Thursday, December 16, 2010

A New Year

Greetings and warm wishes to A on her birthday, and loving hugs and kisses to Baby E.  A New Year is around the corner.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

My experiments with Furoshiki

Furoshiki in Japanese refers to the cloth used to wrap gifts in different styles using folds and knots. Charissa of The Gifted Blog has written about it and featured a few gifts wrapped with cloth; among them, a gift from India was wrapped using furoshiki and I thought I'd  return the compliment by using furoshiki to wrap gifts in India!

This post is dedicated to Raman, an inveterate traveller whose love of  Japan and all things Japanese is fairly infectious.

As I read more about this method from her blog and others, it struck me that in India we have been using cloth for wrapping things for ages. Even with the influx of hi-tech casseroles and microwaves etc., a cotton cloth continues to be used in many households to wrap chapattis (flat bread) that have come off the griddle in order to keep them soft and warm. A simple method of just folding opposite ends in sequence is usually used. Lunch boxes are sometimes wrapped in a square piece of cloth and knotted firmly. It helps to prevent spillage, and the cloth can also double as a napkin while eating.

In apartment complexes in the city, a man who irons clothes comes around to the apartments to fetch the clothes. He uses a bed sheet to wrap the clothes to be ironed from each household and knots it, using a method of knotting two opposite ends over the folded ones; instead of a hidden knot in the furoshiki style, this one is exposed. This bundle can either be carried over his shoulder like a bag, or if there are many bundles, he carries them on his head. In this way, not just does an old bed sheet get recycled into something useful, it also serves as an identification of the household to which the clothes belong.

Old dhotis made of silk and cotton (dhotis are unstitched lengths of cloth, usually muslin, that are worn by men as daily wear and also for religious rituals) are preserved for different uses. Silk dhotis are usually used to wrap silk sarees of special significance and store them away in cupboards. The cotton ones are sometimes cut into smaller pieces and used for any purpose that demands soft thin fabric. Till the entry of disposable diapers, such soft absorbent cloth was often recycled into nappies for infants, which made perfect sense in these climatic conditions.

With a wide array of natural and synthetic fabric, and weaves and colours to choose from in India, I wanted to try using some of them as furoshiki to wrap some gifts.  The results of my experiment are up here in this post.

My first thought was to try out khadi fabric for the “Indian” furoshiki.

Khadi is the term used for handspun and handwoven cloth made from natural fibres like cotton, silk and wool. It is linked to the life of Mahatma Gandhi who promoted the spinning of khadi cloth as a mark of protest during the freedom struggle. A spinning wheel called charkha is used for this. By law the Indian flag can only be printed on khadi cloth by a specific agency. Many politicians still wear khadi as a political statement. Outlets to promote khadi fabric and other produce have come up in cities, and khadi fabric is sometimes the focus of fashion shows. Although cotton khadi is fairly inexpensive and is usually coarser in nature, as the fabric becomes refined, the costs go up, and silk khadi can be quite expensive. A quality of this fabric is comfort -- it “breathes” because of the nature of the weave and can be cool in summer and warm in winter. The main drawback is that it creases easily.

Furoshiki - some basics
I was able to get an idea about the cloth from different websites, which helpfully include illustrations. There are even online videos which demonstrate different styles.

These are some basics I operated with:

  • Furoshiki cloth is usually square in shape in a variety of sizes. It could also be rectangular sometimes.
  • The borders are stitched.
  • I felt that furoshiki cloth should be initially made from a fresh piece of fabric, and the cloth should be reserved exclusively for this purpose. I didn’t read this anywhere, but I wouldn’t like to give anyone gifts wrapped in remnants of old clothes or used bedsheets.
  • The cloth can be coarse or fine, and styles of wrapping could differ based on the quality of cloth.
  • The cloth should ideally be reversible, because with certain styles of wrapping like knotting, the reverse side is sometimes exposed.   With the simple folding technique, it does not matter whether it is reversible or not.
  • I was unclear whether furoshiki is still expected to be taken back by the giver after the gift is presented in current times. 
Results of the experiment  

Here are some samples of furoshiki wrapped gifts. An assortment of gifts of different shapes were chosen, and two styles are explained step-by-step at the end of this post.

