A trip down memory lane: Sojat Road

A couple of years ago, I featured in a magazine article with another artist, Shruti Mahajan. While refurbishing my website, I chanced upon that article again. Her poignant re-creation of her childhood, led me down Sojat Road, Rajasthan- my nani’s home that I used to visit every summer as a kid. I love it when an artist can do that- make you look at their work- very personal reminiscences and make you take a trip down memory lane. In those days photography was not as rampant so I have to re-create this place in my thoughts and maybe someday on paper.

I remember… a large lawn with large trees with small white flowers that we plucked at 5am and wove into necklaces, a deep well that we used to remove water from to bathe in a large steel tub, those cobwebs in attics where everything was a treasure, the large coolers- that gave cool air and humidity, a typewriter on the second floor where we enacted plays that we scripted ourselves, jumping on rooftops playing hide and seek with cousins, trips to the market and hogs in the gutters on the street side, mosquito repellents and nets everywhere to save our tender city-skin. I recall that the first thing we saw when we woke up were peacocks, dancing on the rooftops where all the kids made their beds and the last thought at night being that I have never seen so many stars in the sky before- millions of them, twinkling. I recollect the taste of that early lunch made with fresh home-grown vegetables. I recall a man who came every evening at the same time to sell us fresh malai kulfi ice-cream and how all the neighbors used to gather if we played a movie on the television screen. I remember all the help, who were like family- drying papads, chilies and spices in the sun, cleaning, cooking and letting us children ‘help’ them.  

image credit

As I walk down this road in my head today, it invades my senses. I know when, if I go back- it will all be different. Some part evolution and some part recollections skewed from reality. Still, I look at kids today who will remember a childhood of IPad and X-box and I know I am fortunate to have what I do- even if it is just in my flailing memory.


Drawing is the most effective tool for an artist and the most often ignored as well. I know this is the most important skill that I will need to consistently develop, no matter what kind of art I make.’Why sketch?’. There are several abstract painters I know who only apply paint on canvas. After all paint is so delicious and gooey and delightful to work with. And other artists who seek inspiration in their surroundings, through fields of color and use sketching to inspire their painting. Sketching need not necessarily be to realistically depict that what is around you, but to interpret through drawings and movement of your arm- what your eyes see.

The analogy I love is that sketching is like building a scaffolding. It is the structure and support that is needed to begin working. It is what connects our brain and eye to our hand and produces a base to make art.

Here are some sketches that started at the location and were completed with the help of photographs as my subjects are always in motion. I used newsprint paper and any tool that I had at hand to draw with.


Art trading

One of the best parts of being an artist is that I don’t have a paucity of art in my own living space. I have recently found out, it does not always have to be my own work on my walls. As my art and my network of artists friends develops, I am able to find artists willing to exchange work with me.It’s pretty simple really, find artists and art you love, who in turn love your work; match approximate price points and approach.

1-Barlow Nelson is a silkscreen printmaker whose prints depict objects or images encountered in his ordinary activities. He uses the complex screenprinting process to express the interaction of shapes, space and bold colors. Barlow uses his unique attention to detail, technical precision and planning to generate his vibrant prints.  His facebook page can be found here.


Barlow Nelson, Lisse de feuillet, Silkscreen on paper


Tulika Ladsariya City Arising, Mixed media on canvas

2- Emily Rutledge is inspired by the haphazard visual fabric of life. Mangled handbills and posters form accidental collages. Tattered logos, text, and color collide. Marker tags and graffiti give a voice to those lacking one. Fragments of faces on torn scraps hint at the impermanence of life.

Emily Rutledge, Disorderly Conduct, Mixed media on cradled panel

Tulika Ladsariya, Bricks, Paint, Ink on brick

Thinking beyond the obstacles

As part of the Center Program at the Hyde Park Art Center,the initial feedback I received was- can you say what you want to say through more than just painting? This started me on a path of introspection- What would I make? Which medium? Why? How? What will be my challenges?The painting I was then working on was that of two laborers pulling- pushing a hand-drawn cart- a typical scene from the streets of Mumbai. To bring that ‘Haath gaadi’ to life was my first large-scale 3D challenge.

A Heavy Load, 2012 Acrylic on Canvas 40×30 in

1- I decided to first make a small scale moquette to see what parts I would need, so that I could fully understand the working of my cart. Using modeling wood strips, glue, ikea wheels, wooden skewers and wire clampers, I built my little prototype.

Miniature Haath-gaadi, wood scraps and Ikea spare parts

2- Garland, another colleague in the program, had seen my images of the cart and knew what I needed once I made the prototype. Also an artist, he collects items that he finds interesting. In this case it was a stretcher from World War II- used to haul the wounded for medical aid. He gave me the bars I needed to get started on the Haath Gaadi

3- I sent a picture of the wheels that I wanted and my father-in-law went and found them via a local dealer in Mumbai. The total weight for the two wheels was 25lbs and my sister personally carried them to Chicago.

