Thursday, December 30, 2010

Universal Acceptance

At the Art Institute of Chicago, digital Photography by Meera Rao

Newly opened in May 1893 as the Permanent Art Palace, now known as the Art Institute Chicago was used as the World's Congress during 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The World Parliament of Religions opened on September 11, 1893 with Swami Vivekananda from India giving one of the inaugural addresses in the Hall of Columbus. In the next two weeks Swami Vivekananda drew the largest crowds of the World Congress 's meetings.  108 years later, on September 11, 2001 another key historical moment shook the world.  Jitish Kallat's Public Notice 3  a site specific installation at the Art Institute of Chicago connects the two historical events.  The Art Institute web site explains : With Public Notice 3, Kallat converts Vivekananda’s text to LED displays on each of the 118 risers of the historic Woman’s Board Grand Staircase of the Art Institute of Chicago, adjacent to the site of Vivekananda’s original address. Drawing attention to the great chasm between this speech of tolerance and the very different events of September 11, 2001, the text of the speech will be displayed in the colors of the United States’ Department of Homeland Security alert system. Opening on September 11, Public Notice 3 explores the possibility of revisiting the historical speech as a site of contemplation, symbolically refracting it with threat codes devised by a government to deal with this terror-infected era of religious factionalism and fanaticism. 

I shot the photograph above showing the staircase as I walked away  from it towards the Asian Gallaries -- I loved how the words and statues of Buddha reflected on the glass doors.  Below is Swami Vivekananda's speech that Jitish Kallat converted to LED display on the stairs: 

Sisters and Brothers of America,
It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.
My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration. I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: "As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee."
The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me." Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.

I pray for  peace, tolerance and universal acceptance in 2011 and beyond.  Happy New Year !

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Home For the Holidays

Home For the Holidays  watercolor on Yupo 14x11"

And the rug was vacuumed just in time :) Our suitcases all have a red ribbon to make it easy to identify them.  So, for me it is really very appropriate: any time we go home to India to visit our family there, return from India to our home here and when our kids come home - thats all a  precious gift!  This holiday season I wish everyone a happy, healthy, prosperous and peace filled times with your family and friends! 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Grand Spaces

Sketches from a lunch time concert in Chicago
 The Tiffany Dome at Chicago cultural Center
Chicago Cultural Center interior

I had ducked into the Chicago Cultural Center to warm myself up on my way to the Chicago Art Institute from my hotel on that bitterly cold morning last month but ended up spending most of the day there exploring the art that hung in the galleries and corridors and stayed on to listen to a lunch time concert of Jazz songs. The impressive building completed in 1897 was originally the public library as well as a memorial to Civil War Union Army Veterans. The rare imported marbles, polished brass, gorgeous hardwoods, and sparkling mosaics of Favrile glass, mother of pearl, gold leaf, and colored precious stones bring to mind palaces but themes relating to books, printing and authors in various vast light filled spacious rooms remind you that this was really built as a temple of knowledge! I was also dazzled by the third floor - most dramatic place with walls covered by sparkling mosaics and topped with the world's largest  Tiffany Dome of 30,000 pieces of glass! 

The exhibits that were showcased there for December were impressive too. Polaridad Complementaria: Recent works from Cuba had cutting edge paintings, drawings, sculptures, video etc from Cuba's contemporary artscene. Another exhibit by Chicago artist  Jeff Zimmermann : God particle   was large scale murals of pop culture and dramatic portraits. The artist had spent a month publicly painting the murals on the walls of the Gallery!   

It doesn't take much for me to plunge into existential angst about my art and after seeing all the creativity there I had a hard time opening my sketch book but I did and filled a few pages with my humble drawings.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Science, Math and Art

Mirror #10 Sketch Mirror
 Snow Mirror 2006 
Darwinian Straw Mirror 2010
Each of the above photograph is my portrait -amazing interactive imagery with custom software, video camera projector and silk screen courtesy of    "Contrast: Interactive Work by Daniel Rozin"  - an installation at the Chrysler Museum of Art at Norfolk, VA.   The museum web site explains : "Daniel Rozin's work combines art, technology — and the viewer — to create a distinctive artistic experience. Though computers and machinery play a key role in his digital interactive installations, the science behind the work is seldom visible. The idea is to create works that not only incorporate change and movement, but that also respond to viewers in real time. Thanks to the use of video projection and sophisticated programming, visitors can become part of the art, or the art can change based on the movements or perspective of the viewer. Part sculpture, part mirror, part screen, his works often defy easy categorization,"  It was truly a surreal experience to see my image emerge, change, and dissolve and emerge again as I moved about.  And there was so much laughter, excitement and child like sheer pleasure at the gallery  as each of us -viewers- discovered we were the ones creating 'art' in there :) 

Speaking of science and math and art, two days ago I watched a Nova program on PBS on Fractals and once again mesmerized by the beauty in math, science and nature.  I have been googling Fractals to learn more about it - I had come across it a few years ago and continue to be fascinated by the phenomenon and the designs they create :)

And one more link : check out some wonderful quirky artsy math doodling of Vi Hart and explore her website.

So, naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller fleas that on him prey;
And these have smaller still to bite 'em,
And so proceed ad infinitum.
—Jonathan Swift, from "On Poetry: A Rhapsody"

Monday, December 13, 2010

Drawing on the Go

view from the bus pencil sketch 
Foot-rest   pencil sketch 
Sleeping Passenger pencil sketch
Trips - planned as well as unexpected ones left me with not much time to paint. I managed a few sketches here and there. I sketched a few sleeping passengers on train and on planes -but, was excited when I found an empty seat right behind the driver on my way back home! Finally a different view to  draw :) Other than the cars on the road and the wind shield wiper, things stayed the same long enough for me to put it down on the paper. The sketch looks darker on the right hand corner because of the creases caused when I tried to rescue the small sketch book that was slipping off my lap as the bus bounced along!  The lady in the next row shook her shoes off and kept her feet on her suitcase just long enough for me to draw them. I am pleased that I found some different things to sketch this time. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Negative Drawing

sketch of a sculpture;  white prismacolor pencil on black paper

In the sculpture galleries at the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk,  I came across a drawing station that had a supply of black paper on a clip boards, a box full of white prismacolor pencils and an open invitation to draw the the sculptures.  I couldn't resist it. So here is my rendition of Little Peasant or First Grief   a sculpture by Erastus Dow Palmer (1817-1904). I loved the beautiful girl and the haunting expression on her face.  I was curious as to why the sculpture was titled First Grief and research revealed that : This statue, also known as Little Peasant, depicts an incident in the life of one of the sculptor's daughters, who had avidly followed the hatching and rearing of a nest of birds, only to be overcome with grief when the fledglings departed. Palmer, who was self-taught, was among the first American sculptors to break with the prevailing neoclassical style and adopt a more naturalistic approach.  Here is an article on the Erastus Dow Palmer that appeared in New York Times in 1896 when he was seventy nine years old. 

It was pretty challenging to draw with white pencil on black paper and I had to make a conscious effort to reverse the normal way of drawing, remembering to draw the light and highlights and leave the shadow areas black :) I enjoyed the impromptu exercise very much and  hope to go back and sketch more of the sculptures.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Appropriate Subject for Work of Art

The Stacks digital photography

I went to the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA to see "London Calling: Victorian Paintings from the Royal Holloway Collection."  It was a wonderful treat to see the paintings in the collection -most by painters who were unfamiliar to me.  Here is what the website said:  "The collection on display at the Chrysler ranges from wall-spanning masterpieces to contemporary street life scenes; from landscapes or marine studies to great historical events. It's an exhibition of great depth and scope, and it's the first time it has been on display outside of England."  

Some of the sixty or so paintings touched my heart more than the others.  'Applicants for Admission to casual Ward ' 1874 -(oil  95.8" x 53.9")  by Sir Luke Fildes is about  poverty that was the result of Industrial Revolution in Britain. I was taken aback when I read the curator's notes next to the painting : "Although Filde's painting created a popular sensation at the Royal Academy in 1874, critics were divided as to whether so direct a confrontation with human misery was an appropriate subject for work of Art."  I am glad artists don't think so and Goya, Picasso and many many others felt a moral obligation to record the atrocities big and small.  Paintings by Sir John Everett Millais of  very young princes and princess caught in the middle of fierce politics or of the young girl being punished in Sympathy by Briton Riverie are indeed gems that evoke a strong reaction from the viewer.

I also became aware of the dark periods in history that I had not come  across in my readings until now: in John Baghold Burgess's  Licensing of Beggars in Spain, Edwin Longsden Long's The Supplicants: Expulsion of Gypsies from Spain  and other paintings by various artists about prison life, of Babylonian marriage market, of kidnappings of young males for the army etc.! It was interesting to read about another painting An Anxious Moment  that critics of Briton Riverie accused him of 'anthropomorphizing' the animals in his works! There were a also few stunning landscapes and marine paintings. I wish I could write about each of sixty paintings in the show because of how they opened my eyes to history, hardships, beauty and nature. My knowledge about artists and critics is surely much broader than before.

On lighter note, as I was leaving the museum just before closing, the Court area near the entrance was being transformed to host a wedding. The setting sun was streaming over the chairs stacked up high ready to be taken down and lined up for the guests. Of course, I couldn't resist whipping out my camera.  

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Aspen on Asphalt  color pencils sketch

Giving thanks for the moment is the only way to glimpse eternity.