There are several online guides on furoshiki styles that suit specific gifts, or even converting the cloth into bags. There are some established styles with descriptive Japanese names.   However since some of them worked out a little differently (an understatement indeed!), I have just given them some simple names.

Khadi furoshiki (coarser cloth)  in butterfly (or kimono) style. A rectangular cloth fell too short for proper knotting resulting in this colourful gift wrap.

Khadi furoshiki (fine quality) used to wrap a large box.  A flower knot was attempted, but the petals ended up overhanging. The size of the gift and the cloth have to match in order for the style to work. However,for the first time I appreciated  this cloth when it was juxtaposed against the seashell -- the weave of the fabric, and the design on the seashell were uncannily similar. 

Cotton  fish print furoshiki used for a folded gift wrap. A jute-viscose gift tag labelled using a simple fineliner pen. If there is a large graphic to focus on,  a little bit of experimentation may be needed so that the graphic is on the presenting side.

Two-toned rayon furoshiki to wrap a cylindrical object. Aiming for a rabbit wrap, and just about getting the ears.. maybe somewhat endearingly floppy bunny-like.

Silk furoshiki used in a holdable gift wrap. 

Experiences with furoshiki
  • It isn’t as simple as it looks (and I don’t think you needed me to tell you that).
  • One needs some practice to figure out the sizes of cloth required for different shapes of gifts so that one gets the best effect of the knots and folds. Else it can get pretty messy looking. ( I am not happy with some of the results for this reason, nor with my photography skills, but since this was just an experiment, I’m sure I’ll get better.)
  • In general, I got the impression that thinner and larger-sized cloths are best for knotting, while the thicker and smaller-sized ones are better folded.
  • For books, I felt the folded style using thicker cloth was better. Although the hidden knot style was tempting, when I tried it with book wrap, I felt the knot looked bulky especially since the gift itself was so flat.
  • The furoshiki cloth, especially cotton cloth, needs to be ironed really well -- not just does it appear neater, but the creases help the beginner make neater folds.
  • The synthetic cloth used (green colour) really draped well and retained its stiffness.
  • I shopped around in 2-3 places for suitable fabrics, and the steal was of course a bed sheet with the fish print design. I thought it was ideal for gift wrapping for children.
  • I also confess to have cheated and bought a square tablecloth for furoshiki (the green synthetic one), which was great because I did not have to pay extra to get it stitched. Also the slightly wider hem made better bunny ears!
  • I deliberately avoided using rubber bands or ribbons which might have held things together better, as I believed the original focus was on simple knots and folds without extra frills and fancies.
  • I thought that using paper or card as gift tags would spoil the effect, so I made cloth tags using starched jute-viscose fabric that was lying about the house. It requires very little effort to cut it into rectangles, make a fringe, and just take a fineliner and sketch/write what you want on it. If I had time, I could have painted it on instead.

Would I  Should I  Could I  ... use Furoshiki ?
  • Yes, I would use furoshiki for gift wrapping. I would start by using it for children’s gifts -- not just do they form the bulk of the gifts I give these days, but I think that children are really receptive and welcoming to any new ideas.
  • Wrapping books using the folding method was really a child’s play especially for a person who is not good at knots, and the result was fairly neat with very few creases in the cloth.
  • Certain furoshiki like the fish print cloth which is mid-range in cost, I could bear to part with -- in fact, I have an idea that children might love to either use it as a napkin or maybe wrap gifts for someone else. I thought of gifting some furoshiki away with a little tag that explains how it can be used.
  • But certain cloth, in particular the brown khadi cloth, which I absolutely love and which was the most expensive of the lot, would not be given away. I would prefer to keep it and reuse it as furoshiki.
  • In India, gifts are not usually opened immediately unless it is a fairly small gathering and the giver can casually suggest that the receiver open the gift and see whether they like it.  So I cannot see myself making a scene about getting the furoshiki back after the party! I think one has to ad lib according to the occasion, and naturally use an appropriate cloth  -- if the furoshiki is of special significance to you and you want it back, it might be a good idea to present the gift in a slightly formal way  (maybe on a tray) to the intended recipient, wait for him/her to open it, and while they are in raptures over your beautiful gift, quickly take back the furoshiki before they even know it is missing. Ok, I’m just kidding -- I’m sure they will return it if you ask nicely.   
Khadi furoshiki anyone?

