Book making

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Begin with telling yourself a story.

Close your eyes and visualise that story, one scene at a time, pay attention closely to all the details, colour, texture, shape, forms.

Where is this story situated? Imagine yourself walking through this story.

We set off with bookmaking several weeks ago – the group of boys who come home for private lessons, and I. This activity was definitely one of my favorite projects that came up spontaneously during these sessions. But T and A have a way of making the most mundane activities and scenes seem adventures, humorous, magical and dramatic.

The idea was to work on a visual story narrative, frame by frame, developing scenes and building on a sequence of events. This seemed to be the most natural process for us to explore together.

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Some sessions are super special for how much they push and challenge me as a facilitator. In getting T to visualise, I had to return to some of my favourite books from a time when I didn’t read words, but engaged with images instead.

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A Dark, Dark Tale is a book that’s probably as old as I am. It was handed down to me by my sister. An almost wordless book, it’s a dark and broody tale with a surprise scary story about a mouse. I shared this with T because I remember how arresting I used to find the illustrations. In the absence of words the pictures did all the story telling with their broad, stark lines and tones that capture emotions, set the mood and show movement.

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Inspired by this, and surprisingly picking up the edgy style, T’s book takes you through images of a forest, an isolated landscape and an abandoned house where there lived a cat and mouse, several bats and owls.

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A’s book is about motley crew of sea creatures that are making it through the Bermuda Triangle. It’s still in progress and we’re waiting to see where the story goes.

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From Little Seeds Grow Mighty Trees

Drawing Room is journeying to Goa once again. This time for a month-long workshop exploring nature, it’s elements and making art together.

Excited to be hosted by Goa’s Ark, very close to the beach so expect lots of sunshine, sand, sea and of course happy kiddos digging in.

If you’d like to get these details on facebook, please visit my event page here. I look forward to seeing some of you there!

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December presented some fun projects for Drawing Room. One of them was a birthday party at Cubbon Park, in Bangalore. A party in the park was just what I needed at a time when working with nature was beginning to get more and more exciting for me. So I grabbed the opportunity to organise an art activity for the party, in keeping with my interest to look at all sources of the outdoors and what they can bring, and in turn using these as materials or elements for art making and storytelling.

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I organised for the children to explore a part of the park in a scavenger hunt, through an imaginary “lost land” that I called Sarandiel and the activity was to honour the land and bring back the magic that once was a part of this wooded landscape, by gathering elements that I’d hidden around the place. These elements — rocks, leaves, textures and the like — were then used to make art.

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Watching the kids work, and engaging with them in an outdoor space, made me realise how we as human beings seek being outdoors and what a difference it makes to the energy of learning from surroundings.

We weren’t just walking through the green areas of cubbon park but actually paying attention to all the life inside of it, the colours, textures and changes in trees and plants, insects and birds. Someone even spotted a shed snakeskin under a rock, and it caused a lot of excitement. The birthday girl brought her dog along, and he frolicked all over, joining in as the kids wandered about on their hunt. And suddenly I realised this madding, ever-growing city that envelopes us in cement and glass, still has this big pocket of green, where we can dip in and co-exist with nature.

As a further exercise to this, I organised one of my weekly sessions with the group of kids I teach at home, to be conducted at Cubbon Park. We set off on a typical sunny, wintery Bangalore Saturday morning, armed with art material, a mat, food and drink.

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The boys were mighty excited to be getting out and were very curious to know what we would work with. I allowed them to pick a spot for the session, and that lead to us setting up the workstation under sunny spot. They went on to looking for uncommon shaped rock and tree bark, following which I asked them to look at the object carefully to notice if they could spot familiar looking face’s, maybe a fish?, a hand?, a foot? This activity had them exploring the many features, textures, shapes, sizes of the objects they had chosen to draw.

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This intimate contact to nature has helped bring in a challenging yet meaningful understanding to the importance to a child’s development and the earth’s future.

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There are two fundamental reasons why outdoor play is critical for young children in early childhood programs and schools. First, many of the developmental tasks that children must achieve—exploring, risk-taking, fine and gross motor development and the absorption of vast amounts of basic knowledge—can be most effectively learned through outdoor play. Enabling young children to learn lots and lots of things about the outdoor world. Can sticks stand up in sand? How do plants grow? How does mud feel?

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Thoughts and questions like these have set me off on an interesting turn to my teaching methodology. It’s what sparked the idea for my next month-long workshop in Goa.

It’s titled From Little Seeds Grow Mighty Trees and will feature image making with light and shadow ~ Recording natural change through a nature journal ~ Nature walks ~ Mapping landscapes ~ Scavenger hunts ~ Printing ~ Collecting found objects ~ Installation and sculptures.

Stay tuned for a poster and more details in my next post.

