Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Do you see the Painted Stork?

I took along sketch book and oil pastels during a recent birding day trip. 

On a tiny promontory, my son and I sat down near the lake’s edge and trained our eyes to look for the birds. At a distance was a mud island on which was a large tree on which were perched some Painted Storks. Painted Storks are large birds, and their colouring is somewhat similar to flamingoes…a dash of that beautiful rosy pink is distinctly visible. But there the resemblance ends. While flamingoes are quiet waders, just feeding endlessly a few metres from the shore, Painted Storks are quite active. They  fly about and perch on large trees where they roost and look after their young. They are quite vocal too raising quite a cacophony in the nesting season. 

Anyway, while I was focusing on one Painted Stork that had just landed, suddenly the whole scene in front of me appeared just  in the form of colours. I tried to capture it  roughly – using oil pastels for the first time is not child’s play – but anyway, a rough sketch of the colours resulted, more like an aide memoire for me later.

Surprisingly, the sensation only got  more vivid, and I could recollect the palette of the landscape even days later.  So I put it down a little more neatly this time, again using oil pastels. They still aren’t easy to use, but the effect is suitable for what I want to convey.  

Around the perimeter was the land, we had plants along the shore, different shades of green, moved into the water which reflected the overcast sky, with highlights of black and sunshine. We moved past this to the mud island, on which the tree stood. On the tree was the Painted Stork. 

Do you see it now? 

Some time ago, I was reading about the artist S.H. Raza and there were some photographs of his famous works in the series “Bindu”.  He used acrylics on canvas and used geometric shapes in almost childlike manner, but there is something deeply spiritual about these images. 

My earliest memory of  art classes at school was when we'd each be given a sheet of paper and asked to draw whatever we wanted. I remember always starting from the top left corner with an arc and colouring it in boldly, adding another arc, and then another..all of different colours. It’s something like that, but in this case it was really graphic representation of a landscape that was actually in front of my eyes. It was an interesting sensation indeed, and  I'm dying to do this again.

Flash of pink, white and black...Painted Stork on the tree. Photo by Anant.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Anant and I attended an event called Bal Sangam held during mid-November at the Crafts Museum in Delhi. Although it was fairly lack-lustre compared to some other events, we still tried to use the opportunity to do wander around looking at things.   

First he learnt how to make a puppet – a fairly large one out of newspaper and string – this was an eye-opener for us, because normally we just use papier mache and that does take some time.   After a session of origami, we landed up at a stall where a lady had displayed terracotta items. She also had a rustic table with a big mound of clay and kids were having a gala time making objects out of this clay. An assortment of instruments like a rolling pin, knives and scalpels were set out. For some reason, even with the November chill in the air, all of us, adults and children just wanted to feel the wet clay and make something out of it. So you had adults trying to get some space on the table, kids showing their creations, people just asking her questions about where they could get clay like this to use at home.  We all became kids again, and she patiently answered our questions, while we made whatever we felt like.

Tiny clay bust of a monster-man. Air dried terracotta clay made by Anant (November 2011)
 The first photograph shows what  Anant made - a man’s head.  When we talk about people shrinking as they age, this is exactly what happened to this clay bust. It had so many little attachments – he was trying to make something like a monster with large ears, horns and a pipe in its mouth, and all kinds of things. But while bringing it back home, some stuff fell off. And as it sat on the cabinet, aging and drying up, bits and pieces fell off almost day by day…and this is all that remains.  Hmm. We could get all philosophical and say, what remains is the essence of that man, and what remains would probably last for ages. But I’d rather just say….  we  need to learn how to work better with wet clay.   

As a medium it is not as easy to use as we expect. It’s  just a whole lot of sandy clay, like the mud found on the banks of a river. How difficult can it be to work with? Look at the photograph to understand this.

Four beads and a rose. Air dried terracotta clay. Made by Namitha (November 2011)

The rose was much easier to make. Just rolling the clay to make the beads and passing a toothpick through the centre should really have been child’s play – but each bead ended up different even though I was actually aiming at some uniformity. 

Over the past few months when I’ve tried to blog about some of the craft I’ve made, I’ve realized that there are some things that I just am not every good at – cutting paper is one of them – I’m atrocious at it; and the other is rolling clay to make beads. Yet, I’m drawn to these things, especially working with paper.  

Anyway, so there I was with four air-dried terracotta beads, however they are, all quirky and unique. Astonishing how hard they are, despite not being fired. What do I make with them? 

