Divya Srinivasan | Interview

  • Photograph: Courtesy of Divya Srinivasan

    Illustrator Divya Srinivasan's second picture book, Octopus Alone.

  • Photo: Courtesy of Divya Srinivasan

    Octopus Alone

  • Photo: Courtesy of Divya Srinivasan

    Octopus Alone

Photograph: Courtesy of Divya Srinivasan

Illustrator Divya Srinivasan's second picture book, Octopus Alone.

While living in Wicker Park, working on illustrations for Sufjan Stevens' Illinois album in 2005, designer Divya Srinivasan said Chicago gave her “a new routine and new place to explore,” away from her hometown of Austin, Texas. Over the past few years, her art has been featured in the New Yorker and This American Life. Now living back in Austin, she’ll unveil her second picture book, Octopus Alone in May. Through her captivating visuals, the book takes readers on a journey through the oceanic reef, introducing them to a bashful Octopus, who hides from others until she realizes she misses her friends. 

How did you get involved in picture books?
I was really interested in animation in college. I thought I was going to do something with that. Years before, I was working on another project and I was being bogged down with it. I had asked one of my best friends—we have similar capabilities—and she was always telling me, “Kids responded to your animations of animals.” That helped me simplify.

Did you read a lot as a child?
I've always drawn. And I did grow up with a lot of Indian comic books; that’s how we learned about religion and mythology. Sesame Street books and fairy tales, a lot of Golden Books; the illustrations are always beautiful. Visuals made a bigger impression in my mind as a little kid. 

How were you inspired by the ocean and underwater themes?
I wanted to immerse myself in this setting and environment. The underwater, it’s a mysterious place. The ocean and the forest seem scary because of the unknown, but are magical and wonderful. The more I learned about the animals and creatures, the more interesting they seemed. I drew and decided I wanted the octopus to be the main character, because she’s shy. She likes to see, but not to be seen, like the color changing and the squirting of her ink. They’re very smart and they’re weird looking, but I tried to make it look cute. 

What is your message for young readers in Octopus Alone?
I’m definitely self-conscious. I watch people dance and wish I could be that carefree, but try not to be beat myself up about it at the same time. It’s okay to be shy, but you can’t always be alone and you have to appreciate people in your life. Also, in Octopus Alone, there's the idea that discovering new things on your own can be exhilarating. Though it's wonderful to be able to share an amazing experience, it's great to just have it for yourself, too. That curiosity is important. 

You lived in Chicago for a year and a half. Do you ever miss the city?
I liked the big city and I liked that it didn’t feel cramped. I worked from home and made Chicago feel like home. It gave me a new routine and new place to explore. I always worked at home and lived in Wicker Park. It was really fun to walk around that neighborhood during my breaks, or on my longer breaks to go downtown. I always reminded myself to go out because I wouldn’t be there for too long. It was also really cool to be working on an album about Illinois while living in Illinois.

Any plans on visiting us again soon? 
It’s been too long and I've been thinking about visiting people I had become friends with. I have a book signing on June 1 at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, so I’ll see how long I can stay.

Octopus Alone hits bookstores May 16. Check out more of Srinivasan work at www.pupae.com.


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