Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Sketching at a Kutcheri

The December music season is firmly under way and some of us have been approached to cover the concerts live through our sketches on location. I chose to start off by attending a Ranjani Gayatri concert last saturday at the Bharatiya Vidya bhavan. The place was packed to the gills and overflowing and here's the view from my seat. The sisters were kitted out in perfectly matched two-colour alternating sarees as is their usual style.

I also realised that the concert before it was a Veena recital by Geetha Krishnamoorthy. That was a bonus as two back to back vocal concerts would have been a little repetitive to sketch. The Veena is such a beautiful instrument.

I got in before the Veena recital and got a central spot and started off. It was really enjoyable as sketching and listening to Carnatic music are both pastimes that I enjoy so much! Inquisitive mamis to my right and left kept leaning over exclaiming over my sketches. It was fun! And as the evening wore on my hand freed up and I dashed off a study of H. Sivaramakrishnan, the Ghatam accompanist as well.

The sketch right at the top was actually my last and was thrilled to find it featured in the kutcheribuzz season blog . I hope I can squeeze in a few more such evenings.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Sunlight on Stone

A quick shadow study of the top of a monolithic Chola structure at Mamallapuram. It's locally referred to as the Ganesha Ratha but the figures and figurines on the top are very different from the usual Ganesha temples.
Like most other Chola architecture in the town, its a subtractive work - (instead of adding small blocks to make a building you subtract from one large chunk of rock to arrive at the end result). It was late afternoon and the sun was falling perfectly on the granite.
This was part of a day long trip that a bunch of us sketchers made. Much fun was had and many sketches were produced by one and all. If you'd like to see more work from the group at Mamallapuram you can check them out here.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Sketching is Not Allowed

I think it was roughly ten years back when, as students of architecture, we heard that the ASI had formulated a new rule saying sketching of heritage monuments is not allowed. I remember some of our Professors being outraged and several discussions ensued about signing petitions against this. I'm not sure if petitions were ever written or signed.

Last year at the Taj Mahal, I had a small pencil in my bag. I waited half an hour in the queue to get in and then was sent off to the lockers to stash my bag and come back. That was my mistake. After all it has World Heritage status and it is made of  white marble and already half a million idiots have defaced it. The authorities are understandably strict.

On Sunday I visited the five Rathas at Mamallapuram. Fine seventh century examples of subtractive architecture. Security is not as tight, and I got in with my sketchbook and pencils but before I could finish a rough pencil outline I was asked to stop. Knowing about the rule, I didn't argue but it got me thinking - what is the exact logic behind banning sketching. That too, rough impressionistic sketches like this one, where I sit quite far removed from the monument. What threat do I or my sketch pose to these monuments?

On the other hand I did notice several droves of families with half a dozen children in tow clamber all over the same, old structures. The surfaces have fine sculptures of figurines depicting mythological scenes and children are propped up on top of these sculptures - on the top of animal figures, on the shoulders of lords so that a photograph may be clicked. Apparently this is allowed and poses no threat to the severely wind eroded sculptures.

I feel we need to re-visit the petition idea. Anyway, after being booted out, I sat under a tree and finished as much as I could based on the rough sketch lines I already had, and once in a while walked back to the spot but just outside the fence to fill in a few details. Finally I finished the water colour wash on a pavement next to a shop. I was lucky to have another sketcher sketch me at this point! So if you are curious to see what I looked like with all my watercolour gear spread out on the sidewalk you can see the sketch here. I think this would be my very first on location drawing done at four different locations!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Golden Temple in Coorg

As you drive from Mysore to Madikeri, you pass by a small town called Kushalnagar next to which there is a large Tibetan settlement - Bylakuppe. Tibetans resettled here in 1961 on land given to them by the central government. An archway appearing on the left of the state highway and a small signboard are all you will see and its easiliy missed. But don't miss it if you are planning a trip to Coorg.

Go through the archway and there is an immediate and distinct transformation - the grass is literally greener on the other side. Gently rolling hills and vales, rolling paddy fields dotted with other cash crops, colourful prayer flags festooned over the entire vista and you really feel like like you've been transported through a magical portal into Tibet.

Bylakuppe houses the second largest Tibetan population in India after Dharamsala and if you like their cuisine and their crafts, this is a great place to go. The most popular destination for tourists is the Namdroling Monastery which has their Golden Temple.