-Meditation from Seville, Spain

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Moral Function of Art

                                  Last off the Vine  watermedia sketch

Artists make pictorial records of events, emotions, feelings. Some of us try to sketch the simple beauty of mundane, everyday things. But today, I read an article and saw a slide show of something that moved me beyond words. "When he was only in his 20s Ernest Cole, a black photographer who stood barely five feet tall, created one of the most harrowing pictorial records of what it was like to be black in apartheid South Africa. He went into exile in 1966, and the next year his work was published in the United States in a book, “House of Bondage,” but his photographs were banned in his homeland where he and his work have remained little known." Thus began a article in New York Times :  Homecoming For Stark Record of Apartheid.  The accompanying slide show of Mr. Cole's black and white photographs are so very powerful- they  shock, anger  and deeply distress the viewer.  And as the author Celia W Dugger writes, 'Mr. Cole’s captions and photographs are imbued with wrenching emotions.'  On checking his biography I discovered that he  dedicated his life to record and show the world the injustices and exploitation of segregation. But he paid a heavy price for his work and died young, a homeless man and in exile.  

If and when there is an American tour of Cole's photographs, I hope to be able to view it in person.    Coincidentally, over at Katherine A Cartwright's blog, there is a lively debate going on the 'moral function of art.'  She has been reviewing John Dewey's 1934 book "Art as Experience."  She writes that 'it all began with a statement by John Dewey: the moral function of art itself is to remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils due to wont and custom, and perfect the power to perceive.'  I think Ernest Cole's photographs do all that and much more.  

Friday, November 12, 2010

Giving Thanks

To Friendship Digital Photography

On Nov 18, I will mark the second anniversary of my blog - two years of sharing my art.  Posting my art this way has forced me to paint & sketch more often and much more regularly than before. But the unexpected benefit has been the friendships I have formed. A big heartfelt  'Thank you' to all who have visited the blog, to all who have taken the time to leave comments, to everyone for giving me encouragement, support and inspiration :) - I am grateful!

And a special thanks to Patricia Torres, who today has featured my artwork in her blog Colours Dekor.  I am happy to be a small part of her wonderful efforts. I was truly flattered when she asked :) Please click on her name or the blog for a look at how she seeks out color, beauty and creativity from all corners of the world.

"I can no other answer make, but thanks and thanks! " -William Shakespeare 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What Matters Next

Color Burst watercolor 12x9"

Last thursday was TEDxNASA at Newport News, VA which I attended- thanks to good friends who helped us get the tickets. It was  such an inspiration to hear speaker after speaker with all the wonderful ideas. I came back charged with enthusiasm and motivation.  But, having not painted for close to a month because of trips, Deepavali Celebrations, mundane catch-ups, etc.. I realized my painting muscle memory was missing! This is my third attempt at painting the same flower in one day - the flower that had graced our garden this summer and gave me so much pleasure.  I was frustrated by the difficulty I was having in moving paint. The montval paper I usually enjoy painting on was not behaving in its usual way - I found the paper tearing very easily. I am wondering if it is the temperature fluctuations in my over the garage studio or if I had purchased a bad lot.  At the end of the day I was glad to have persevered and put in a few solid hours of playing with my brushes, paint and water. In a way, the theme of the TEDxNASA - 'What matters Next'  seemed to  resonate- what matters is that I keep painting, sketching and doing art :) 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Magical Beauty

Rainbow Sendoff  Digital Photography

Flight delays were worth it when I looked out the window soon after settling in my seat - double rainbows actually - and I was able to capture at least one by the time I fished out my camera.  I love the   image with the blurry colors and shapes and the rain drops on the window pane. 

I have been home for a week now,  enjoying the trip all over again going through the hundreds of photographs. As I was looking at the pictures, I was reminded of artist and photographer Vik Muniz's words in a New York Times article Where Art Meets Trash and Transforms Life I had just read couple of days ago : "The real magical things are the ones that happen right in front of you. A lot of time you keep looking for beauty, but it is already there. And if you look with a bit more intention, you see it." Vik Muniz's exceptional creativity, art and photography are legendary. The article talked about his newest project "Pictures of Garbage" series -monumental photographic portraits made from trash, and a documentary "Waste Land" about making of the series- -a collaboration with the garbage pickers of Jardim Gramacho, a 321 acre open-air dump outside Rio that is one of the largest landfills in Latin America. I am very touched to know that he has devoted his time and money to non-profits that provide education and job training for street children and was recently honored as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. A clip of the the documentary in the NYT website shows the scale and  the unusual and surprising materials he uses to make the portraits. It was International Artists Day on Oct 25 (Picasso's B'day), and  I celebrate it by giving a shout out to artist Vik Muniz.  

Monday, October 25, 2010

Art Surprises

Partial view of Bellagio, Las Vegas  3.5"x11"

Waiting for the spectacular water fountain show in front of Bellagio I sketched the wings of the massive hotel/casino building from across the body of water.  I have a small sketch book  (3.5x5.5" )which easily fits into my purse and is handy for fast little sketches, even though, as I recently discovered, it  is difficult to photograph. Still, I love it because I tend to pull the book out more often as I find myself getting a little bolder about sketching in public. Next step is to equip myself with a small watercolor field kit and try my hand at doing small studies -until then I will happily play with my camera :) The Bellagio also has a beautiful glass ceiling installation by the artist Dale Chihuly in their lobby and a chandelier in the casino area. I also saw an exhibit  there : 'Figuratively Speaking: A survey of the human form'  showcasing about 30 paintings, drawings, photographs, sculpture by artists from 1800 to present day. I enjoyed  the unexpected opportunity to see the works of Picasso, Renoir, Degas, Hockney, Lichenstein, Chuck Close, and others. 

