Saturday, December 31, 2016

Swirilng Ideas

Swirling Ideas mixed media 5x7 by Meera Rao

I have discovered it is truly exciting to explore patterns, textures, colors, and line by poring and manipulating the different paints and mediums.  It is almost like making music -conjuring rhythm and melody.  Google gives this definition of abstract art that I really liked :  'art that does not attempt to represent external reality, but seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, forms, colors, and textures.'  

Thank you all for the wonderful support you have showered on me this year and I wish everyone a very happy and peaceful 2017.  

Swirling Ideas mixed media Prisme (buttercup), ceramic(black) and Vitrail (crimson) paints on 5x7photograph. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Magical Metamorphosis

Magical Metamorphosis mixed media 5x7 by Meera Rao

magical metamorphosis
sparking unexpected notes
 to dance
a whirling imagination
 stirring textures
to fold 
jewel bright colors 
 into a song

~Meera Rao~

More experiments on photograph with Prisme, Moon, Vitrail, ceramic paints and alcohol inks.

Metamorphis mixed media 5x7 by Meera Rao 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Mixing Up Media

Exuberance mixed media 7x5" by Meera Rao

A couple of months ago, I was the lucky recipient of a book giveaway from a fellow artist, author and blogger Paula Guhin at Mixed Media Manic . The book "Painting with Mixed Media"  by Paula Guhin and Geri Greenman is filled with ideas, step by step techniques and full color Portfolios of art. It has chapters on working with different media -acrylics, watercolors, oil paints, pastels and Tempera. Each chapter highlights a different painting medium, exploring the 'funky ways' it can be combined with other materials, and ends with 'Float your boat further' suggestions that challenges the artist to continue experimenting. The pages are sprinkled with 'Painting Pointers' -artistic advice and helpful hints,  'Savvy Substitutions'  - exactly that  and 'Green scene' - Eco friendly recommendations. 

I decided I needed to try out Alcohol inks with my watercolors and made a trip to the art store to buy a couple of small bottles.  Needless to say, I got lost in the aisles, and ended up buying a Pebeo Mixed media Discovery kit with Fantasy Prisme, Moon and Vitrail paints (6 bottles)  along with Pinata alcohol inks in 3 colors. The Pebeo kit promised "opalescent reactive paints that create an array of infinite designs and textured finishes." and I was seduced :) 

Back home I did a marathon session of You tube videos on Pebeo paints as I had never heard of them before.  Between the videos and the book I had receved, I was full of ideas but no plan. That meant I went off in a completely different and a totally experimental path :) I decided to use old out of focus photographs (double prints!) from long ago (when cameras used film and did not have digital previews) that I had saved because I could not bear to throw away something I had paid good money for. 

I used white gel pen, Pebeo Moon and Prisme paints for wonderful textures to paint on a photo of poinsettias.  Not a drastic change but enough with  more texture  and personality. I have the before and after shots below. 

Fire and Ice  Mixed media  5x7" by Meera Rao

poinsettia photo before 

'Exuberance'  on the very top of the blog is transformation of the photo below.  Here I used  Pebeo Prisme, Moon, and Ceramic paints, Pinata Alcohol Inks, and casein paint.  Pebeo recommends one to pour large quantities of Moon and Prisme (I am yet to try Vitrail) but I used droppers and toothpicks for what I wanted to do. I will use Krylon sealer when the piece is completely dry.  I am very pleased with my experimenting and  really like the results !  

Exuberance mixed media 7x5" by Meera Rao

the photo for "Exuberance"

Exuberance  Mixed media 7x5" by Meera Rao
Fire and Ice  Mixed media 5x7" by Meera Rao 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Moved by Compassion

Bodhisatva  sketched at the Chicago Institute of Art by Meera Rao 

on the path 
to Awakening
a merciful guide
moved by compassion
~Meera Rao~

Information about the statue of Bodhisatva 

I have badly sprained my ankles and on my trip to Chicago in a way it was a blessing in disguise. Normally I spend hours in various galleries trying to catch a glimpse of all the wonderful art. But this time I did not walk around the museum ( I know I missed some fabulous exhibits).  I decided instead to sit and sketch something at the museum. 