The monastery is situated on a large campus and has many temples and shrines. The interiors are covered with huge wall paintings and large golden figures of buddhist saints. In one corner this small cottage-like structure caught my eye and I asked a shy young monk about it. I was told it houses some sacred relics and is kept locked but is one of the holiest spots in the campus.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Gowri Nivas - A home in Madikeri

I'm just back from a delightful and relaxing holiday in Coorg. As I wade through the piled up work I thought I'd better put down some nice memories before the stress of city living swallows me up completely.

After much pondering and googling we chose to stay at a house called Gowri Nivas which has 3 rooms on offer as a homestay. Looking back, I think we chose really well. The family that runs this cosy place are warm and welcoming hosts. Our rooms were in a cottage beside the main house and sitting on the verandah of our cottage the view towards the main house is the sketch you see above.

Gowri Nivas is a far more personal experience than anything you can get at a fancy hotel. For meals we walked up to the main house and chatted with our hosts. We felt a part of the family really, and yet, the rooms are beautifully done and every comfort attended to.

Another reason for choosing this place was because it was in Madikeri and would allow for leisurely walks exploring the town. Five minutes away is the Raja's Seat - a historical site where the king of Coorg used to watch the sunset. The spot really has fantastic views across the valley and I managed a quick colour sketch on a clear afternoon.

Another five minutes and you reach the city centre where, tucked behind the town hall is a cosy restaurant come coffee house called The Raintree. Decent food and a fantastic variety of coffee kept us going back there several times. The view out of the Raintree window encapsulates the general view you get all over the town - green slopes dotted with tiled roofs. Lot of concrete structures creeping up but at the moment the tiles still dominate - not sure for how long though.

Madikeri has a small fort at the centre of the town which is in a similar state of repair to the one here, or maybe slightly worse... if thats possible. As soon as you enter there's a church which houses the government museum! Display cases and panels are everywhere including the altar. The floor which might even have old memorial stones, is covered in a hideously patterned linoleum tile. After a quick walk around I couldn't stand it and was about to leave when the view going out the church door looked really interesting!
I went back after finishing the sketch to ask the lady inside what the name of the Church was... and she didn't know. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

The week and year that was

It's been quite a week so far - Madras week - and its also coinciding with the Chennai Weekend Artists (the group I sketch with every sunday ) completing a year! As part of Madras week we were invited to show our sketches as a group and have a discussion/ interaction with the public. During the Q&A session I was asked quite an interesting question by Ms Geeta Doctor - Why is it that we all sketch beautiful buildings and pretty scenes - isn't Madras also full of crowd and dust and isn't it about an interesting mix of cultures too? 

 It was a relevant question and I'm glad it was asked. As a group we have gone around sketching many different things that we consider part and parcel of life in our city. Yet, when we were told we could frame and display some of our prints, the tendency in all of us was to choose "the best" sketches, regardless of whether the variety in topic, style or in number of sketchers in the group was being truly showcased and represented. I think this is partly to do with all our ingrained conditioning of "what is good artwork".
Having brooded over it for a couple of days, I really feel now that location sketching is a completely different ball game. And the strength of going out in a group and doing this lies in the fact that there are so many people producing location sketches covering many styles and topics. I really feel strongly now that the biggest strength of CWA is its variety and not its prettiest pictures. 
I took a look at myself too and realised that several of my location sketches never make it on my own blog! How snobbish of me! So here is a small sampling of a few that are not pretty pictures - they are just quick sketches done in the past year showing Madras, its people, its animals and objects doing what  they do. 

I've also realised that I am so much more comfortable drawing static things that don't move - but its difficult to capture the flavour of a city with such limited skills. The coming year is all about improving my people/ crowd drawing skills. Wish me luck.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Celebrating Madras

It's Madras Week and yesterday I went for an early morning heritage walk inside Fort St. George. The first sketch is a commemorative Cupola named after Cornwallis. Its the first thing you see after you come in through the ramparts. The next sketch is St Mary's Church- the oldest in Madras (Santhome and Luz were re-built I think, otherwise they would be older.

The Fort was established in 1639 and marks the entry of the British into India. Not something to be terribly proud of but history nonetheless. The number of old and significant heritage buildings within this tiny fort are amazing. Unfortunately, the state assembly is within the Fort despite so many efforts to get it out, so it's a high security area - with polititians, public servants, army and Navy presence. We were scanned and frisked and the heritage structures are deserted, visitors are not encouraged.