Nature Narratives: exploring the Gond tribal art form

I’m fortunate to have a dedicated group of kiddies in Bombay who are always enthusiastic and eager to join me for a workshop, every time the opportunity presents itself. This has meant that in the last 6 months, I have been able to consistently visit them with a new workshop module once every 6-ish weeks.

As a facilitator, this continuity has helped me see the growth not just in the work and the art we’ve produced together, but also their interests and keenness to explore new areas. It leads me on to make interesting connections and that in turn helps when I conceptualise and plan every progressive workshop.

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This is how I came to conduct a workshop on the Gond folk and tribal art form, that relies heavily on an illustrative style and language of dots and dashes. The style is heavy on storytelling and evolved as a way to narrate their history, culture and beliefs, and make sense of them. Through this workshop, I hoped to get the children to make and understand drawing through dots and dashes, depending on simple yet strong pictorial contexts. As I went into reading and designing this workshop, I realised how many stories we know, believe in and continue to tell are derived from nature. This was largely possible because of two lovely Tara Publications books in the most exquisite silk screen-printed art books with stories that introduce the tribe and this art form.

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I chose two of these books that tied the workshop together:

The Night life of Trees and Water Life both helped build an understanding of the illustrative language and motifs of the art form. Also it brought the idea of nature, forms of nature, seasons, elements and the environment to the centre of the workshop.

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Trees are central to the Gond tribal imagination: in addition to the stories that surround them, trees are important in a lived, everyday sense. There is a Gond belief that trees are busy during the day, giving shade and food to humans and animals. It is only during the night that their real spirit emerges. I used the books extensively, sharing these stories with the children. In keeping with the tribal form, we used natural pigment paint to render the drawings and worked on large scrolls. The primary activity involved each child making their own accordion-fold books based on their understanding of Waterlife and Trees as we know them today.

Each child went away having learned how to explore a drawing through dots and dashes, and how even the most complex of drawings and stories can be can be minimised and told through the simplicity of dots and dashes.

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 Layer by layer

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Developing a close relationship with not only each child but also the class as a social organism, is something I have learnt to focus on. It has meant becoming very aware of the means to enable collaborative art practices for myself.

 The significance of storytelling, sharing experiences or observations built upon storytelling at an early age provide strong foundations and makes learning a tangible and interactive activity. This is one way for me to engage their entire beings through experience and imagination.

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 In the last week of my month-long stay in Goa I began to notice how every child was making connections with each other’s visual sensibilities and finding a rhythm of working collaboratively.

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 The studio was now ready for an intervention. Drawing lines and connecting the dots to all our explorations made over the previous weeks, I proposed that both batches of children aged 2.5 to 5 and 5 to 12 respectively, come together to work on a single large canvas.

 Layer by layer, wash-by-wash, they added textures, objects patterns, sometimes removed pigment, they built a simple rhythm and movement in collectively creating a piece of work together.

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Collaborations bring a sense of togetherness and joy to the learning experience. It especially thrills me to see children actively appreciating each other’s efforts, and to see that appreciation grow over the weeks of going through the process of working together and making discoveries along the way.   

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 I stepped back, watching this process and saw each one of the children play a role in making selective decisions for the canvas that they worked on together, over a period of one week.

 The morning batch would come in and work on it with some guidance following with the batch in the evening come in to see the progress made and took over seamlessly, to add the next layer of elements.

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This has been the most exciting process for me. This work was a coming together of all the collected memories from nature and stories shared over the month, along with the studied observation from our studio nature table.  The progression of not just the elements we brought in to the work, but the synergy in terms of collaboration, and the result – the finished canvas — was mesmerizing to watch and left me feeling so full of emotion.

Drawing Room – Goa from Niyati Upadhya on Vimeo.

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Play with Chance

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The discovery of a city through journeys to source material, has always and continues to be one of the best introductions to all the places visited and lived in.

Meeting the local artists, and visiting their work spaces is to me a special way of knowing what makes the city, town or village. It is even more special when the communities of artists make their own material within their studios. There is an entire journey of the process in front of you, from the raw material to the final product, with a present sense of time and age to the place and the work. Yet this is what makes an artist studio memorably unique.

I had a special ride through the villages in Goa to find and source the clay for our “happy accidents”. The 2nd week of my sessions focused on Technique building, Interaction with various surfaces and textures, associative thinking and the flux of chance and control.

Goa clay3Clay being a versatile medium allows for children to play and experiment with the various forms and textures. Through this manipulation of the medium the children were able to share and express their ideas as they moulded the clay into a form.

Goa|clay1Keeping to my overall theme of the workshop celebrating nature, bringing the outside, inside, the clay played an important role within the month long interactions, connecting to nature in its very immediate form. This process was a really big learning for me to observe children between the age of 3 to 11 relate and connect to a medium with the easy and uncomplicated manner.