I had always been attracted to this statue which is close to the entrance of the museum leading to the exhibits on art from India, Tibet, Korea, Japan and China etc.  I slowly hobbled over and sat on a bench across the statue and took my time sketching with pencil and eraser.  The guard came around a few times to ask if I was ok and if he could help me find anything - I am sure he was checking my progress and making sure I was doing what I said I was doing! None of the visitors stopped and chatted though I noticed some paused close and long enough to satisfy their curiosity :)   

While I sketched it sitting down, the photo of the statue was taken standing up just before I left.  I gave the red wash to the background later - did not dare take my water brush or the small watercolor box in the museum. 

Bodhisatva sketch in pencil and watercolor 5x5" by  Meera Rao

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Most Powerful Declaration!

Filigree Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture  
Photography by Meera Rao

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Photography by Meera Rao  

Collage of Photos by Meera Rao 

The new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is a must see for all ! Last week after a day spent at the museum,  my worries for the future feels differently in light of the faith, hope and resilience that is packed in the deeply moving exhibits. As the New York times article filled with photos of the museum eloquently puts it  : "In the spirit of Langston Hughes’s poem “I, Too,” their message is a powerful declaration: The African-American story is an American story, as central to the country’s narrative as any other, and understanding black history and culture is essential to understanding American history and culture."  

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America. 

Langston Hughes

Monday, October 24, 2016

Lines Shapes Color Light

East wing Calder  ink and watercolor 5.5x8" by Meera Rao

"Colour are light’s suffering and joy."

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe~

The East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC reopened recently after extensive renovations and I had a great visit. This sketch was my second attempt to capture on paper the huge open room. The trademark glass ceiling by I M  Pei was the challenge I had to face! I had to slow down, first figure out the overall shape and then draw it section by section.  Photographing the ceiling and studying it every time I got confused helped me finish the sketch.  I think I spent so much time figuring out the ceiling that I lost steam for the rest of the sketch ! But I am pleased that I stuck to it :) 

The Color in a New Light exhibit at Natural History Museum in Washington DC

Name a topic that links science, history, art, and culture. How about color? - a small exhibit on Color in A New Light at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum covers this : Two Glass cases in the lobby were crammed with goodies: an anthracite coal, samples of  dyed silk, dyed ostrich feathers from long ago, Sir Isaac Newton's book Opticks, or, A treatise of the reflections, refractions, inflections and colours of light...London, 1704, Albert Henry Munsell's Atlas of the Munsell Color System [Malden, Mass.: Wadsworth, Howland & Co., Inc., Printers, ca. 1915] Gift of Binney & Smith, Inc., makers of Crayola Crayons and a lot more from the Smithsonian Library.

 "Journeying through the collections of the Smithsonian Libraries — from chemistry to catalogs, from colorblind tests to couture — we might see color in a new light." reads the explanation.  I spent an hour looking and reading the explanations. There is a great digital tour of the exhibit on their website to see up close things in those cases and read about them.  It is truly fascinating! 

From the book: Spectrum Analysis :Six lectures  By Henry E. Roscoe

Explanation of the spectrum from the book  Spectrum Analysis by Roscoe

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A Show And A Poem

A sampling of  my paintings at the Eno Wine Bar, Washington DC 
August and September 2016

I am excited to have about 20 paintings on exhibit through Sept 30, 2016 at the Eno Wine Bar, Four Seasons Georgetown location : 2810 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC.  Please stop by and enjoy their great selection of wines or pop in for  delicious lunch and check out my paintings :)  

I am also honored that in June poet Mary Rua Felix was inspired by my painting Dreamer (Lower right corner in the photo above)  to write 'A Sea Goddess?' when it was on display at the Charles Taylor Art Center at Hampton, VA.   

Poem by Maria Rua Felix  inspired by my painting 'Dreamer' 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Beautiful Beginnings!

Sunrise watercolor on Yupo 8x10"  by Meera Rao

I will never forget this scene. The bright orb rising behind the dark line of trees drenching the sky and water in shades of glowing yellow gold, deep orange with touches of juicy crimson leaving no traces of the last night around.  Once again, a perfect new beginning !

When I come across glorious natural scenes, I soak it in and often don't dare even try to paint it. How can I ever capture the beauty and the feeling of spirituality that I sense? Should I even attempt? I slowly added colors and shapes willing my impressions on to the paper.  I photograph the sunrises often but I was pleasantly surprised that I really 'felt' this sunrise when I started to paint!  The colors, the scene, the mood may have changed in fractions of seconds as the dawn emerged but the essence has stayed on in my minds eye.  

