This month's Featured Illustrator is Rekha Salin. She has three books published as an illustrator. Two picture books - one in 2020 and the other in 2022 - and also a recipe book (for adults) in 2022 published by ABV publisher. She is currently working with Gnome Road Publishing, and this will be available in 2024.

I am Rekha and I am from India living in Bahrain with my husband and two kids. Art and telling stories through illustration is my passion. But this wasn't a planned or chosen option for me, it happened gradually and naturally. I come from an accounting background with a Corporate career prior to being an illustrator. When my son was born I had to quit my corporate life to be with him and there was a sudden void in my life. From being busy around people all the time to just being confined to myself. I couldn’t handle it and this was the time I went back to art. 

As a child, I drew all the time, I don't really remember when, but I have always drawn and did watercolours all my life until I got to higher grades and academics took over. My school notebooks and textbooks were always covered in art, especially if the class was boring.

I never dreamt or wished to be an artist, because sadly I never knew that was ever an option or if anyone ever did art for a living.

What started as filling my time, art soon became a passion and obsession for me. It was like a child finding her toy that she was searching for, for so long and suddenly it just magically appeared, just there right before her. It was acrylics that I started with. And I painted fine art for almost 5 years before I shifted to illustration. I still teach art to kids and adults, I love it, and helps me to keep learning. 

Shifting to children's illustrations came very naturally to me. I have always loved telling stories. Enjoyed drawing what my childhood looked and felt like, how kids played and fought when left alone. It felt like an extension of me just doing what I was meant to do. I am always experimenting and learning and I believe my greatest strength is that I am never afraid to fail. I always have something that I learn and you don't fail unless and until you stop.

My work is influenced a lot by Mary Blair, Eyvind Earle, Miroslav Sasek and Aurelius Battaglia. In the current-day illustrators, I love the work of Jon Klassen, Rebecca Green, Joey Chou, Chris Chatterton, and Jim Field. I have lived all my life in cities with tall buildings, bustling vehicles, and busy streets. Drawing nature, florals, and jungles are my way of bridging this gap. It felt fulfilling to create that missing puzzle in my life. Also, what inspires me the most is the life around me. I love to draw childhood memories, people on the streets, at the market, how kids sit at a desk, food on the table, and everyday life.

I work both traditionally and digitally. I spend daily a minimum of 30mins in my sketchbooks, this is my playing time. I draw sometimes without any plan. I open my pictures on my mobile or Pinterest and draw what catches my eye.  But I use my sketchbooks a lot when I start illustration and especially when I start a new project. I think in images, words don't come naturally to me. So as I read the text, I have images flashing through my mind which I capture in my sketchbooks. These are very initial and I do a lot of doodling and thumb-nailing to come up with.

However, I don't take my sketches or layouts and bring them in digitally. Digitally, I start from ground zero. I plan and play a lot traditionally, leave them there and start all over again digitally. It's a lot of fun. I enjoy the freedom the digital media gives me, I can play with colour palettes, move stuff around, and above all, it's a lot easier to make changes. 

I have three books published as an illustrator. Two picture books - one in 2020 and the other in 2022 - and a recipe book (for adults) in 2022 published by ABV publisher. I am currently working on a very beautiful text with Gnome Road Publishing and will be out in 2024 and have some very exciting projects in the pipeline that I cannot spill the beans of yet.

I love to work on texts that have strong characters, nature, lots of dreams, magic, and being positive. What I don't enjoy working on is horror, don't think my weak heart is cut for it.  If you want me to do a horror text, then please be prepared to get a horror told in a cute and lovely style. 

My greatest strengths are I am a die-hard optimist and never afraid to fail and I am always willing to learn and to experiment. It is an amazing thing to be happy and proud of what we create and our style, but we should never let that handicap make us obsolete. Keep learning, trying new mediums, subject matters, colours, and get out of your comfort zone. Never let your fears be larger than your dreams and always Dream Big and Go for it.

                                                                                                   *All images: Rekha Salin

See more of Rekha's work here. Follow her on Instagram and on Twitter.


Shannon Ell is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures. Find their work at www.shannonillustrates.com. Follow them on Instagram and Twitter. Contact them at illustrators@britishscbwi.org

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