A Closer Look At Your Neighbourhood: An Illustration Masterclass with Habib Ali and Canato Jimo

By Diya Shetty, Grade 10

The skilled Habib Ali, illustrator of the NBA 2023 winning wordless book My Street, and Canato Jimo, Art Director of Pratham Books, kicked off the masterclasses on Day 1 of the Neev Literature Festival 2023 with their session Neighbourhood Depictions. The air was buzzing with excitement.

We began by discussing the significance of illustrations in a wordless book, and their pivotal role in bringing to life the concept and idea of the author. As we flipped through the pages of My Street, the audience was asked to keep an eye out for the details in the illustrations. The intrigued children intently observed the intricacies of the book, restless to share their inputs.


As the discussions began, it was clear that the charming plot of the book was evidently conveyed – how the community in a young boy’s neighbourhood rallied together to create a bike for him, lifting his spirits after his toy consisting of two simple wheels broke.

The audience inspected the marketplace in the small town portrayed on the pages of the book, and paid attention to the characters in the background, the autowallahs and the cigarette sellers to name a few. Some perceptive observations came up, like the disappearance of the cat when the problem arose, and its reappearance when the problem was resolved. In Habib Ali’s hands, the black cat was the bringer of good fortune, not the other way around.

Soon, the children began drawing their own familiar neighbourhood, but with ample flexibility to be creative. “You can have a purple cat,” Canato suggested. As the audience became more and more engrossed in their sketching, Habib began a sketch of his own on the whiteboard to inspire the young students. It was incredible to watch him seamlessly and fluidly sketch down what he visualised. Every time I thought the sketch was complete, he added another layer below, with more details and interesting characters. His final sketch was delightful.

A member of the audience asked why he chose to draw from top to bottom rather than from bottom to top, and it was fascinating to hear Habib explain how doing so stimulated his ideas and creativity, “ऊपर आसमां है.” But going downwards allows one to explore even further.

“’सोचने नहीं बनाने का है, कुछ भी बनाने का है,”  said Habib. Don’t think, just draw.

As the session approached its end, Habib took out his quaint sketchbooks in which he drew what he saw around him in his day-to-day life. When his breathtaking watercolour paintings were revealed, the enthralled audience gasped. Wows and Oh my gods echoed through the room. “It looks like it’s printed!” said an excited audience member.

The book was filled with sketches of authentic, vibrant characters and the places he had visited. Inspirations ranged from his own neighbourhood, and the skeletons he saw in a museum, to a scene of lush greenery in West Bengal.

All it takes is to “start with a line, a circle, a dot,” he said. He encouraged the young, curious artists to keep practising sketching to improve and to, “draw anything.” The audience was left with newfound inspiration to pursue illustration, and may start with looking at their own neighbourhoods through new eyes!



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