Episode Artworks: Visualising aural storytelling.

by Menaka Raman

A hand painted toilet sign.

That was the first thing Radhika and Samyuktha, co-founders of Vaaka Media showed me when we met to talk about the new podcast they were going produce called City of Women.

Ladis Please by Arti Sandhu on Flickr.

The image was a familiar one, something that millions of Indians have seen at some point or the other when they’re out and about on city streets.

Painted street signs in India are hugely popular, and thanks to social media have gained something of a global following. There are Instagram handles, Pinterest boards and even home accessory brands that are devoted to them or stylistically pay homage to them. For City of Women, the idea was to create a visual language that tapped into this style without falling into the realm of kitsch and cutesy.

But why this style?

City of Women is a show about how women have fun and feel free in the city and about the obstacles that stand in their way. It’s as much about the physical navigation of the cityscape as it is about the mental acrobatics women have to perform to be able to do what they want when they’re outside.

There seemed to be an instant connect between what the vision for the podcast and Indian street art and lettering. By 2 Design set the ball rolling by taking the overly lashed eye of the woman in the ‘Ladies Toilet’ sign and making it the centre piece of the podcast’s visual look. Cavelight Studio took this idea and incorporated it into our logo and album artwork.

Album artwork for City of Women.

For us, the eye represents two things: the all-seeing, roving eye of ‘society’ looking at women on the street and passing judgement and a woman’s point of view — surveying the street before embarking on a journey, making routes and identifying obstacles and tweaking those routes accordingly.

Next, we worked with Ramya and Lara at Cavelight to develop a set of animated icons. We wanted these to be in the same vein as the eye and represent a certain physicality of being on the street. After much discussion, rough sketches and vision boarding we settled on a cheeky mouth, a hand that makes the ‘yaake’ or ‘what’s up?’ gesture that’s so common on the streets of Bengaluru and a pair of fingers walking along a videogame-like milieu.

As we began work on Season 1, we decided to create individual artworks for each episode. Why? While podcasts are very much an aural medium, we felt that creating a visual teaser of each episode added another layer of storytelling, one that would entice someone scrolling on Instagram to pause and see what the post was about, and hint at what was to come if one clicked through and listened to the entire episode.

The larger idea was to also to create a universe around City of Women. The podcast is at the centre, an aural retelling of public experiences. Working with artists in other media — the episode artwork, for example, visually represent the stories we tell, and we also speak with our community and share their stories. Within this universe, the stories of women come alive through sound, image, and the written word.

The process of looking for illustrators and artists was a joyous one. Scrolling through diverse, vibrant and gorgeous Instagram feeds was no hardship. We thought long and hard about who we wanted to work with, looked for specific aspects or examples of an illustrator’s work that we thought would lend itself to the story an episode was telling.

Episode 1 — Movies

We first chatted with Adrija Ghosh after a social media call out looking for women interested in sharing stories for the podcast. Adrija is an illustrator, animator and art director and we loved her bold use of colours and the characters she creates in her work. There is a warmth and subtle humour to her illustrations too. In the episode artwork for ‘Movies’ Adrija beautifully represents the different women who escape to the movies — women of all ages, alone and in groups.

Movies by Adrija Ghosh.

Episode 2 — Dicks

For Dicks, we wanted something that was as in your face as a flasher’s privates. Artist Renuka Rajiv is known for their quirky, subversive art, and the artwork they created had us in splits. Renuka’s artwork conveys just how pervasive exposed penises are, and that after you’ve seen one when you’re out and about, everything you look at seems penis-shaped too.

Dicks by Renuka Rajiv.

Episode 3 — Guts

We enjoyed working with Adrija so much that we went back to her for episode 3 : ‘Guts’. She perfectly understood the vibe we were going for with the episode, which tells the story of three women in the city, going to work, running, apprehending a pervert — and how their actions are perceived by others as ‘gutsy’ or ‘brave’. We wanted to use a tarot card style of illustration, because really, so much of how things turn out for a woman when she’s out is down to luck of the draw. The blinking, watchful roses added the feeling that women and their actions are always being watched.

Guts by Adrija Ghosh.

Episode 4 — Fights

We had been following artist Priyanka K’s work for a while and there was something about her bold use of colours, strokes and style that made us intuitively feel that she was the right artist for the theme. Priyanka’s illustration brought to life how Mahua, whose road rage we trace in the episode, looks and feels when she’s on the street — is almost always primed for a fight.

Fights by Priyanka K.

The actual process of collaborating with these artists was great fun. The team would get on a call with each artist and discuss the theme of the episode and talk about the rationale behind choosing the theme. We would share small snippets of some of the stories we hoped to use in the episode — never sharing the full story — and held back from prescribing too much how the artist represented the episode. So for us, as a team there was a sense of real excitement and anticipation in seeing how each artist interpreted the episode for themselves. Stylistically and artistically each artists brought themselves to the artwork. What holds all of them together are the colours.We really enjoyed working with these illustrators, and it was gratifying to hear back from listeners about how much they loved the episode artworks.

We can’t wait to start work on new episodes in January, and look forward to telling more stories aurally and visually.

If you’re an illustrator and would like to collaborate with us on a future episode of City of Women, write to us at team@vaaka.in.

You can listen to City of Women on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or wherever else you get your podcast fix.

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