This is the year, some of us old timers are counting their blog ages. inktales was started by me in May 2006, and in 2007 I moved over from Blogger to WordPress. I often think, that at 17 years of blogging on inktales, it’s one of my longest relationships – second only to the brown boy.
Today I was looking back over Januaries past, and while some Januaries have been super prolific (hello, 2009!) most years I don’t blog in January! Here are some of my favorites when I have roused my fingers out of Delhi’s icy winter to draw and type:
Here I am being inspired by Dr BV Doshi, who passed away yesterday. My Masters class was doing a project with immigrant children in Malmö at the time, I was finding it so difficult to empathize or get the nuances of their experiences. Language was a factor, since most of the children knew Swedish and their mother tongue, and not English, and my folkshögskola Swedish was nowhere near conversational. And then I read this interview in Blueprint Magazine.
One of the things of being a parent is that you have to spend time with your kids. Lucky for you if they are entertaining. As in years past, our tornado still takes forever to eat a meal so I use the time to draw. It’s great to have a living breathing human being at close quarters to draw from! Between mouthfuls, we chat.
We took an overnight train from Cairo and went to Aswan. From there, a felucca took us to Kato Dool, a resort in a Nubian village. On the way the felucca broke down in the backwaters of the Nile (sketch below) but luckily all the crocodiles in the Nile had either been mummified or left out in Sudan.
There was a wedding going on in the Nubian village that night and it was rather crowded. The brown boy almost got caught in a camel stampede during the wedding procession!
Finally, the ancient ruins of Egypt began…we took a Nile river cruise, and drifted down the Nile, stopping to visit the ancient ruins as we arrived at the sites. First, we visited the Philae temple, our first glimpse of imperial grandeur on the banks of the Nile. Here’s the David Roberts painting of the wonderful colors of the pillars.
This wonderful itinerary had been devised by Mishta, who even managed to squeeze us in for a lunch at the Old Cataract hotel, where Agatha Christie had stayed, writing her Egypt novels!
From Aswan we took the 3 hour long drive over miles of Sahara desert to visit Abu Simbel. I have never seen anything like the majesty of that temple. Rameses not only succeeded in convincing the god and the Nubians of his might, he almost convinced me too, nearly 3000 years later! It’s a massive Santa letter to the god Ra Horakhty asking for more power and wealth, and in case the god forgets, the inside walls of the temple are covered with details of his request.
In between the historic ruins, we chilled out on the river boat, drawing the countryside that passed and some of our fellow passengers as they sunbathed.
I skipped Kom Ombo (and the crocodile mummies!) but saw Edfu and of course the Karnak temple in Luxor, the most magnificent of all the ruins. It was too much to draw, all that imperial majesty, transferring down across centuries to transfix us in our present. We could barely think of the past and future, we were so caught up in the sense of place of these ruins.
Finally the last site we visited was the Valley of Kings. On the way we saw the fabulous ruins of the Colossi of Memnon. In my humble opinion, at some point, the pharaohs realized that it was more cost-effective and scalable to build their tombs in a conveniently located, pyramid-shaped mountain instead. All the tombs were brilliant and beautiful. I was awe-struck at the colors and the massive systems that kept the same consistency of output, and the sheer volume of labor that pulled it off across centuries!
Throughout our fortnight in Egypt, these were the insights I took away about ancient Egypt –
their fascination with death and mortality
their use of visual language – for communication as well as regal branding (this surely has to be the earliest use of regal insignia and branding). The strong sense of graphic design that permeates even today.
how they scaled their artwork and systems across centuries
these feats of engineering and architecture that broadcast the imperial narrative across centuries. A most masculine testosterone-fueled architecture of phallic forms, in my opinion…(except for Hatshepsut’s constructions).