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Changing seasons

Goa welcomed me with its light, warm air and the various shades of green that carpeted over walls, streets and rooftops, as it happens every year once the rain has fallen. Everything comes alive; the smell of wet earth and new leaves, insects and animal life all set off to this new beginning. During my time in Goa, the seasons were a blur. The post-monsoon heat swung back into what felt like a never-ending monsoon.

Within the studio itself, a nature table became an unlikely centerpiece almost as an extension of all the action that we were experiencing outside. I adopted the idea of having a nature table in the studio from the Waldorf System. I constantly reintegrated the need and made it a priority for kids to notice the beauty in all aspects  nature. The idea was to begin to be aware of things around us, notice patterns, find a rhythm and bring parts of it into our space.

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Children would pick things on their walk to class, I’d add a thing or two and pretty soon we had a motley collection of beautiful things in various stages of life and decay. This collection of treasures from the outdoors set the tone. This space became a lab for some of the children who wanted to watch how various objects in nature transformed over time. They were keen to notice changes in colour, form, texture, smell etc., over the weeks. For some it was an excuse to go on walks outside of the class.

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Being in the lush settings of Goa, so close to nature, and being able to experience change as it was happening, I felt that celebrating that uniqueness in, and the process of transformation would be a good focal point.

I decided this would be the basis for my interaction with the children, and a starting point of sorts, for the month-long workshop session in Goa. It’s important to honor all that is growing and dying around and within you, I felt. And in surprising ways within and without the workshop setting, my time in Goa has really driven that truth home.

Naturetable4Follow Drawing Room on facebook for more updates and my experiences with teaching art.

Going to Goa

Ever since I began formalising my teaching efforts through Drawing Room, I’ve been extremely fortunate to have connected with many like minded people. Whether it was people who opened up their homes and invited me to run workshops for their children, people who understood the essence of what I’m trying to do and worked out ways in which I could engage with children who could benefit from it, to those who were there for me with resources, advice and all kinds of help to see my plans take shape.

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I feel lucky that this also has led me to collaborate with enthusiastic people who have been so supportive and encouraging. My next project will see Drawing Room travelling to Goa next week, where I will spend the next three weeks creating a dedicated art space for children to feel free to visit and create, when they have an urge to.

The space will be equipped with drawing materials and tools for every child to explore what he or she wants to. Starting on the 13th of September, I will begin my three-week teaching stint in the art space. Over the course of three weeks I hope unfold various stories, explorations, revisiting memories and a lot more, while learning techniques and skills, and ending with looking at our earth and its existing natural forms to learn about abstract and natural life forms.

The last two months have been especially exciting as I’ve felt waves of inspiration while planning and structuring this project. If you’re in Goa (whether you live there, or are visiting any time in the duration of my project) please drop by and join me in making some art! Do share the details in the poster below, with friends and family in and around Goa. I’d be happy to meet some of your littles and share some of the magic!

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Travelling with Drawing Room

It’s been a busy few months and the new beginning I made with Drawing Room is slowly unfolding into some exciting projects lined up.

Right from the start, my dream has been to be able to create Drawing Room as a travelling entity that can go to anywhere that children may be seeking an opportunity to make art. Free from the boundaries of classes, or schedules and timetables. I wanted to be fluid with the destination, and open to going to children, rather than having them come to me at all times.

I’ve been working at expanding the reach of my interactions through workshops and private sessions across cities, to make this as true as possible. So far we’ve had workshops and private sessions in Bangalore and Mumbai (see here and here) with incredible regularity and it has been all kinds of exciting!

Later this week, I’m off to Mumbai once again for private sessions, after which I’m taking Drawing Room to Goa in September. Stay tuned for more information about that!

Thank you all for the support and encouragement all along. I would like to share a peek into Drawing Room with you all, to see how we unpack ideas and allow them to take form into stories told through drawings and painting.

 

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Drawing with Scissors: An Introduction to Henri Matisse (Part 2)

On day one, we explored body trace drawings and painted with contrasting colours. For this, we referenced Matisse’s figure painting work from his early years, abstract collage and painting as he broke away from realistic forms to discovering a body of work in the abstract.

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Drawing with Scissors was derived as an activity to make compositions using abstract cutouts with organic and geometric shapes. This was our activity for day two and really got the kids fired up. We concluded the 2-day workshop with a beautiful video that translates the organic to natural shapes in the way that Matisse would.

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I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was interesting to note that unlike my previous experience with this bunch of kids, where we’d meet once a week, across an entire year, the dynamic of a 2-day workshop with a start and stop, as well as a clearly defined purpose. The energy and tempo was entirely different and I hope that it was helpful in helping the kids understand and absorb many concepts like “abstract”, “collage” and “pattern” and understand some of the nuances of the works of Henri Matisse.

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Video – The oasis of Matisse

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