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…
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.
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.
A typical week in my life, pretty sure so many millions of women across the world have these exact same days…
I’ve been thinking, I haven’t seen myself or people of my demographic reflected in mainstream media for nearly a decade now. While that frees us up to define who / what we want to be, that’s one reason I keep on documenting my life.
A century later there might be no record of what Indian middle class urban working women did, in all their diversity.
Luckily I’m not the only one – Women at Leisure is a great record, our friend Smriti is a prolific blogger too, and there are probably more such personal documentation out there that I don’t know of.
Good thing that women have always journaled, at least for the past few centuries. It’s probably because they have always been silenced officially and have had to seek out a way to express themselves somewhere.
My own great great grandmother Rasasundari Devi was the first Bengali woman to write her autobiography.
This was at a time, around 1810-1830, when even basic literacy was denied to women in Bengal, so she had to teach herself to read, and after nearly twenty years, to write. She started writing her autobiography in her fifties when her children were grown. Around the same time, social reform in Bengal had barely started in Calcutta, but she lived in a village away from all this, and so was completely self-taught.
With such precedents, we would be throwing away our privilege if we did not use a bit of it to bring about a collective voice for those not represented in the mainstream. I know we can do more, and I’m speaking from my very entitled perspective, but it’s a start. It’s a purpose – to stop whiling away time and channel it towards expression.
Title re-purposed from a poem by Jim Moore, American poet.
This video and the earlier one are how my day-to-day journal drawing takes place. I sit down with my book and try to draw what’s on my mind. Sometimes I start by drawing what’s in front of me – which is why there are so many drawings of Orin eating! At other times I draw the day, how things went, what I listened to, or read. Sometimes my mind is blank and quite often the fear of the empty page threatens to take over.
But the important thing is to show up, and get over that fear, the fear of not being good enough, the fear of not living up to your own expectations. And after some time, I find the flow, I start to commune with myself, and joy takes over.