4- Through a dialogue with my husband, he suggested, “Why not use the jute strings of your scaffoldings to tie the cart together? Will it hold?” The other side benefit of this method of was that I would be able to assemble and dissassemble it at will- without making any permanent holes in the individual parts.

5- A few trips to Home Depot had me learning about wood stains, metal bars, latches, jig saws etc and I was on my way. I took all the parts and assembled the cart at the location I was going to show the work. After hours of labor, my ‘Haath-gadi’ was complete.

Haath Gadi, 2012 Wood, Iron, Twine, Enamel, Ink

I think the lesson I learnt from this project was to think beyond the obstacles towards the larger picture. The more you focus on that, the more easily the small and insignificant hurdles resolve themselves.

Tips for your First show

‘Front & Center’ Group show, Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago
The first time- Clammy palms, accelerated heartbeat and a terrible itch in the back of the throat. The best way to combat the fear of your first art show (ahem, of course!) is to ‘Be prepared’. I compiled a short 10-point check list for before, during and after the show as a short reference guide.
1-      The basics: Though the onus of hanging the art is usually on the gallery- you need to make sure that the space is well lit, the work is hung straight and there is adequate space between paintings and the captions including prices are visible. A point to note is that the dimensions of the work need to be in HWD format (Height x Width x Depth) I am told by art curators that this is a dead give-away in terms of how professional you are.
2-      The Elevator pitch: It is always difficult to give words to art- after all shouldn’t your art be able to speak for itself? It doesn’t. The only way I have found to get this right is practice, practice, practice. Have a short and long version. In a session at the cultural center, Paul Klein suggested to practice on 8-year olds or on a person sitting next to you on the bus. They’re a captive audience, right? However, I would probably check when they plan to get off, so I can time my pitch accordingly.
3-      Know the FAQs and make sure you have thought through your responses. The ones I hear repeatedly- How long does it take you to make a painting? What techniques have you employed for this particular work? Who are your favorite artists? Why do you use the colors you do? What is your main source of inspiration? How many hours a week do you work? I also like to have a couple of interesting stories for each painting that can make it more engaging for the viewer.
4-      Promote, promote, promote: Send out a ‘Save the date’ 3 weeks prior, an invitation 1 week prior and a reminder the night before the show. Post status updates on facebook, create an event page, tweet every art site you can think of.  An old management adage says ‘It is better to apologize later, than ask for permission first.’
The big night
5-      Appear successful and approachable: it is important to remember that making art and showing it are very different things. Dressing in paint-splattered overalls for your openings is literally painting the picture of a starving artist. Even if you aren’t successful (yet), it’s easy enough to pretend to be. Chances are more people will want to own your work, if they think you’re already successful.
6-      Eavesdrop: Hang out in the shadows and hear what people have to say about your work, if they don’t know that you are the artist. This works pretty well in a group show. You can also note how much time on an average people spend looking at your art.
7-      Collect business cards: Stay in touch with the people who come for your show, not just those who buy your work. Besides the freeloaders (who just want the free wine and cheese), if someone has made the effort to come for your show, it’s probably because they like your work or want to support you. A show is about building a community of people interested in you and your work and business cards will help you retain that connection.
The aftermath
8-      Follow-up email: Make sure you send out a concise email to thank people for making it for your show or letting those who didn’t make it for the opening know how long the show will be running, so that they can have the opportunity to catch it later.
9-      Data analysis: Over time (typically 5-6 shows), you can use the data you have collected to try to get an idea about your market. These dynamics like- age of people who buy your work, how many artists vs collectors came for your show, countries where your show is more successful- will enable you to understand trends and make more concentrated marketing efforts in the future.
10-   Check your website statistics: Google analytics does a great job of not only showing the number of web-page hits, but which countries the people who reached your site are from or how many minutes they spent on a particular page. This can also be useful information to stow away for the future.
Every show is a learning experience and I find that I am much more calm and confident as the years go by… to the point I am almost excited about the opening night.

Experimenting once a week

As the weeks pass by, I have presented my projects and ideas at the center program I keep hearing similar suggestions.  Annie Morse suggested that we ‘Go outside your comfort zone/s. Use unfamiliar media; draw, sculpt, write, or move simply and freely without worrying about producing great work.’ Juan Chavez suggested ‘Your images are space driven- there is a simplicity and suggestion of movement. Can that be shown in another way? Take your concepts further to experiment with materials.’ 
I love the idea of a good challenge, but I didn’t want to upset my regular painting schedule too much. So, I decided to dedicate a few hours each Monday (M) to experimentation.

