Sanjay Patel Interview


Chronicle Books has just released Ramayana: Divine Loophole the latest book from Pixar animator and illustrator Sanjay Patel. As one of the core legends of Hindu mythology, Ramayana recounts a tale of Rama, a god-turned-prince, and his quest to rescue his wife Sita after she was kidnapped by a demon king. Sanjay is able to breath new life into this 2500-year-old epic tale with over 150 pages of lush, detailed illustrations.

In this interview, he gives us a glimpse into the making of the book and some of the challenges he faced along the way.

Lets start off with a little bit about your background. Where are you from originally?
I was born in the UK. and lived there till I was five. My parents then immigrated to Southern California, and began running and living in a motel off of route 66. So next time your in San Bernardino be sure to drop in on my folks at the Lido Motel. Yep thats really my parents motel and their vintage sign. They’ve been living and running the motel for thirty fucking years now!

sanjay patel

When and how did you become interested in illustration?
As far a I can remember I was drawing. In elementary school my third grade teacher gave me a wonderful collection of hard bound vintage Superman comics. She wrote an inscription inside the book about what a wonderful artist I was and how I apparently had so much talent. She must of had me mixed up with someone else. Because the first thing I did with that book was draw all over the pages adding poop and pee coming out of all the great Superman panels. Eventually I began respecting my comics a lot more. I was really obsessed with a marvel artist named Michael Golden and his series called The NAM. From there I started watching a ton of Robotek and Looney tunes. But it was only until my high school art teacher gave me the famous Nicolaides “The Natural Way To Draw” book, did I finally get what drawing and illustration was all about. I dropped my comics and fell in love with Michelangelo, the Renaissance, and Norman Rockwell. The desire to communicate through a visual language has stayed with me ever since.

sanjay patel

What led you to create a book on the Ramayana?
There were a lot of different impulses that led to the decision to tackle the Ramayana. In many way The Little Book of Hindu Deities was a success and at the same time really didn’t capture the full scope of my talent. As I began to read the Ramayana it became very clear that the mythology was loaded with a visually rich world. It was also very clear that no one has tried interpreting the epic story in pictures and illustration with a modern graphic flair. Or at least in a visual language that was in line with my aesthetics and love of mid-century animation.

How much time did you put into researching for the project?
I’m almost embarrassed to say this but I spent close to four years on the project. It took me the better part of a year to read different translations of the story and write my own summarized version. After selling both my manuscript and a full black and white dummy I took a year sabbatical from PIXAR to work on the ridiculously detailed vector illustrations full time. After working day and night for over a year and not leaving my apartment for days at a time I eventually ended up burning out. Luckily I discovered yoga and therapy and was able to finish the project.

sanjay patel

How long did it take you to create the illustrations for the book?
Once a pencil sketch was done which took about two days I could jump into Adobe Illustrator and start building vector shapes, which took another three days depending on how complicated the illustration was. If I was lucky I would get things right, but in almost every case I re did things dozens of times.

sanjay patel

What were some of the obstacles/ challenges that you faced along the way?
The biggest obstacle was of course the scope of the project, The Ramayana has dozens of character and locations, mega war scenes and complicated crowd illustrations. But somehow I was able to get things running fairly quickly that is until till I decided to redo everything top to bottom a few times. I kept fighting to work in a design style that was cute and silly, when the Ramayana is anything but that. As a reaction of too much cute I ended up turning the illustration into something much more grown up and stiff. Eventually the design pendulum settled somewhere in between cute and boring. Somewhere that I hope captures the action and drama in a fun modern style that honors this great mythology.

