Artists reveal what's in their sketchbooks

Feb 19, 2017, 15:47 IST | Benita Fernando

From vivid travelogues to sharp observations on art fairs, these seven artists celebrate and push the limits of the sketchbook


"SKETCHING is an act of fishing," says Berliner Allen Shaw. "You patiently wait. You may not have a big catch and there are days when you come back empty handed. But, there are those days when you land goldfish," says the artist, who is known to be a master sketchbook keeper. Over the last years, Shaw, originally from Munger, Bihar, has kept over sketchbooks, selections from which will be exhibited in a show titled 'I am the sketchbook' at ARTISANS', Kala Ghoda, from February? to A.

If you want to get into the mind of n artist, chances are that the sketchbook would be the first window. It is where Leonardo da Vinci etched out the drama for The Last Supper; where Amrita Sher-Gil drew innumerable nudes of men and women; and, where Bhupen Khakhar recorded his third Kerala trip (on a Natraj Artist Sketch Book, no less). The sketchbook is also the first exercise of art students, a practice that almost equals the riyaz of a musician.

We ask seven artists, including Shaw, on what sketching and treasuring a sketchbook means to them.

Allen Shaw, Berlin
I SPEAK through my watercolour sketches. I often tell people, "I am the sketchbook and you are my song." It started off with a course at NID called Environmental Perception, which required us to go into villages and sketch. I have done a permanent repeat in the course since then! I have kept roughly the same academic structure from college, though. But, I still follow a structure.

For instance, I always draw a map in all my sketches.

IN MY SKETCHBOOK: Everything, right from dead fish to architecture. A residency in Finland was one of my most memorable sketching experiences. It was on a raft and, as I dangled my legs in water, I was reminded of Huckleberry Finn.

AN ARTIST'S SKETCHES I LOVE: I'd love to see sketches of the late Austrian painter, Egon Schiele.

Prashant Miranda, Toronto
I HAVEmaintained sketchbooks since I was a student at the National Institute of Design — I went from keeping written diaries to visual journals. My? odd sketchbooks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes in the last @ years and have now become a visual documentation of my life and travels.

There was a time when I didn't have a camera and this was an observant way of doing that. Recipes, phone numbers, a calendar of events — practically everything goes into my sketchbook. It is the closest release for my art; when I do a series for an exhibition, it stems from the initial studies in my sketchbooks.

IN MY SKETCHBOOK: Old architecture, nature, people. One autumn, I did an artist residency in Assisi, a UNESCO heritage site in Italy, and it was perfect — it had everything I love to sketch.

AN ARTIST'S SKETCHES I LOVE: Definitely Allen Shaw. We were classmates back at NID.

Dhruvi Acharya, Mumbai
IF I am in the middle of painting, then I won't be drawing. On the other hand, when I travel or if I just need to clear my mind, I sketch. Once I am done with a sketch, I don't alter it. I may digitally scan sketches to make them a part of my paintings and larger works. My solo at Chemould Prescott last year, After the Fall, had about sketches, many of these done over the years, become part of an installation.

My practice of sketching started during college, at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where we were asked to draw every morning as soon as we woke up. I kept charcoal and a drawing book by my bedside.

IN MY SKETCHBOOK: Women, what's on my mind, death, disease, children. I am concerned with the subject of ageing these days.

AN ARTIST'S SKETCHES I LOVE: If Atul Dodiya keeps sketchbooks, I'd love to see them.

Jitish Kallat, Mumbai
When you can't explain something, you try and make an image.And hope that the image tells what you are unable to articulate. Itis a feedback loop of sorts and may help you listen to echoes of thoughts you are not fully able to voice.

Rather than keep organised sketchbooks, I have sketches that remain hidden away in books like bookmarks or in various portfolios. I can't say that I look after them really well.

Sketching is need-driven for me; when I feel the need to measure something or clarify something, I sketch. Itis an instrumentto proceed within a process and, equally, it is a process unto itself.