Closer to home, I have two color pencil pieces - Hot Shadows and Reflections in the 'Small Works : Miniatures by Hampton Roads Artists' at the Charles Taylor Arts Center/The Hampton Arts Commission, Hampton, VA.  The opening yesterday was fun and the show will run through Dec. 5.    

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Gambling Life

Casino sketches 
Rather than play and gamble at the casinos in Las Vegas, I sat just outside the halls and spent a little time sketching the slot machines etc and as usual clicked away merrily with my camera. May be,  if I wasn't so terribly allergic to cigarette smoke and perfumes, I might have spent more time and money inside the casinos:), but this gave me a chance to wander around the strip with my camera outdoors. It was my first visit to the amazingly surreal city where it is a fine line between what is real and make-believe; where Italy, Paris, New York and Treasure Island all are right next to each other; where Michael Jackson, Wonder Woman, Elvis and space aliens roam the streets making you wonder if you are in a dream!!!. We enjoyed a couple of  amazing and excellent shows - La Reve and  The Jersey Boys. My body being in Eastern Standard Time, woke up every morning to breathtaking view of desert sunrise and distant mountains in the background and I had to make an effort to stay past 8PM there to see the city-lights and life at night :). I could see the truth in Artie Lange's  quote: " Vegas means comedy, tragedy, happiness and sadness all at the same time."  

Friday, October 15, 2010

Determination and Perseverance

Chicago Maraton Runners  Digital photography

I remember reading a running poster that proclaimed " The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on running." (google search said it is by Nike). That was true this past Sunday in Chicago, as the temperatures soared to 90F during the marathon. Once again, I am extremely proud and in awe of my son and daughter-in-law, who despite the unseasonably hot day, ran and completed their second marathon! They ran, and we cheered - cutting across to various points along the course to catch up with them - at one point even taking a cab to beat them to the 21 mile marker :) - and of course, took too many photographs! 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Shadow Ladders

Shadow ladder  digital photography

Between the idea 
And the reality
Between the motion 
And the act 
Falls the shadow 
-T. S. Eliot

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Vibrations in the Soul

Vibrations in the Soul watercolor 12x9"

"Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul. " -Wassily Kandinsky

Recently I read about Kandisky and loved what he had to say about color, art and music. Kandinsky felt  "music is the ultimate teacher" and  thought of art and colors in musical terms calling his paintings "improvisations" and "compositions." He said he heard chords and tones as he painted colors - a condition known as synesthesia.  For him "color yellow was middle C on the piano or a brassy trumpet blast; black is the color of closure, end of things.." and "white acts like a deep and absolute silence full of possibilities." 

There is a fascinating article in Discover magazine from some time ago that asks "Are We all Synesthetes? - Hear a painting, taste a symphony, and smell a color - is that what we do subconciously?"  I like that :) 

During the summer, I attended a concert where the musicians were making music under a tent on a very bright beautiful day. I could only see the musicians near the edge of the tent and catch glints of sunshine on the instruments deeper inside.  "Vibrations of the soul"  was painted with memories from that day. 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Right Brain, Left Brain

watercolor on 140lb cp 9x12"

watercolor on Yupo  7x11"
I often switch between left brain and right brain ways when I plan and paint trying to find order as well as spontaneity. In that vein, I did a side by side comparison of watercolor on cold press and Yupo.  Layering paint is fun on cold press where as it is very difficult and slow process to layer on Yupo. The colors dry lighter on cold press and hues are pure and brilliant on yupo. It is very easy to take off paint from yupo since it is a non-absorbant surface. I washed the paints off three times before I settled on this Yupo version (half heartedly). On cold press, it is crucial to plan and save the whites early on.  The slick surface of Yupo requires different techniques than the regular watercolor paper. I discovered erasing on yupo paper makes it harder for the paint to adhere.  Another difference is yupo needs to be on a flat surface while painting since the paint moves freely-which also means that one can tilt the paper to get different mixes and effects. I have to use thick paint with little water to have definite detailed shapes on yupo and spraying with water mist gives it wonderful textures. For other kinds of texture I have also tried laying balled up plastic wrap or blotting paper towel on wet paint.  Removing or adding paint by using stencils, cheese cloth, gives beautiful shapes.  I can see myself continue my experiments and playing around with resists etc.  :)

Deconstructing and reconstructing art work is a preoccupation for me as I try to figure out the artistic and technical aspects to help me with creations. I happened upon this quirky TED video of Ursus Wehrli sharing his version of  cleaner, more organized 'tidier art' in a very funny unconventional way :) Enjoy a different take on creativity :) 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Each to Her Passion