Sunrise watercolor on Yupo 8x10"  by Meera Rao

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Rock Paper Paint!

Abstract Landscape watercolor on Mitz Terraskin Stone Paper by Meera Rao 

I was given a sample of Mitz Terraskine stone paper by an artist friend and I set out eagerly to experiment on it  knowing very little about how paint behaved on the paper and not researching its unique qualities beforehand. I did not sketch anything on it and had a vague idea of a landscape design for composition. I discovered the paint floats on the paper like on Yupo, takes time to dry and is therefore a bit unstable and easy to get mud if I was not careful. The surface is not quite as smooth and slick as Yupo and has a faint tooth to it. Painting wet on wet, tilting paper to blend the colors gave layered effects and some unexpected results when the paint dried. Spritzing with water and alcohol in the sky area brought on wonderful texture. Paint can also be scratched off without ruining the paper. I found the paint texture on the Mitz terraskine stone paper had a bit of matt finish to it on drying.

After completing the piece, I found a great source of information on Cheap Joe's web site  on their product information page. In the manufacture of this environmentally friendly paper no water or bleach is used and it is therefore acid free and archival quality.  It is made from rock and resin, very tough, cannot be torn or creased and does not damage easily- though I did not test it! It is a multimedia paper and can be used with oil, acrylics or watercolor. The paper can bend nicely and can be stretched like a canvas on stretchers. Pencil and graphite marks do not erase well.  Joe Miller used 'paint-erase rejuvinating sponge' to take some paint and watercolor pencil marks off the paper in his video demonstration. In another demonstration by D.D. Gadjanski, granulation medium was used with watercolor paints to get some beautiful texture.  So watching those videos, I learned about two products I was not aware of before :)  On the whole painting on Mitz Terraskin stone paper was a bit of a fun challenge and I hope to work on it in the future. 

Abstract Landscape watercolor on Mitz Terraskin Stone Paper 5x7" by Meera Rao

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Growing an Idea

Cabbage Concerto in Red Again  mixed media 10x15" by Meera Rao 

Sometime in the past few years, I had started a painting - there was some watercolor and a collage of rice paper (see below). Until earlier this year it was buried in my pile of unfinished paintings.  Even after staring at it for too long, I could not remember my plans for it.  By then it did not really matter anyway! 

watercolor background with rice paper collage 

The colorful lettuce growing in our garden gave me an idea and reminded me of a painting I had done many years ago. After mulling over for a few more days I thoroughly enjoyed painting a much smaller more colorful version of that painting 'Cabbage Concerto in Red' which has found a home with a friend. Exploring the same subject and coming to it from a different place was a fun exercise.  The title for the first painting was courtesy of my son who was in high-school then! I wrote about it here.

Colorful lettuce in my garden

”I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.” -- Picasso.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Passage of Time

Whiling the Morning Away watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015

Under the shades of huge trees in parks or elsewhere there are always elderly men mostly in crisp white shirts, wearing traditional white "Dhoti" (click on link for simple version) or western style pants sitting and whiling away their time - keeping up with friendships, resting after their daily walks, discussing world affairs and may be just fighting off loneliness. I saw this group daily while out on my errands and had to record it :)  

I feel a pang as I post this last sketch from my 2015 summer journal from India. The past four summers I went to India to take care of my Mother-in-law and started sketching daily as a way to keep up with my art. I compulsively sketched almost every single day when I was in India - something sadly I don't seem to be able to do now. As my Mother-in-law passed away late last year I won't be staying for extended period in Mysuru this summer. 

During those stays, I filled five sketchbooks with around 250 sketches - the first year I had done 124 sketches -small 2.7x4" in Strathmore 5.5x8" Visual Journal watercolor 140lbs- one for every day of my stay. It was easy to keep up with daily sketching as my only concern was to sketch every day! 

The second year feeling ambitious, instead of four sketches on the page like the past year, I decided to draw bigger 5"x4" sketches. I ended up with half as many sketches as most could not be completed in the allotted time each day. I had to resort to sketch one day and finish water-coloring them the next. 

The year after, I was a bit more adventurous filling in two Japanese style moleskine accordion sketchbooks - not restricting myself to any particular size within the sketchbook. I still finished around 40 vignettes. 