I tried to meld some of the things that have been in my mind for a while, especially what I’ve learnt from my online group explorations on Chakras. Although we are on to the second chakra, I felt that I would like to commemorate the session with the root chakra in some way. The root chakra is related to origins and family, and  tribes and the ancient bonds that link people together. This is the very first exposure to the world outside that a child receives. Working with clay was a trigger – it may have been no different from a girl in the ancient times, making a toy for herself, shaping the wet clay from the river bank into some piece of jewellery even.  So I went with the root chakra colour – which is red, and painted them with acrylic paint  – a bright red colour, vermilion actually. 

Then it was just a matter of picking up material  and fashioning a necklace out of it. I knew I was on the right track when Anant came and saw what I was doing, and held the necklace against himself and said “Jinga la la hoo Hoo”. Sometimes we don’t need intelligible words to communicate, my boy and I.  (Note to others: This is the chorus of a film song in Hindi which is picturised with a tribal dance. It is rather cliched and may be seen as a bit strange in modern times, but just that phrase has become a bit popular to convey "tribal dance"!)

Anyway, so here is what I came up with - people who know me well would feel that this is not me. I look good in red, I've been told that, but it is not a colour I wear often.  It's  not a colour I would instinctively pick – that is actually the energy of red – it has something we fear and admire and aspire to, but we know that it would be actually walking on a tightrope  when we do have that energy. 

Tribal Roots neckpiece. Terracotta clay beads, camel-dung paper beads and flower. Acrylic paints. All strung on undyed camel wool yarn. Made by Namitha (December 2011)

I could only handle this colour in bits – so that’s why I’ve used the camel-dung paper to tone it down a bit.  I’ve gifted all the paper flowers away, so I made a small one for myself, and used acrylic paint to match the colours. The paper beads are made by just rolling up a small length of camel-dung paper and using PVA glue to secure it. Finally, everything was strung up on a length of camel wool yarn on which I applied some more glue to make it stiff  to be able to pass it through the tiny holes on the terracotta beads. 

So here is my Tribal Roots neckpiece –  the roots are not visible - they don't need to be visible really. But every single thing about this piece is to do with touching and feeling and respecting the earth. It has everything to do with  roots and the ancient past...my roots and my ancient past.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Crafty shoppers

The Dastkar Crafts Mela concluded yesterday in Delhi. An annual event, this year the theme was “the camel”.   Besides the personal interest in this theme of camel as my friends  were present at the Camel Charisma stall, this annual mela is always something we look forward to as a family. It reminds us of life before the concept of malls hit us hard. Long leisurely walks in the sun just beginning to feel  the change in the weather, the interesting and innovative buys, always some fun conversations and interesting people to run into, and of course, the brown paper bags with the Dastkar logo on them – one can never have enough of these paper bags.  It just is so heartening to see some of the products, the care taken to create these products, display them, and impart some information to the buyers about their uniqueness. You may never see some of these products in the larger stores when you walk around with the glare of lights and glass and air-conditioned comfort in malls. Or they may not have the same allure.

A very interesting feature of Dastkar is that every evening, there are workshops of about 1-2 hours in art and craft organized by masters. Last year, Anant and I attended a short workshop on Madhubani painting. This year, as I was  having fun at the  Camel Charisma stall (how wonderful it sounds), Anant went alone for the Phad painting workshop. The master artist painstakingly explained the various nuances to the children of the history and technique of Phad painting of scrolls, an ancient craft from Rajasthan. He supervised and assisted the children to create their own greeting card with a figure painted in the Phad style.

Here is the figure he painted. It’s not easy to work with these paints, made from natural pigments, actually they are more like inks, and that’s why they have that translucent quality about them.

Phad style painting by Anant. Natural inks on card. Phad painting is  the scroll painting technique from Rajasthan used to depict folk legends.

Apart from that, I will get to the serious buying we always end up doing. I mean, guys, I am not a frivolous shopper, and I  do think before buying stuff. Do we really need this? What do we need to get rid of before we can get this? Would I use it? All these questions do run through my mind, but there are just some things that are irresistible. Here’s a view of some of the stuff we bought. Seriously, the amount of thought that’s gone into some of them makes me feel good about supporting some initiatives. It also gives me loads of ideas to mull over. 

From Uttar Pradesh, a fresh stock of clay figurines depicting Freedom Fighters. These shall be included in next years Navratri doll display.

Fresh bright red chillies and ragi flour from Uttarakhan. The Beej Bachao Andolan stall had plenty to keep us and Anant occupied. Lots of stuff to touch and ask about, and friendly volunteers.

A little booklet on the Beej Bachao Andolan (Save Seeds Movement)

Traditional Andhra pickles packed in a ceramic jar, and covered with Kalamkari fabric. An example of  traditional design and materials meeting modern entrepreneurship.