Our guide for the walk was Vincent D'souza - very animated and full of tongue in cheek jokes. It was not my first time in the fort, I had been there several times during my thesis research but thanks to Vincent, I saw a few corners I hadn't seen before. All these sketches were done extremely fast. We were warned not to fall back from the group as the police may pick on us and throw us out! I had a tiny Brahmabook - 4 inch square. So the sketches are in reality the actual size that you are seeing them at - 4x4.


Monday, 10 June 2013

Tomba conducts a workshop for Perch

Perch has begun work on a new production and to kick-start the whole process we were lucky to get Heisnam Tomba to come and conduct a ten day workshop. Seven days are now over, and yesterday, just to make it a little more fun and document the process in a whole new way, I had suggested to the PencilJammers group that we meet at the workshop and sketch the actors.

There were nine of us "sunday morning sketchers" who assembled and watched the workshop, sketching furiously, trying to keep pace with the fast and smooth movements happening in front of us. There were warm up exercises, body posture and balance exercises, coordination with sticks, and a whole set of breathing and voice exercises.

The actors looked like they were having a lot of fun. It was both intense and at the same time so interesting and playful. At times the sketchers forgot to sketch and became engrossed in the action. And finally at the end all the actors and sketchers met and mingled marvelling aloud at each others skills. 

It was an interesting and enriching collaboration, and hopefully a wide selection of sketches will be posted on Perch's facebook page soon so you can look out for it here.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

A happy birthday

No, no, not mine. It was my father's birthday last sunday. And being his first birthday since retirement, what better way to spend it than sketching with him! We were a small group and the amethyst cafe was an excellent choice. They just let you be for hours and hours. Leisurely sketching, a birthday cake, a slow family lunch - good stuff!

Thursday, 16 May 2013

A sketch exchange

I'm taking part in a sketch exchange organised by Kip Bradley who is a fellow urban sketcher. He organised one on Flickr a few months ago and I missed out on that one so this time was quick to put my hand up.
It basically works like this: a whole bunch of people volunteer to take part and once the numbers are finalised, Kip sends each of us a personal message with an address in it and a deadline by which to send your sketch to that address.

The theme was to sketch cultural markers of place rather than landmarks or architectural markers. I've always been fascinated with Kolams and how effortlessly my mother and grandmothers could do these.

I put this  sketch in the mail today. I am not supposed to disclose who I am sending this to and I have no idea who's sketch I will receive in return but there are 24 participants from 13 countries so its exciting!
If you want to know what I get or where this sketch of mine went, watch out for comments to this post later.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

A Trip to the Zoo

This sunday the penciljammers in Madras decided to meet at Vandalur Zoo. I hadn't been there in almost twenty years and only hazily  remembered a vast scorching expanse of tarmac more than anything else. Thankfully in the past two decades the trees have grown.
Most animal enclosures are reasonably generous with a lot of trees and shade for the animals. People can't get too close with double lines of fencing and walls and then moats. So we sort of squinted and approximated and sketched what we could. 

The weather was merciless. Thankfully Nithya hit upon an idea of hiring one of the battery operated vans exclusively for the sketching group. We had it for only one hour and had to do the whole circuit and be back within that time, so when we saw something interesting we would all hop out yelling to the driver "just two minutes" and mostly we were back in the van in five minutes and off again. 

 It was unimaginably crowded and most people had never seen sketchers before so we sometimes attracted more attention than the animals.  I had taken 4 water brushes with pre-mixed colours filled in it so that I could sketch and paint quickly standing up. It worked out well except the colours were a bit diluted and I had a very limited colour palette to work with. But it sure beat lugging my entire kit around in the heat!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Happy Labour Day

As luck would have it, I just did this sketch last sunday. How appropriate and convenient to post on Labour Day. The statue on the left is one of the northern-most along the Marina and a personal favourite. Its called the Triumph of Labour.

The grand looking building at the back is the University Senate House built in the 1870s by Robert Chisholm. It has beautiful proportions, intricate ornamentation and chettinad egg plastered walls that are as smooth as polished stone.