It was harder to sketch everyday in 2015 - I managed about 22- 5.5x8" sketches taking two to three days to finish each  - even working on the last few after my return as I unable to sketch on many days during my stay. On the whole, keeping the sketchbooks was definitely one of the best decisions I made.It helped see a bigger picture of life. I noticed and experienced things differently and the many fast disappearing vignettes of daily life are now not just only in my sketchbook but are etched in my memory.   

The past few months though I have spent more time reading and looking at art than picking up a pencil or paintbrush. Now finally I am beginning to feel an urgency and renewed enthusiasm to shake off my lethargy, to get back to sketching and painting every day. 

Artists don't get to work
Until the pain of working is exceeded 
by the pain of not working 
~Stephen DeStaebler~ 

Whiling the Morning Away 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Simple Times

A Tire, A Street and A Buddy watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015

Simple times and carefree days.  I watched them roll the tire back and forth down a quiet lane, laugh and squeal in delight. Pretty soon they had mastered the art of keeping the tire rolling without a break. I was a witness to a sealing of friendship, memories in the making and developing skills and imagination :) Definitely 'just playing' is really a lot of 'work' as well! 

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." 

 A Tire, A Street and A Buddy 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Under the Mid-day Sun

Under the Mid-day Sun watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015

To work under hot mid day sun is just plain hard work.  These two ladies were making plaster cast and clay statues for sale by a busy road side. They are migrants who traveled from northern states  to south in search for a better living. They had taken over the sidewalk, set up tents and a business. It is a difficult ethical problem - shouldn't the city evict them for blocking the roads for pedestrians like me who now have to walk on the edge of the road  with traffic whizzing by or do you applaud them because they are entrepreneurs  trying to make a decent wage by working and producing. For now, the only solution I saw was to capture them in my sketchbook.

Under the Mid-day sun 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Water for Today

Water for Today watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015

When you see water in a stream
you say: oh, this is stream
When you see water in the river
you say: oh, this is water
of the river; 
When you see ocean
you say: This is the ocean's
But actually water is always
only itself
and does not belong
to any of these containers
though it creates them.
And so it is with you. 

Alice Walker

Water for Today 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Colorful Cover-up

A Colorful Cover-up watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015

It looked like a giant colorful caterpillar from a distance making me stop in my tracks. A long multicolored striped cotton floor mat (jamkane in local Kannada language) covering a vehicle protecting it from the hot sun and any mess dropped by birds sitting in the near by tree! It was by the front door of a school and my guess is that the car belonged to some 'important' visitor.  A dog was happily lying down by it too. 

I had sketched those mats a few times before - it was covering the stage platform and risers in a 'Yakshagana' performance  where the musicians were seated. Those mats come in different sizes and are workhorses - spread on the floor at functions for people to sit on, at many homes and on most train journeys they are the base layer for bedding for people to sleep on, for covering a pile of boxes or suitcases to keep dust away in some homes, as yoga mats etc.. 

A Colorful Cover-up, 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Monday, May 16, 2016

Evening Shadows

Evening Shadows watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

Sunday evenings the roads are relatively empty and I was fortunate to come across this scene on my daily walk.  The beauty of this play of light and shadow will remain etched in my memory even if I may not have done justice to the original scenery.   

I have realized over the years that, my vision is always ahead of what really ends up on the paper ! Here is a story from the book Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland :  More often, though, fears rise in those entirely appropriate (and frequently recurring) moments when vision races ahead of execution. Consider the story of the young student – well, David Bayles, to be exact – who began piano studies with a Master. After a few months’ practice, David lamented to his teacher, “But I can hear the music so much better in my head than I can get out of my fingers.”

To which the Master replied, “What makes you think that ever changes?”

That’s why they’re called Masters. When he raised David’s discovery from an expression of self-doubt to a simple observation of reality, uncertainty became an asset. Lesson for the day: vision is always ahead of execution — and it should be. Vision, Uncertainty, and Knowledge of Materials are inevitabilities that all artists must acknowledge and learn from: vision is always ahead of execution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue.

To quote Ira Glass about the 'gap' in taste and skill:  It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. 

So on to marching towards my 10,000 sketches...... 

