Jakarta. Bil Watterson, the cartoonist behind "Calvin and Hobbes," once said that a rainy day is best spent at home curling up with a warm cup of tea and a good book.
That cozy image is part of the inspiration for Jakarta-based illustrator Naela Ali's latest book, "Stories for Rainy Days." Recently published by Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia, the book features a heartwarming mélange of short stories and watercolor illustrations that took the author around three months to finish.
Naela, who turns 24 next month, told the Jakarta Globe that rain fuels her imagination to write and draw. "Whenever it rains, my thoughts start to wander. It makes me think about what happened, the circumstances, the possibilities," she said, quoting a lyric from her favorite band The Jesus and Mary Chain, "There's something warm about the rain...."
Each short story—many of them essentially a vignette—in "Stories for Rainy Days" revolves around feelings, romantic and otherwise, usually evoked during somber weather. Some stories reference her favorite songs and films, such as "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," Michel Gondry's 2004 drama starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet. "Songs, books, films — they matter a lot to me. I like it when I can relate my life to a certain song or story. It gives me inspiration," she said.
These moving tales are accompanied by Naela's drawings—all of them captivating in their simplicity—that illustrate various scenes, from a couple in embrace to a woman looking out of the window. The book cover itself features an illustration of a cat that appears to be devouring a book. Is Naela a cat lover? "Yes, of course! I love them and would love to have them as pets, but unfortunately my nose doesn't agree. I sneeze a lot around them. I once had four cats in my house, though."
Naela said she needed to listen to songs while writing to capture the right ambiance for a story. "Sometimes I wrote something and then drew [the illustration]," she said, "but sometimes I would do the drawing first and come up with the story after."
Before releasing "Stories for Rainy Days," Naela had already published a book titled "Itadakimasu"—an illustrated tome listing a variety of Japanese foods—and launched a brand called Asobi, which sells merchandise bearing her original illustrations, ranging from tote bags and t-shirts to postcards and stickers. Occasionally, she also gives a watercolor workshop called the Summer Wasting Class.
Japanese culture clearly influences Naela's visual style, which she chalked up to her fascination with manga and anime—Japanese-style comics and animations—since she was in elementary school.
"I love Japanese culture because it's so individual, it's got such a strong personality, everything about it is so fascinating," Naela, who counts Haruki Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto as among her favorite writers, said. "I love to draw something, anything about Japan because the country seems to have its own colors and shapes. It's so exciting."
Being a prolific artist, Naela revealed she is already working on her next book. "I love books so much. Just looking at them, it's so liberating," said Naela, who got her degree in visual communication design from Jakarta's Bina Nusantara University. "With all the knowledge I've got about design and illustration, I think it's kind of natural that when I write my books they have to be well-designed and look good."