I would like to make a special mention of khadi as furoshiki cloth. I used two different qualities (the blue printed one and the brown one), and really felt that the fabric could be used to wrap gifts. From time to time, khadi undergoes a revival in order to popularise what some would see as fairly dated styles of clothing and difficult to maintain fabric. To that end, khadi outlets have come up in several cities and sell not just their fabric, but also a wide variety of food produce produced in a small scale. They already sell inexpensive bags made of khadi and sheets of handmade paper, but perhaps if simple square hemmed cloths of different qualities, prints and sizes could be sold at these shops, they could be put to use in this interesting way. Of course it would make perfect sense only if the furoshiki can be reused or the idea of reusable gift wrapping could be passed on to others. 

Advantages of khadi fabric for furoshiki :
  • The finer khadi cloth (the brown fabric used here) drapes well and is almost like paper,
  • Khadi cloth’s special significance to India and small scale cottage industries is still relevant to those interested in the environment and conservation,
  • The philosophy of furoshiki really melds well with khadi fabric especially if we follow the system of reusing the cloth,  
  • Khadi also comes in different qualities and it would lend itself well to both folds and knots depending on this. 

The drawbacks of khadi fabric for furoshiki :

  • High cost in the case of the finer quality (to give an idea of the cost -- for the amount I paid for just the brown khadi cloth shown in the pictures, I could have easily bought about 100 sheets of ordinary wrapping paper costing about 2-3 rupees a sheet.  
  • Since khadi creases a lot, it might require a lot of ironing, and if it is being re-used, a starch rinse might be in order to make it stiffer. 
In conclusion

As far as costs go (and Charissa has also brought up this issue on her blog), furoshiki cannot be cheap even here in India where fabrics come in a wide range of prices. Besides, gift wrapping is usually offered gratis and it would require some effort to walk away and do something different. However, something novel which resonates like furoshiki and is indeed reminiscent of some traditional practices might find some takers. I'll keep you posted!

Two techniques in detail

Simple folding gift wrap

Spread the cloth in a diamond shape on a flat surface. Place the gifts across the centre.

Take the end closest to you upwards and tuck it in.

Fold the left end inwards.

Fold the right end over it and tuck it inside.

Bring the uppermost corner over the books, constantly checking the sides and flattening it.

Flip the books and bring the corner flap over so that it resembles an envelope. While ironing the furoshiki, making sharp crease lines could help while making the folds.

Add a tag and you're done.

Loop gift wrap

Place the cylindrical object at one corner of the furoshiki, taking due care of the contents and any loose lids of course!

Roll the object and cloth towards the opposite end.

Adjust the opposite corners to make a first knot. Then add another knot to form a loop which can be used for carrying the gift.

You might be also interested in the following posts:

Why wrap gifts?
A study in brown

Why wrap gifts?

Let’s face it  -- gift wrapping is superfluous.

If I ever wrote the story of my life, the gifts I have given or received would feature in just a few sentences, and the wrapping of those gifts may not even get a mention.

Why, even in Indian religious mythology, historical accounts or literature, although gifts feature either as a piece of fact or as a device to convey deeper spiritual insights, very little is mentioned about the actual embellishment of the gift when it is presented.

In mythology, the story of a poor woman Shabari who took refuge in a forest hermitage never fails to touch a chord in me.  She lived in the hope of getting a glimpse of the exiled king Sri Rama, and performed chores every day like seeing that the forest paths were cleared of stones so they did not hurt the feet of the king, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, if they perchance visited the hermitage. She made sure that the brambles were cleared so that they did not get caught in his hair which no doubt would have grown long.  Berries were plucked, and in order that only the sweetest and best fruit could be given to Sri Rama, Shabari tasted a bit of each berry… which is really unthinkable even in modern India where it is taboo to give food that you have bitten or put to your mouth to others. Eventually, Rama did visit this humble woman’s hermitage and partake of these berries, despite knowing that she had tasted them. He saw it as a gift given from the heart, given with childlike innocence and pure devotion. I can’t think of this gift of berries being given to him in anything other than a simple bowl made of leaves tacked together with bits of dried grass stalks, or maybe a reed basket woven painstakingly by Shabari in the evenings as the light dimmed in the forest.