Evening Shadows 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Ironing The Wrinkles Out

Ironing the Wrinkles Out watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

I have sketched a neighbourhood ironing lady before in 2013 and a young boy ironing in 2012.  This man had his 'shop' in a tiny little structure with a board to iron on and a shelf to stack up the finished items. There was a small tin box outside the shack where he was tending coals for the iron. All are enterprising people who fill a heavy iron with hot coals and iron out the wrinkles from shirts, pants, kids uniforms and ladies sarees to make a living. They pick up the laundered clothes from their customers and drop them off later crisply ironed, folded and ready to wear. Most of the vendors keep a rotating schedule of certain days and times during the week in a couple different neighborhoods. They have bare bones set up and work diligently. The young lady had proudly told me how careful she is to avoid any burn holes from hot coals in the clothes she is ironing.   

For many among us ironing is a dreaded chore but it is 'work' for these people. And to Pablo Naruda, it is poetry  :

In Praise of Ironing

by Pablo Neruda
translated by Alastair Reid

Poetry is pure white.
It emerges from water covered with drops,
is wrinkled, all in a heap.
It has to be spread out, the skin of this planet,
has to be ironed out, the sea's whiteness;
and the hands keep moving, moving,
the holy surfaces are smoothed out,
and that is how things are accomplished.
Every day, hands are creating the world,
fire is married to steel,
and canvas, linen, and cotton come back
from the skirmishings of the laundries,
and out of light a dove is born -
pure innocence returns out of the swirl.

Ironing the Wrinkles Out 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Daily Chores

Daily Chore  watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

This is the story of many women all around the world - gathering water is a daily chore.  The technological advances are in the background but have not fully touched the daily life yet for these two girls. They are part of migrant worker families that lived by the street in illegally propped up tents. To get a candid shot I photographed this from a distance when I happened on the scene while out on my daily errands.  I liked how the streaming light and bright colors highlight the beauty in this mundane activity. I loved the movement of the fabric  billowing in the wind, the motorcycles zooming away as ladies carefully made their way across the street. 

I got curious as to how much water do we need to survive and how much water we actually use. Here are some facts I discovered in my search :

From : Three-quarters of the Earth's surface is covered with water, yet 98 percent is salt water and not fit for consumption.
Less than one percent of all the water on Earth is freshwater available for human consumption.
The human body is more than 60 percent water. Blood is 92 percent water, the brain and muscles are 75 percent water, and bones are about 22 percent water.
A human can survive for a month or more without eating food, but only a week or so without drinking water.

From : An average person in US uses about 80-100 gallons a day, largest use is for flushing the toilets!  On average a bath can use around 36 gallons while showers need 2-5 gallons/minute. So showers are better only if you take short ones!  Please check out the table in the link to see the water consumption for daily chores like brushing teeth, washing dishes, clothes, and watering lawns etc and tips for water conservation.  This website WECalc, has a Water-Energy-Climate Calculator that you can check out to estimate your average consumption. 

Daily Chores 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Flying Jewel

White Throated Kingfisher watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

Everyday at the same time this kingfisher perched conspicuously on a thick cable wire by my window. With a clear view of the road below and all the neighboring yards, it could look for its pray of small rodents, earthworms, large insects, snakes, fish and frogs, but I never saw it catch anything.  Mostly it looked like the bird stopped to rest for just a few minutes on its way from or to someplace else - probably to the huge Kukkare Halli Lake a few miles away. With its brilliant colors of teal, chestnut, and white body with a red beak it looks like a flying jewel! Here is a link for the Kingfisher calls if you want to listen how it sounds like :) I had hoped to catch a glimpse of the bird flying off so I could see how the teal wings looked like but never managed that :( 

This is one of the subjects I had to sketch more than once - as I was never satisfied with how the colors looked on the paper. The brilliant beautiful shimmering colors of the bird are a sight to behold.  

White Throated Kingfisher 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Friday, April 8, 2016

Showing Tricolor Pride

Showing Tricolor Pride watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

Come festival or national holiday, the tiny Mom and Pop stores that line the narrow roads near the local market come to life with the colors of nick knacks and sundry items for the occasion.  On this particular day the tricolor flags and banners and streamers were flapping in the wind in this little store in anticipation of the Independence Day celebrations. The little girl was looking at the items for a long time - I am not sure if she bought anything in the end! Cars, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, tiny tricycles, rickshaws  doorways and storefronts are all decorated with flags or banners celebrating the day. Even though a holiday, this store was open for business for last minute shoppers !

