Saturday, 23 November 2013

Dakshina Chitra

Dakshina Chitra is a very popular heritage village located on the Southern outskirts of Chennai, on the way to Mamallapuram (previously known as Mahabalipuram). Some months ago I had visited this place with members of my sketching group (Chennai Weekend Artists). My friends were delighted with the sketching opportunities at this venue, and since then we have made two more visits to the place. I am convinced that we will be going there many more times.

During our second visit to Dakshina Chitra there was a performance by a troupe of drummers from a neighbouring state. In the short time available before the start of their performance I managed to do a couple of quick sketches of a couple of the artistes. These served as warm-up exercises to my main sketch of the day. This was a sketch of the Chettinad House. Chettinad is a small region in Southern Tamilnadu known for its local cuisine, architecture, and consequently its skilled masons, carpenters and craftsmen.

Our most recent visit was last month. This time there was a newly constructed building called the Chikmagulur House which caught my eye. It represents the type of houses seen in a certain part of Karnataka, a neighbouring state. As has been my practice over the last few months, I sketched this and the other sketches of the day directly in ink with a Hero 578 fountain pen.

My next sketch was of a cluster of thatched houses typical of rural Tamilnadu. We use different types of thatched roofing in this region. The roof in this cluster is made of river-bed reeds and is considered a higher quality of thatch roofing. The space under this type of roof is much cooler than under other types of thatch roofing which use the woven leaves of palm trees.

Villages in Tamilnadu have temples dedicated to a guardian deity. These temples are called Ayyanar Temples and the priests in these temples come from the potter community. As a result, the icons in and around these Ayyanar Temples are usually made of terracotta. Dakshina Chitra has showcased one such temple and my next sketch was of a white painted terracotta idol facing this temple.

After each sketching trip one of the members of the group posts a report of the visit and the other members then upload their sketches and photographs of the day into this thread. If you would like to see what others in my sketching group sketched on these visits please follow these links:

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Doll Bazaar, Mylapore

Navarathri is a festival celebrated widely throughout India over nine successive nights. In several Indian languages the word means “nine nights” and perhaps that is why the festival is called Navarathri. There are many variants of this festival and in South India, and in particular in Tamilnadu this is a time when people arrange dolls and religious icons in an artistic manner within their houses and invite their neighbours over. There is therefore a lot of socialising over these nine days.
Each family tries to outdo the others in the selection and artistic arrangement of the stuff that they display. This results in lots of doll bazaars (markets) springing up in the weeks preceding this festival and during the festival itself. Most of these bazaars sprout around temples. The vendors spread out their wares on the pavements or hawk them from pushcarts.
In even the recent past most of these dolls were made of eco-friendly material like clay, wood, reeds and so on and were made by local craftsmen. The displays therefore also served to showcase local crafts and arts. But of late I see plastic dolls of Hindu deities, made in China, flooding our markets. To me this robs this festival of much of its charm and relevance.
During this year's Navarathri I visited the area around the Mylapore Temple along with others in my sketching group to sketch the doll vendors. Although I did sketch some of them the dolls themselves were small and therefore did not figure too prominently in my sketches. But I think I did manage to capture some of the character of these informal and very chaotic shopping areas.
I sketched all four on location, directly in ink, using a Hero 578 fountain pen.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Chennai Weekend Artists

I have not posted in this blog for several months but I have been fairly regular with my Sunday morning location sketching. I am still part of the same sketching group that I joined in Sept 2012 but we now have a new name: Chennai Weekend Artists (CWA) hosted by the art community Pencil Jammers.

Chennai, which was known as Madras until 1996, celebrates its founder's day on the 22nd of August every year. It suddenly occurred to us that by visiting different locations within the city we at CWA were actually celebrating Chennai/Madras round the year. We therefore presented our work and several of us spoke about our activities at a function held as part of the Madras Day celebration this year. The event was very well received and soon after that we found our membership surging.

