The toughest subjects for me have been human faces. After so many animals and birds in stippling, I have developed a comfort level with wildlife portraits but human portraits intimidate me to an extent that my hands freeze before moving onto the next line. There are certain images though that I find compelling enough to pick up the pencil/pen and draw. The following is one of them which I bumped into while scrolling down my Facebook wall one of the days. A friend of mine had put up this pic from his trip to Manali and that loving look on the face just made me pick up the pencil to draw the face. The series of rings in her ear and the gentle smile with the wrinkles of experience was irresistible.
There are many such reference portrait photos that I have collected over the last decade that I would like to draw but haven’t yet gotten to it. Sometime I will get over the fear of human faces and get to it.
Red munia or strawberry finch, as the name suggests, is a striking red sparrow sized bird found in tropical Asia. The males and females are generally a dull brown colour with multiple white spots. The male develops this red breeding plumage and white streaks under the eyes during the monsoon months in the South of India. The pairs build their nests together using blades of grass, feathers, pieces of charcoal etc. In this piece, the male is seen carrying a ruffled feather from the surrounding to build its nest.
Few months ago, I was on a full fledged drive to work on improving my colour senses. What better subjects to choose than birds. A friend had come back from Costa Rica and I jumped at the chance of drawing a Toucan from his pile of photographs. Bright colours and the unusual beaks make them unique. With limited colour inks available, I got on with it. There are places where colours didn’t come out as expected but I was still close to it.
“Swar hi Eashwar hai”, said the maestro first thing that evening. That literally translates to sound is God. Because sound is omnipresent and it’s the most honest form of expression. And we choose to call it music. His music speaks of the life long surrender to God and understanding of music.
He laments the present generation of musicians and the youngsters who pick up an instrument only so that they can perform and chase fame. They fail to understand music but use it as a means to an end. As Ustad says a lifetime is not enough to understand and grasp the seven notes of music.
An evening with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan transports you deep into the world of music. It feels like one is floating through the surreal sub atomic world where time and gravity are non-existent. The evening was a rush of memories of all the Indian classical concerts I had attended since the age of 5. Art in the form of dance and music has been there through every up and down in my life. And same was true for this evening with the maestro during one of the toughest and darkest phases of life.
I am not the only ‘artist’ in the world who is unsure about my work. Thanks to a very supportive social circle, I have managed to keep myself going when it comes to art. But that was always a hobby. It took me by surprise when I got a call from a corporate to work on creatives for the festive season in different states of India. I wasn’t sure if they had called the right person to begin with. And once that was clarified, I moved onto to worrying about the briefing and if I was ever gonna make art that they would like.
The first creative I was working on was for Kerala, I made my calls to all possible friends I could remember to check on something unique from the state that they relate to. And I sent across my ideas to the client. We did a lot of back and forth for two weeks and finalised the base drawing. It was time to fill in colours.
Then came the call- the client liked the drawings but not the way it was coloured. I wasn’t sure what they meant by that. Alas! the opportunity slipped by.
Couple of years ago, a friend suggested I take up the Inktober challenge. I had no idea what that was and I went looking for anything that had a #inktober on Instagram. That looked like a super cool challenge and I decided to take it up. But three days into the month, I ran out of steam because I had no idea what I could do with those prompts and if I want to go by my own prompts, I should have planned it well. Bottom line – I didn’t think I had the creativity nor the motivation to take up such a commitment.
Inktober is about 50 days away. Irrespective of what the prompt list looks like, I want to complete the challenge this year. So as a practice I started making ink sketches of scenes all around me or some from memories.
These scenes somehow get etched in mind the moment one decides to sketch them but doing them all on a black and white and shaded style gives you a different feel.
All this while, I have used marker pens with consistent flow of ink. And my dip pen with all the different nibs sat in the drawer all these years patiently waiting for me to pick it up and admire the value of it. So here it is. The rediscovery of the dip pen.
The uneven lines, the inconsistent flow of the ink and the imperfections of inking a memory or a view on paper is exciting at a different level. I hope the dip pen doesn’t have to go back to its box for another couple of years without being used.
Needless to say, my favourite medium has been pen and ink. Almost five years ago, that whimsical morning led to a handmade paper and a fountain pen. And I have been trying to experiment with various styles- few successfully and others not. One of the first was this hatching and cross hatching rendered still life study. I didn’t do it from real life but from a photo reference in a book that I was referring at that point to learn the basics of drawing. Clearly, I have a long way to go.
A couple of years gone by and I started attending an illustration course during which I again gravitated towards pen and ink. I started looking up reference images and came across an artist’s work that I thought I could copy and learn the basics from. And I did learn a lot about finer detailing by copying her style and her work.
This drawing of a boat was done on one of the days when I was over stressed with work and an upcoming conference and pretty much sleep deprived. I woke up few hours earlier than my usual time and ended up drawing this. Lines, hatching, crosshatching and scribbles…. I experimented pretty much everything in this piece.
