Posted by: Kathy Temean | March 25, 2023

Illustrator Saturday – Lavanya Naidu

Lavanya Naidu is an animator, designer and award-winning children’s book illustrator, born and raised in Kolkata, India. She has illustrated for numerous children’s books. Her work has most recently been featured at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content as a selection for their Digital Gallery 2020. Lavanya now lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Lavanya Naidu is a children’s book illustrator and animator, born and raised in Kolkata, India. Over the last decade she has worked on numerous kids’ books, animation projects and animation production. She now lives in Melbourne, Australia and recently completed her role as the head of design and episode director on the animated kids series The Strange Chores (season 2). In her spare time Lavanya enjoys collecting dinosaur models and tending to her ever-growing collection of plants!


I start off with a really simple and rough thumbnail just to put the idea in place.

Then I take the thumbnail to roughs. Sketching it out to scale on Photoshop. I also add some rough values in to see if I can create areas of interest and focus before taking it to colour.

I block in rough colours and experiment to see what might work.

While working on fleshing out the background here I changed my mind about the character in the foreground because I didn’t think the idea was landing as much as I wanted it to. And this can happen sometimes even after proceeding to colour! If I feel stuck I usually take some time away from the artwork and come back to it later with a fresh set of eyes and it usually helps!

This stage for me is the most fun! I enjoy drawing in all the little details and seeing something gain a life and identity of its own!

Here is the finished Illustration


When did you first realize you could draw?

I was very young, maybe three or four years old? My father would ask me to sit by his desk so he could sketch a portrait of me. I believe it was a clever way of making me sit still, an otherwise restless child! I would wait patiently and every time I saw the finished drawing, I wanted to do the same. I believe this is where my love for drawing started! I was lucky to have had a some beautifully illustrated books growing up and they too left quite the impression on me. I would spend all my free time looking at the details and trying to imitate them in my drawings. This is probably when I realized that maybe I could draw!

What was the first art thing that you did where someone paid you?

It was probably in my 3rd year at NID (National Institute of Design) where a friend of mine from a senior year asked if I might be interested in illustrating for children’s books. As a student with expenses and bills to pay I jumped at the opportunity. They were short projects, mostly for kids workbooks, but I was very happy to be drawing and getting paid for it to boot! Thus began my journey into the world of children’s literature.

Were you nervous about getting into the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India? I read that is one of the most difficult schools to get into in India.

Growing up, NID was a name that came up every now and then as my paternal aunt had attended the school. My ambitions were different at the time, I was keen to pursue medicine and become a doctor. Post my 12th standard results I did sit for the Med school entrance examination.  While I was awaiting the results, I remember my parents coming to me one morning with the admissions form for NID. This wasn’t something any of us had talked about previously so I was quite surprised. They believed that it was worth a try because of how much I loved to draw. Theysaw something in me that I didn’t at the time and I am forever grateful for that fateful day! I decided to give it a shot and have never looked back since!

Is that where you studied animation?

Yes! This would be where I studied animation film design!

Did you take illustrating classes?

We had a short course in illustration for 6 weeks in our second year at NID but that’s about it.

Did you do any freelance artwork while at NID?

Yes! As I mentioned earlier, I started to work on freelance artwork around my third year.

Did NID help you make contacts with companies who might hire you after graduation?

In our 3rd and 4th years we had the opportunity to gain work experience and intern at an animation studio for a couple of months and a semester respectively. This gave us the opportunity to create connections with the industry for when we would graduate. Though to be completely honest, there were not a lot of traditional hand-drawn animation gigs at the time!

What type of work did you do after graduation?

In 2011, I was lucky enough to have had my final graduate film selected for a Japanese animation festival, TBS Digicon 6. It gave me my very first opportunity to travel internationally and opened my eyes to all the possibilities in the field. I was both intimidated and in complete awe of the incredibly talented artists present at the festival. It inspired me to keep pursuing traditional animation and work on improving my skills even though the local opportunities were scarce.