Showing the Tricolor Pride 8x5.5" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Threads that Connect

Threads that Connect watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

I was attracted to the orange cloth glowing in the sunlight and all the shadow play I encountered at the top of the Chamundi Hill (Mysuru) near temple premises.  There were a few others who were also selling these threads(Mauli) but only one was in the traditional sacred orange clothing and working diligently organizing his threads of different colors. Each color sacred thread has significance of its own in Hinduism. They are usually tied to right wrist (usually for both genders) or left(certain occasions for women) to ward off evil eye or for prosperity and good health and for smooth completion or progression of any important ceremony.  The threads are used during pooja by the devotees, by bride and groom during wedding, and for "rakhi bandan' by sister on brother's wrist  as a talisman - for protection and well being. The threads tether us to other humans, to the sacred spirits; to the yearning for a universal connection. 

In my research I discovered that this custom is followed by others as well - around the globe, across cultures and religions: From wikipedia : Wearing a thin scarlet or crimson string (Hebrew: חוט השני) as a type of talisman is a Jewish folk custom as a way to ward off misfortune brought about by the "evil eye" (Hebrew: עין הרע). The tradition is popularly thought to be associated with Kabbalah and religious forms of Judaism.

More interesting information from Sean Doyle's article on Sacred Thread

"Throughout Indian history the exchange of a thin cotton, wool or silk thread tied kingdoms together and sealed political alliances.  In one recount of the Battle of the Hydaspes River, it is said that the King Porus refrained from striking Alexander the Great, because the Alexander’s wife had tied a scared thread to Porus’ hand, urging him not to hurt her husband.

A scarlet or red thread runs through many cultures.

The red string of fate or the thread of destiny appears in both Chinese and Japanese legends. According to myth, the gods tie an invisible red string around the ankles of those that are destined to meet each other or help each other in a certain way.  In one myth, two people connected by the red thread are destined to be lovers, regardless of time, place, or circumstance. The cord may stretch or tangle across the years, but it will never break.

In traditional Tibetan Buddhist ceremonies, the tying on of holy cotton threads restores the natural order of things and brings people closer together. The red thread is specifically associated with bravery.

And this sacred tie is not limited to East Asia.

In Greek mythology, Theseus rescued himself out from the labyrinth of the Minotaur by following a red thread that was given to him by Ariadne.  Nikos Kazantzakis, in making myths modern again, points to the scarlet tread that runs through and connects all people, friends and strangers, regardless of culture.  It is our common humanity.

In Judaism, wearing a thin red string on the left wrist is an old custom thought to ward off misfortune brought about by the “evil eye”.  Rahab tied scarlet rope to two scouts so they could enter Jericho unseen.  Jabob’s wife Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, wrapped a red thread around her son’s wrist to protect him from evil.  Still today, we tie a long red string around her burial stone.  This sacred symbol recalls Rachel’s selflessness, reminding us to emulate her modest ways of consideration and compassion for others, while giving charity to the poor and needy.  More than a way to protect one from evil or harm, the crimson thread is an internal reflection that inspires good deeds and kindness."

Measuring and Selling 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Water Break

Water Break watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

Selling fresh betel leaves directly to the customers at the street market, this lady seems to have a good business sense for displaying her goods and controlling her expenses. All she needed was a small blue stool to sit on and a big basket  of fresh leaves stacked in neat piles! Behind her were clay pots balanced carefully and the rickety table held small clay pots etc. The Betel leaves are important in Hindu religious ceremonies, a main ingredient in 'pan' for chewing pleasure, and also used for medicinal purposes. So the business is usually brisk for leaves and the pots as it’s much simpler to stop by a stand while commuting to work or running errands than to plan a special trip to the store.   

Water Break  5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Textures and Colors of Life

Textures and Colors of Life watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

A side alley with a bicycle; the buildings, walls, doors - all textured with neglect; colorful water pots waiting to be filled were hard to ignore!  Sketching, painting and photographing almost everyday when I was India, was a valuable experience. I developed a curiosity and great respect about my surroundings and learned to savor life. 

I was torn about just recording the scenes I come across,  but I also felt an urge to capture the fast disappearing lifestyle as India is hurling itself towards things more 'modern'.  I also found myself attracted to the special beauty in the simple surroundings --always colorful and full of textures. I know my sketches and paintings only give a glimpse of the country showing an extremely incomplete picture. 

