Ruchi Shah spent her childhood days taking delight in drawing famous characters. Right from Asterix to Archie Andrews, each of these figures found a place in the Mumbai-based illustrator’s sketchbooks. These replicas soon made way for original illustrations. Today, she illustrates on mediums like books, calendars and even walls for a living.
While Ruchi’s artwork may seem simple, there is more to it than meets the eye — she accentuates “seemingly straightforward design” with layers of context. “I like to include details and layers to my work. I like to keep my illustrations easy on the eye, but peppered with a lot of visual context,” she smiles.
The city of her residence is another inspiration for the artist. “For any illustrator living in Mumbai, one can never run out of ideas. All you need to do is stop and observe. There is so much energy and organised chaos to be put to paper. My work too is a lot like the city — there are a lot of lines, rhythm and playfulness,” Ruchi says, animatedly.
Her project Materialistic Mumbai, a set of postcards, was a step in showing her love for the city. Using elements as cinema as a starting point, she blended the “material culture” of Mumbai with them. “I truly believe that a city is made up of materials. I visited areas like Bori Bunder and Cotton Green (places in Mumbai named after materials) to understand its association,” remarks Ruchi.
One project that is closest to her heart is an illustrated book on farmer suicides in Vidarbha, Maharashtra. The series is based on interviews with 16 affected families from the region. “This graphic novel aren’t happy stories — it is grim. It tells you what’s happening there,” she explains, adding that working on it proved to be an eye-opener. “For someone sitting in a metro, it is easy to overlook the plight of these families. It is only after I worked on this project that I realised how difficult it really is to be a farmer in this country. I realised that none of us should complain about how difficult our jobs are,” she says pensively. Another of her creatively satisfying projects is the illustration for Our Incredible Cow, a short story written by writer Mahasweta Devi. “The story talks about this cow that has a mind of her own, eats fish and does exactly what she wants,” explains the alumnus of Industrial Design Centre at IIT-Bombay. Ruchi took the project eight years ago as part of her academics. In 2015, it was finally published. To create the book cover, she used raw materials to create the cow. She then used a camera and a projector to capture it, which was later tweaked on a software. The book was printed in nine languages.
Ruchi has taken up drawing up walls for the start-up, Freshworks in Chennai. One of these involved drawing on a wall, which was a little larger than 1,200 sq feet. “Even houses in Mumbai aren’t as huge!” she guffaws.
Drawing up a wall is a challenge that she finds immensely gratifying. “The work will be around for four-five years, and employees will be spending a lot of time in that space. I need to make sure the space is inclusive and comfortable,” she explains.
This thought process has gone on to become her mantra when it comes to creating her work. “What am I putting out there? Is it needed? Does it make any impact? Who is going to see it? It’s about questioning every step of the process until we get the right answer,” Ruchi asserts.