It was around this time that I had heard of a summer school character animation workshop that Gobelins – École de l’image (Paris, France), was organizing and I decided that I had to apply for it! Once again, I was lucky enough to have been accepted into the program. I worked on a few small gigs and saved up enough for the trip and a kind friend of mine based in Paris offered to host me while I was there. This experience changed my life! All of a sudden, I was in the presence of mentors whose work I had only seen on the big screen. Watching them work and share their passion for the field was an incredibly humbling experience. Post this workshop I worked on a new showreel and landed a gig with a small German studio, Otataa, that was interested in creating children’s apps. Apps were still very new at the time and I loved the format that they were pursuing – interactive storytelling with animated characters, two of my passions!

What made you decide to illustrate children’s books?

One of my first introductions to art were illustrated children’s books. It has always been a love of mine even before I knew it could be a career. All the while pursuing animation I continued to illustrate for children’s books. Animation timelines can be long, sometimes years before we see the end result. Books on the other hand have a different energy. The added treat of reading all of these beautiful stories was (and continues to be!) too hard to resist! It gave me an opportunity to try different styles and experiment, to experience new worlds and new characters each time! These books provided me an escape from hectic production schedules and allowed me to really enjoy the process of drawing.

How did you end up in Australia?

My partner was based in Singapore as of 2012. Some advantages of being a freelance artist allowed me to work from anywhere so I moved to Singapore.  In 2017 we were looking for change and new opportunities so decided that it was time to move. Australia had a growing animation industry and my husband had some exciting things happening in his line of work as well so we packed our bags and moved to Melbourne! This is also where I began my journey in animation television production.

When did you decide to focus on illustrating children’s books?

This happened very recently! I had been in animation productions for both tv and film for the past 5 years and the pace was starting to catch up with me. Simultaneously I was illustrating a couple of picture books and it’s through working on these books that I realized just how much I enjoyed the process. It allowed for independent expression and this brought me immense joy! When the timing felt right, I decided to start dedicating to focus more on children’s books.

Was A Long Walk for Bina by Ruskin Bond, published by Rupa Publications India in 2012 your first published children’s book?

Yes! I had only done a few small illustrations for workbooks and a cover illustration before I landed my very first illustrated children’s book, Long Walk for Bina by Ruskin Bond!

How did you secure that job?

The Art Director on the project emailed me and asked if I might be available to take this on. I was surprised and I’m unsure to this day how it transpired! Ruskin Bond’s books were a childhood staple so being presented with the opportunity to illustrate one of his stories was a dream come true for an Indian illustrator starting their career!

In 2017 you illustrated another book by Ruskin Bond titled Prankenstein: The Book of Crazy Mischief. Did Ruskin ask Speaking Tiger Books for you to illustrate his book?

Oh! I wish I knew! That would be quite wonderful if it was the case, however I was approached by Speaking Tiger for this book.

The French editions of Comme un poisson dans l’eau ! (LIKE A FISH IN WATER) was published by Saga Egmont in September 2022. In December 2022, it was printed in Italian and Spanish. Do you think it will eventually be published in English? I Did see Razia Learns to Swim written by Divya Panicker, but published Pratham Books that looks similar in English. Is this the same book? It’s not available on Amazon.

It is indeed the same book that was first published online in English! Pratham Books is a nonprofit Indian publisher dedicated to bring a book in every child’s hand and spread the joy of reading. The stories are published in several languages to make books more accessible and they are also open source! Razia Learns to Swim was first published digitally hence you may not find physical copies on Amazon, but should be free to read on the Pratham Books Storyweaver website!

Was Home Is in Between by Mitali Perkins and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Bfyr) on February 23, 2021 your first published book with a USA publisher?

Yes, that’s right. And one of my absolute favourite picture books to have worked on too!

In October 2021 you illustrated Rick Riordan’s book, Daughter of the Deep with publisher Disney-Hyperion. How did you get this contract? How exciting was it to show off your work on the cover of his book?