Earlier we had a membership of around 30 or 40 with not more than ten members ever getting together at one time. Now our membership is in three digits and we regularly get around 30 persons participating every Sunday morning. The participants vary in age from 6 to 60+ and it is therefore now a challenge to choose locations which will meet a variety of sketching interests.

So far we have visited a number of locations within our city and our sketching itself has been confined to only a pre-lunch session every Sunday. But I think the group is now ready to spread its wings. We are considering locations outside Chennai and perhaps one day we will even think of journeying overnight to our sketching locations.

Starting from the top these are 1. A corner of the General Post Office Building on Rajaji Salai ("Salai" means "Road"). 2, Kapaleeswarar Temple, at Mylapore. 3. The State Bank of India Building on Rajaji Salai. 4. Valluvar Kottam at Nungambakkam.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Chennai Weekend Clickers

 The Chennai Weekend Clickers (CWC) is a group of photo enthusiasts who meet and go on photo shoots together every Sunday in and around Chennai. I am not sure when this group was formed but for the last three years they have held exhibitions of their members' best photographs of the year. For the year 2013 their exhibition was held at the Lalit Kala Akademi, Chennai early in Dec. It was a very popular exhibition and very well attended.


Muralidharan Alagar, from my sketching group at PencilJammers, is also an avid photographer and a member of CWC. He was therefore able to get us permission to do some spot sketching of photographs that caught our fancy and also permission to post our sketches online on the understanding that we would do only quick sketches and not very detailed ones.

There were around 200 photographs on exhibit by about 40 photographers and we had a wonderful time, first viewing and admiring the work on display and then picking the ones to sketch. We PencilJammers also spent some time chatting, comparing notes with one another and interacting with a number of visitors who found our sketching interesting and wanted to chat us up.
We spent around three hours at the exhibition,but probably only a couple of hours actually sketching. During this time I managed to do nine sketches, directly in ink, and then added some charcoal shading later at home.
Until a couple of months earlier I had done very little sketching in public and on location. I used to sketch at home, mainly using reference photographs, and liked to take my time doing it. But since joining PenciJammers in late-September 2013 I had begun to like sketching in public, on location, and also directly in ink. I had also been attempting, during this time, to sketch quickly and in a somewhat loose style. As a result, I particularly enjoyed this sketching experience immensely.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Semmozhi Poonga

While Bengaluru (Bangalore) has the reputation of being a garden city and is known for its beautiful gardens and trees Chennai, though not known for its tree cover, is also surprisingly green. Many of its roads and streets are lined with trees offering a lot of shade. But unfortunately these trees are not well kept. Chennai is also an extremely pedestrian-unfriendly city and therefore although the streets are shaded, the people out on the streets cannot enjoy a leisurely walk at any time of the day.

Chennai also has between 250 and 350 parks which are supposed to be maintained by Chennai Corporation. In fact many of them are not at all maintained, but this is something that is improving of late. The three largest parks in the city are the Guindy National Park, Semmozhi Poonga, and Tholkappia Poonga. The last two are recent additions to Chennai's park-list although both were already large open lung spaces of the city.

My sketching group from PencilJammers visited Semmozhi Poonga several times in the space of a few months. I was with them on only one of these visits and I found it to be a very pleasant place to visit. But my wife who had been there about a year earlier was very critical of the poor upkeep and felt that the place was being allowed to go to seed. Hopefully the people in charge will realise that they owe it to the public to preserve such spaces in pristine condition.

At Semmozhi Poonga I started my first sketch sitting at a shady spot, but unfortunately I had not taken the sun path into consideration. I soon found myself out of the shade and sitting directly under the hot sun. Fortunately I had already completed the skeleton of the sketch. I therefore packed up and completed that sketch at home. 