During the day you work at Pixar, how did you find time to work on this massive project?
That’s a long story, but what I can say is this. Growing up in a motel in a grimy part of San Bernardino I had very few friend’s let along neighbors. I spent most of my time drawing alone. In many way once I come home from work I want nothing more than to return to that same comfort of pencil and paper and solitude. Not much has changed in that way.

sanjay patel

What artists/ books served as inspiration for your illustrations?
My office at Pixar is covered in Charley Harper pages. I actually bought two copies of the massive monograph that Ammo Books put out. I took one of the books and had it professionally cut and started using all the pages as wall paper for my office. So of course there is a ton of Harper in my everyday life and in my Ramayana. Like many other Cal Arts students I love mid century illustration. My favorites are Saul Steinberg, Provensons, & Sasek. Of course there are tons more artist that I love like Peter Arno, Tezuka, Steig, Boutavant, Lindberg, Wyeth,… And of course the great master Mr. Bill Watterson and his Calvin & Hobbes.

sanjay patel

In what ways did the initial concepts differ from the finished book?
I wanted the book to be cute and silly like a Richard Scary version of the Ramayana. Instead I think I ended up with a weird Charley Harper, animation hybrid. Hopefully the combination works.



In this section Sanjay breaks down his explorations for the cover of the book.

sanjay patel
1. Early doodles of the characters and the cover.

Ramayana divine loop
2. Thumbnail cover studies with type.

Ramayana divine loop
3. Decided on a direction and begin to play around with the character posing and graphic shapes.

Ramayana divine
4. Refining the sketch to exact lines and patterns. While still pushing the posing and action


1. First color sketch, and initial type treatment

Ramayana divine loop
2. I changed the composition for better silhouette value and redesigned both characters.

sanjay patel
3. Tried a radial composition as well as a new Hindi type treatment.

sanjay patel
4. Tried a brighter palette and a new pose for the hero.

sanjay patel
5. Switched to a limited palette and pushed the posing and scale of the figures.

sanjay patel
6. The title was getting lost in the artwork and was given a bolder and more formal treatment

sanjay patel
7. Decide to crop in on just the hero and balance the artwork against the type.

sanjay patel
8. Used a more formal composition and played off the geometry of the graphic shapes.

sanjay patel
9. Tried a more colorful direction in a lose color sketch.

sanjay patel
10. Finally found a composition and palette that the publisher and art director loved. This is the finished jacket artwork.

sanjay patel
11. Managed to keep the punchy two color artwork for the casewrap of the book. Its a nice bonus for those who take a peak underneath the dust jacket.


Many thanks to Sanjay for taking time out of his day to share with grain edit readers.

You can purchase a copy of Ramayana: Divine Loophole at Amazon. Also available is a limited edition silkscreen print signed and numbered by Sanjay himself.

For more info on Sanjay, visit Ghee Happy, his online home.


Enjoy reading this interview? Please leave a note in the comments and consider signing up for our tasty free grain edit RSS feed.

Also worth checking: The Making of the Pixar WALL-E Picture Book – Lots of Bots.


Tags, ,

Trackback from uberVU – social comments - Social comments and analytics for this post...

Trackback from What We Like Today | A Blog About Graphic Design, Web Design, Print Design and Marketing Strategy | Denver, Colorado - Sanjay Patel Interview from Grain Edit...

The internet is destroying the English language. “So next time YOUR in San Bernardino…”. Terrible.

Tyler |

Features |

Great interview!

That book looks absolutely amazing!! I am so excited about this!

I know Sanjay’s parents. They own and operate an old Route 66 icon motel
I wonder if Sanjay had any input on CARS? My partner, Michael Wallis the voice of the 49 Merc or the Sheriff, and I will be going up to Pixer for meetings soon. I hope to get to meet Sanjay at that time.

Great work.


Good job Sanjay your sketches are too good. It is nice reading your article. This epic story is frmous around the world the books are widely red.

Amazing work and great interview. I link the sharpness of the figures. Have you seen the work of Nandalal Bose? I think you would dig it.

Thank you for a great interview! The book looks amazing and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

amazing work Sanjay

shankar |

Features |

Nice work, lots of great detail. That Lido sign just stopped me dead in my tracks this morning. Sanjay, tell your parents they can never get rid of that!

Brilliant images. Sanjay is an amazing artist.

But why are there so many grammatical and spelling errors throughout this article?

I understand that you are a design focused blog, but come on, is it that difficult for you guys to differentiate between nouns and verbs (read: breathe instead of breath) and the use of you’re/your?

Let me know if you need someone to glance over your work before posting, I’ll be more than happy to do so at no charge.