Pandora Sphinx Moth digital photograph
A few mornings ago I found this beautiful moth on the our front porch wall when I went out to get the paper.  I had never seen anything like it before and watched it mesmerized. I then ran inside to grab my camera hoping it will still be there when I got back.  I loved the combination of olive green and the pink and the beautiful delicate markings.  Googling moths, I discovered its name and information. The adults feed on nectar and prefer flowers that open at night and are sometimes seen on petunias. That explained the moths presence - there was a basket of petunias by the door :).  Apparently the larvae feed on grape leaves and virginia creepers --and we do have virginia creepers in our yard. Their  coloration is  so much like camouflage military fatigues that I am sure its very easy to not 'see' these in the garden. In fact I think their shape resembles one of those military aircrafts too!  The scientific name is Eumorpha pandorus and  informed me  that 'eumorpha' in Greek means 'fair of form' and the species name pandorus means 'giving all' or 'given all.'  Apparently the larvae look like sphinx  -now I am really curious - I will have to look harder in the garden.  As artists, I think our obsessions, compulsions and how much time and energy we devote to art, seems to have something in common with the moths, as expressed by Helen Hunt Jackson:
Bee to blossom,
Moth to flame,
Each to his passion. 

Friday, September 24, 2010


Reflections color pencils 4x4"
I have been planning and sketching. I discovered those sketches don't show well in photographs.  Fortunately I still have a couple more finished pieces from way back when -except they are under glass, framed and sealed :( These wooden spoons and tin mugs with reflections caught my eye in Colonial Williamsburg 'market place' many years ago and I tried them out in color pencils on tinted paper. It is a small piece framed and under glass-too well sealed- which once again I had difficulty photographing.  I welcome any suggestions, tips and tricks from fellow artists - what are your experiences and solutions for photographing issues?

I came across a very interesting story in the blog  "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin.  She calls the story a Koan on creativity and credits it to Arthur Koestler's book  "the Art of Creativity' :  " An art dealer (this story is authentic) bought a canvas signed "Picasso" and traveled all the way to Cannes to discover whether it was genuine. Picasso was working in his studio. He cast a single look at the canvas and said:"its a fake." A few months later the dealer bought another canvas signed Picasso. Again he travelled to Cannes and again Picasso, after a single glance, grunted "Its a fake"   "But cher maitre" expostulated the dealer, "it so happens that I saw you with my own eyes working on this very picture several years ago"  Picasso shrugged: "I often paint fakes"

Gretchen's comments in that blog really resonated with me. She asks- "Do you know this feeling, feeling of painting your own fake?"  I always worry about painting pieces that don't quite feel authentic or that I did not perhaps give my best.  Now I know the perfect answer for those doubts :).  Of course, that question will be included in the ones I often ask as I evaluate my finished painting.  I am also eager to  read Koestler's book "the Art of Creativity"

Friday, September 17, 2010

Courage to Transform

Koi watercolor on Yupo 11"x14
I have been wanting to paint Koi for years.  I find myself watching them for hours whenever I see them in a pond and admire their shape and colors! I also have way too many photographs of them :)  It was a lot of fun to paint the koi because the Yupo paper easily duplicates their bright colors. Surprisingly this time, I found myself working hard to tone down some of the texture in water in the composition so it won't compete so much with  colorful koi yet would show movement.  I think I need to work on couple of paintings at a time when painting on yupo -that will give each piece time for the paint to dry before I put the next layer!  There is a shine to the paper, and I find the photographs do not do justice to bright colors! 

As I was researching information about Koi in between painting them I found myself torn between really keeping to a particular fish's colorations and markings or mix them up(-which is my usual way of painting). For Koi collectors and breeders the markings and color are extremely important.  The Koi carry a lot of significance for the Japanese and Chinese representing passionate love, courage, strength, friendship and wealth. According to  a legend of those countries, if a koi fish succeeded in climbing the falls at the point of Dragon Gate in the Yellow River  then they are transformed to dragons, signifying overcoming life's difficulties. According to Buddhists, the koi represent a person courageously swimming through 'ocean of suffering.' 

Its a bit too late too adhere to realism in markings and color but I love the symbolism behind the fish :) 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Amazing World

Sunset by the Pier digital photography
With the Labor Day behind us, summer is officially over. Luckily for us, hurricane Earl hurled by last week without causing much damage or rain. As I watched the scenes of fierce wind and rain battered Outer Banks of N. Carolina, I didn't mind one bit that we had spent a couple of days preparing for the onslaught that fortunately didn't materialize. Now, the temperatures are down with a slight chill in the air and color on leaves.  As  we walked past the pier one evening by the beach, I caught the setting sun at the end of the pilings, happy to see the calm sea. My photographs probably fall in the category what David Griffin, photo director for National Geographic calls 'nothing more than isn't it an amazing world.' In a TED talk, he shows how photo journalists for National Geographic strive to create a visual narrative and often tell a powerful story in photographs that connect us to the rest of the world, move the rest of us to take action, and not just marvel the underlying soul and spirit. I think we need both kinds and I will continue to add to my collection of the 'isn't it an amazing world' section :) 

After being somewhat slack in terms of sketching, painting and posting during the summer and I am eager to pick up the pace a bit in the next few months. Right now, I am pleased to  have my painting Mandala Meditation in the show "Portrait of the Artist: Self Portraits and Portraits by Hampton Roads Artists"  through oct 17 at The Charles Taylor Arts Center in Hampton, VA.  