Meanwhile the others in my sketching group had selected a spot in the park that offered multiple sketching options and were engaged in a discussion on different approaches to sketching. I joined them and decided to experiment with a loose and quick gestural sketch based on suggestions from my friend Ganapathy Subramaniam (GS). Though new to this way of approaching a sketch I was quite pleased with result.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Figure And Portrait Sketching At Cholamandal Artists Village

Cholamandal Artists Village has become the fall-back venue for our sketching group. Apart from each of us choosing subjects of our choice, which we do on some occasions, the resident (professional) artists at Cholamandal arrange one or more still life compositions for us on each of our visits. They also sketch along with us to demonstrate the many ways in which we could explore each subject.

On a couple of occasions we also had people sitting for us. The first time this happened the model was a friend of one of our group of sketchers. We were told that he would be coming in a little later and therefore I warmed up by sketching the drapery that had been arranged as the backdrop for a still life composition.

Once Sumit (our model) arrived, while most of my friends attempted portrait studies I decided to sketch a full figure. I had sketched people from life only on a couple of occasions before this and was therefore quite pleased with the result. I took this photograph of Sumit after I had finished my sketch.


Some weeks later we had an old man sit for us. This time I tried to draw only his face and I think I did a fair job of it since the old man was very happy with it. That day a reporter from a daily newspaper had come to interview the resident artists at Cholamandal about the Sunday morning sketching sessions that they had been running for a long time and since we PencilJammers happened to be there that day, some of us were also interviewed. I was not interviewed but when the article appeared in the newspaper I was very surprised to find that my sketch had been included in the news report.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Pencil Jammers at Dakshina Chitra

Dakshina Chitra is a heritage village which showcases the art, architecture, crafts, culture, and traditions of South India. It is located on the Southern edge of Chennai on the coastal road to Mamallapuram (formerly known as Mahabalipuram). Dakshina Chitra is a very interesting place, well worth visiting for anyone, and in particular for tourists if they wish to experience a bit of many parts of South India in a short span of time without actually travelling to all the places.

My wife, daughter and I are frequent visitors but most of my sketch group friends from PencilJammers were visiting Dakshina Chitra for the first time. They were bowled over by all that was there to see and sketch, and decided that this was yet another place that the group had to visit regularly. You can see a small sample of it here.

Villages in South India have a guardian deity at the entrance to the village and in Tamilnadu this deity is known as Ayyanar. Dakshina Chitra too has an Ayyanar Temple for the benefit of its visitors and this is the place that we all met at. But while we were sketching the subjects of our choice, a procession of men in huge colourful masks accompanied by trumpeters and drummers swept past us. We were all very curious and followed them and found that this was a troupe from Karnataka (a neighbouring state in South India) who were there at Dakshina Chitra to perform a traditional masked dance.

The dance was very attractive and energetic and at the end of it the dancers took off their masks and rested for a while. Some of my friends sketched the dancers in motion and a few attempted quick portraits when they took a break. I chose to do a quick pen & ink sketch of the masks which the dancers had lined up on chairs while they rested.

After that we all went back to our orginal spots to continue on the sketches that we had started earlier. I made further progress on a sketch of the Ayyanar Temple which I had started earlier and then had to leave. I completed the sketch later that day at home.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Dream Of The Black Sun

I was with the Pencil Jammers once again early in Oct 2012 at Cholamandal Artists Village and this time we had a large number of children for company as you can see from the pictures here. The children were merely visiting the village but many of them seemed to like watching us draw. Several came and chatted with us. A few complimented us on our drawings. I was very impressed with how polite they all were and felt very stimulated by their visit.

This time I did two sketches. My first was a pen and ink sketch of a sculpture called "Dream of the Black Sun" by ND Rajasekharan. I completed the outline and mapping of contours, light and shadows on location and then worked on increasing the value range at home.
The second is a 30 minute sketch of the still life set up for the day by the Cholamandal artists. Many of the artists gathered there that morning concentrated on the still life. But I was keen to see what I could manage in half an hour using just one pen and that too without any graphite pre-drawing. I therefore sketched directly with a 2.0 Sakura Calligraphy sketch pen which allows me to vary line weights.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Pencil Jammers

There is a story of a snail that had fallen into a deep pit trying to climb out. It needed to climb thirty feet to get to safety. Every day it would manage to slowly crawl 3 feet up, but during the night it would slither most of the way back. My condition seems to be somewhat like this snail's in my attempts to improve my sketching and drawing skills.