Favourite favourite favourite. A real find. Paints made from natural material like plant extracts, seashell, turmeric etc. packed well just like any other box of paints. Dying to try this out.

One advantage of having your sandals get broken in such a place - is to to be able to pick up a new pair of joothis - mocassins.

This is just the wrapper - a cloth bag used to pack the actual purchase. See below.

An applique quilt from Rajasthan.

A cute little teapot perched on a cup. Just right for the person who loves HIS Darjeeling tea in the morning.

At the same place I bought my crochet necklace last year, I found this pair of origami crane earrings. Imagine how small they are.

The blank kaavad - a portable shrine which can be used for story telling when its painted with pictures on its panels. Usually the deities are placed in the innermost central panel which is painted last. This is from Rajasthan too.
And for the absolute piece de resistance - it was the Kaavad which is a portable shrine which is usually painted with images to depict a story. Storytellers wandered about with this apparatus telling their stories, by opening out the panels in sequence. Now of course with the advent of TV, this is really a novelty. I managed to find a completely made up kaavad, with its panels, even primed so that the final coat of paint can go on. The only thing is: I need to find a story to put on it. Do come back to see what I do with it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Bird tee 2

It is that time of the year again. Birthday time, and bird tee time. Following my successful attempt last year to paint a bird on a t-shirt, I tried it once again. Again using  a photograph taken by Anant of a Crested Serpent Eagle.  I would have preferred a darker coloured t-shirt but there was this last one remaining that just needed to be used before he outgrows it. I need to work on proportions more, but I think I've done ok with the head, and some of the shading. I just love doing this, it is so meditative, and if you have a willing kid who is so happy with the result it makes it much more fun.

 Crested Serpent Eagle  on T-shirt. Acrylic on cotton. by Namitha

Based on photo of Crested Serpent Eagle at Bandipur Wildlife Sanctuary by Anant.

For the post about the other T-shirt click here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Accordion Book on bird shapes

At some point, I would like to pen the book “What the well-equipped child needs for school” on the lines of the article penned by Bertie Wooster.  If I consider the items my child has been asked to take to school over the years, apart from the regularly school books and stationery, no doubt it will be quite a lengthy document.  ....Read further

New blog

I've just realised that I've completed 50 posts on this blog. Thanks so much to all of you who've bothered to come over and read the blog. Some of you have left comments, and I'm really grateful for all the encouraging words -  I derive a lot of happiness from browsing through my own blog and looking at some of the comments. It's been really a record of my journey in art and craft over the past few months.

My little boy's growing up fast, and I've realised that we need some space for slightly longer posts, maybe with more photographs. I've begun one called IMPRINT - it stands for so much, the way we learn when we're together, psychology, an impression in your mind, or an imprint of words etched into a surface. It will contain essays, photographs and posts specifically about handmade books.  I'll continue posting here about small projects, but please take a moment to check out the other blog as well.

Imprint - click here to visit my new blog

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pixie tales

I wondered what a pixie would write a note on if she was sending some iced cupcakes over to a little girl's birthday party.
I thought perhaps she'd pluck a leaf and write on it with freshly squeezed berry juice sitting by a river side surrounded by bluebells and fairy dust.

I used Lokta paper to make this leaf and painted on it with watercolours.

It was a rather speedy job, so forgive the not so perfect look. The different coloured stains on it are meant to represent berry juice.

The note accompanied some cupcakes, iced for the first time with buttercream icing, inspired by my friend Kamini's recently begun initiative, 22 Baker Street. Only one is shown here for obvious reasons - the rest were not up to scratch at least in photographs, although they were enjoyed by all present there. 

Accompanying craft - I took along butterfly templates and strips of paper. The girls made little umbrella like flowers on which the butterflies perched.

All in all, I think my rhyme was better than my cupcakes, and that's saying a lot.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Delhi: Photo Essay 1

Photography by Anant
Text by Namitha

I wanted to record our impressions on a leisurely Sunday of a curious city that seems to be a common transit point, but rarely the final destination in the lives of people.

It was supposed to be a casual walk in Connaught Place to take photographs of this city celebrating its centenary as the capital of India.  

Over three hours later,  the two of us realised that our walk has “mentally” been sidetracked by Anna Hazare’s campaign – wherever we went, we could not escape the signs that something was happening in this city. 
See more...

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Pink and pearly spine

I took a stab at Japanese style book binding.(Couldn't resist that!). Yes, it's called stab binding.

