The illustrator’s works offer a heady dose of cheer for hard times

Welcome to Eye Candy, where we bring you the story behind a striking piece of art. Each time, you’ll get to feast your eyes on the work of one illustrator, graphic designer and/or visual artist, and discover details about their style, ideas and more. Follow along!

Neeti Banerji may currently be at home, but on paper, she’s deep in a large forest. The illustrator has been using her time working on a bigger project than usual — literally. “I [usually] work pretty small because of how detailed things are, but I decided I’m going to try working big, so I have this 3x4ft sheet of paper where I’m [illustrating] a highly detailed forest, which is slowly coming along,” she says. Her plan is to split it up once it’s finished to make a colouring book; after you’re done colouring, the pages can be put together to create a map or poster.

The 24-year-old illustrator, based in Delhi, studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, the USA, where she dabbled in print-making, animation and editorial illustration, before majoring in children’s book illustration. She returned to India in 2018 and worked as a graphic designer at Paro, Good Earth’s wellness brand for a year. Since then, she’s been freelancing as an illustrator and has worked on album art, posters and board games, among other things.

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One of Banerji’s colouring pages.

Over the past couple of months, she’s been staying indoors, like so many of us. In an effort to provide a creative vent for when the isolation demons begin to haunt, she put a few of her incredibly detailed line illustrations up for download as colouring pages. Look closely, and you’ll even find Easter eggs. “One thing I like to do in a lot of my work, because they’re so highly detailed, is I like hiding Easter eggs in each of them,” explains Banerji. “And there are five gingerbread men that show up in each of the pages.”

Funnily enough, Neeti was, for the longest time, “deathly afraid of colour”, and stuck to black and white shading and stippling. “Then I decided I really need to get over my fear, so I completely over compensated and now all my colour palettes are really bright,” she says. “I’m a big fan of the Camlin photo inks which are used to recolour black and white photos, so I use those to paint with. And the reason I like them so much is because they behave like watercolours, but they’re very, very intense pigments.” This works well for Banerji’s illustrations since her colour palettes generally tend to earthy tones, with a range of yellows and reds. When she’s colouring digitally though, she opts for more neon palettes.

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The universes Banerji creates are often steeped in botanical elements. Leaves feature prominently — either as motifs, subjects, or Easter eggs in her drawings. “I think one of the reasons for this is that I spent my college years in Providence, Rhode Island, which suffers from horrible winters [that] last for about six months — the sun goes down at 3pm — so it’s just really depressing not seeing greenery,” she says. The plants were something she missed while she was there, and have seemingly stuck around in her art ever since.

Banerji’s most recent projects include a collaboration with a printmaker friend from Las Vegas: the Neat Cat Press. The project includes animations of contrasting works done by both of them — they take turns to illustrate and colour each piece. “The theme we’re following is Life and Death. She makes very morbid illustrations while mine are more cheerful and bright, so it’s an attempt to marry the two,” says Banerji. They plan to turn the illustrations into prints — either lithographs or screen prints — and bind them into a limited-run book. The project’s been in the works since 2017 but is only now taking off since they are both stuck at home.

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‘Stuck at home’ is also the inspiration for another of Banerji’s series. “I’ve been indoors with my parents since mid-March and while I love them, I’ve inevitably been fantasizing about what it was like living on my own [while interning] in Boston and New York,” Banerji says as she explains her ‘room’ series. “I find myself critiquing my mum’s choice in furniture a lot more than I used to, so this series was inspired by my ‘future house’ talks with my friend back in Boston.” They would wander around thrift shops and stores like Muji, pointing to things that they’d decorate their future homes with — these visions included “an alarming Fanta-coloured sofa and bright blue walls.”

Banerji’s art appears to be driven by what she most hopes for — be it a burst of fauna in the middle of a hard winter, or a brightly coloured room while stuck in the same house for months. This hope jumps out in a most cheerful manner when observing her illustrations. And of course, for added fun, look out for the Easter eggs.

See more of Neeti Banerji’s work on her website or on Instagram at @n.ee.t.

Jessica Jani is Associate Editor at Paper Planes. She enjoys reading books, about books, and the scores of magazines she has access to thanks to our amazing library. Find her on Twitter at @_jesthetic.