Gloriosas and Basketball : Aswen Plays Ball!

I was very honoured to be asked to illustrate “Aswen Plays Ball!” by the talented, humble and wonderful Sharanja Devasundar. This marks her first picture book and is a loving, gentle tribute to her beloved cousin Aswen Chandraraj.

I’ve actually known Sharanja since high school; we were in the same grade and shared classes together - but never had we imagined that one day we would team up to make a book together! Not only did I have full trust in her abilities as a writer and storyteller, but I knew she would put her whole heart into the project and work with me to the end to make it happen.

Aswen Plays Ball! is a story about practice, learning perseverance and not giving up on your dreams. It is also a story about a close-knit, loving Tamil-Canadian family and the wisdom and love they share and nurture in the next generation. Appachi, the matriarch of the family, grows gloriosa, the flame lily, or Karthigaipoo in her garden, not just a beautiful flower that requires love, but a treasured symbol for Tamils all around the world. Her advice to young Aswen, is that dreams and goals, like flowers, need care and attention to grow.

Anna, his older brother, already loves basketball and excels at it - with his guidance and help, Aswen begins to blossom and improve at the sport he loves. With the love and support of his family, Aswen learns that he can do anything.

Sharanja’s direction while we worked on this project was invaluable - I had never heard of the gloriosa flower or chippi before reading her manuscript. Aswen’s family was involved in every step of the way, too - suggesting that a special portrait be visible in the background as well as a traditional Tamil brass lamp called a  Kuthuvilakku be included. I was so touched to see the response to this spread; many Tamil readers saw their own homes reflected. I think it’s important as an illustrator to remember that representation goes further than just including diverse bodies - it means so much to young readers to see their world reflected back at them too.

I am continuely blown away and overwhelmed by the positive, kind response to the illustrations and am so proud of Sharanja for creating such a wonderful story. Meeting Aswen’s family and friends at the book launch is an experience I will remember always.

I am so grateful that I was allowed to be a part of something so special and I humbly thank everyone who has supported this wonderful book.

Aswen Plays Ball! is available on Amazon and all proceeds will be donated to charity.

Behind the Scenes: 24 Days of Puzzles!

When I was growing up, my great-aunties May and Irene would make sure to gift each one of us kids our own chocolate advent calendar to enjoy every December. Getting to open a little door each day to find a little chocolate treat really made the lead up to Christmas day feel extra special. 

In the spring of 2022, my friends at Trevell Puzzles asked if I’d be interested in working with them on their newest project - an advent calendar where instead of chocolate, you open a little pouch to find a tiny 99-piece puzzle inside. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. Each puzzle was to have a theme - four were to be Christmasy, and the rest should just invoke the feelings of the month of December.

As always, each illustration starts with a sketch. It was a challenge to try to think of 24 unique designs that could work as puzzles and still fit a “Wintery, but not too Christmasy” theme. I also knew I wanted them to look beautiful together - no repeat themes, and harmonious colours that make them feel like a family when they’re placed together.

The other challenge with mini puzzles as a product is that the pieces are SO TINY! Any space overloaded with delicate, tiny details is due to get lost when the print is just so small - but you don’t want there to be too many places where the pieces are same-same. In short - with illustrations destined for puzzles, it’s always in my mind to keep a balance in order to keep the puzzle fun!

Given the volume of illustrations needed, Procreate was hugely useful in creating the artwork for this project. With large puzzles, the resolution required to print is pretty hefty - 600DPI is usually requested. But luckily, since these puzzles are so mini, I can handle most of the process on my tablet - this means I can work a bit more organically and also take my work to the couch when I don’t feel up to sitting at my desk.

It was so hard to wait for this calendar to be ready for the world - I was so delighted with the results when it finally did arrive! The tiny pieces are really so precious and I was blown away by the response of people online who were following along each day and posting videos of them making the puzzles.

 It really feels like magic to see something that was once only a thought and a sketch turn into a real, tangible thing in the hands of someone across the world from you.

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