Gifts were often given by Gods pleased with the penance of sages or the deeds of mortals. For instance, pleased with the penance of Yudishthira, Lord Surya (the Sun God) gave him a wonderful vessel called the Akshyapatra which would give an endless supply of food to the Pandavas every day. In books or comic books that re-tell these stories to modern children, such divine gifts often pop up  from the skies without any embellishments, and often on a torso-less hand, possibly to make it easier for mere mortals to comprehend the message of reaping of what one sows. It would have been difficult to convey the same effect if the said gift appears wrapped in layers of cloth or paper.

Likewise, in an example from Indian history: it is reported that King Ambhi of Taxila gave Alexander, the Macedonian king, gifts of 3000 fat oxen and 10,000 sheep and gold and silver. Somehow, I get the feeling that King Ambhi wouldn’t have bothered too much about wrapping these gifts, nor would the outward appearance have mattered to young Alexander who doubtless was already thinking about his next conquest.  

In the classic stories by O. Henry, “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Last Leaf”, gifts form the central theme -- the former features material gifts that the protagonists gave each other which in a heart wringing twist are ultimately of no use to either; while in the latter story, it was the gift of his time and art and ultimately his own life, that the aging artist gave the invalid girl. The stories were so gripping when I first read them years ago, that I never once wondered about how the gifts might have been wrapped. Closer home, Prem Chand’s story “Idgah” tells us of a poor young boy given a few coins by his old grandmother despite their poverty, so that he could go and enjoy himself with his friends at the fair held during the Id festival. The young boy spends time roaming in the fair grounds clutching the coins and watching his friends purchase small toys and other whimsy. Ultimately, he does buy something -- a pair of tongs for his grandmother so that she does not burn her hands while making rotis on the stove. I have not read the original story in Hindi, but going by the era during which the author wrote it, the gift may not have been wrapped at all, or maybe just loosely covered with a piece of old newspaper and tied with a string.

Gift wrapping with paper and ribbon is not an Indian tradition. It appears to have entered the country along with other western traditions like birthday cakes and birthday parties. Even in the early 1980s, I cannot recall much paper (let alone plastics or aluminium foil and cling film) being used in middle class households in my home town, Bangalore. During festivals, gifts were exchanged among neighbours and friends, but usually these were simple gifts of fruits and delicacies cooked fresh and arranged on a tray and covered with a dainty cloth kept specifically for such purposes. When the tray reached its destination, the contents were transferred onto a tray kept for the purpose by the host, and the original tray and cloth were taken back home. Simple, elegant and fuss free.  

For birthdays, apart from gifts like toys and books (or money as one outgrew toys), what was most important was the early morning bath and prayer, followed by drinking a glass of sweetened milk flavoured with saffron usually served in a special silver tumbler. This was followed by paying respects to the elders of the family and asking for their blessings. In honour of the occasion, a sweet dish would definitely be prepared; the focus again would be on using pure and auspicious ingredients like saffron, ghee, nuts and raisins, as well as grains like rice. A visit to the temple would be mandatory in most households.  In north India, the first reaction to any good news (like the birth of a baby or good exam results) is to quickly make a sweet dish or purchase a box of sweetmeats and offer it to all visitors saying “Mu meetha kijiye” which translates to “Come and sweeten your  mouths”. The focus everywhere was on good food, fun, sharing with others, and respecting the elderly. The gift usually was secondary (at least to adults) to all the excitement and hustle and bustle of the day. 

Even during landmark events like the birth of a baby or a marriage, the gifts were presented formally and openly (in fact even if something like a sari came in a box, it would be displayed openly) at a specific time during the ceremony and were usually arranged on a tray with other customary offerings like fruits, coconuts and betel leaves. 

In present times however, there has been a sea change in attitudes to gifting. Gift coupons, expensive jewellery, books, small knick-knacks, toys...the choice is endless. There are different occasions and new traditions to keep up with global trends, and gifts to suit each occasion. Usually there is a distinct difference in private celebrations at home and larger gatherings.  Travelling long distances to reach events also means that some amount of gift wrapping is necessary to avoid damage to the gift. Large gatherings also mean that it may not be possible to formally present each gift to the recipient in the old manner.