Not every sketch I make becomes a fully defined work of art; at the same time, I could consider some of my larger works as fully evolved sketches... tentative ideas that eventually find full elaboration.

What is a sketch, then? Is it only what you draw? Or, is there another way to sketch? Could a prolonged observation be called an act of sketching, a process of note-taking with your eyes?

IN MY SKETCHBOOK: While going through some of my old folders, I found a bunch of my sketches from the 1990s.

These are small pencil drawings and some of them have gone on to become large complete paintings. For instance, in my ongoing retrospective at the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, there is a work titled Evidence from the Evaporite (He followed the sun and died) [top] which was initially a small pencil drawing on paper.

AN ARTIST'S SKETCHES I LOVE: I'd love to see the drawings that Albert Einstein would have made to give form to his thought experiments, the few marks on paper that sketched out the contours of general relativity.

Anju Dodiya, Mumbai
WHEN I was student at the Sir 55 School of Art, we were expected to make sketches every day. It seemed to suggest that you look with your eyes and your hand moves alongside.

There is a connect with the world. When I started out, between the years ;BA?-B:, I maintained a nocturnal diary in which I would draw myself in front of the mirror. It was an innocent activity; there was no project.

It was done with a =B or a ?B pencil. Later, when I looked at them with a sense of distance, I found my main content. My first solo in ;BB; drew a lot from these sketches.

For me, my work has a lot to do with figures and the body. So, I spend my time looking at the newspapers every morning and cut out figures. A startling image of Maria Sharapova comes to mind. She had won a match and her posture — half-praying and triumphant — was such a model for a study of the human body. I even take screenshots of online and phone materials, jot things down, like little verses and titles of poems. My solo show last year at the Galerie Daniel Templon, titled How to be Brave in Pictures, was from a Wikihow entry! But, apart from this bank, I do keep a sketchbook for my studio practice. Both overlap all the time.

IN MY SKETCHBOOK: The human body is the primary subject, but I also work a lot with what I call "accessories". They create an emotional atmosphere, right from books to beds and mattresses.

AN ARTIST'S SKETCHES I LOVE: Bhupen Khakhar. He was obsessed with his sketchbook and travelled a lot with it, tucked under his arm. We had once gone to Haridwar and he began sketching seated on the ghat. He often made me feel guilty, reprimanding me for not sketching enough.

Gagan Singh, New Delhi
MY FATHER was admitted to hospital in 2011 and I'd carry these A5 Moleskine sketchbooks, in which I would draw practically everything I saw as we waited for doctors. Since then, I ave a rigorous practice of working with sketchbooks. On the 70-odd sketchbooks I have maintained, I work only with a black pen; if I need depth, then I scribble more. I don't like to get my sketchbook dirty. It's one of the reasons I don't use pencils for sketching as they risk smudges. Often, walls turn into my canvases for sketching.

At Khoj or the Shanghai Biennale, I have made drawings on site — a big room turns into my sketchbook.

IN MY SKETCHBOOK: I recently made a series of observations at the India Art Fair.

The satellite launches from last week have also been inspiration. I don't post everything I draw on social media.

AN ARTIST'S SKETCHES I LOVE: I'd love to see Michelangelo's sketches and [Scottish artist] David Shrigley's too.

Garima Gupta, Mumbai
AT NID, it was routine to see students sitting by the chaiwalla and sketch but that didn't come to me naturally. It is only recently, since I have started travelling and documenting, that I have started maintaining sketchbooks. I don't like to force a sketch. If I feel a photo or a video is more suitable, then I go in for alternatives. It also helps me bridge the gap between cultures.

Once, while travelling in China, I asked the hotel staff if they had a bucket. When they couldn't understand what I was saying, I quickly drew an image. They replied, "We don't have that but can we keep the sketch?" When I am on field alone, the sketchbook is the only person I speak to.

IN MY SKETCHBOOK: Most recently, sketches from my travels in the West Pacific, where I documented hunting and poaching practices.

AN ARTIST'S SKETCHES I LOVE: Amruta Patil. I feel we have similar practices.

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