Crumbling and neglected for many years, it was restored at great cost with the help of INTACH and conservation architects a few years back. A lot of people came forward and supported this. The idea and the hope was to see it being used again, opened out to the public for exhibitions and gatherings. But now that the restoration is complete it is back in the hands of the Madras University and it's hierarchical power structure. I hope that at least interested public are allowed to visit in the future

The TV tower seen behind everything is from the good old days of Doordarshan.

It was blisteringly hot that morning and I huddled under the shade of a tiny hand cart which was closed and boarded up. This time I got a lot of interesting comments from passersby who were free and happy with their advice. Someone asked if he could take my picture. I asked if he wanted a picture of me or the sketch and he said "of you doing the sketch". Thank you.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Hotel DuParc

In the 17th Century, in the heart of the French quarters of Pondicherry, this house called Villa Selvom was built as an annexe to the French Governor's residence. It has changed hands many times since and has now reinvented itself as Hotel DuParc - a compact and cosy boutique hotel. I stayed there for a couple of days and it was a treat. The location is the best part of it, as you walk out of the gate and find yourself a stones throw away from the ashram, the park the beach and the bazaar.

Like most old residences of the French quarters, you step through an archway in a high compound wall and into a lovely little tropical courtyard full of potted plants and large flagstone paving. The polished cement pots were of an aquamarine colour - this sketch doesn't do them justice. This is the view from my room on the first floor.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Unidentified Yellow Object

This sketch was done just a couple of buildings down from my previous post. It is less about the building and  focuses more on the machinery which fascinated me. The scale of all these assorted cranes, drilling cabling, hissing machines which move with their own slow purposeful rhythms is quite something. This one had two large cylindrical spools. One with a pair of articulated chains and the other with a fat cable.

One tends to forget that it is operated by a tiny human sitting somewhere in it's bowels. In any case we can't see him or the other hundred helmet-clad individuals who are working under grueling conditions when we usually whiz past the barricades on this stretch of Mount road. 

In the hope of making this post more interesting I endlessly searched the web to try to identify this machine coming up with more and more hilarious search phrases but I just couldn't identify it. If anyone knows what this thing is called please do let me know!

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Higginbothams.....What looms ahead?

Last sunday morning I managed to sketch something I've been meaning to capture for a long time now. On the arterial and busy Mount Road there has been hectic construction activity for the last couple of years as Chennai hopes to have the first phase of its Metro Rail Project up and running by year end.

Mount Road is one of the five old arterial roads radiating outward from Fort St George, it was a major road when Madras was the capital of the British colony of India and still has several old buildings on it. Hopefully the metro rail in this area will be completely underground and one hopes further that the structures put up as station entry and exit points are done sensitively keeping heritage structures in mind. One can only hope, though, as such plans are not very openly shared in the public realm in this country.

I had particularly wanted to draw this building - Higginbothams - as it is India's oldest bookshop in existence. Yes, that is right! Built in 1844, it has stood to this day housing books of all kinds and even until twenty five years ago it was the place to go to for book lovers.

Soon after it was built, Lord Trevelyan, who was the Governor of Madras wrote :
"Among the many elusive and indescribable charms of life in Madras City, is the existence of my favourite book shop 'Higginbotham's' on Mount Road. In this bookshop I can see beautiful editions of the works of Socrates, Plato, Euripides, Aristophanes, Pindar, Horace, Petrarch, Tasso, Camoyens, Calderon and Racine. I can get the latest editions of Victor Hugo, the great French novelist. Amongst the German writers, I can have Schiller and Goethe. Altogether a delightful place for the casual browser and a serious book lover"

Today, digital technology, the internet, e-books, the ipad and the kindle are elbowing out the good old paperback while at the same time, over-crowded cities bursting at the seams and choked with traffic jams are trying to magically bring in the infrastructure that was never planned for.

Lets hope the metro project has been planned well. Lets hope the project is completed despite whatever the result of the next election, and lets hope it works beautifully for the citizens of this city.

Monday, 1 April 2013

A messy kitchen

Yup. That's a messy sketch of my messy kitchen. I bought a set of markers a while ago and this sunday I wasn't able to go outdoors to try them out. I realised that the vanishing point for the door and the sink are not the same but alas! This is not graphite. No erasing.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Revisiting an old spot

Summer is back, and any outdoor sketching needs to happen early. I attempted a different view of the famous Gandhi statue this time but was interrupted at 8 am when the sprinklers came on.  I wasn't the only one. A group of men doing the sarvangasana in front of me all came toppling down too!