The Beasts in Your Brain: An Interview with Illustrator Harshad Marathe

The Beasts in Your Brain: Understanding and Living with Anxiety and Depression by Katherine Speller is a clever, approachable, and empathetic read for young adults and their loved ones. Each chapter reminds readers that they are not alone in their feelings, teaches them the science of mental illness, and empowers them to quell the brain beasts of depression and anxiety.

This title features unique illustrations from artist Harshad Marathe who provides visual representation of these mental health struggles. Today Harshad joins us to discuss his creative process, biggest challenges, and more! Read on to see initial sketches and art!

What aspect of the book cover design process or journey do you find the most interesting and why?

I love that I get such a wide array of themes to work with across different authors and publishers. Over the last couple of years I’ve been doubling down on the things I actually like drawing, instead of trying to create art that I think others would like to see. The result is that I get more and more projects that are centered on themes that interest me. This book is one such project. I’m currently the ‘tree’ and ‘monster’ guy and I don’t mind that!

Above: Initial cover designs for The Beasts in Your Brain.

What is your creative process when working with a manuscript?

The basic approach remains similar across projects. I like to read parts of the manuscript, discuss the project with the art director and/or author to understand my client and their requirements. I do my own research about the subject matter and find good visual references, and then I come up with rough ideas. All the parties involved pick one direction and we proceed step by step, asking for approvals at every stage.

How did you choose the style you used to illustrate this book?

When I was contacted by Lerner, they highlighted certain samples from my previous work and portfolio that they thought would be a good direction. That’s always a good starting point. This is a book about mental health, in which different mental health conditions are personified as monsters. The characters I typically make are often strange, gray and morally ambiguous, but these monsters needed to look oppressive and negative. They are personifications of mental
maladies that make our lives difficult. That’s how I thought about it when I was coming up with designs.

Above: In progress art for chapter headings for The Beasts in Your Brain.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced illustrating this book?

Most of the illustrations I make are in color. I’ve learnt how to use color over the years and it has slowly become one of my strengths. Being asked to not use color for the eight inside illustrations was therefore a challenge! Black and white art isn’t necessarily easier to make.

What did you most enjoy about illustrating this book?

Danielle (Senior Art Director at Lerner) and her team suggested loose illustration prompts to go with each chapter, based on the contents of the chapter, however they also gave me freedom to come up with my ideas. I enjoyed this combination of having very good direction,
while still having the freedom to think outside of that. For example, showing flowers in the hands of the children in the illustration for chapter seven was one such idea that I came up with that
everybody at Lerner loved.

Above: In progress art for chapter headings for The Beasts in Your Brain.

I also like that this book is about mental health. I think we’re arriving at a realization that everybody suffers from different kinds of mental health problems at some point in their lives. I too am no stranger to anxiety and depression. It felt good to make a book that engaged young adults with this very important topic.

Above: In progress art for chapter headings for The Beasts in Your Brain.

Praise for The Beasts in Your Brain

“Comforting, calming, and duly documented, this timely offering has multiple applications.”—Booklist

“A valuable guide for teens struggling with mental health and the people who care about them.” —Kirkus Reviews

Connect with the Author

Katherine Speller is a writer, journalist, and the Editorial Director of Evergreen and Growth at Parents. Her work covering health, wellness, reproductive rights, and social issues have appeared in MTV News, Women’s Health, Bitch, Public Radio International (PRI), Bustle, and more. She is based in Brewster, New York.

Connect with the Illustrator

Harshad Marathe is an illustrator and storyteller. He has an M.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and has illustrated many books. He has backpacked all over the world. He lives in India.

Find more illustrator insights on the Lerner blog!

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