Saturday, February 28, 2009

Best Seats

A group of Tibetan Buddhist monks are invited by The Hampton Arts Commission/American Theater to town every August to create a sand Mandala. They start on a monday or tuesday, and  complete  it usually on the following saturday morning. On saturday around noon, to illustrate the Buddhist principle of impermanence of everything, the mandala is then ritually deconstructed, the sand gathered into a container, taken with fanfare in procession to the river where prayers are offered for peace and prosperity as the sand is released into the water.  It usually attracts a good crowd, and there are always many children.  The Monks also set up a table for a 'community mandala' where visitors  use the traditional instrument chakpu and participate in creating a mandala too as the monks continue to work on their intricate creation.  Its a wonderful week filled with cultural and spiritual programs -lectures, ritual dances and entertainment etc.   And I have hundreds of photographs taken over the years documenting their visits.  Since most of the monks are from my home state Karnataka in India, I do visit them often during the week and host a dinner one evening along with two my of my friends.  Its a treat as well as a meditation to watch them patiently and diligently 'paint' delicate, elaborately detailed, colorful mandala.  What serenity and discipline the monks exude as they construct the symbol rich mandala. 

Over the years,  I have been inspired to paint various scenes of mandala creation.  This past week I completed painting the children watching the monks pour the sand into the water. I used a bunch of photographs to sketch this scene. The only thing I really worried about when sketching and composing the scene two months ago was to get the proportions right.  Little did I realize that the scene was full of various textures to tackle! It turned out to be a meditative process for me as I figured out slowly over the past two months to use watercolors to paint hair (three kinds!), cloth, wood, siding, glass, shoe, reflection etc.  If I had been aware of the difficulties I would be facing as I sketched and planned the composition,  I would have never tried to paint it!  I am grateful that I persevered and completed "Best Seats" (20x15")

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Passion to Create

Today I spent my afternoon marveling very beautiful, extremely creative and colorful quilts at the "Mid Atlantic Quilt Show" in Hampton. The colors and textures in yarns and fabrics were indeed a feast to the eye and exciting to touch. The talent the quilters showed in selecting the materials and colors, designing the quilts, and the craftsmanship they displayed in sewing the pieces, without a doubt elevates them to status of artists. What I saw today is 'fabric art.' The pieces were truly innovative and labor of love. And the gadgets the vendors were selling were indeed fun to explore!
I have never quilted anything even though I have tackled various, often foolishly ambitious sewing projects over the years! But that was before I started painting. Unfortunately these days I rarely go to the sewing machine other than for repairs :( . The only quilt I have created is in watercolors in 'Welcome' (22x30"). I sketched the horse weather wane at an antique shop during a Dough Walton workshop a few years ago and decided to paint a quilt for the background. The resulting composition I think is whimsical. It was selected as a top piece of the week which made me very happy!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Artistic Vision

Another Place was painted using only three colors -red, blue and yellow - and of course, mixing blue and yellow gave me green. It was an exercise in using limited colors and painting an imaginary subject. Trying to conjure up a painting from my imagination was challenging - and I realized how few details of what I see and experience I commit to my memory. As a visual artist who paints, its crucial for me to able to see and look and look again so I can capture the essence of the subject on paper. Or so I thought until I read today in The New York Times an article 'In Blindness, a Bold New Vision' about the artist Mr.Bramblitt. It is astounding that even though he can neither see his subjects nor the colors on his canvas, rather than giving up painting he has reached new artistic heights. " It wasn't until I lost my sight that I became brave enough to fail." He has adapted to his blindness and has invented new ways of painting and identifying colors and conveying to viewers the shapes and colors he now perceives. The article concludes by mentioning that he may never regain his vision, but that he no longer views his blindness as a handicap. "Life for me now is way more colorful than it ever was."

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cabbage Concerto in Red

Giving a title to a painting is usually not easy for me and mostly I end up with somewhat bland explanatory ones.  When my children were still living at home, I often tried to recruit them  to help me out.  That was sometimes a perilous task - since I was never sure if their suggestions were  tongue-in-cheek! But they did come up with quirky, creative ones.  Cabbage Concerto in Red is done in watercolors and the title was courtesy of my son.  I think all those years of piano lessons didn't go to waste. 

Monday, February 16, 2009

Frequently Asked Question

One of the questions most frequently asked of an artist is 'How long does it take you to paint something?' I am someone who needs a lot of 'incubation period'! I will think about a subject, play around with composition in my head long before I even attempt to sketch or paint it. Even then, all that planning and thinking doesn't really guarantee that my painting will look like what I imagined it to be - and I get a surprise myself! Fortunately or unfortunately lots of them don't even make it to paper. And then there are some paintings which just pour out of my brushes as if they have a life of their own! Sometimes I will take a piece out years later and work on it some more to make it just right (or ruin it completely!) So, in my case, how long does it take is anybody's guess.