And though defaced and obliterated, the need to adorn persisted through centuries till the present day – adornment not for vanity but as a way to worship, or appease, the prevalent religious faith…
Last October we took a much-awaited trip to Egypt. It had been a long time in planning and finally, in 2022, we could visit. The brown boy and I went with our friends Anirudh, Mishta, and Lekha, and took the children.
We landed in Cairo on a blazing hot afternoon, the city – whose name originates from “al-Qahirah” (the victorious) – so similar to Indian metropolises and yet so different in its sandy-hued dilapidation.
The first day after downing cups of cardamom-flavored Turkish coffee, (with high silt content like the Nile!), that Anirudh called “a gastronomical black hole”, we went off to see the pyramids – first the ones at Dahshur and then Giza.
The Sphinx in all its majesty was our first experience of all the obliteration and defacement of Egyptian sculpture. It was not Obelix who broke the nose of the Sphinx, as our guto believed.
Travelers, natives and conquerors across centuries have destroyed, defaced, and carried off parts of sculpture for various reasons – from necessary construction pieces for their dwelling in ancient times, to the eradication of previous regal influence, or to adapt to prevailing religious dogma. Paul Theroux calls it a sort of negative sculpture, the art of obliteration, and all done with great care. In most cases only the face or the nose missing, and the rest intact. Maybe the defacers were art lovers, or maybe they feared the wrath of the gods…
As we know, the majesty and significance of the Egyptian civilization was unknown until the deciphering of the Rosetta stone in early twentieth century – so here is the painting by David Roberts (c.19th century) that I am thinking about in the sketchbook…
The next day we visited Islamic Cairo. Cairo dates back to the 7th century, so there were multiple layers of history to be discovered there.
We visited the Al-Azhar Mosque where Lekha and I were asked to cover up our bare necks and ankles (!!). While shopping in Khan-el-Khalili Market, Mishta found a beautiful walking stick that had a preserved snake inside it. Egyptians, even now, seem to be fascinated with death and mortality. In the market there were stuffed animals, foxes, cats, and crocodiles – memories of beloved pets, being displayed and sold.
At a roadside cafe in Cairo.
One day we spent at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and marvelled at the craftsmanship skills of the ancient Egyptians.
We also spent time seeing Coptic Cairo, the areas where the Greek orthodox church settled, built around the place where Joseph & Mary took shelter with the baby Jesus as they fled to Egypt! Coptic Cairo was an avalanche of adornment. As faiths were practiced, flourished, and overtaken by other faiths at the same location, the influences of visual language remained, overlaid on top of each other…and the need to show devotion through ornamentation of the holy site, however small the space, prevailed…
In Cairo we caught a performance of the Tanoura Dance, a breathtaking spectacle.
A book that has given me immense joy is Making Comics by Lynda Barry. While she herself is a big inspiration, her books are inimitable and exceptional. Ms. Barry teaches drawing and comics to young children and this book is a set of those exercises and her unique insights around drawing, imagining, and teaching. I’ve often done some of the exercises with our little tornado and his friends when they needed to be calmed down, and soon we are all giggling at each other’s drawings.
Here’s an exercise where she asked us to imagine ourselves as Batman, and draw what we did the day before. I had gone to the Aadhaar Centre nearby, worked from home, and went for a walk with a friend.
Ms. Barry also believes that anyone can draw, and so do I. My drawing wasn’t anywhere near the best in design school, and in the animation studio where I interned, our boss had despaired over my unfit-for animation drawings. He used to challenge me to do 20 iterations of bird flight cycles, or 50 iterations of floating balloons, and I persevered. All by hand, of course.
What happens through repetition and practice is that you get better by training your hand to follow your eye or your mind’s eye, as closely as possible, without any gen loss. The repetition also allows your conscious rational mind and your ego, to quieten, and you’re in flow until there are just the forms on the page…
“There’s the drawing you are trying to make and the drawing that’s actually being made – and you can’t see it until you forget what you were trying to do.”