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

To Simply Paint

Blue Crab Special  watercolor 24"x18"
This painting is from about fifteen years ago when I learned to paint wet on wet and also to bring abstraction to a painting. Jan Ledbetter whose class I was attending then, in preparation for a workshop 'Watermedia Encounter' by Doug Walton, gave us her version of a set of steps of his style of painting. Doug Walton was a student of the renowned watercolor painter Ed Whitney and  he passed on some of Whitney's wisdom. The one I remember the most: Any teacher can teach how to begin a painting but you have to be the one to finish it.  Some other things that stayed with me from that time are : to let go and not be afraid of drawing and painting instinctively, having dark darks and white whites in a painting,  touch a point optimally once and no more than 3 times,  paint shapes,  have big readable nouns and most importantly you don't have to paint or fix everything! 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Domes of Blue

Entrance to Blue Mosque,  watercolor on Yupo 14x11"

All over the world, throughout history, various absolutely grand and architecturally unique and beautiful places of worship have been built. Is it to glorify God, or to indulge the person who conceived and bank rolled it,  or to admire the talents and skills of artists and artisans who built it, a testimony of what man is capable of creating?  First look at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul last year during our trip was through the massive doors. I liked the multiple blue domes  - the repeating shapes and colors with sunlight streaming in. Looking at all that marble all around, I was suddenly reminded of Rabindranath Tagore's quote: While God waits for His Temple to be built of love, men bring stones.  

The look of marble was ideal to paint on yupo -- layering paint and creating texture by dabbing plastic wrap and paper towel.  I had to repeat the process of adding and lifting paint several times on the outer walls by the doors to make them darker. I also tried several times in the past couple of days to photograph the painting and this is the closest I could come to duplicate the  actual paint colors.  

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bug Art

Bug Art Digital photography

When five billion trillion keep munching each day,
It is a wonder the world isn't nibbled away!
-Ethel Jacobson 

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Color Abstraction

Grand Cycle  color pencils 13x16"

This was an exercise in color theory and abstraction that I started in one of the classes I attended when I first tried my hand in art about fifteen years ago.  We had to bring a picture of a landscape to class and then proceeded to strip it down to the most basic shape and form.  Then starting with warmest red to the coolest violet, we had to color the forms from foreground to background in order of the warm-cool scale regardless of what color the object was in the reference picture.  Of course, having chosen color pencils as my medium to do the exercise, I was too slow to complete it in class. Many years later I went back to it and finished it with a modified version of the instructions as by then I couldn't remember much about the rules we were supposed to follow. 

Recently, I came across a quote by artist  Marc Chagal that explains the color theory succintly:  All colors are friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.  I also just now discovered that googling 'color theory' yields a wonderful collection images and information! So off I go to explore :)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Celebrating the Impermanence

Celebrating the Impermanence  Digital Photography

The Monks from Drepung Loseling Monestery in south India have been visiting every year for the past eleven years and this year I needed the timely reminder about the big picture, the  impermanence of life and not to sweat the series of  incidents that seemed to have piled on in my life this past month with no regard to the inconvenience and stress they caused :) Watching the monks take days to construct a beautiful mandala with a meditative concentration and then sweep it up only hours after completing it by pouring the sand from the mandala into a nearby river is indeed a very healing experience.  They always inspire me to look at my creativity with new eyes. I am now eager to get back to sketching and painting with a fresh perspective on art and life.  On a lighter vein, but sharing the same big picture philosophy, check out  Stefan Sagmeister's talk about happiness and design.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Language of the Soul

The Dancer watercolor on Yupo 14x11"
"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music " - Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche

I am really enjoying painting on Yupo - learning with each new piece.  In The Dancer I played again with just paint, water, brush. Yupo surface was perfect to bring out the silky transparency of the bellowing skirt and the veils.  I used a bunch of  photographs taken many years ago  at a dance demonstration and  added my own background of veils. I finished the lady more than a week ago and then waited for inspiration to resolve the background. Since this is yupo I may yet come back to it after a few days :)

Over the years, every time I saw those photographs, or I see someone totally absorbed in creating art, music or anything else, I am reminded of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's concept of 'Flow.'  According to Mihaly, Flow is completely focused motivation. It is single minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing emotions in the service of performing and learning. Check out this video of a TED talk by Mihaly on 'Flow' - creativity and happiness.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Special

Sunflower  watercolor on Yupo 11x14"
One more Yupo experimentation. I used only watercolors, brush and misting with water (thats the summer special!) this time for this painting. Blotting with balled up paper towel I had on hand to remove excess water or paint also added some interesting textures and lines.  The center of the flower was fun to create by dropping a color, misting and dropping another color and watch the textures happen .  I was able to lift the color to show the  sunlight streaking between the petals and the flower head. Next time I hope to come up with a   composition that will lend itself even more to the mingling of colors and challenge myself to find ways to make textures :) 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Glow in a Glass

Lemon Glow digital photography
Last week, this glass of water with a slice of lemon caught my eye as I sat resting my feet towards the end of fun wedding reception I was attending and out came my camera as I clicked away merrily catching the glow in the glass. The digital camera with its ability to preview helped me play with the composition and settings until I was satisfied.