Although my desire has been very strong ever since it was rekindled about a dozen years ago, every year I go through many months when I do not find the time or energy to draw. I have tried many different ploys to ensure that I do not slide backwards during these periods but so far they have only helped to a limited extent. My attempts to do at least one lunch time sketch every day worked only for a while.

However, around the middle of September last year I received an invitation from Ganapathy Subramaniam (GS), whom I had met online at WetCanvas, to join him on Pencil Jammers. Unlike many other art communities on the net PJ encourages its members to meet and sketch, draw, & paint together on location and in workshops (which members are free to organise on their own). In Chennai and Bangalore interested members meet every Sunday to sketch on location at various venues and then post their work in appropriate threads on the Pencil Jammers website.

As a result, from mid-September 2012 onwards, until a couple of months ago, I have been fairly regular at these Sunday morning sketching meets. I have been busy through the rest of the week and found no time to draw, but at each of these sessions I have tried to do one main sketch of about 90 minutes duration and a couple of quick sketches in about 30 minutes each at each venue. In this post I am sharing some of the sketches from the first two meets that I attended. Most parts of these sketches were completed on location, but I worked a bit more on each of them at home, mainly to add to the shading, and to darken some of the values through cross hatching

Cholamandal, is an artists' village in Chennai. I had been there many times to look at artwork and to attend films on art based topics, but for my friends in Pencil Jammers this was their first time there and they were charmed by the ambience of the place. As a result our group has visited the place several times since then.

I had been to the Children's Park almost forty years ago and had thought that it was a very drab place. I was very pleasantly surprised at how much it had developed since then and with its current popularity. Our group got there at around 9 am but within a couple of hours the place was quite crowded with visitors. I have discovered that I do not mind being watched while I draw, but that is not the case with many others and some of my companions decided that it was time to quit the place..


Sunday, 13 January 2013

Mylapore Festival

Chennai is considered one of the cultural centres of India. And, if there is one part of Chennai that embodies these more than the others do, it is Mylapore. While Chennai is said to date back to the 17th century (1644) when The East India Company established Fort St. George, Mylapore was already a large settlement then. There are records of settlements around Mylapore predating the birth of Christ. And, before the British, Mylapore was occupied by the Portuguese and the French.

This weekend we are witnessing the 11th edition of the Mylapore Festival, when the entire community comes together to put up a four day street festival celebrating the music, art, food, traditions and culture of the place. From a fairly sedate start this festival has grown in popularity over the years.

The kolam competition is one of the very popular events during this festival. Kolam is a drawing made on a swept and washed floor using white rice powder. Traditionally it is drawn early every morning by Hindu women in front of their homes. Last year I watched as a part of a very busy street was cordoned off to hold this event. These are some of the photographs taken then.

Amongst many other things Mylapore is famous for its Kapaleeswarar Koil a Shiva temple. There are references to this temple that date back to the 7th century, but these references place the temple on the seashore over a kilometer away from the present location of the temple. Additionally the present temple reflects the architecture of the 16th century although there are inscriptions within the temple dating back to the 12th century. The explanation for this paradox seems to be that the old temple by the seashore was razed to the ground by the Portuguese to build the Santhome Cathedral and that the Kapaleeswarar Koil was then rebuilt by the kings of Vijayanagaram in the 16th century.

These are two sketches that I made on location a few weeks ago. The first is of the entrance to the temple with a mandapam (hall) in the foreground. And the other sketch is of a house just outside the temple which caught my eye because it had its own mini-temple. I later discovered that it was the house of one of the senior priests of the temple.