I hail from Arachalur; a small village near Erode. Ours is a close-knit family with me, my parents and my brother. My father, who is no more with us, was a street-play artist. In his days, he had acted and sung in many a street plays like Harichhandra and many more. After my father’s death, my mother took over the household responsibilities. The earnings were meagre as she used to work as a daily wage labourer. Nevertheless, she made sure that our studies were in no way affected.
Yet, from my early childhood, I had more inclination towards the creative side and used to indulge in a lot of unique hobbies such as pottery and making clay figurines.
Even in school, I volunteered to do small artistic works such as writing for signboards and making posters. To buy the stationery needed for my art, I did quite a few menial jobs such as delivering newspapers, painting work and also worked as a construction labourer.
It isn’t that I decided to quit school consciously or that I wanted to quit. It was more because I couldn’t bring myself to adjust to the mundane routine of how a school and its curriculum works. I failed to belong there no matter how much I tried. And as any parent would be, my family too wasn’t happy at all when I quit school.
Interest in art was something that I grew up with, although I didn’t realise it then. It dawned on me only after I left school.
After leaving school education mid-way, I started working with a design company in Erode as a tea-boy. That was my first exposure to graphic designing. Although I couldn’t complete schooling, I wanted to study graphic designing. I worked every night in a plastic company to earn the extra money I needed for the graphic designing course fee.
It was around that time that I met ‘Cuckoo’ Siva Raj. He is an avid reader and seeing my interest in art, he gave me a book written by Vincent Van Gogh.
I didn’t gather any interest to read a book with so many pages, and so it was lying on my shelf for days. But many days later, I happened to start reading and surprisingly I finished it at one go. For some reason, I cried my heart out after finishing the book. That was the first time I ever cried in my life.
Later, when I was working at a school, a few artists from Chennai had come to teach painting to the children. Unintentionally and unconsciously, I ended up giving the children tips and instructions on art. One of the artists, Guna, appreciated me a lot on my work and my interest in art. I guess this was a major turning point in my life. I left for Chennai that night without telling anybody and stayed at his place. At that time he was working as an illustrator with several newspapers. He was kind enough to introduce me to almost every artist he knew and accompany me to every art gallery in Chennai. After a long wait, I finally got a job at ‘Uyirmmai publications’ for cover designing. And it was from here that my designing career took off.
I have been working as a layout artist for magazines like Uyirmmai, Penne Nee, Devathai, Kunkumam magazine and Namthozi. Apart from this, I have also been designing creative logos, developing Tamil typography and have also designed covers for popular Tamil authors like Bala Kumaran, Jeyamohan, Sujatha and S Ramakrishnan. To quench my personal satisfaction, I have done quite a few pen drawings of Nammalvar, poet Bharathiyar, Ramana Maharshi, writer Nakulan, etc.
The textbook designing project came to me from three quarters; one through Mr T. Udhayachandran IAS (School Education Secretary), from Mr Sundarrajan of ‘Poovulagin Nanbargal’ and from director Dhanapal Padmanabhan. For somebody who couldn’t complete school education and then going on to design the textbook covers for Tamil Nadu state board is totally a dream come true. When I think about the number of children who shall feel excited on seeing the cover designs I make for their books, I feel absolutely blessed.
Also, my biggest ambition in life was to get into the Prestigious Fine Arts Government College in Chennai and pursue a professional degree in fine arts. But all my efforts were in vain. My financial status and absence of educational qualification being my biggest barriers; it has thus far remained only a dream. So when the textbook cover designing project happened, it kind of lifted my spirits. I will say it compensated for all that I had lost in regards to my education.
Now I have a couple of projects in the pipeline, wherein I am working in collaboration with other artists. I work as a freelance artist now but I wish and plan to open my own design studio very soon. Not just that, one thing that I really want to work is in the area related to developing newer font styles for the Tamil language. As of now, we have thousands of font styles for English but almost none for Tamil. I also wish to expand my horizon of designing and design movie posters.”
Story By – Kathir Arumugam
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