The Garden of Earthly Delights

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Conducting a session outdoors was a luxurious idea for me, living in a city like Bombay. Having studied in Bangalore I’ve grown up mostly engaging in art activities that explore and include the outdoors. To replicate this in Bombay meant that I had to wait for the right weather and the apt location for an outdoor session.

The day came in March this year. We created an interpretation of ‘The Garden Of Earthly Delights’ by Hieronymus Bosch.

The original painting by Hieronymus Bosch shows Adam and Eve and various animals on the left panel, cavorting nude figures, oversized fruit and earthly delights in the middle (from which the triptych takes its name), and hell ensuring torment for sinners on the right panel. This work sums up the history of the world and focuses on the progression of life.1280px-The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_by_Bosch_High_Resolution

The canvas became our playground and the kid’s creatures that populated this playground while making marks and layers with various different medium. Depictions of human life, plant life, city population, destruction, order, Earth and Space, day and night — was all a part of the canvas. Each layer was saw a different medium and each child used their vivid imagination to ensure their descriptions told the stories of life as they see it.

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The focus for this session was to engage them in a collaborative experience and to experience the challenges and thrill of painting on a grand scale. The canvas was approximately 10 ft wide by 10 ft long. For me, it was wonderful to see how each child reacted differently to the large blank canvas that lay on the grass in the garden we picked. Each of them then built a story the way they saw it unfold. For some it was a very intimidating experience and for the others an exhilarating one.     Garden5This session made me realize that kids are most excited and ambitious to learn on unconventional projects. There are so many topics shared and discussed that it becomes an opening not only into focusing on the art and the artistry but also crosses paths into history, geography and leaves room for a lot more imagination.Garden of earthly delightsFollow my experiences with teaching art with Drawing Room on facebook.

Take a line for a walk

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Drawing is taking a line for a walk.

Paul Klee’s famous quote, above, really does strip down the basic principles of drawing.

Making a drawing is about communicating with your self, without a conscious thought of what mark you’re making on paper. With this approach, I’ve realized there is a sense of ease, spontaneity and freedom with which I explore basics of techniques and composition elements.

Paul Klee’s quote was also the inspiration for a workshop I had the opportunity to conduct last weekend, in Bangalore. Over two mornings, I interacted with a delightful group of 5 – 8 year olds, exploring drawing lines of all kinds.

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Through games, freewheeling exercises and watching some videos, the kids saw that pretty much everything and anything that is drawn uses lines. The activities planned helped describe, develop and use different line qualities — horizontal, criss-cross, vertical, slanting, dotted, thick and thin etc.

The venue was a lovely terrace garden surrounded with plants, and made for a great location for the children to recognize the existence of lines even in our surroundings.

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By the end of the two day workshop, every child illustrated an experience of a journey they have taken. Using depictions of the various lines that we explored over the course of the workshop, and through different mediums, their drawings came to life.

As a facilitator, watching the unique process each child takes in understanding and implementing what we explore in every session, is as exciting for me, as it is to see what the final outcome is, in terms of the picture.

Take a line for a walk

The thing about conceiving Drawing Room as a travelling art project is to be able to reach a wider bunch of children, create more such experiences and take it to them, rather than always have a static “class” for children to visit. I look forward to many more such interactions in the coming weeks and months.

Drawing Room is open to collaborations! If you have a bunch of children, a venue or a space where you’d like to host a workshop or session, please get in touch with me.

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What colour is your sky?

Some of the most powerful and creative work that to come from the kids at Drawing Room has happened when I planted a question in their minds and allowed them to go wild with coming up with the answers.

Sky Colour is a fabulous book by Peter H. Reynold, that explores the thought processes of a child named Marisol, as she and her friends are faced with a dilemma of painting the sky for a school mural. The story traverses their explorations and the creative process of breaking out of the notions of right and wrong, finding one’s own meaning and sense of what we see around us, and most of all it stresses on observation being a key element in making art.

Inspired by Sky Color, by Peter H Reynolds

One Saturday, we began our session with the question “What colour is your sky?” and read the story together. Marisol, as well as the children in her class, considers herself to be a true artist and are at first stuck to the idea of perfection and accuracy. But slowly they explore the possibilities of looking at different hues, tones, textures and find a range of different ways to depict the sky.

The story was a great way to introduce observation and critical thinking outside the boundaries of picture perfect art. I observed that even in my own class, they were inspired to work outside of their comfort zone and not stick to colouring within the lines. What I hoped was that this was a beginning into encouraging them to question why something is right and wrong, considering other possibilities and decide why something works for themselves.

A few pages from some of the sky journals we maintained.

The exercise didn’t end there. We each kept a sky journal, recording what we observed about the sky for a number of days to come. Looking back into the journal, it’s safe to say that the kids realized that the sky is not always only blue.