Check out some beautiful photographs in the online exhibit of Princeton University's Art of Science 2010 Gallery. Since the first exhibit in 2005, Art of Science showcases stunning and simply amazing photographs that were captured in the process of scientific research and not as 'art for art's sake'. The web site says that the 45 winning images from 115 submissions from 20 departments by students, faculty, research staff and alumni were 'chosen for their aesthetic excellence as well as their scientific or technical interest.' This year's theme is "Energy." And of course, according to an article in the odd amounts in 'cash prizes were derived according to the Golden Ratio a mathematical proportion that has been found in aethetically pleasing designs from seashells to Ancient Greek Temples" Be sure to check their archives of previous years' exhibits for some most extraordinary and stunningly beautiful images.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Resplendent on Yupo

Resplendent watercolor on Yupo 11x14"
Last week I tried out watercolors on synthetic Yupo paper. It was a fun experience full of surprises. The water flows and just 'sits' on the slick surface so I could tilt, push and let the watercolors mingle and produce or lift patterns. I did minimal sketching and had to learn by trial and error how to work the paint on the very smooth surface and how much water to use. It was easier once I discovered that watercolors flow better if I first paint with water and then drop the colors. I had to watch out and not overdo patterns with brush strokes. The paint could be easily removed which was both a plus and a disadvantage since I could easily takeout deliberately or inadvertently what I had already painted with a swipe of a damp brush! I found it hard to paint details. I also learned to be patient and wait. It was important not to disturb an area I liked till it fully dried. I really like how the colors seem to be brighter and bolder on the Yupo paper. Looking at the painting now, I realize I only used brush, water and paint and really did not make full use of the surface to mingle the colors or get free flowing patterns and also use plastic wrap, salt or alcohol for textures. I also see that I need to give up my urge for control and let the surface do its thing :)

In my research about working on Yupo paper I read that once I know I have 'finished' the painting it should be sealed several thin coats of a fixative spray. A quick search on Google produced a wealth of information on how to paint on Yupo including video clips on YouTube. I really enjoyed my first experience and excitedly looking forward to playing more with yupo!

p. s: please do not click on the 'link within- you may also like' - that does not have a title/or the one that  says tattoo --its spam --I can't take it off and I don't want to give in and take the widget off completely :(

Friday, July 9, 2010

Lost in Notes

Melody Meditation watercolor 12x9"
I did a detailed sketch of this musician on a full sheet of watercolor paper and it has been waiting to be painted for a couple of months now. Before that, I sketched him on full sheet of drawing paper trying to work out the composition. But I am still hesitating to start the painting. So a few days ago to shake off the reluctance, I did a fast and loose watercolor of just his head in under an hour to see if I can capture his 'lost in notes' expression.

I saw and heard this musician one late night on the streets in India last year as he played his instrument along with a host of others in a procession. They were all accompanying a parade of people taking a icon of Ganesha, the elephant-headed god to be immersed in the lake after a month long festivities. I was impressed by his total immersion in the music even as he was in the middle of huge noisy street jamboree. Indian music traces its origins to the vedas and is seen as the pathway to reach higher consciousness. He seemed to embody how music touches the heart and elevates the mind.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Delicate Dragonfly

Delicate digital photography
Dragonfly photograph seemed to be the perfect one to post again after my last two paintings. I read that they symbolize 'renewal, positive force and power of life in general.' They are also thought to represent fleetingness and change, even though they are one of the oldest inhabitants of earth dating back over 250 million years! The Japanese and also the Zuni Indians consider them to be messengers from another world representing courage and strength. To the Navaho Indians dragonfly symbolized pure water. Check here if you would like to see some exquisite close-up photographs of the dragonfly. I am happy that so far this summer I see their shimmering delicate lacy wings and iridescent eyes as they fly around the garden.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Collateral Damage