Came up with five booklets for my son and his friends on the occasion of Friendship Day. Just ordinary printer paper with a cream coloured thicker paper for the cover. I used contrasting embroidery thread, and my son came up with the idea of attaching pictures to the tail of each book for the boys. He chose pictures of buddies like Tintin-Snowy and Keymon Ache-Rohan. The only sample I managed to click a photograph of was the ones he gave to two girls. Although I'm not in favour of using cliched colours for boys-girls, it's a fact that's difficult to escape that some girls do like pink (and some boys probably hate it for the same reason!). And since I ran out of other colours, pink it was. And what else goes with pink but pearls. Disgusting I know, but give me a break...it's ok to be cliched sometimes. The result was not too bad, I'm sure you'll agree.

On another note, I might have been in a slightly quirky mood when I chose the name Ephemera Studio for this blog. Funnily,  it really seems to live up to its name because nothing really remains - these ideas in passing are ephemeral - they remain but for a few days with me because everything is usually gifted away. So photographing these objects for the blog really helps me to have some sort of record of what passed through my hands!

Pink and pearls Japanese stab bound booklet. At the left are  variations of the paper flowers with a spot of embroidery and a pearl in the centre. (I surprise myself constantly these days - whoever thought I'd get my thumb  around embroidery? And on paper ? With pearls popping into my handiwork?)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cafe Doodle Kit

It's tough to not look at a piece of interesting paper or cardboard and not think about transforming it.  This feeling has only been fueled by a short private class I attended on simple  bookbinding a few weeks ago.

Since then I'd been eyeing a large collapsible  pastry box from Coffee Day - I had some plans for it.

Time was when cafes were all about lingering at the melamine covered table  staring into the distance, eavesdropping on conversations albeit inadvertently, trying to figure out who and what the people around you were about, while pretending to be interested in stirring damp sugar crystals into a hot tumbler of coffee. It was about doodling on paper napkins and sneaking them home as keepsakes. Nowadays it's all about figuring out what kind of Italian coffee you want, and getting it to the table and stirring in demerara sugar or artificial sweetener before it gets cold. And it's about finding a table and keeping it. Let alone trying to overhear conversations unobtrusively, you have to do all you can to see that someone doesn't fall on your lap or snatch your chair while you're trying to squint and read the menu. Napkins have metamorphosed into public message boards. And the people are too close to be interesting for an afternoon session of guessing who and what they could be.

In a bid to rewind to those oh-so langorous heady days of cafe culture, I decided to convert this bit of card  into a Cafe Doodle Kit. Paper napkins and cafes are closely linked  in my mind.   I chose to go with a Star Book which was the closest to a napkin's form - this was made from a bit of the card from the cakebox and an old square ruled notepad. This fits into the folder made from the cake box, into which you can fit your pens and pencils, crayon sticks whatever else takes one's fancy. The Star Book pages open out much like a paper napkin does, and glory be, in this present edition, you have two different surfaces, a blank page and a square line page alternately - so you can write poetry or sketch depending on the mood that overcomes you, and what aura you wish to project!  In case anyone's looking of course.

Here's an overview of how it developed.

First, preparing the paper for the Star Book. God is in the details - cutting and folding.

There's a technique of folding each page, and then sticking them back-to-back to get this form. 

The ends of the paper form are stuck onto bits of card. In this case, bits of card cut from the cake box.

Ah, the trusty folder and awl (the latter was not really used for this project, but is just there for effect).

Working on the rest of the bit of cardboard - remove all other unnecessary bits to leave just whatever is needed for a folder. (Just like the instruction to the sculptor - you only need to remove all the bits that are not elephant)

Used a paste to glue one flap into a pocket, my trusty river stones adding their weight to it.

Always good to have closure - use any bits of random string lying around.

My favourite bit -   I went a bit overboard and made my own paper button instead of adding something heavy. I used the reverse of the card to contrast with the busy cover of the folder.

The underside of the button has a bit of remnant card, so it fits into the slit on the opposite side and is glued on.

The flaps are shut and the string fits over the paper button - voila, here is the Cafe Doodle Kit.

A look inside. The pages alternate between square ruled and plain, so you can use it to write poetry or doodle to your heart's content..and in case you come up with a gem of a doodle, you have it all on record. The folder can also accommodate extra paper napkins - last I remember they still give these away quite generously. (Disclaimer: I received nothing for this from the Cafe Coffee Day guys - I just let their logo be because it would have been messy to cover it up. )

Needless to say, it was a quite a bit of fun to make this, partly because of the freedom you get to wing it along the way and just invent stuff - like this absolutely crazy heart shaped paper button. Ah yes, paper (or card for that matter) is indeed a very forgiving material.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A fistful of nature

“Mamma, I found this in the garden and thought of you.”