Colour Light Shadow Party

Looking back at my years in school, I was never much of a textbook learner. Reading and writing alone didn’t do much to help me retain information. The concepts that have stayed with me the most, and that I remember to date have been those that involved interactions and physically handling objects to understand how things work. Sometimes this was about understanding materials, and other times it the experience of being completely consumed in an activity, allowing my imagination to run amok.

In September 2016, I collaborated on with performance artist Mahana Delacour (Paris) in an interactive workshop. Mahana was visiting Mumbai as an artist in residence at WAA Residency, and some of the key elements of her work are interactivity and art therapy. Also being a teacher, she had a really unique way of telling imaginative stories bound by theory and concepts in art.

The play of light and shadow are key elements of all visual art forms, so I planned this session with the intention to teach the kids to observe light. It was a great way to have fun while also discovering how we see light, how shadows happen with respect to the earth, sun and moon, and how the human eye perceives light and shadow.

The session involved a lot of hands-on activity, as the children played with objects, colours and a light source. They observed the change in light as objects were moved farther and closer from the source, the play of colour using cellophane paper in primary colours as well as the changes in results when they were mixed.

Excitement was high as placing the sheets one over another to discover a whole different range of colours made each child feel like they were magicians on stage! Then a shadow play session followed where they built narratives with toy animals and sea creatures and the shadows they cast. They were thrilled to see how the shadows were exponentially larger than the objects themselves.

It was a great introduction to an interactive installation as well, because the entire room was turned into a kaleidoscopic interactive art experience, with the children discovering things with every little action they made. I have always valued the delight of discovering things for myself. And it was satisfying to be able to share that feeling.

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Drawing Room: this is where it began

When I began the Saturday Art Club (as it was called then) my approach was simple. I started with the very basic idea to engage with the visual form, and use it to study objects and ideas closest to us.

Over the last few years of my practice, and some involvement with interacting with children, I’ve observed that the practice of teaching art has become unnecessarily complicated and cumbersome – involving expensive tools, stationery etc.

It was interesting to see that the children came from backgrounds in formal art education either through a previous art class or at school. Most were already initiated into art and craft through formal/conventional structures, bound by rules and guidelines typical to a classroom set-up. What I didn’t anticipate was the couple of sessions and time and effort it took to undo and break through those existing structures and frameworks they already belonged to.

Thinking back to my own years in school, and my early interest in art, I remembered how intimidating and off-putting a structured classroom set-up made me feel. So, I realized if my goal was to help children begin to engage, react and respond to the visual form freely and fearlessly, it was essential to break away from the rules and the pressure to create “pretty” things.

This is where looking outside the field of art education alone, helped my learning, how to initiate and kindle a sense of free exploration in children. As a facilitator there were so many wonderful connections to be made between the formal art education (such as learning perspectives, colour theory, colouring inside the lines etc) and the simple learning through the perspective of each child’s imagination.

By allowing children to explore their own memories, ideas and other visuals they wanted to bring to life, I found a method that balanced the two. This was the beginning to a journey I later titled “Dear Imagination”.

In the 12 months that I interacted with this group of children, it became clear to me that creating an environment that celebrates each child’s uniqueness was the best way to educate myself about what art education really means to me, and where I want to go with this.

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The man who crossed the river every day

Certain experiences manifest as blessings and one such experience last year was my trip to Varanasi. It was my first time visiting the Ganges, and as I walked by the side of the river for the first time, everything seemed still, yet charming and timeless. The morning was foggy and cold, the winter light came through the clouds greeting the river and the massive flocks of migratory birds flying really low around, all the boatmen played before my eyes like a scene from a film.

As I walked from one ghat to the next, taking in all that I possibly could, I was drawn to an old man sitting by this boat, and instantly knew he had a story to tell me. Banwari Lal, looked at me and asked if I would like to go across the river and offered to take me in his neatly painted green and yellow boat.

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Dressed in a blue and white checked lungi and a brown jacket/coat Banwari Lal gently maneuvered this boat and brought it to shore. Asking me to step in slowly while it rocked and lapped in the river. He was such a gentleman and as he pulled the oars of his boat he told me about his relationship with his boats that have stayed on the banks of the Ganga at Prabhu Ghat for the last 32 years. He and his boats have crossed the river, floated back and forth from one bank to the other, witnessing the transforming life of people and moments that pass through the ghats, year after year.

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He told me how every season he witnesses new changes, makes a few friends some of them re-visit while some don’t, but he and his boats remain a constant. He told me how he is driven by the art of rowing and that is what has kept him going. He continues to manually row his boat, despite the fact that many boats are now motorized. Banwari Lal chooses to continue to row through his journey with grace.

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Varanasi – December, 2014.