Cover Design Q&A: Burning My Roti

Cover Design Q&A: Burning My Roti

Show menu

29 Apr 2022 |

We're back with a brand new Cover Design Q&A! This month we spoke to Aleesha Nandhra, who created the gorgeous illustrations for Burning My Roti. Scroll on to get a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes process, and to find out more about working as an illustrator. You can find Aleesha on Instagram or Twitter, and can see more of their work on their website

Tell us about yourself.
I am an illustrator and printmaker, I’ve been freelance for about 3 years now! Previously I’ve worked as a screen-printing technician and art technician. I knew I always wanted to work in visual art and after visiting a lot of degree shows I chose to study Illustration over Fine Art or Graphic Communication. I think storytelling and the relationship between text and image have always been so interesting to me, and that was also a big deciding factor in following this path. I’m not sure what else I would have done to be honest! I love making pictures.

How did the opportunity to illustrate Burning My Roti come about? 
I was approached by the design director, Lisa Rahman, to see if I was interested in pitching my work for a project. She contacted me a few weeks later and said that I had been chosen, then briefed me on what the book was going to be about, as well as her visual ideas and how we could work on the project collaboratively. I think the opportunity to work with Lisa, and everyone else involved was what made me choose to accept!

Can you share with us the process of this project? What was the idea and inspiration for the cover design and internal illustrations?
This was a very collaborative process for me. I would receive one chapter of the text at a time that Lisa had laid out into double page spreads - indicating how much space and scope we had for illustrations. I’d then read the copy, make notes on what I thought key points or phrases were, and jot down any visual cues that came to mind when I was reading too. After reading through the copy and making notes a couple of times, I’d start sketching through my ideas, and end up with a set of roughs! Then Lisa and I would speak, go through each concept, and decide which ones to proceed with. I think because this book is so personal to the author, and contains some really poignant and sensitive subject matters, we made sure to check that the illustrations were not only beautiful, but complementary and sensitive to the text too. I really enjoyed the process as it’s always challenging to find subtleties in a narrative to work with and explore - my job as an illustrator is always to extend the feelings within the text, not just depict what is being said. 
The most difficult part of illustrating was definitely trying to find the correct imagery to use alongside some of the text that was sensitive/has content that may be triggering. For example, there is a small piece on eating disorders which was really important for us to get right. 

Chapter 1 - initial sketches (top left) and then the final illustrations that were used (top right). Not much changed at all on this occasion!

Illustrations in final spread of Burning My Roti

This illustration started life as a small pen and ink drawing in my sketchbook. I then built up the colours and borders/layers digitally.

How did it feel to work with an all South Asian team on Burning My Roti? And how was the experience different from other projects when that wasn’t the case? 
Considering the content of the book, I think it is wonderful that the whole team was South Asian. This doesn’t necessarily happen at all in terms of all of the people working together on a project having shared experiences, or at least some cultural understanding of the material and each other. 

It made my role in the project very fun as I could add little nuances into the images that I knew the team would be able to understand or empathise with.

You work with a variety of drawing mediums in your art. Which did you first learn to draw with and how do you decide which to use for each project? 
Not to be incredibly cliche but I have been drawing for as long as I can remember! I think it must have been pencils, and usually that is how I always start my drawings. Then my next go-to would be a dip pen and ink, or some sort of fine ink pen. I like the way the permanence of ink and not being able to 100% control the nib allows for some really interesting and unexpected marks! I tend to use a mixture of my hand drawn lines and textures, and digital media to make the final images for all of my projects. I like to make sure that you can still see the human hand in my drawings and love textured work!
What is your workspace set up like?
Currently I have a little desk in the corner of my bedroom. It’s below a large window so I get lots of lovely light! (I’m not a night owl!)  Above my desk there is a shelf with lots of little animal figurines that I have collected or have been gifted by friends - a tiger, a dog a lion etc…. There’s also some Indian woodblocks on the shelf that were gifted to me too.

Draw an elephant from memory.

Aleesha's drawing of an elephant

Burning My Roti by Sharan Dhaliwal is out now, available from local bookshops, Waterstones and Amazon.

Read our previous Cover Design Q&As! 
The Italian Deli with Katherine Keeble | Crave with Claire Rochford | Sea and Shore with Nikki Ellis | La Vita è Dolce with Susan Le | Bowls and Broths with Han Valentine | The Nordic Baker with Gemma Hayden | Advent with Emily Lapworth