After lines and scribbles, the obvious one to try was dots and that led to stippling. I started the weaver bird with lines and finished it with dots. Weaver bird because they take me back to my childhood. At my grandparents’ house, there were enough of them building nests and breeding in the garden. Surprisingly I never thought of drawing anything then despite the variety of birds visiting the house but now – 20 years later I want to ink all of them.
Hoping to go back to pen and ink for more and more drawings and exploring more styles than just stippling.
On a bright sunny day, few hours later, we walked out grim. The silence was heavy. Neither of us had a clue about how to start a conversation. We were brimming with shame, empathy, compassion…. No words were going to suffice for what we felt. We covered the 45 mins drive back to the hotel without uttering a word. Thankfully the uber driver had the radio on in the background. I wondered later if the cab drivers are used to the sombre state of passengers boarding after a trip to the Apartheid museum.
After millions of safety warnings from anybody and everybody who has ever heard of Johannesburg, we decided to cut our time there to a single day. That was to be our last day in South Africa. The people, the places, the wildlife, the lifestyle.. name any aspect of the country and we would say we had fallen in love with it. Now what is it that remained to pick on from this country – its history. Hence the place to go was the Apartheid museum at Johannesburg to mark the concluding day of our time in SA.
It all began with the Gold rush. People of all races from all corners of the world landed at SA to make their fortunes. The natives struggled through all of this being displaced by fortune seekers. Before they knew, the social hierarchy had been created based on the colour of the skin. Fairest being at the top and darkest at the bottom which constituted most natives. Many people rose up to the struggle and perished.
A century ago, was born Rohlihlahla Mandela who would eventually lead the country in its final battle against apartheid. Years of perseverance and suffering couldn’t break the man’s will but strengthened it manifold only to realize his dream of earning the dignity and right to a decent life for his countrymen. Almost a century of fighting for a country sans racism, they succeeded in abolishing apartheid, a mere 25 years ago. It isn’t easy for the oppressed sections of the society to wake up one fine day to the abolition of apartheid and forget the sufferings, but the attempts to move on are evident. To bring back the confidence of the people who were badgered for a century, might take more than a lifetime to mend. But the hope and the optimism makes up for the starting point.
A fairly young country, South Africa, is still trying to live in harmony with all races as part of their social structure. The diversity eventually led South Africa to be called as the Rainbow Nation.
The Apartheid museum has been built with a lot of passion keeping in mind the struggle of the common man in South Africa to earn the fundamental right to a decent living. And as a constant reminder to the future generations to respect the treacherous path their forefathers walked to give them the life of dignity.
“Please stand in the queue here for your turn to take a picture with the CAPE OF GOOD HOPE board”, said Marcon. I was thrilled to know that we have reached the southernmost point of the African continent… Until our turn came and the board came into view.
Most southwestern point??? There has to be a mistake. Isn’t this supposed to be the southern most point? I gave a confused look to Marcon and before I could ask, he smiled and said the southernmost point of the dark continent is about three hours drive from here. And where would that be? Cape L’Agulhas! Where on earth is this? Why did I not know this earlier?
Marcon clarified later most people have this assumption that Cape of Good Hope is the southern most point but it’s just a popular place because it lies within Cape Town limits. Tourists flock this town and Cape Point is a half day tour. This Cape was first named as Cape of storms because ships sailing all across the world were never able to dock due to severe damages suffered in storms. But because it opened up the pathway from the Western Hemisphere to the eastern world for trade, it was renamed the Cape of Good Hope.
At this point I had decided we have to go to this ‘Cape whatever’ that marks the tip of the continent. So couple of days later when we head out towards Mossel Bay on the Garden Route we took the 80 kms diversion to go see this place. Overlooked by a typical lighthouse, this unassuming place was very significant in terms of geography of the continent.
The Indian ocean and the Atlantic ocean meet here. The warm Agulhas current for the Indian Ocean clashes with the cold current from the west resulting in strong winds and storms. Historically known as the Cape of Needles, it has been known to have sunk big ships in the early days due to the weather conditions and the rocky outcrops.
With only a bunch of tourists, and may be a few locals idling around on rocks, there was no queue here for a photograph with the plaque. One would probably see more sea gulls than people along the coastline of the town. A quaint little town, L’Agulhas, serving as it’s approach, the cape continues to maintain its importance in a quiet and a sombre way.
My recent work using coloured inks was the Brown Fish Owl and the finished artwork gave me the confidence to use them to paint birds. Not all bird sketches may look appealing in monochrome.
The first bird that came into mind to experiment further with coloured inks: a Toucan. Colorful birds with colourful beaks! While looking for pictures on instagram and google, I looked out of the window and spotted a bright orange bird on a tree outside the house. An extremely skittish bird, the orange minivet was flying and hopping around branches. In an instant, the far away toucans from a different continent and hemisphere took a back seat, and came home the Orange Minivet.