Lynda Barry, Notes from an accidental professor
If you think you don’t know how to draw, this book is for you. Ms. Barry starts with basic stick figures to help you start envisioning. She also says,
It’s not your job to judge whether your drawing is good or bad, your job is to keep drawing.
Last week I had the greatest pleasure of attending DesignUp 2022, the first in-person Design conference in India in 2.5 years. As always, DesignUp has a high bar for quality and this time also it did not disappoint. There were wonderful talks by the speakers and unconference events.
Here are some of my sketchnotes from the conference:
It started with an insightful talk by Nav Pawera on Design in Agriculture
I loved how Nav’s talk took us on their journey of research and design, as the team figured out the relationship farmers had with tech, the role that ground agents (Sahabat Jiva’s) played in their research, evolving the co-creation sessions, and finally at the end of the first year, that the team learnt to get over their own biases as designers! Such a huge learning, that shows amazing self awareness as a team.
Graphic designer and illustrator Kriti Monga shared her insights from living a designer’s life, around the themes of craft, curiosity, courage and living a creative life
Her projects showed how she leans into using her hands and the physical experience to guide her toward exploring ideas further into experience beyond the visual.
Krish Ashok‘s talk on Strategic Laziness was funny and clever.
Writer and designer Lauren Celenza‘s talk spoke truth to some uncomfortable topics we never articulate, about being designers in tech. Her thoughtful and insightful talk resonated with me and the experiences I’ve had in my career in multiple ways.
This quick sketchnote below was for the panel discussion on Design for Bharat moderated by Suresh Venkat.
The second day started with a talk on music and structure by musicians and designers Drupad and Neeraj Mistry. A lovely zen-like beginning to the Sunday morning. Unfortunately, my iPad gave up and I had to draw on paper.
Anek: Design in Diverse Societies by Prof Girish Dalvi was phenomenal, and deservedly got a standing ovation from the audience. Civic signage in India include multiple languages – but English always stands out. Girish informs us that it is because the Indian language typefaces have not been properly designed to scale. As he led us through their process & journey, we learnt about type forms and the craft beyond the digital that is needed. Thanks to their type foundry Ek Type, open sourced via Google Fonts, we now have these ubiquitous typefaces used from signage to media to even WhatsApp forwards!
My friend Ayaz Basrai of The Busride Labs shared their work on the India Futures Project, a speculative design project on the future of India around multiple themes. It was marvelous, challenging our current perspectives with dark visualizations laced with humor. Like a Powers of Ten, it took us to the hive mind of bees and zoomed out through the talk to the overview effect experienced by astronauts in space…
I missed a bunch of talks in the middle, for example my friend Ashish Goel’s talk on courage, Meeta Malhotra’s talk on getting designers a seat at the table, as I was prepping for my own talk on looking for Creative Joy at work. Here’s Rasagy, Meera Sapra and Manali Mitra sharing their captures of my talk.
Designer Ruchita Madhok shared lovely stories about stumbling upon design history 😛 and turning inspirations into passion projects.
During the event, I also helped out with the Unconference events, Sketchnoting with Rasagy and Storytelling with Suresh Venkat, learning as much as we shared, and being totally blown away by the creativity of the participants.
I had forgotten how wonderful and inspiring conferences can be, and DesignUp recreated all that magic all over again, a passion project by designers for designers. A big shoutout to the volunteer team (in which I play a bit part), led by Jay, Shiva, and Narayan.
Here are some recent pages from my sketchbook, unedited, unpolished, straight from my mind to the paper, drawn in usually less than fifteen minutes.
This was the podcast episode I made notes of, though it’s not my favorite episode. And surprisingly, I have been reading more about spirituality all of a sudden, but coming in through poetry, like this wonderful, magical book In the Shelter: Finding Home in the World by poet and theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama, who also hosts the podcast Poetry Unbound. In the book, Padraig has an amazing chapter on prayer “Hello to the imagination” which changed my perspective of it as an opaque ritual that was not for me.