Sunday, April 4, 2021

My little journey into the world of art.

 Let anyone win something, they will come with their struggling stories. Lend your ears to them, everybody will glorify their sadness and everyone’s just the same, when they try to narrate their stories differently. Of lately, folks watch melodramas or motivational talks, and try to sermonize the world, without experiencing anything. You cannot talk about shitting bricks from your rectum, unless you actually have. You cannot preach about the subjects which you haven’t learned and practiced. You cannot tell the tales of finding solaces in melancholy, unless you have gone hungry for weeks yourself. I narrate this story, not to please the eyes of those who wish to speculate to hear a success story or this is not my life’s valedictorian moment, this is as it is, as the journey unveils something, a narration from a juncture  – this is merely penning down of moments and memories, so that in distant future, I too want to come back here, read it, remember and then perhaps, if situation merits then, must I smile.

 We grew up in Kharbandi, in a colony, and during those days, television was a means of luxury. Not everybody had it. Whenever the students left their hostels and departed for their villages during summer or winter holidays, me and my friends would raid their left overs. We would loiter around the abandoned hostels and collected unfinished note books, half inked ball point pens and anything that we thought were valuable during those days. I remember vividly, that a student had left half-filled water colour tubes and he had painted on a white tile. His painting was that of blue mountains and green trees. The tubes were missing and there was an overworked brush which needed to be disposed.

 My neighbor and brother, elder to me, used to paint and he would win most of the art competitions. I would study his paintings but was very poor at grasping his methods. Later would I understand that few shadings and colour mixing were art in itself. That also wasn’t the time that I had realized that I was colour blind. If only we were born in America, we would have been diagnosed with all the inabilities and abilities under the firmament.  

 I remember Micheal Aunty, teaching us how to colour with crayons and she beating the crap out of me for being messy, not to forget urinating everywhere, anywhere and anytime – just because I was too shy to ask permissions to go to toilet. It was embarrassing for me to ask, because urine came out of penis and I feared that my teachers would mention about my penis to me or where urine sourced from or whether I had to explain how I urinated. As a kid, I had my own issues. She was Micheal Uncle’s wife and I only knew her with that name, feminism had many years to catch up, and her identity was compromised. She would tutor us and fear was something that she inflicted in all of us. All the children of colony feared her.

 I remember crying over my first solid water colour set and that I had lied to my parents that it was compulsory in our school to buy one. When I got one, the cheapest the market could provide, I was very much excited and very much disappointed at the same time, because my skills with water colour was never fruitful. I would either make a hole in a paper with too many brush strokes or I could simply not maintain the gradient as I had envisaged in my head. I always wanted to paint like in the books which we read. Today, I realize that my dreams then, were too big for a guy who did not hit puberty. Later stage of my life, I realized that I wanted to go for hyperrealism with tools which could never achieve it. Those were acrylic and oil paintings that I had seen, which I wanted to replicate. There was always frustration then, because my hand could not get the outlines right. Let alone realize that mixing colours were a skill in itself.

 With age, I was sent for few preliminary art competitions and I have always faced embarrassments. Like one time, when my friend Phub Tshering won one art competition, the Headmistress said to my face, such a dirty work! My cousin Sangay Tamang, was an ardent reader of “Wisdom” editions then, and I would borrow his books. In those books, I saw few pictures of famous figures and tried to sketch them. Those were stippling figures, but I would use our normal HB paper and tried those portraits. At times, my sketched subjects had bigger chins or worked up noses or they seemed pissed or way too happier. Some of them had weird eyes and most often, I made them look fatter.

 I came to Thimphu once for a winter break and my cousin who later became a Porter and had studied fine arts, took me to VAST. There I had shown few sketches to Azha Karma, and he said, that for my age, I was ahead. He then assigned me a tough homework, to sketch main traffic, buildings around it and the vehicles. I was too shy to take my sketch book and I could not sketch those buildings. I simply felt too stressed and embarrassed, and I never went to VAST again. My father would ask why I wouldn’t I go; I would say, I didn’t feel comfortable. Not many years down the line, I would still find my discomfort to visit the same premises, this time due to fancy restaurants being situated there, and I felt awkward with the crowd – did I prognosticate my repulsion towards that location?    

 After relocating to Thimphu, I was sent by my school for art competition. I failed miserably and I scored very low. I however met my friend Jamyang Adap there, and every time we met on the streets, in fact every day, we would just say to each other, Soelra thop chi ga? We both did not win, and later years, Jamyang acquired skills that of professional artists. He has mastered the art of sketching faces in presence of his subjects. My anxiety and inferiority complex or insecurity hits a different high when I sketch in front of people, even in presence of my wife.