Gift shops usually offer gift wrapping with some basic gift wrap paper free, and this usually leads the busy shopper to go in for it. In fact, I started thinking of novel gift wraps and customizing them for the recipient for this reason. Whenever I took my son to a birthday party, especially in the same housing society we live in, I found that many gifts looked alike -- not just were they bought in the same bookshop across the road, even the gift wrap used was the same because there were very few designs! I felt that the children deserved better and even though they usually rip through the wrapping in a few seconds to get at the gift, sparing a few minutes to wrap things better made ME feel better.

It requires  some effort to look the shop owner in the eye and say “Thanks, but I’d rather not use the free shiny non-biodegradable wrapping paper you use to wrap gifts in two minutes, but I’m going to go all the way home to wrap the gift myself thereby taking an extra hour or so ….” . Yet, it’s all so worth it when I see the extra excitement when the gift is handed over, so I fully intend to go to all the bother.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Bookaroo 2010

Some scenes from Bookaroo, the annual literary festival for children, that takes place in Delhi.

Brilliant blue sky, cheerful decorations and elegant locale at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (IGNCA). A photo taken while horizontal under this canopy by Anant.

An early Christmas? Here the organisers have created a tree where children can tie tags with the names of their favourite book. Photo by Anant.

The designer casts an anxious last-minute look  at the pop-up card created during paper engineer's Robert Sabuda's highly popular workshop. Don't miss the fangs, a creative touch given by Anant. Photo by Namitha

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Priceless treasure

If I was an Egyptian queen, I'd have an extremely short list of things I'd want to follow me into the black of beyond.  Number one would be this little portrait done of his mom by Anant when he was about three and half years old.

It has weathered a lot, first just flapping around in a file. Then being framed proudly along with 2-3 other sketches, one of a seven-headed Ravana (three heads are at the back, Mamma), his perspective of a Formula One car  as seen on TV, and a cheerful red train, thanks to the advice of a cartoonist who dropped into the house one day. I've forgotten his name, but am eternally grateful for his intervention, without which they would still be languishing in a folder like countless others produced by the resident artist. He had a theory about how it boosts the young artist's confidence and encourages them, and added that he had done the same for his nephews. And so these originals have adorned the walls, occasionally being shifted from one wall to another. A change is as good as a feast, as someone said.

About the portrait...I thought it is a rather gentle rendering, bringing to mind a certain friendly ghost, maybe because I was always hovering about? If you  are keen-sighted and spotted the artist's signature at the bottom, and wondered whether we had a precocious genius on our hands, well, the truth is simpler. About two years ago, during his  cricket craze phase, Anant broke the glass of this portrait with the cricket ball, and  during this time, he  made use of the opportunity to scrawl his name prominently across the bottom. Short-sighted me never noticed for days, and then I was terribly annoyed. My question was very simple and I started out by saying: "how do you expect people to believe that you did this when you were about three when ....blah blah blah...." and then I gave up. It didn't matter.  Nothing mattered except that it was STILL his portrait of ME, and he had the artistic licence to do what he wanted with it. (Besides, he did colour coordinate the signature.)

Now that Anant is in some kind of tribal art phase, and is currently "experimenting" with the Warli style now, we read up something about this particular form of art.

In one write-up on the Internet, it was mentioned that the triangle, circle and square feature in this form; however only the triangle and circle are shapes found in nature, for instance mountains, leaves, the sun, etc.  I  wonder -- is that why we think of urban landscapes or man-made environments in terms of "boxes" and rectangular shapes rather than something more fluid and organic?

Anyway, coming back to the said portrait, it is interesting that the triangle was prominent in his very first "articulate" portrait as well.  Anybody with even the slightest interest in understanding how children perceive things and how they learn would be interested in such milestone drawings (if not all of them). Having said that, it was the broad (triangular) smile that astonished me the most though. I always thought I was a rather grim and forbidding person, and with a toddler on my hands and working, often anxious about a gazillion different things.  A prosaic reason could be that at around three years he just didn't have as much control over his little starfish fingers then as he does now, and the smile ended up so big and cheesy. But being the subject of this portrait, I have my own spin on it.  He and I secretly knew that  my broadest smile was reserved then and will be reserved for always for my little boy. Just like that of any mother across the world. Happy Children's Day !

