Values for Today’s Children

6 titles from this fun series to initiate value education for your children.

It’s been a great experience illustrating the series written by Sonia Mehta and published by Penguin India.



Smells like Coffee


I’d done this before, many years ago, but the attempt was quite poor. So now, determined to get it right, I tried using coffee to paint again and here is the result.

Coffee transforms really well on watercolour paper. It mixes well with water, and works exactly how watercolors do. Besides, it keeps my mood upbeat throughout the process with its fabulous aroma.:)

For this piece, I teamed coffee with another unlikeliest culinary ingredient – yes that is turmeric. Very Indian, very yellow. I didn’t like the way turmeric felt on paper, because I found it too grainy. It does leave a nice yellow stain that is nearly impossible to lift. Perhaps a finer ground turmeric or a filtered version of the powder would work. But it’s nice to think that both the pigments came from natural sources. I only used black paint to do the contrast areas in the picture. Now I am wondering about natural pigments, and I want to know more about how ancient art was created using these organic pigments.

I used a picture of my husband for this piece. I felt that the strong light and shadows would render well with coffee. Initially intended as trial scrap, it turned out fine enough for me to preserve it forever, especially for you Srijoy.

Antiolinists and Non-existent Worlds

For a while now, I’ve wanted to become a children’s book illustrator. A child’s world is boundless. As we grow into adults, our imagination is bound by the outside world – the real world. It’s sad how, as adults, we shrink our thoughts down to facts, numbers, quantified details and the mundane. It’s sad to be in the real world sometimes. Pay attention to what children say, and, although at first you may fail to fathom logic in their stories, you realise that they are far more creative and imaginative than adults. They perceive things through their true form, backed by their vivid imagination and memory, not through some projected image that is learnt by experience and teaching in a rigorous school of thought and training. When they write, they write without inhibition, when they paint, they paint from the heart. Later, as they grow up, they stop being their natural selves on account of some external conditioning. Social conditioning is such. It kills the self and trains us to become the clone of an ideal.

Fortunately, for an adult like me, who is constantly amused by adult social interactions and opinionated conversations, I sometimes find my recourse in children’s books. I will never get back the experiences I’ve had as a child, but at least I can recreate my childhood by indulging in a bit of fantasy through art.

The initial mulling over this illustration brought me some random images – a big red mushroom (I’ve always been fascinated with giant mushrooms), an ant taking shelter from the rain, and some foliage. A lot of Alice in Wonderland images floated about in my head. They were impressions from all the illustrated children’s books I grew up on. I didn’t know what else could come into the picture. The draft illustration was initially done on my phone. In the final version, I let the ant remain, but changed it’s posture and apparel. Then, I thought of doing away with the rain. The illustration was still in it’s nascent stages, when I was sort of thinking aloud in front of my husband, and suddenly exclaimed, “The ant plays a violin!”. So that was it. The ant had to play a violin under a huge red mushroom, never mind if it didn’t make sense. Bah! As though stuff like ‘The World Wars’ made any sense ever in the adult world! My husband aptly titled the sketch ‘Antiolinist’.

So I had two of the ant’s spindly legs holding the violin and the fiddle stick. Another leg (arm for that matter) holds the music sheet. The ant is well-dressed, although a little wanting in cover on the lower torso. It stands poised on two strong feet, replete with shiny boots and pulled-up socks. The eyes are large and deep.  I did the illustration with a pencil, darkened it with a microtip pen and then coloured it over with rust and brown coloured pencils. Some say the illustration tells a story. What do you feel?

Dance like Colleena

Very often, dance has mesmerized me the way music does. Watching Odissi makes me sway gently in tandem with the dancer’s wave-like motions. I like the fluidity of this dance form as much as the elegant outfit and jewellery. If you are watching a live performance, try slowing down the shutter speed of your camera and you will see graceful curves and waves created by the dancer – just like the waves of the sea dancing gently on the fringes of a beach, perhaps in Puri.

Danseuse Colleena Shakti is by far the most graceful Odissi dancer among her contemporaries. Although not Indian, her features do not clash with Indian costumes, which makes one focus on her evocative performance. Her physique is lithe and she looks like a goddess in her dance costumes. Her passion comes across beautifully on stage…and of course, I love it that she chooses her outfits so well. I have never been too fond of garish gold jewellery, always preferring the more low-profile white metal. Perhaps that’s why, Odissi, with it’s minimalist filigreed-silver jewellery and head-dress made of sola (a type of indian reed) and jasmine, appeals to me more than Bharatanatyam, with it’s heavy gold temple jewellery.

I had challenged myself to paint a danseuse (specifically an Odissi dancer) in silk, floral and silver finery. Colleena’s photos immediately caught my fancy and this sketch was made from one of her online profiles. Here’s a link to Colleena Shakti’s biography and work.

I sketched the entire figure with a pencil and then darkened it with a black microtip pen. The filling was done with watercolours. It took around two days to finish the fine details on the saree costume, especially the jewellery. What I liked so much about this photo, apart from the dancer’s gorgeous features, was the rich red costume. Although the face is not captured accurately, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process of creating this piece. I do hope you enjoy viewing it as much too.

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