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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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

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.



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.



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.


Video – The oasis of Matisse

Follow my experiences with teaching art with Drawing Room on facebook


Drawing with Scissors: An Introduction to Henri Matisse (Part 1)

I’ve just returned from Mumbai where I had been for a weekend workshop titled Drawing With Scissors, which I structured as an introduction and exploration of the works of Henri Matisse to children aged 5-7.

Many of the participants were children who used to come to the weekend art club I conducted all through 2016, and I was excited to be able to teach them once again. A week prior to my arrival in Mumbai, I had started receiving voice notes and messages from the kids about how eager they were to meet again. Some of them even pushed parents to cancel holidays that were planned in order to come to the workshop!

On the morning of day one, as I was setting up the studio, I heard the kids chatter as they walked up the stairs to the WAA residency, which was the venue for our two-day workshop. Immediately I felt that familiar energy I’ve shared with this bunch.

Nyra’s depiction of the Drawing Room family back in class again after five months.

I was seeing them after five months away and in just that short span of time they’ve all grown and changed! So we all needed some time to warm up to the fact that we were all back in the same room. Pretty soon though, we were all sharing stories as usual, updating each other on all that we have learnt in the months gone by. It set a super-charged tone to the workshop.

I began with a quick round of a drawing game followed by showing of a little film introducing the life, the ways, studio and inspirations of artist Henri Matisse. It helped the kids distinguish the different styles he practiced, when we looked at a range of images of some of his work.



In all the prep I did to develop this workshop, as well as while setting up, I was able to understand so many more interesting and exciting details to Henri Matisse and his work, which I’d completely glossed over when studying art history in college.

I was particularly fascinated with some of the quirky details like his fetish for animals, birds and other creatures. His journey from working realistic to abstract over many years shows a beautiful transformation in form. This was a fantastic insight into relooking at art history for myself and specifically Fauvism.


I’ve always retained information when it was told to me like a story not just mere facts. While designing this module I kept in mind all the little details that made Henri Matisse an interesting person and told his story with images of his work and life, including all those little details that I personally found interesting. I’m pretty sure that it’s the little details like Henri’s pet cat, the birds and animals he kept to observe and be inspired by, and the extra long paintbrush he used to paint from his bed (when he was too sick to leave it) are what made Henri the artist and Henri the person an indelible memory in their minds.



Follow my experiences with teaching art with Drawing Room on facebook


Happy Accidents

Collaborating with artists from various backgrounds of the visual arts is one of the best ways to begin to see things in new and different ways. This has personally always added important insights into my own journey. This was something I wanted to introduce to the children too.


In November last year, I had the chance to meet and work with Sarah Pupo artist in residence at the WAA residency. It was during the time I discovered Barney Saltzberg’s Beautiful Oops! that Sarah and I got talking about working with accidents within the artistic practice. This definitely wasn’t a coincidence and I took this as an opportunity to introduce her work to the children in an interactive session.5251

This was a fantastic opportunity for the kids to visit Sarah’s studio at the WAA residency in Bandra, Mumbai, where she shared with them her work process. Sarah’s work integrates painting and drawing, installation and self-taught, provisional animation techniques. Her approach to making things prioritizes intuition, associative thinking and the flux of chance and control.


This workshop was an introduction to materials like watercolour and ink and the process of painting wet into wet. So we got the kids to make a splash and build a story or a picture from there on.  We used drops of water on paper and added ink, salt to it and tried various methods of random mark making. From there, they imagined what their splashes and blobs might be. It was immensely enjoyable for the kids, Sarah and I, to then collaborate and create a series of drawings that told the story of each of the child’s characters. The outcome could have been compiled to make a rudimentary flip-book of sorts, just a few steps short of animation.



She then presented to them a few of her animation videos, which was followed by a walk through her studio setup which gave them an insight into how she turns her ink and watercolour drawings into animated moving forms.


Understanding how visual forms can transcend formats and mediums, often moving from one to the next — paper and paint, to drawings, to animation — seems to come very easily and simply, to children. And it made me wonder about their intuitive sense of viewing visuals outside the boundaries of the formats in which they may be originally created — a skill many of us have to re-learn as adults in the practice of art.

blogFollow my experiences with teaching art with Drawing Room on facebook.


Beautiful Oops!

When you think you have made a mistake, think of it as an opportunity to make something beautiful.

Beautiful Oops
Beautiful Oops! By Barney Saltzberg.

There have been times when as a facilitator, I have had to explore ways of unlearning concepts and some of the strong conditioning that I come with, both as teacher and as a child. This challenge has many a times brought me to discover wonderful ways of unlearning and re-learning.

I’ve grown up hearing adults and teachers at school say, “making a mistake is part of learning” or “making a mistake is part of life”, yet I never wanted to believe either of these statements. When you use the word “mistake” to describe an artwork for instance, you immediately imply that it’s far from perfect, or that it can be better. Whenever I heard the word, it was hard to not compare my work to something that was right and perfect. Because as we all know we celebrate our correctness over our mistakes a lot more.

I took this up as a challenge in my role as an art facilitator (and also for myself in life, in general) to learn to try and accept, and to celebrate my mistakes as much as I celebrate the times I am correct. Initiating that change meant creating an accepting and trustful environment for the kids to work in. Which in turn meant keeping in mind a nonjudgmental language when critiquing their work.

Looking back at my student life, I have come to realize certain phrases lock in judgmental ideas about the artistic processes. These phrases, the very language of feedback, right, wrong, mistake, easy, etc, cues a focus on performance, competition, comparison and risk of failure. Even though it requires constant attention to break these habits, it is well worth the effort.

In Mumbai, I taught a group of children aged 4-9, and one of the sessions was structured around this extraordinary book, Beautiful Oops! By Barney Saltzberg. It’s a simple book that shows young readers how every mistake is an opportunity to make something beautiful. Creatively made, Beautiful Oops! is filled with pop-ups, flaps, tears, holes, overlays, bends, smudges, and even an accordion “telescope” to demonstrate the magical transformation from blunder to wonder.

Introducing this discovery to the class brought about an immensely positive change in the way the kids explored and expressed themselves. It seemed to have set off a cycle of change where each of them discovered their strengths, while encouraging each other to work with a sense of spontaneity, acknowledging their mistakes and learn to work towards what they wanted their work to look like, regardless of the blips along the way.

Here are a few images from the sessions after having introduced Beautiful Oops!

By Om Ahuja. Age 5.
By Ahilya Lulla. Age 5.
By Akira Kini. Age 5.
By Antalya Gupta. Age 5.
By Azad Rao Khan. Age 5.

Follow my experiences with teaching art with Drawing Room on facebook.


The Garden of Earthly Delights


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.


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.


The ships Move through the sea unaware of all the life that filled Its Inky depths.







The ships Move through the sea unaware of all the life that filled Its Inky depths,

Speaks of untold stories from the deaths of the Ocean.


Water colour drawings on paper ,stitched on to cora cloth.

Dyied with fabric paint.