Monday, November 1, 2010

Finally, the outdoors...

The crisp winter air in Delhi signals the beginning of more outdoorsy activities. Rosy cheeked children dressed in their winter uniforms skip along happily to school. Just driving on the beautiful roads of Delhi past the parks and monuments  inspires us to plan weekend activities like picnics and birdwatching trips, to make full use of the season. 

As if that’s not enough, a profusion of events in the city leave us spoilt for choice. Music concerts, exhibitions, haats (or outdoor markets) for crafts, food festivals, and outdoor dance and music performances are a sure magnet for anyone who wants to give stuffy malls a miss. One such ongoing festival was Akhyan being held on the lawns of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, which is devoted to performance and masked art forms of India. Featuring stalls where craftspeople demonstrated their skills, making masks, leather puppets, scrolls or kaavads, besides an exhibition on masks and puppets of India. 

A sight to behold just as the Dastkar bazaar opened in the morning. Photo by Anant.

Puppet becoming puppeteer? Photo by Anant.

Master of the kitschy school of photography? Anant's perspective.

Can't get enough of these giant leather puppets. Photo by Anant.
On the same lawns, a crafts bazaar by Dastkar also provided enough opportunities to do our Diwali shopping or stock up for the winter. The Dastkar bazaar focuses on small development organizations working with artists and craftspersons to design and produce interesting and innovative objects,often with natural materials.

Another interesting feature was the workshops  by artists and craftspeople which could be attended by anyone for the nominal sum of Rs 30. 

Anant and I attended two such workshops, one on Madhubani painting and the other on the papercutting  called Sanjhi. While an hour is hardly enough to gain deep knowledge on anything, it was like diving in at the deep end and just doing what we were instructed to do, and asking questions to get more information. Both instructors said they have been working at their art since childhood. Madhubani painting was a revelation as we learnt that the inks and paints are made from plant material. The black ink used for the outlines is made with soot and kerosene. The paper was handmade brushed lightly with cowdung. Each of us was able to make one small painting outline using the nib and special black ink, and we needed to fill it out at home with poster paints. An hour was enough to understand the control needed over the nib, and also to get an overview of the typical layout of a Madhubani painting. 

At the Madhubhani school of painting, on the lawns of the IGNCA. Anant working on his initial outlines with a nib and the special ink. Photo by Namitha
Namitha's  attempt to get a hang of this style (voluntary disclosure, the bird on upper right corner was done by the instructor). Photo by Namitha
Tiger rendered in Madhubani style by Anant (voluntary disclosure: the tiger was done fully by Anant, with some help on the background by the instructor). Photo by Namitha
The Sanjhi paper cutting technique was not easy at all. Intricate stencils are used to transfer a design onto paper. A specially sharpened pair of barber’s scissors (with really short cutting sufaces) is used to cut out the paper stencil.  The point of the scissors pierces the paper which is supported from behind by one hand. Originally such stencils were  used to make rangolis(patterns with coloured powders or flowers). Current uses of these delicate stencils range from framing them or using them for dry rangolis. 

It was indeed an afternoon well spent, soaking in the mild winter sun, stretched out on the lawns, and learning something new.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Festive sights

An impromtpu visit to Bangalore during the Dussehra (Dasara) festival period resulted in some interesting photo opportunities for Anant.

A walk through Gandhi Bazaar, a local market in Bangalore, is a feast for the senses. Multi-hued flowers in straw baskets, garlands, banana leaves to adorn vehicles, ash gourds...the dolls that are used to decorate the traditional kolu or doll display that many households feature during this festival.

Flowers at Gandhi Bazaar market
A Chetiyar doll, usually a shopkeeper in the doll display
Vivid colours of the dolls in a shop waiting to be picked up by customers to adorn their kolu
A kolu at a relative's house.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Nature journal

Even if it takes time to figure out watercolours, I still can work out ways to bring in birds and paints into my life.