I’m not completely sure how they may have found me, but they mentioned having seen my portfolio online. Our friends’ kids are obsessed with the Percy Jackson series and talk about Rick Riordan all the time! So, you can only imagine how excited I was to be working on his new book, that too with a female lead of Indian decent!

How did Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for You find your to illustrate The Katha Chest written by Radhiah Chowdhury that came out a year ago.

I believe that Allen and Unwin (Australia) had it submitted at book festivals and Salaam Reads were keen to add it to their list! It turned out to be the perfect match and avenue to bring The Katha Chest to the North American audience.

This is cool to see you have illustrated The Area 51 Files (2022) and The Big Flush (coming out in July) by Julia Buxbaum, published by Delacorte Press. I love her YA books. I will have to read these. How many b&w illustrations did you do for these books?

Julie’s books are a real treat to both read and illustrate! The Area 51 Files is a highly illustrated series so includes approximately 150 black and white illustrations of varying sizes throughout the book. I’m really looking forward to the release of the 2nd book in the series!

Doug the Pug by Karen Yin finished up 2022 with Scholastic. How long did it take you to illustrate that book?

I am a dog lover! And was waiting eagerly to work on a book with dogs as the primary subject. This turned out to be the most fitting of books! It took me around 4 to 5 months to complete this project.

Was it challenging to illustrated five books in 2022?

That might be 4 not 5, I think? – Two volumes of The Area 51 Files, Doug the Pug and The Hats of Marvello? Or am I missing one?

There were times where project schedules overlapped and made time management tricky. However, 2022 was the year I decided to make more time for books so although it was busy, I really enjoyed every bit of it!

How and when did you connect with Aliza Hoover at the CAT Agency?

I connected with Aliza early December 2022. She had initially reached out on Instagram to arrange a chat regarding representation. I had been considering it for a while so was keen to know more. My conversation with her was enlightening, insightful and effortless from the get go! She is amazing at what she does and an overall legend so I am very lucky to have her on my team!

Did Aliza secure you the contract for The Hats of Marvello by Amanda Graham that just came out in March with HarperCollins?

The Hats of Marvello came to me early September 2021 so much before I connected with Aliza!

It looks like there are a lot of wonderful b&w illustrations inside the book. How many did you do?

Amanda Graham has woven such a delightful and evocative world with her words, for Olive (the protagonist), the 101 rabbits and the portals created by the hats that it would be a pleasure for any illustrator to visually bring that to life! The book had 12 full page illustrations and 40 spot illustrations, all black and white. Fun fact – although the type on the cover initially was only done for placement, I was thrilled to see it be received well by the team internally and adopted on the final cover!

Are you still working on Bee Bakshi and the Gingerbread Sisters by Emi Pinto coming out on September 12, 2023?

I was given the opportunity to design the cover so am unsure of whether the book has internal illustrations. I’d always wanted to illustrate a spooky themed story, so was excited to have had the perfect opportunity with this thrilling book!

I noticed you wrote and illustrated My First Indian Dinosaur Book, published by Pratham Books. Was this the first published author/illustrator book? The publisher does not list the pub. Date. When was it published?

Officially yes! Pratham Books were familiar with my love of dinosaurs and asked if I might want to make a picture book with the dinosaurs of the Indian subcontinent. They are lesser known than the more popular ones we are used to seeing in books, movies and television. This was a wonderful chance to capture the prehistoric beasts in a book! I remember visiting the Indian Museum often as a child and they have a restored skull of a Rajasaurus on display there. I was always in awe of it but could never find it in any books or encyclopedias at the time. Imagine my joy when I finally got to draw this in my very own book!

Do you plan to write and illustrate another book?

Yes absolutely! I am certainly planning to lean a more into writing and illustrating my own picture books in the near future.

What do you think helped develop your style?