But that was also the year, when I was twelve years old, the year that we shifted to Thimphu, and I got my first art project. I was guided by my cousin brother Mahesh to paint banners. We distributed the money and it was a lot for us then. We however, painted in those cold nights of Motithang, and the paints took time to dry. We were also trying to give our best, so we bought the best clothes for the banner, which we wrongly purchased – nylon kira. The cloth didn’t hold our paints and we wasted a lot of paint, dirtying the floor. Now I realize that we had bought the best clothes for kira and not for banner, despite paying double the sum of what the best banner clothes costed.

 After that, every winter or summer holidays, at times even during school days, I would paint banners and make myself pocket money. At times the money was really good. With time, I had formalized my own style of writing banners and mixing ink. What costed previously was made cheaper by ten folds. Hardware shops can do wonders at times. The thing is most of us use fabric colours in bottles to paint banners, but if we take the gold or silver dust, mix it with fevicol and hot water, the paint dries up sooner and looks much better – it glitters – fabric colours are meant to be kept 72 hours to dry.


Sometime in 2004, painting banner for some workshop. 

I only started to sketch portraits when I went to college. Engineering was stressing me out and was burning my already defeated self-esteem to the grounds. I had to have some hobby to feel good about myself. I sketched anybody that I wanted to and of course, they had defects. Some folks whom I sketched were bestowed with bigger noses, bigger ears, smaller eyes, longer moustaches, extra flesh, extra darker tone, asymmetrical faces and the list goes on. But, I realized the joy brought to them when they received their art. Perhaps, a man always wants to leave behind something, either a legacy or a caricature. Blessing in disguise, I got acquainted with Avinash Dai from Sikkim, who during the college days was into hyperrealism sketches – he didn’t even leave a mole nor a jacket button to be detailed. He explained to me that he would sketch during the evenings at certain hours, when the light struck through a certain window, which gave him his own judgement to toil around shades and highlights of his sketches. All his sketches were done on A2 size papers and those were masterpieces.

 2011, I tried to start a charity club with myself. I also wrote to few artists to work for free. How naïve I was then, but like they say, if you are not socialist at the age of 20, it depicts lack of heart, if you are still one at the age of 30, it depicts lack of mind. Rima Reyka from Singapore donated the most, 100 Singaporean dollars then and I bought stationaries with the money I had collected. It was donated to a community school, near my work place.

Rima's sketch, which wasn't done well. 

 I then broke my right hand, and I still have eleven screws around my humerus bone. Never will I forget the night, narrated by my friends about being humourous and breaking humerus bone. After fixing my hand, I experimented with charcoal and realized that this was the best medium for me. One, because I was colour blind, and two, it was quick and easy – I could erase what was wrong.

One of my works after breaking my hand. 

 Later years, I tried to experiment with acrylic colours, and it was embarrassing to realize that I once painted a brown rose, thinking it was maroon or red. That’s the gift of colourblindness.

 I started with stippling when I got a set of pens from Sailesh Sir, he said he was giving it to me because I had passion for calligraphy and art. From there on, it has just been stippling. When I once showed it to Mr. Phurpa from Shop No. 7, upon his query while I bought few charcoal sticks, he advised me then, that I needed to be patient. After twenty years of sketching and being passionate about art, I realized I was not being patient. Everything made sense, those cold days in Motithang to complete banners, those cost cutting ideas, Avinash Dai waiting for his hours, I needed to be patient.

Details with dots. 

 Hence, I only continued to do draw with dots, when I was stressed and it kept me calm. With time, I realized that Mr. Phupa was right, that it needed patience. Later years, I realized that it was more of meditation than art and it was a form of therapy to sooth all the melancholic moments thrown at me for being in construction industry. Hence, after twenty years of self-learning, being passionate, getting jeered and losing every competition, I am improving each day and trying to find my own style and themes. I am grateful to all the souls whom I have met and had gifted me something for my artworks. My friends gifted me sketch books, charcoal pencils, graphite pencils, pens, inks, and all the materials that I have, from across all the corners of the world. I will always remain indebted and beholden to them, and as I look back upon my journey, the voyage in the art world, I cannot claim myself to be fully self-taught. I was inspired by people around me. I was cheered by my friends that pushed me to do something interesting and better. To all the faces that I sketched and screwed up, thank you. 

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