Interview with Sunandini Banerjee

Sunandini Banerjee completed her Masters in English Literature from Jadavpur University, Calcutta, in 2000 and joined Seagull Books as an editorial assistant. It was her first encounter with the world of publishing and with the world of computers. Along with proofreading and copyediting, she began to explore page layouts and pagesetting and then, gradually, cover designs for Seagull Books titles. Unable to draw in real life, she found the combination of scanner and Photoshop and QuarkXpress a hugely liberating experience. In 2003 she designed her first Seagull Books catalogue, a showcase of not only Seagull’s titles but also an ambassador of its belief in great design and high quality production. She is now both Senior Editor and Senior Graphic Designer, and designs all of Seagull’s books, book covers and catalogues. This is her second exhibition. Works from her first show, The Art of the Book, are available online here.

Why are you an artist?
I am not an ‘artist’ in the sense of waking up every morning and painting or creating something because that is what I do as a career. I don’t. I come to work. And my work happens to be very close to play. I am very rooted in the books. I was an editor and translator first. Then a designer. (Now, I’m all of them simultaneously and boy, are some days rough!) All of this creativity is happening from the books. From the language. From the text. One book may make me explode into six collages, another into three. Each of the collages is sourced from a book or a text to which I responded. I am as attracted to language as I am to pictures. Both are my passion. And my art lets me bring the two together into some semblance of beauty.

Did you attend school for fine art or design?
No. I am completely untrained. I learnt everything on the job.

You have a distinct style of Art in your collages. How did this style develop?
My main problem is that I can’t draw. At all. I can’t even draw a tree. The computer allows me to bypass that lack. Growing up, half my personality was devoted to literature. Writing and reading. The other half was devoted to a certain kind of visual hoarding, of looking at things, liking, responding, but not knowing what to do with it all. A continual visual layering was happening which I had no way of expressing. I could not find the language or the technique which would allow me to express this pre-occupation with the visual . . . Until I joined Seagull and discovered the computer. And it helped me vomit a lifetime of mental scrapbooking. Now I could juxtapose a billboard I saw being painted at Kalighat with a film poster with my mother’s wedding photograph with another image which reminded me of a moment in a Christie crime novel with an old clipping from a Reader’s Digest from the ’70s. I could finally put it all together. Until then I had all this inside my head but I didn’t know what to do with it until I had a computer and a scanner.

How do you select the elements of your collage? It’s interesting how some of the elements are photos, logos, sculptures, etc.
It’s difficult to pin down. The text is usually my starting point. Certain words give rise to certain images, certain associations. Then I begin to look at what material I can find to express that image or association. I turn first to our inhouse resources: photos taken by friends and colleagues, scanned textures from old books and magazines, woodcuts, artworks from artists Seagull has exhibited or is familiar with, and then I widen the net by looking further . . . .

Were there any particular role models for you when you grew up?
Nope. I didn’t know this is how I would turn out so I didn’t know whom to follow.

Who is the most influential personality in your ongoing journey as an artist?
Naveen Kishore. Publisher, Seagull Books. Guiding light. Mentor. Critic. Photographer. Lighting designer. Friend.

Have you ever been approached by an advertising agency for art work? Would you be open to working on some ad-campaign?
No, I haven’t. Yes, I’m open but I would have to be given a fairly free hand once the brief was explained to me. And I’m guessing it would have to be a fairly offbeat campaign to want to use my collages in the first place.

Was there any time when you wanted to quit art?
Not yet. I’m still enjoying it too much to want to give it up.

Apart from your collages, have you been indulging in other forms of art? Have you done any book covers / illustrations, etc.?
Like I’ve mentioned before, I’ve done quite a few, and am still doing, all of Seagull’s book covers. You can take a look at 2 season’s worth of covers here.

I’ve also illustrated a short story—Victor Halfwit: A Winter’s Tale—by German writer Thomas Bernhard but when I say ‘illustrated’ I mean through my collages and not, literally, by hand and paint. For the first few pages, see here.

Any other Indian illustrators / artists who you admire?
K. G. Subramanyan

Do you have any favorite fellow artists or resources relating to your fields?
No, they change all the time. One is constantly looking at newer and newer sources and one is constantly discovering more and more talented young artists in the field every day, through personal recommendations or beautifully designed products/posters/campaigns or blogs . . . It’s hard to pin down only a few as ‘favorites’.

What advice do you have for aspiring artists? Would you advise them to take on art as a career option? Is it paying well enough?
Discover what you are good at and then give it everything you’ve got. Have no preconceived notions, either about art or yourself or the world. Expect nothing.

As far as art as a career option is concerned: yes, definitely, by all means. There are many more avenues available now for exploring one’s creativity, whether it’s through paintings or installations or product design or publishing or html or Flash or casual game design or animation…  ‘art’ need not be limited to paint and canvas only. And, yes, it pays as well as any other career option. Provided you are good enough.

Who would you like to take out for dinner?
Answering this question is like trying to come up with a Facebook status. I can never think of anything sufficiently witty to say!

What’s on your iPod?
All that jazz.

Mac or PC?
What’s a PC?



5 thoughts on “Interview with Sunandini Banerjee

  1. Anurag Hira says:

    Sunandini is undoubtedly made of the stuff few people in the trade are. She is ambidextrous in her abilities and that is her greatest strength. I have always admired her work, never had an opportunity to see her or meet her… and this interview is as good as it can get, to her real being! I wish her well and sincerely hope she can spawn – and not just inspire, talent like herself in the even more colourful years that lie ahead of her.

  2. Sai Krishna says:

    This is terribly dangerous to copywriters like me, whenever I see such gud work my heart leaves a question to my mind: “why don’t you switch into art?”

  3. dona dugay says:

    Love your work! “The Loss Library” crossed my path.. mainly because of it’s title & content. However, when I found the book on Amazon I was completely transfixed by your wonderful cover illustration. Perfect! I couldn’t help but explore your art. Congratulations on your success.. keep up the fine work! Count me please, as a fan.. Dona Dugay, France

  4. Suhrita Sengupta says:

    Sunandini, we have history. Have been looking for you after a decade, since when I left the trying-to-get-published scene you were mentor, proofreader, guide….you even introduced me to Margaret Atwood! And now am back , have been writing all along, just had to move on to hair and beauty profession for my standing . Please please respond and you must see my short stories.

  5. Dear Anurag, Thank you for your kind words. Would love to meet you too some day. I think you know Naveen, the publisher at Seagull Books. If you have his number you could just call us and come across to our office any evening and sit and have a coffee with us and see the books and some more of my stuff and we could all just enjoy some great conversation. I am teaching book design at the Seagull School of Publishing, so hopefully I am inspiring more people to be as crazy as me!

    Dear Dona, Thank you too. The Loss Library is very close to my heart, and I am so utterly glad that it has found a place in yours. People like you make every day worthwhile. Thank you thank you thank you.

    Dear Suhrita, My email is Would love to catch up and read more of your stuff. Do drop me a line, and we’ll take it from there.

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