How often has he stood there excitedly clutching a fistful of  blossoms or seed pods in his tiny hand?

This might be a cry that goes back to antiquity…a boy-man dragging a gift of a carcass of a woolly mammoth, or a perhaps deer or two hunted down and brought back to the cave? I’m glad I’m living in  present times, and not in those hunter-gatherer days…( for one thing, we would have needed a bigger refrigerator). Instead those traits are honed down to urban magpie tendencies, usually restricted to natural objects of interest to him, and that might be of interest to me.  

We have grown together, mother and son, walking hand in hand, just breathing and absorbing life. No speech is necessary.  It’s no surprise that we begin to think automatically of each other’s likes and dislikes, of wishing that the other was there to see what we see. Even the concrete pathways are no deterrent. Windfall seed pods and blossoms, trails made by unhurried slugs, black ants, leaves eaten away by water and wind to leave fragile skeletons - even the urban jungle has plenty for those who also stand and wait.

There’s always something to look at, pick up and examine, possibly bring back home from our rambles in Delhi and elsewhere.  At one point I realized that he has to understand that although nature is our backyard, it’s not our personal property to do as we will. That’s when I gently explained that even though I bring natural objects home, I try to restrict myself to a fistful, less if possible, but not more than that. It seemed like a reasonable enough rule of the “fist”  that he could comprehend at this age.

This time around, it was small windfall buds of the silk cotton tree that he proffered. Possibly inspired by the jewellery exhibition we had been to, he suggested I could make something like a necklace out of them. Although these were fresh soft buds when he brought them in, I lingered (like I always do) over them for too long, so eventually they could not be pierced.

Here is what emerged.

Dried windfall buds of the silk cotton tree.

A pendant made with camel-dung paper. Camel wool in two natural colours was used to suspend one silk cotton bud in the centre of the pendant, and as a cord for the necklace. It was a happy coincidence that the shades of the camel wool matched perfectly with the two coloured buds.

Another view of the pendant. If I had worked with fresh buds, I could have pierced a hole and strung it. Instead, I had to use the camel wool to bind the bud. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jewellery on display

A couple of months ago, I visited an exhibition  called “Seed to Silver” showcasing jewellery from different countries.

What captured my interest were the advance publicity reports that mentioned that natural objects and recycled material was used to create some of the jewellery. I asked the little boy to come along, and bring his camera, and although he is more of a nature photographer, he obliged quite happily.  

It was held in the most stuffy artificial location though, a hall in a five star hotel, with some token twigs and stones added to the exhibit d├ęcor to set the scene. And to make matters more congested, we suddenly discovered that the Chief Minister(CM) of Delhi, Mrs Shiela Dixit, had also decided to re-visit the exhibition on that day, after inaugurating it on the previous day. She must have really liked what she saw to visit it two days in a row.

The little boy, aka the boy journalist, took some time to start clicking the exhibits because he was a bit disturbed by the entourage, and was extremely reluctant to photograph the celebrity visitor - he was least bothered that the CM was just two feet away!  Frankly, it was all I could do to suppress my journalistic instincts, and grab his camera and start clicking away myself.   

Anyway, he did capture some of the jewellery through the glass fronted cabinets, and some appear here.  
On the whole, it was interesting more as a documentation of cultural tastes and creativity across countries. Some of the jewellery was made using recycled material that was man-made, and others made me wonder whether they could really be worn at all, or were they more of a one-time experiment.

Paper jewellery from Finland.

Plastic fish shaped vials were used for this elaborate neck piece.

Interesting use of bottle caps that would otherwise land up in the trash.

Finally something really natural - seed pods used  in jewellery/

Eventually the little boy did take a couple of shots of the CM (see below). Although there were questions I really felt like asking her, primarily on the safety of women in the city, looking at her just being a woman, enjoying an evening looking at jewellery and sometimes exclaiming in astonishment, I just clammed up and decided to give my citizen journalist instincts a day off.

Of course, eventually we (OK, I mean I) meandered into a separate hall where items were available for sale. I bought some of them including jewellery made from seeds from Tamil Nadu,  jute earrings from Bengal, and modern paper jewellery made by a young girl in Chennai. The absolute piece de resistance is the striking necklace made from some grass that grows in the water - it has to be worked upon to make it flexible, and I fell in love with it the moment I saw it. It's good to let go sometimes, and the little boy indulgently encouraged me to do so!  I'll try to post a photograph of my purchases sometime.