to illustrate the book. Below Maria takes us through the process of creating the images.

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When I received the manuscript for Anita Majumdar’s The Fish Eyes Trilogy, I also received notes as to how Anita envisioned the illustrations for her plays. I read through the manuscript first while highlighting and making notes of moods or moments that I wanted to emphasize and compared it to Anita’s notes.

 

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"Meena performs a series of precise spins using the hand gesture for 'Nimbooda'." (Fish Eyes)

 

Once this was done and I cleared up any questions I had about the notes with the editor of the book, I got down to researching everything I could from classical Indian dancing, costumes, clothes and accessories, Bollywood, and portraits of Indian men, women and children. Once the research was done, I started sketching. I had watched the dance and costume rehearsal Anita had sent me to pinpoint certain moments I wanted to capture in the play.

 

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"Naz dances on the roof of the Mini Cooper, lightly kicking up her feet and putting graceful attention into her hips." (Boys With Cars)

 

At this stage, I was also taking a lot of reference photos of myself with the camera on my laptop to aid me in the sketching process. Once the sketches were approved, I began creating the final illustrations as they would appear in print.

 

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"After the spinning section, Candice has to take a moment to catch her breath, but joins the dance again to hit the final gesture while staring down Buddy in the bleachers." (Let Me Borrow That)

 

This part was a challenge for me because I wanted to keep the energy of my sketches while cleaning up the lines. I tried to put in as much effort as I could to express the characters’ complex emotions and thoughts through their facial features and body language. My biggest challenge was attempting to simplify what I saw as complex images so that they could look more dynamic when it was printed as a spot illustration.

 

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"She dances a hand gesture across her face that changes her expression to a superficial 'dance happy'." (Fish Eyes)

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Maria Nguyen is an illustrator from Canada. Her work is inspired by Japanese woodblock printing, Japanese comics and inner dialogues triggered by anything from a memory, a mood, an emotion, a voice, a word, a dream or an observation. When she isn’t working on a project or getting distracted by the internet, she is likely emerged in a podcast, movie, song, or conversation.

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Thank you to Playwrights Canada Press, especially Mandy Bayrami, and Maria Nguyen for sharing her work and her process with us. If you love beautiful books, read more about how they came to be with past entries in our Beautiful Books series.


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