Last week when I went to the preview of the opening exhibit of the brand new MET Breuer Museum in New York, I was struck by how architecture and surroundings influence an artist. Drawings and photographs by Nasreen Mohamedi, captured the geometry and abstraction from her surroundings. She saw only the beauty of lines and minimal color! 

It was also wonderful to see the 'Unfinished - thoughts left Visible.' on its third and fourth floors - unfinished paintings of artists over the past few centuries. I was excited as if I was peeking over their shoulders while they had paused and were mulling over the next brush stroke.

From the museum's website: Celebrating one of the most important artists to emerge in post-Independence India, and marking the first museum retrospective of the artist’s work in the United States, Nasreen Mohamedi examines the career of an artist whose singular and sustained engagement with abstraction adds a rich layer to the history of South Asian art and to modernism on an international level. The retrospective spans the entire career of Mohamedi (1937–1990)—from her early works in the 1960s through her late works on paper in the 1980s—exploring the conceptual complexity and visual subtlety that made her work unique for its time, and demonstrating why she is considered one of the most significant artists of her generation. Together with the thematic exhibition Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, Nasreen Mohamedi inaugurates The Met Breuer, which expands upon The Met’s modern and contemporary art program.

Here are Google images for Nasreen Mohamadi's art 
Check out the NYT review of Unfinished here 

Textures and Colors of Life 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Dance of Life

She Moved Like A Dancer watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

She was a vegetable vendor.  Everyday she sat by the roadside with a few crates of produce. She always dressed in simple though beautiful sarees with matching stylish blouses, bangles,  flowers in her hair, and eyes rimmed with kohl. She also had a ready smile for her customers.  This particular evening she was moving her crates to a storage area near by before calling it a day.  As she lifted and carried her crates she moved like a dancer, light bouncing off the folds of her saree, face and body. I was captivated by the beauty and grace of her movements.    

"I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way 
- things I had no words for. "
~Georgia O'Keeffe~

She Moved Like a Dancer 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Neighborhood Klatsch

Neighborhood Klatsch  watercolor and ink by Meera Rao
India Art Journal 2015 

Most afternoons, these three neighbors sat on the varandah chatting away while waiting for their children to return from school. I could watch them from my balcony but could not hear their conversation.  They were always glad to see each other and have their thirty or so minutes together. I wonder if they noticed me and what they said to each other :)  

Neighborhood Klatsch 5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A Sale!

A Sale!  watercolor and ink by Meera Rao 

In Mysuru, southern India, even now the peddlers load up a cart with sundry items and push it around the neighborhoods looking for buyers. I saw many different peddlers pushing a variety of things - pots and pans, plastic housewares or  sarees and other clothing items, sheets and blankets, balloons and toys etc everyday through the streets.  This one stopped around long enough for me to photograph as the lady was taking her own sweet time deciding what to buy.  She inspected various items from his cart and finally settled on a dust pan. 

I read that in 2013 the Karnataka state government launched a program to try to replicate the success of Bangaladeshi banker and Nobel peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus extending micro credit to street vendors. It launched Mysore City Street Vendors Multipurpose Cooperative Society, which had a seed money of Rs 5 crore to attend to the needs of street vendors in the city. The society, which is to be developed as a cooperative bank later, to lend small loan to the street vendors who are too poor to qualify for bank loans. The society's office was located close to my daily runs during my stay and I hope that this initiative is a success. 

A Sale!  5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal

Monday, February 8, 2016

Afternoon Siesta

Afternoon Siesta  watercolor and ink by Meera Rao

"Only mad dogs and English men go out in the noon day sun"
-Rudyard Kipling

When I saw this fellow taking a power nap in the middle of the day, looking quite comfortable on a mattress propped inside his autoriksha, I had to sketch him.  He was on a side street - directly in view from my balcony ! I quickly took a couple of photos just in case he woke up and went off, then set to sketch him. I had enough time to finish the sketch but colored it later.   

Afternoon siestas used to be the norm everywhere in India.  I remember my father, grandfather always came home from work for lunch at mid day, took a nap and then went back to work during the cooler part of the afternoon and evening.  Now it is a luxury enjoyed by few who can rearrange their day to their liking! Whoever is home during mid day, the elderly, the retired, the housewives, kids  and a few lucky folks who are their own bosses, all take a nap almost everyday. No one goes knocking at  someone's door during the afternoon! 

