Thursday, 5 June 2014

My special little sketchbook

I have a pocket sketchbook that is so small that it frequently gets lost. I stumbled upon it this morning searching for something else and found that there was an entire series of sketches that I hadn't blogged. It was from a trip to Mumbai last November. As I leafed through the sketches the memories came back clear and detailed and it struck me all over again, how lovely it is to sketch memories in a sketchbook.
I prefer it to taking photos any day. Of course photos bring back memories if and when you go through all 40 GB of them, but with the sketch, even the making of it is a memory in itself.

Our theatre group was travelling by the Mumbai Mail to stage a play "How to Skin a Giraffe" at NCPA and we were a big group scattered across two coaches. As we got in there were some people who recognised Rajiv and they turned out to be teachers from The School, KFI . It's always nice to meet and get to know people on long train journeys.

In fact, we were on the train longer than we stayed in Mumbai. It was incredibly hot and humid for November but the route was quite beautiful. We also spent a lot of time in the stations because the entire set for the play was booked and taken in the brake van. And it was sad to note that the amount of unofficial looting that goes on at the Chennai Railway station when you try to book your parcels in was far far more than at Mumbai.

I couldn't do any sketches at the fabulous Tata Theatre where we performed. Assembling the set, rigging and focussing light in time for the show was too hectic but I did a couple of sketches at the hotel. We stayed at Sea Green Hotel on Marine Drive and in the morning and late evening we walked from the hotel to the auditorium along the sea shore. It was an old hotel with a lot of charm and great big rooms with mosaic flooring. A little run down but two great views from my balcony. Turn to the left and it was Brabourne cricket stadium. And turn to the right.....

This sketchbook is a great one to have. It's really tiny and compact but opens out flat so I can do doublespreads. You can check out some of my previous posts done in this book. Its my go to book when I'm hurried or travelling light or want to sketch unobtrusively and just capture memories. Its called a Brahmabook and I haven't spotted them around in a while. I hope they still make them.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Madras High Court Heritage Walk

On Sunday morning bright and early at 8 am a large group of us gathered near the old Light house within the Madras High Court campus. The event was a heritage walk cum talk organised by Intach and the gathering of over 50 people were mostly architects, history enthusiasts, journalists or Intach members. The talk started off at the base of the Light house. Built in 1834 and faced with beautifully dressed granite it is in the shape of a large fluted doric column. It has a spiral stairway inside and a pile of firewood was lit each night at the top as a signal to approaching ships.

I was under the impression that we would walk through the building and then there would be a talk later in a hall. That's what I had understood from the invite but as it happened there were short talks about specific parts of the campus and its history right through the walk which lasted 2 hours in total. So right from the start I kept getting five minutes here and there and sneaked in these quick sketches.
From the Lighthouse we walked along the Eastern side of the main building. Sujatha Shankar, a senior Architect and Convener of Intach Chennai took over the talk at this point and started talking about the detailing and the style. The happy marriage of brick and granite that forms the building language.

The High court building took many years to build and doubtless many people contributed. But it's design is mainly credited to Henry Irwin and she spoke about how he was deeply influenced by previous works by Robert Chisholm (in fact just along the beach at the Chepauk Palace and Senate House). The High Court is generally acclaimed as one of the best examples of Indo Saracenic Architecture and we went up close to an arched opening on the east face where she enumerated the many ways in which it was a confluence of various styles.

We then moved into the East Portico. The building has entrances in all 4 cardinal directions but the East gate is currently kept locked up. Mr. Rajah, an Advocate with the high Court and part of the High Court heritage committee took over talking about the history of some incidents at each of the locations we had passed. The gate itself, which I tried to capture as a background in this sketch was beautiful 3 dimensional wrought iron work. But since we couldn't get into the building from here we walked around to the North Portico.

Along the way, we stopped at this statue of Sir Bhashyam Iyengar who was the first Indian acting Advocate General. Mr Rajah pointed out interesting trivia like the fact that the correct formal attire for an Indian like Mr Iyengar was - Silk turban, Robes, Panchakacham (dhoti) and shoes and so this is how he is portrayed in his statue

Our first stop inside the building was the High Court Museum. It has a vast collection of documents, plaques, various objects and furniture used long ago in the courts and this room at the back that is set up with the original furniture. I could only get a peek in and then we were off to the Madras Bar association Library.

Once again Mr Rajah regaled us with many historic tales and anecdotes to try and give us a picture of what it meant in those days to be a member of the Bar, the kind of people they were. Some tales of abject corruption but equally as many of high integrity and honour.

Finally we were also shown the Chief Justice Hall, a very ornate courtroom and with so many of us inside I decided to try and sketch the ceiling as I couldn;t quite look across the hall. The first chief justice was Sir Thomas Lumisden Strange, apparently a great man who was incorruptible and highly regarded,  and a huge portrait of him hangs on the wall facing the Judges, supposedly reminding them of what they need to live up to.
The ceiling itself had a geometric pattern of wooden frames holding up a cardboard painted false ceiling that looked rich and ornate. The same kind of 4-8-16 geometries were seen in a lot of the Jali work and metal work all over the building.
Intach plans on holding this walk and opening it out to all citizens every 2nd Sunday of the month. I would highly recommend it!
And on a final note - I finished another sketchbook! That's the second one to get over this weekend.