M1: Silkscreen
With the help of one of my friends, I figured out the facilities in the silkscreen studio and gave it a shot with one of my older artworks. I gave different backgrounds with watercolors and pastels to each image. This allowed me to re-create the image multiple times without it being too repetitive.

Man at work, Silkscreen on paper

M2: Sketching
I attended a life drawing class at the center. I enjoyed this so much that I later extended this to some plein air sketches as well. It was liberating to draw with my eyes.

Kachrawala, Ink on paper

M3: Photography
It was a beautiful, sunny day that I didn’t feel like spending indoors. I just got a couple of new lenses for my camera and this was the perfect time to experiment with them.

Wall under the El

M4: Building a moquette

Some feedback that I received suggested I try three-dimensional forms. So I collected some odd scraps and gathered some spare Ikea furniture parts and made a ‘haath gaadi’- a hand- drawn cart used by laborers to haul stuff around in India.

Miniature Haath-gaadi, wood scraps and Ikea spare parts

Though I am still working on my primary body of work, I find these exercises- trying something new- liberating and exhilarating. My goal is to primarily get out of my comfort zone, teach myself some new skills and simply have some fun.

Studio Notes: 1 Sept 2011

‘I’ve Arrived, 2011’ 22x28in Mixed Media on canvas

‘Lofty Assimilations’ almost done in Mumbai, now back in Chicago
After a successful show in Mumbai- in terms of press, critical appreciation and sales- I find myself back in my studio in Chicago sketching for my new body of work. I wanted to formulate an update for all my collectors, fans and friends in the form of a brief newsletter to keep you abreast about my work. You can now view the images from the opening night and the paintings in the show.
Publicity: The show was featured repeatedly in local forums like the ‘What’s Hot’ section in Bombay Times and highlighted with a brief interview on 11/8 in an article titled ‘How Fragile our city is’ by Ismat Tahseen. Other features included Inside Outside, Afternoon and India today. Internationally the exhibit was publicized in Art Knowledge News and I did a short interview with ‘Prerith’ an organization that show cases inspiring stories in various career fields, encouraging people to choose careers off the beaten track. 

What does the future hold? As I am left with very few paintings from my previous show which ends on 12th Sept, I look to further delve into the minds of immigrants- both blue and white collar, those who leave their village or their country and go to build the future of their dreams. Whether our aspirations are economical or fame-driven, we are constantly re-evaluating our concept of the word ‘home’. The primary question is whether this makes the world a smaller place or does it make the differences and disparities even more obvious?

Besides long hours in the studio and absorbing the art scene in Chicago, I will be volunteering for some teaching opportunities in Chicago. In December, I will conduct a mixed media workshop at Jamaat with children of the Sujaya Foundation. I will be showing my work in October for the Chicago Artists Month and shall be back in India for a show at the end of the year. I shall continue as Art Editor for ‘Urban Confustions’ a bi-annual publication to promote women authors, artist and poets across the globe. 

For any inquiries on my art, please feel free to contact Jamaat Art Gallery or me.

Lost, unfound

This month has been an action-packed one. A holiday and long hours to make up in the studio! I feel like I have too much going on in my head at the same time and that results in absent-minded actions. I misplaced some prized possessions and hence have been taking steps to become more ‘aware’ of my surroundings.

Jeans on bus-stop, Doll on street, key on sidewalk

One such effort has been to document random lost objects on the streets on my commute to the studio. I just photograph things that people seem to have dropped and forgotten and things that they might miss. Here are 3 of my favorites. I don’t displace the object- thinking that the disheartened owner might carefully try to retrace their route and come looking for it, like I did.

And the winner of the contest is…

What I enjoyed most, besides the number of entries I received, was that the sketch made people think, debate and respond.My idea was that of institutions that take creativity, color and sheer uniqueness and churn it into repetitive, boring sameness. A number of the entries I received came very close to my concept, so thank you everyone for taking the time to participate.The winning entry after much careful consideration is “Blend-un-bland” by Nitya Pillai. Congratulations, Nitya. You will hear from me shortly.

CONTEST: Title sketch and win

UNTITLED, Mixed media on water color paper

Giving a title to a work can be difficult- don’t want to make it too obvious, so as to take the mystery out of the visual, but at the same time nudge the viewer in the same direction as the artist. This time, I’m going to let you do it for me. This is a sketch made by me and I want you to come up with a title.

Step 1: Like and share my art page on facebook.
Step 2: Send me a ”Title” that you have come up with for the sketch by email

Reward: The title I like best or the one closest to my idea, wins. The sketch will be etched with your given title, framed and sent to you. So, be creative.
Email deadline: Midnight, 31 March11 Winner announced: 5 April 11