Illustrator Interview: Kavita Ramchandran Discusses Her Illustration Process

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By Suma Subramaniam

I’m thrilled to welcome Kavita Ramchandran to Cynsations today. Kavita talks about her illustration process for her most recent book, When I Visited Grandma, written by Saumiya Balasubramaniam (Groundwood Books, April 2024).

Kavita, in your own words, please tell us about your most recent book When I visited Grandma?

Written by Saumiya Balasubramaniam, published by Groundwood Books, When I Visited Grandma is book is a story about a little girl Maya who visits her grandma for the first time in India, but it’s not all that she expected. She finds it too loud and busy and feels overwhelmed by the visual cacophony around her. Nosy yet well-meaning neighbors keep dropping by, and giving her sweets.

Maya is frustrated, as she just wants to spend time with Grandma. But the next morning the house is unusually quiet. Dad explains that Grandma has had to go to the hospital. And Maya begins to see things differently. Don’t worry, it all ends well!

Kavita’s palette inspiration from markets in India

What medium(s) did you use?

This is the third picture book I’ve illustrated. I really enjoy working traditionally on paper, with all the imperfections and paint splotches that travel all over my hands while I’m working, but do find it more efficient to work digitally for books, especially for revisions. I’m still experimenting with what is a happy compromise.

For this book, I did a gouache+ watercolor underpainting, because I wanted to capture the spontaneity of paint on paper, and then finished the art digitally using an i-pad.

Illustration by Kavita Ramchandran, used with permission.

The illustrations really transport you to current day India. There are so many textures and patterns and layers in your art. Can you speak about what inspired your creative process.

When I received the manuscript from Groundwood, it very much felt like this story should take place in an urban city in India. I happened to be visiting Bangalore when the manuscript landed in my inbox and I was lucky to be able to gather first hand research.

My mother-in-law lives in Bangalore, so while I was there I went along with her to many markets to photograph, observe and sketch.

We also had a gaggle of cousins, aunties and neighbors etc. drop in to see us, so they all contributed to being characters in the book. I really wanted to capture the vibrancy of the highly saturated Indian palette, and its textiles, block prints, patterns and motifs so I took pictures of anything that caught my eye. I also used my in-laws house as inspiration for the interior environment of the book.

Sketch by Kavita Ramchandran, used with permission.

Can you share some favorite or particularly hard pages from the book.

My process was pretty simple. Since I happened to visit India shortly after signing on, I was fortunate to do a deep dive into research of the environment.

I first did some character studies for Grandma and Maya and got approval on those. Once we were onboard with who our characters were, I sketched out thumbnails and made a mini book dummy (prototype) to understand the flow of the pages with relation to the art. This is the stage where you figure out close-ups, page turns, far shots, perspectives, etc. and vary it up.

The next stage was more refined sketches, color studies and then final art. The entire art process took about a year. For this book I made four cover ideas, and everyone loved the one that finally became the cover.

I also did really like Grandma and Maya taking a selfie, which was a close second choice, so we ended up putting it into the back cover.

Sketch by Kavita Ramchandran, used with permssion.

Some pages were easier than others. Some pages change quite dramatically from one sketch stage the next, to the final.

I especially struggled with Maya’s restless night, I really wanted to show the slow passing of time, and the range of emotions that come with what a long sleepless night would feel as a child. There were some other pages that were more challenging as well – for example -Grandma in the hospital scene couldn’t feel too somber and had to feel reassuring to the reader, (Grandma does become ok!).

Illustration by Kavita Ramchandran, used with permission.

What are you working on next? 

I am attempting to write and illustrate a book idea I’ve had in the drafts for over two years. I’ve had some interested publishers so hoping to present a more polished manuscript and prototype sketch soon. I’m also very excited to be attending Milkwood Retreat this fall, and hope to use the time to continue to grow my body of work. If you want to follow me on IG my handle is @kavitaramchandran.

Cynsational Notes

Kavita Ramchandran is a graphic designer and self-taught illustrator. She has art directed the award-winning children’s literary magazine, Kahani, designed text books for Scholastic, McGraw Hill, Harcourt, and Curriculum Associates, illustrated award-winning apps for kids, and created the animated shorts, Maya the Indian Princess and Happy Holi Maya! for Nick Jr.’s ‘My World’ series. Her picture book, Dancing In Thatha’s Footsteps by Srividhya Venkat (Yali Books) was the winner of the SABA – South Asia Book Award in 2022. She grew up in India, but is now based in New York City.

Suma Subramaniam is a recruiter by day and a children’s book author by night. Her picture books include Namaste is a Greeting (Crystal Kite and Northern Lights Book Award Winner), She Sang for India (Northern Lights Book Award Winner and 2023 NYPL Vibrant Voices Book), The Runaway DosaA Bindi Can Be…My Name is Long as a River, and more. Suma is also the contributing author of The Hero Next Door (Finalist -2023 Massachusetts Book Award). Her poems have been published in Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Magazine, What is Hope?, and other anthologies for children. She lives in Seattle with her family and a dog who will do anything for Indian sweets and snacks. Learn more at