Monday, 12 May 2014

People sketches at Marina

After a hectic week of work, I found our CWA group was meeting at Marina beach on saturday evening. I decided to try and focus on sketching people like I did some time back at the park.  But somehow the architect in me always gets drawn to straight lines and perspectives so just to get that out of the system I did a quick one of "Endrum Vasantham Cool Bar" a shack that sold water and soft drinks on the beach.
Then I told myself firmly "only people!!"" and loosened up with this sleeping guy. After that I turned around 180 degrees exactly where I sat and before I knew it another perspective sketch. Oh no! What's wrong with me :(
An hour had gone by and I could stay at most another hour. By then I realised I was on the last 3 pages of my sketchbook so I decided to make it count.
Lot of people just come and sit on the promenade wall as its the largest free open space with great breeze.
By then we were a group of 6 or 7 sketchers so I sneaked one of Kandaswamy. That guy in the upper corner was on his phone the whole hour and probably longer after I left.
And I finally reached the last page of my sketchbook. It's a fat one that I inaugurated in June 2011. Felt great to reach the end and then flip back and look at the journey. By 7.30 I wrapped up at the beach and headed to a friend's house for dinner. Their daughter is six and a half months old and moves with blinding speed on the floor!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014


Sunday was supposed to be an interesting sketching event and I was sick at home. Over and above that, I was upset that I hadn't found time to try anything I had learnt the previous week at Dhruba's workshop.
Now my house sits right opposite a Kalyana Mandapam (Community wedding hall) and this is another source of constant irritation. Loud music and drums at 5 am, firecrackers bursting at 11 pm, clean-up trucks and water lorries honking at 2 am and terrible double parking and traffic congestion year-round. You can build anything anywhere in my city if you grease the right palms.
So Sunday morning, when my frustration at missing the sketching event was getting compounded by loud drum beats coming in from across the street, I decided to cut my losses and did a quick pencil sketch of this guy standing in the portico of the Mandapam. The drum is not a mridangam. It is played standing up and accompanies a Nadaswaram. It sounds pretty good when its not 5 am.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

It's nice to be a student again

This last weekend I attended a watercolour workshop by Dhruba Mazumder which I had been looking forward to for weeks and it more than lived up to my expectations. Over the last few years, most of my sketches have been pen and watercolour washes but somehow, while attempting a "pure"watercolour, I found my courage failed me at the end and I added pen strokes to get my desired effect.
The workshop was in a conference room of a hotel and the management very sweetly changed all the bulbs in the lights as we didnt want yellow lights. You can see the white new filaments sticking out and it made a huge difference. Watercolour is all about light!
Dhruba took us step by step, doing small demos and then making us do them ourselves. By the end of the first day I ended up with this.
It's also the first time I'm using any brush other than my travel brush. This one above was done completely with a one and half inch wide flat brush. I had no idea that such big brushes could give such sharp lines. The workshop was very strong on technique and well structured.
By the end of the second day I ended up with this. By then we had covered various types of washes, brush strokes, colour mixing and special effect techniques. More than anything it was so great to be a student and learn something new. Dhruba is a great teacher and I hope I get better with watercolours with practice.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

India Votes

We are electing our representatives for the central government today. Who we vote for will determine the Prime minister. The choices are not great but the event itself is quite a spectacle. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections is happening in 9 phases spread over a month and we in Chennai fall into phase 6 today. I come under the South Chennai constituency and within that there are various sub-sub-sub parts that determine where I queue up. Considering South Chennai has 3.5 million voters and the country has 81,45,00,000 people on its electoral roll its quite a management miracle.
I went with my grandmother who is 85 years old and determined to exercise her right. Our polling booth was in a corporation school and 10 residential areas have to come here to vote. The open quadrangle had ten different queues snaking around under the shamiyanas. I had thought I would have plenty of time to dash off many sketches but thanks to my grandmother I was given red carpet treatment. A security guard ushered us in and we were out in five minutes! Actually all the queues were moving pretty fast.

Earlier in the morning I sketched another line of folks waiting to vote in Mylapore just outside my house. This was around 8 in the morning and the line was very very long. Generally the lines are much longer before office starts. All the schools and colleges have to shut as they become polling booths and counting centres. 

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Fresh as always

This veggie shop sits at the corner of Chitrakulam and further down you have fruit shops and seasonal carts. The whole area South east of the main Mylapore temple is abuzz with fresh produce and is a great place to sketch. As I walked past this one, the display called out to me. Neat pyramids of tomatoes, potatoes and onions, cascading piles of snake gourd (podalanga), stacks of banana stem (thandu) raw mango, ridge gourd (peerkanga) and bundles of very very green drumsticks.
It was around five in the evening, and the shop next door was not open. There was a table and a bench where the owner would probably arrange his vegetables but he wasn't there so I took the oppurtunity to perch comfortably and get a good view of the inside and the outside of this shop.
Five minutes into the sketch (of course!) the shop owner turned up. But as I sighed inwardly he started watching me sketch and then actually asked me to take my time and finish. He waited till I was done to open his shop!