The little boy was gifted a camera for his birthday yesterday, and I thought that this was a great time to start him on a nature journal. Birding trips always result in us writing lists on random sheets of paper, that's how much we rely on photography as documentation. But there is so much more to see than just birds, there's seeds, seed pods, spiders, dragon flies, beetles, butterflies, mushrooms, slugs.... A boy needs a place to record all this.

So I picked up this inexpensive handmade journal bound in fabric so that it could be used as a nature journal. I used my painting of the Flame-backed Woodpecker as a reference, and used fabric paints, to make the cover more interesting. When painting on fabric I use a really tiny brush with short bristles which functions almost like a pen. It is easier than I expected really.

My boy  loved it. I do hope it gets him started on journalling. I also had an idea that I could use the tea bag pouches that I refuse to trash on some pages so that he can store treasures like tiny seeds and feathers.

A fabric bound handmade notebook

Ah, can that be an inspiration?

A perfect present for a little boy -- and coming full circle really because the painting I made was based on his photograph of the bird!

Slow progress

It's been a passion with me to collect paint supplies, and although I bring them out once in a while, seriously getting around to putting paintbrush to paper was tougher.

My interest is in painting birds, and watercolours do bring out the details of this fascinating subject wonderfully.   Being a self-taught artist (how easily that rolls out..) comes with a price, and one needs to be really honest or have good critics around who can say things that are constructive without damaging the delicate artist's ego.  All I can say with the experience of exactly four pieces of relatively small-sized watercolours is that I have a long way to go. I would advise any other closet artist to invest in a good spiral bound artist's block which can chronicle your efforts. Although this can make you cringe when you look at your first attempts, you can progressively cheer up - in fact, if you flip the pages fast enough you  might see more of the good parts.

The really wonderful part about painting was that I turned my attention not only to the details of the birds, their plumage, their silhouette etc., but I began noticing trees: their trunks, their shapes, the branches and leaves. All these paintings are from photographs taken by the boys, but I was witness to these birds in nature, and I recall everything that happened, how the photograph was shot, and the sense of exhilaration we felt when we saw the bird.  This is reflected in the paintings, rather these attempts at painting them. Sketching, noticing forms, brush control, paint fluidity all these were learning experiences. While I have tried to be true to their basic shapes, this appears to be more a snapshot of their mood, some sort of continuation of my professional work in editing and publishing. The paintings really are edited versions of the photographs.

Interestingly the bird that looks fairly "flat" in the photograph, the shikra,  has come out quite well as a painting. That's because I had to take more effort in layering to get the effect I wanted.  I remember feeling a keen sense of awe watching this beautiful bird at head height (we were in the Canter at Ranthambore Tiger Reserve) just about 12 feet away from us. The effect was of silent power couched in delicate colours.

Update: I had a discussion with my friend Kamini about these paintings, and after that I decided to post the original photographs alongside the paintings so you can get an idea of how much editing and cropping I had to do to translate it into a painting.  These are actually photographs of photographs since I did not have the digital files with me. The photographs of the Flame-backed Woodpecker and the Spotted Dove were taken by Anant and three others by Dipak. It is difficult to encapsulate the magic of the Shikra and almost ashen coloured tree trunks and branches that provide an almost ethereal quality to the photograph. Even the blurry yellow leaf that appears in the foreground can be excused - remember that these are photographs taken from a vehicle and we stopped for barely thirty seconds. One does not go about manoeuvring one's position in a Canter with several other people! The thing about my painting is that I have no patience in taking time over the painting - since these aren't really large canvases. I feel compelled to do the sketch, filling and background in one sitting. One could call it artistic urge, but...actually, I know it's just plain old impatience. 

Oriental Tree Pie - this social, almost tame, bird was common in Ranthambore Tiger Reserve. Don't miss the blotches of paint hidden really badly with white paint. What a mess!

Blossom-headed Parakeet - a riot of colours, really a challenge for me to figure it out (as you can tell) This beautiful bird really appears boring in my painting.

Perky Flame-backed Woodpecker sitting on the Flame of the Forest (Butea monosperma)  - it was high up on this tree and quite small.

Shikra at Ranthambore Tiger Reserve

Don't forget to leave some blank pages in between so little hands can have a go too. Sketch of a  Spotted Dove (minus the spots) by  Anant (June 2010)