Flying Fun - (22" x 30") was on hold for many years. I had barely started it in a workshop by Doug Walton. I was at loss as to how to complete it then using what I had learnt during that week and struggled with it for a long time. Once every few months I would pull it out look at it and try to resolve it. Along the way the watercolor painting was transformed to a mixed media piece as I used crayons, pastels, acrylic and gouche. Meanwhile I painted two other paintings School's Out and Fishing Eyes using parts of this composition.
I realized how much of a luxury of time I have been enjoying as I watched a video Paintbrush in hand and Nothing to loose in New York Times web site on artist Cordula Volkening. Doctors have given Cordula Volkening, a Brooklyn mother of two, three months to live because of brain cancer. She has decided to forgo one more round of treatment. Rather than lose her ability to paint in the last few months of her life, she has found solace in painting. She is painting furiously so she can sell as many as she can with the proceeds going to her children.
I know I will now be painting with a renewed sense of committment as I keep her in my prayers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Drama and Splendor

We went to see an exhibit on photography by Ansel Adams yesterday at the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Newport News. He was a pioneer in photography and has captured the beauty of various places -most notably Yosemite National Park which he visited almost every year throughout his life. I read that he believed "place matters, the world around us is a marvel to behold and to respect and to honor." The 48 photographs were selected from the collection of The Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Redding, California. According to the exhibit notes, "It represents about two-thirds of a selection Adams made late in his life to serve as a succinct representation of his life’s work. He himself felt these photographs were his best. Called “The Museum Set,” it reveals the importance Adams placed on the drama and splendor of natural environments."

I post the above photograph as a homage to the master himself. It was taken a few years ago when our backyard was blanketed with a heavy snowfall. The sunrise was so beautiful across the river, over the snow covered trees and chairs on our deck - I am grateful I was there at the right time to capture the beauty.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Looking and Seeing

I did a blind contour drawing with a new twist. I followed Marvin Bartel's instructions for teaching children to draw and made myself a 'blinder buddy' -basically a sheet of paper through which a pencil has been pierced. This shielded completely my hand and the paper I was drawing on. There was no way to quickly steal glances at the drawing I was working on! I really liked sketching that way in a very mindful, deliberate manner and was pleased with the results. I hope to use it often in my practices.

I am still nursing my cold and have spent more time reading and surfing than painting. I came accross a study by scientists at British Columbia that looked into whether 'color can color performance or emotions.' According to the New York Times article 'if a new study is any guide, the color red can make people’s work more accurate, and blue can make people more creative.' And the article concluded by mentioning that the New York Times newsroom walls are all 'tomato soup red'! I also enjoyed listening to NPR's version of it. Now, I am leaning towards purple backgrounds to make me creatively accurate :)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Drawing from Memory

Yesterday, while searching for art exercise ideas, I wandered all over cyberspace for inspiration and stumbled upon a couple of wonderful sites. One of the ideas that appealed to me was drawing from memory. I learned that Leonardo Da Vinci recommended that artists review in their imagination the outlines of forms they had studied during the day.  In the same vein, Sir Joshua Reynolds told his students to draw from memory what they had previously drawn during the life class. Artist and educator Marvin Bartel has a wonderful site about teaching art and fostering creativity in children.  The exercises there are good for all artists.  

I then rummaged through my kitchen drawers and found a wine bottle opener to practice  a modified form of the exercise. I studied it for about a minute or so, hid it from my sight and then started drawing what I thought it looked like. I know I need to work on my  observational and memory skills! 

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Age Old Question

Early this morning, as on most days, I was listening to 'The Writer's Almanac' on NPR. Garrison Keillor was reciting a poem  "He Gets Around to Answering the Old Question" by Miller Williams  which ended with this stanza:

So now you have asked me the oldest question of all,
You want to know how I'm doing, I told you before,
I'm dying. Been at it for years. Still, I think 
I could hang a few more calendars on the door. 

This reminded me of a conversation my husband and his brothers had with one of their Uncles -whose portrait  'Narayan Mava' (color pencils 13 1/2" x 10 1/2") is today's post. Couple of summers ago they were visiting their uncle and one of them asked 'the age old question.'  When Uncle replied with a twinkle in his eye  "Sometimes I am not sure whether I am here or there' - one quick witted brother urged "Please Uncle, Just  be here more often than there!'  

This portrait was done using as reference a bunch of  photographs taken during that visit.  I wanted to evoke the feelings he expressed that evening. 

Monday, February 2, 2009


'School is out'  is a very special painting for me. Its one of my very first paintings and also my first 'sold' piece as well. Its always exciting to see it hanging in our friend's house whenever we visit them.   A few days ago when I was going through my sketches, I came across the photograph. I was delighted since I didn't remember documenting it.  

I am also very proud to share a first by my daughter - she filmed the Lion Dance Parade celebrating the Chinese New Year in New York city's Chinatown.  I think she did a great job! 
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