I think one of the biggest influences for me while I was in university was French animation. I absolutely love the stories, and how grey their characters can be, the worlds they build, really all of it! It was this beautiful meld of character and story that had an impact on me and I continue to carry this with me in my work to this day!

Where does all this magic happen? Do you have an in-home studio?

I long for the day where I’ll have an in-home studio! Currently I work out of a little area in my house teaming with stationery, wires, plants, dinos and books!

Do you take research pictures before you start a project?

Yes! I also like to take pictures of different textures on my walks to use in the colour stage and just to study them too. The Katha Chest was a special one, because I had asked my mum for pictures of some of her old sarees and Radhiah (the author) had also sent me pictures of some prints of sarees from her family. It was a lovely personal touch!

Do you use Photoshop with any of your work?

I usually work digitally and Photoshop is my go-to software. Though I do enjoy traditional mediums in my personal work. Colour pencils are my favourite!

What book do you think was your biggest success?

For me The Katha Chest was a personal success I hold close to my heart. Radhiah is of Bangladeshi descent and I was born and raised in West Bengal (India) so we have many shared aspects of our culture celebrated in the book. It was a beautiful collaboration and a very nostalgic trip down memory lane. Also, the many strong and empowering women portrayed in the story, inspired by members of Radhi’s family remind me of my own. It was my very first Australian picture book too! The messages and emails I have received in response to the book have been heartwarming and ones that I will treasure for a long time to come!

Do you follow any type of routine to attain your career goals?

Self-discipline, clear communication and managing time have been two things that I work hard to maintain especially when freelancing. And although I am still learning, a good work life balance to me is essential in avoiding burnout and continuing to feel inspired.

Any exciting projects on the horizon?

Yes! I’m currently working on an exciting picture book and have another fun book series starting later in the year. Can’t wait to share more!

Do you think the Internet has opened any doors for you?

Absolutely! When I first started out, the spaces online where one could share artwork and its reach were limited. Most of my projects came through email and word of mouth. But in recent years I’ve been approached for projects a lot more through social media. The internet has allowed for artists to connect and collaborate on a global scale, which is fantastic!

What are your career goals?

Now having more of a focus on children’s books, I hope to be able to write and illustrate my own stories in the near future and am very excited about this!

What are you working on now?

A picture book, a middle grade series and some exciting concept work for a possible animated series!


Are there any painting tips (materials, paper, etc.) you can share that work well for you? Technique tips? See my blog, illustration fixation.

A tip that I can’t stress enough and that has always worked for me, is to start with rough thumbnails. I feel like this really gives me clarity before I begin a piece and it’s a quick way to experiment with composition and see what’s working. I also put in rough values to see if there’s a good balance at this stage. It really is so handy and quick and saves you from running into issues when you start working on final art.

Any words of wisdom you can share with the illustrators who are trying to develop their career?

When I first started my journey as an illustrator, I had this perception of an ideal artist. But as I’ve grown in my craft, I’ve learned to enjoy the journey of figuring things out much more than the outcome. Making mistakes is a part of the process! I have also embraced that what I want to achieve will constantly change.

Another thing that has really helped me improve my skills over the years is constructive criticism. It is an excellent way to learn even if it can be uncomfortable at times coming face to face with things that might challenge you.

And lastly, I intend to draw for the rest of my life. And I’ve learned this the hard way but it’s important to take breaks, unwind and introduce a good work life balance early so you can sustain your passion for the craft for many years to come!

Lavanya, thank you for taking the time to answer the interview questions and sharing your process. Please let me know about your future books and successes so I can share them with everyone.

You can visit Lavanya using the following links:





Talk tomorrow,



  1. Absolutely brilliant, Lavanya. Thank you for sharing your work and techniques.


  2. What wonderful variety in Lavanya’s work! The cover for A Long Walk for Bina is gorgeous. Thanks for a beautiful post.


  3. Wow! Your work is breathtaking–absolutely stunning. Well done!!


  4. Great post! I enjoyed the action in the illustrations, the movement and emotion. Thank you for sharing!


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