Collateral Damage water media 9x12"
The Gulf oil disaster needs no explanation. Recently I read the delicate plovers are migrating back right into the mess which prompted me to paint this piece. I have only seen photographs of pelicans dripping in oil and I don't know how much oil the plovers will get on them since they are shore /wading birds. So this is done purely from my imagination. As an artist how much license should I take ? Does it take away from the message if I decide to be faithful to the spirit of the idea, to the emotional content and go with my imagination? Recently there was a story on NPR about Michelangelo drawing a brain in God's neck in the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the discussion centered upon why there and what did he want to convey? Artists have always wanted to make philosophical and political statements. My hope is that, the messages doesn't get swept away in the debate about realistic depiction.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Ignorance mixed media 12x15"
The explosion of violence, hate and extremism around the world is very very scary. This piece in a way painted itself. Its beginnings were innocent enough but before long as I was listening to radio news of bombings, terrorist plots and raging wars, I found myself painting dark figures, smoke and a war zone of a city. Apathy is as dangerous as hate. How do we give non-violence a chance? Will we all ever learn to live and let live?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dragonfly Delights

Dragonfly Delights digital photography

This morning I spent my time stalking the dragonflies with a camera. I was clipping the dried flowers off the rose bush when the shimmering wings completely distracted me from the chore at hand. In no time at all, I abandoned trimming the bushes but was back in the yard with my camera trying to capture the ever active dragonflies as they danced from flower to leaf to flower. I marveled how elegantly and effortlessly they were flying and landing and taking off again and again -even though that made it hard for me to focus and shoot. I admired their exquisite form and the beauty of the shiny delicate wings. I couldn't help but wonder : how do they fly with those gauzy transparent wings? And I was especially happy that all those dragonflies means we won't be swatting at pesky mosquitos when we are outdoors this summer:)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Imaginative Reality

Rose Pencil 9x12"
Yesterday as I was working on the Rose, I heard a discussion on NPR about "Scientists Pinpoint Monet's London Balcony." According to the reporter, artist 'Claude Monet spent the winters of 1899, 1900 and 1901 freezing on the balcony of London's Savoy Hotel, painting a famous series of images of Waterloo Bridge and Charing Cross Bridge. Now, the scientists at Birmingham University have used solar geometry and historical weather data to figure out exactly which balcony Monet was standing on and what time of the day he was likely working.' I chuckled to myself as I followed the conclusions. I am sure if anyone tries to figure things out from my art work they would be in for a surprise because I do take a lot 'artistic license' when I sketch, draw and paint. I change or eliminate things often to match my technical abilities(or rather lack of) and to change the composition to suit my taste. And I started wondering how many artists really faithfully follow the original subject (other than for illustration purposes) and how many viewers think an artist is true to the subject's every detail :contour, shadow, value, color etc. ? Should we come to major conclusions about historical facts from an artist's creation or are these just fun exercises - not major theses. Along the same lines, earlier there was this piece on "High Art: Were Boticelli's Venus and Mars Stoned? " The object of discussion here was the identity and effects of a fruit that was in the hand of one of the little satyr in the painting. Click on the highlighted words in the blog and you can hear/read the scoop.

Rose is done using 2, 4 and 6B pencils and some Prismacolor cool greys here and there in the background leaves. It was an exercise in values I came up with. I had taken color digital picture of the rose from our garden. Then using the photo-software changed the color to black & white and played with the settings for light and shadows. I then printed it out for sketching using grids. The final piece is an composite of all that and my imagination as I simplified the background.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Art of Choosing

Sky is the Limit digital photography

I go through my collection of photographs and ideas compulsively many times before I decide on my next painting subject or what to post on my blog. Of course, every now and then I do know what, which, and how almost instinctively. I am also acutely aware that when I am drawing and painting, the ability to choose well -- the right stroke of the pencil or the brush, the correct value and color, and when to say enough is critical. Sometimes the desire to choose well is so strong that it interferes with the act of creating even as I keep telling myself its only paper and paint! This past week while at the library picking up "The Art of Choosing" by Sheena Iyengar was an easy decision to make. I am hoping by the time I finish reading it I will have insights into becoming a better and disciplined 'chooser' in both mundane and momentous tasks - and not just in my art :)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Brain and Art

Planting Paddy watercolor 6"x8"
I am experimenting with painting fast and loose as well as challenging myself not to fill my painting with pattern and color, leaving some white of the paper untouched. Earlier I had painted the same scene from rural India in Another Season. Here, I further simplified it. I don't know if I like one better than the other.

What makes us like one painting better than another? And what happens in the brain when we see a painting that we really like? NYU's Neural Science and English Department's Dr. Edward Vessel, Nava Rubin and G Gabrielle Starr's poster presentation This is your Brain on Art shows which parts of the brain light up when there is an aesthetic response (strong liking) vs a simple preference to a painting and to what extent is an aesthetic reaction mediated by specific emotional response. Dr. Vessel found there was strong response in multiple areas of the brain when subjects saw a painting they really liked. The responses were triggered in left medial prefrontal cortex, left substantia nigra and left hippocampus. Even as the subjects picked different paintings as their most liked painting, the same set of areas in the brain responded to their varied selections. 'Beauty' in art seems to engage cognitive, memory and emotional circuits in the brain. Check here if you like an easy to understand explanation of the poster.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Spring Smiles with Flowers

Bouquet With Iris watercolor 13x9

I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers -- Claude Monet

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