Awesome, awesome work. I can’t help but be reminded of Sita Sings the Blues, although the differences in artwork are almost night and day.

really quite amazing. it so nice to see all of the references and sources of inspiration as well.

really quite amazing. it is so nice to see all of the references and sources of inspiration as well.

Thanks for bringing this wonderful book to life. Sanjays illustrations are beautiful! This is refreshing and awe-inspiring.

I love these Illustrations, and I hate grammer Nazis. Go back and teach your High School English class and tell them how much smarter you are than everyone else.

Tim |

Features |

Nice work, lots of great detail.

Amazing graphics!!! Thank you grainedit for bringing an interview such as this. His work so graphic, bold and beautiful. Really inspiring!

Thank you grainedit for bringing such an amazing artist to the forefront. He is truly talented and an inspiration. Thanks!!!

For ‘Grammar Nazis’ read: ‘People who can read, spell and form sentences…

For ‘Grammar Nazis’ read: ‘People who can read, spell and form sentences’…

For ‘Grammar Nazis’ please read: ‘Grown-ups who can read, spell and form sentences’…

Beautiful…….keep up the good work :)

really outstanding… nice combination of retro illustration style and contemporary edgy flair

grit |

Features |

Amazing work, love all his work!

Great article… Yeah there were problems with grammar but its minimal. It’s the point behind the article that matters most and if you read the article you obviously got the point :)

So don’t complain people. A lot of hard work went into this Interview and it still came out great!

awesome works….

dipesh parmar |

Features |

Thanks for the great insights. The first Illustrations I saw from Sanjay were in “the little book of Hindu Deities”(released 2006).

The pictures are really nice..!! Would like to write about this in my blog ! :)

Pretty good post. I just came by your blog and wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

The chicken or the egg but…
‘Sita Sings The Blues’ anybody.

Big Al |

Features |

I had the chance to leaf through the book last week and I love it! an amazing job indeed!

Sanjay Patel sir,

I am a big fan of your Illustrations….!
Ideas in ramayana is Great sir….

I buy this book! this art is soooo fantastic and beautiful!!!
I’m your fan too!

YK kim |

Features |

amazing artist, Brilliant work, Sanjay

chirag khalas |

Features |

amazing very nice


chengwei |

Features |

Hi Sanjay i am Vikash from New Delhi i saw your illustration it was really fine. Rawan character and the color combination is really made me crazzzzy it was really amazing.
Thanks for this intro.

Nice work, I’m happy to see somebody is finally presenting Ramayana in such a different yet creative way. I wonder why Sanjay calls it the Divine Loophole though.

Arshiya |

Features |

Beautiful work, but I think the radial or geometric illustration would have been much stronger as the cover. Shame the publishers weren’t so keen on it.

Stunning imagery, I really love your concepts and palettes. Looking forward to buying the book!

Sharan |

Features |

I am a big fan of your Illustrations….!
Ideas in ramayana is Great sir….

kalpesh |

Features |

oh wow! i will definitely be referencing this wonderful work in projects to come! thank you so much, such an inspiration.

Laura |

Features |

Thank you very much for sharing the work process with us! It’s been really enlightning and inspirational! Thanx again!

I took 1 st mortgage loans when I was 32 and that supported my business very much. However, I require the sba loan as well.

greet work

really nice work!!!

virendra shinde |

Features |

Very cool take on this, lovely!

Very excited to see these fantastic illustrations – this book is on my wish list.

Great job with the site. it looks much better now

Your illustrations are a true work of art. I specifically like the 2 color artwork.

awesome work !

Bhushan |

Features |

wow,, great pricture anda Very helpful post. Very clear commentary and suggested phrasing are most impressive, as are his and your generosity in sharing this explanation and example.

He is an inspiring pop artist. Thanks for sharing your interview. Great post as usual.

It’s well known that the under-thread component in multi-needle lockstitch quilting and in “schiffli” embroidery is called cocoon bobbin.

This blog post is definitely cool and useful!

What a great drawing Patel..

Here I have a great link of Ramayana Ballet