I quickly adapted to mid day power naps too during my stay in India.  It has to be power naps  because longer naps makes one groggy the rest of the day and wide eyed awake at night! I always set an alarm but it was so hard to make myself getup when it went off! As recent studies show, the mid day nappers especially in the tropics were on to something. They are not lazy slackers. As this article "7 surprising benefits of an afternoon nap"  explains they knew its power to influence the overall wellbeing, boost energy and increase productivity among other things :)  And more importantly, for us artists: 'Daytime sleep can, “enhance creative thinking, boost cognitive processing, improve memory recall and generally clear out the cobwebs," James Maas and Rebecca Robbins, co-founders of Sleep for Success, wrote in The New York Times.  :)  That ought to be a good reason to squeeze in my nap habit now that I am back in USA!

Btw, I am the Artist of the Month displaying at the Poquoson Public Library during February.  I am sharing the wall with a friend who is showing his photography for the first time. Here is a photograph showing the half with my paintings.  Please stop by if you are in the neighborhood :) 

Wall with my paintings at Poquoson Public Library  as February Artist of the Month 2016 

time for afternoon siesta  5.5x8" watercolor and ink on 140 lb Strathmore visual Journal 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Traces of History

Water Gate at Tippu's Fort watercolor India sketchbook 2015 by Meera Rao 

This idyllic scene ‘Water Gate’ is at the northern wall of the King Tippu Sultan's Fort in Sri Ranga Pattana near Mysuru, India, The gateway opens to the shallower portion of the river Cauvery. The residents of the fort passed through this gate to fetch water from the river. Back in 1799, this shallow archway with guard houses on either sides and a temple at the right, was the location of a deadly battle with the British (East India Company). Tippu Sultan was killed and it changed the course of history for the British and for the south Indian principality of Mysore. Colonel Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington, established his military reputation during this military victory. The gory details of the siege of SriRangapattanam can be found here. 

City of Mysuru, and the surrounding area is full of historical sites and ruins.  It attracts a steady stream of tourists who come to see its gorgeous palaces still in their full glory, the beautiful temples that are artistic and architectural masterpieces and the natural beauty of the area.  Here is a link for virtual tour of the area. 

'Water Gate at Tippu's Fort'  watercolor sketch, India sketchbook/Art Journal 2015 by Meera Rao .  Strathmore Watercolor 140lb Visual Journal

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Thirst Watercolor Pen and Ink sketch  and collage 2015  5.5x7" by Meera Rao

India has made great strides in supplying water to most of her citizens but the population growth, weather patterns and climate change/global warming issues continue to challenge her efforts.  And the thirst among the people also extends to educating the children.  These two issues consume the average Indian.  

When I saw the water pot, with its exaggerated shadows by a wall with  peeling posters on 'coaching' on various subjects, I knew I had to capture the scene.  I enjoyed combining pen and ink with watercolor along with collage of torn ads from the daily newspaper. 

India sketchbook/art Journal 2015,  Strathmore watercolor 140lb Visual Journal 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Cool Blue

Cooling Off  Ink and Watercolor sketch 2015 5.5x8" by Meera Rao

Your acts of kindness 
are iridescent wings of
divine love  
which linger and continue 
to uplift others 
long after sharing.

It was one of those very hot summer days.  I was hurrying home to escape the heat from an errand that had taken longer than anticipated. On one of the side streets outside a marble warehouse, I was most impressed by what I saw: someone thoughtful had filled  a big old blue bathtub with water for anyone who wanted to cool off by splashing water on feet or face ! 

Chilling the pulse points by running cold water over the wrist for a minute or so, splashing water on the temples or face are age old ways of combating the tropical heat. The amazing thing is that bath tubs are extremely rare in India but somehow one was out there propped up on old tires, filled with water !  Many men stopped by, scooped out water on their face and feet to cool off before continuing on their way.  Since then I have noticed the bathtub leaning against the wall dry and empty on other days when the temperatures were bearable.  

Sketching it later was very gratifying and even now the memory of the blue bath tub brings a smile to my face. 

India Art Journal 2015- Strathmore Visual Journal, watercolor 140 lbs, 5.5x8"   

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