One Stroke at a Time - Kalyani

Though she dabbles in a variety of mediums, Kalyani started off with watercolors. “Growing up we always had paints lying around the house, and I started with watercolors and then I learnt acrylics.” Talking about her preferred mediums she says, “I find acrylics the easiest and most flexible medium to use, but I feel that oils and watercolors will always hold a special place in every artist's heart.” Over the years she taught herself and now she is expanding her repertoire by venturing into digital art.

Her Instagram is filled with pictures of her art done in a range of styles across a variety of mediums. Usually commissions take up a huge amount of her time, leaving precious little time for personal projects. But when she does have time she uses it to paint things that fascinate her “I love painting things that move me, and things which I find beautiful. It need not always be something pleasant, it could be a negative emotion and I feel that art is a good way to express it.”

She holds Millind Mullick, Prakashan Puthur and David Steeden in high regard for their prowess in watercolors, but she also has a soft spot for impressionists like John Fernandez, Vladimir Volegov and Pino Daeni. Kalyani’s own style is a mix of traditional Indian styles like Madhubani combined with mediums like watercolors and acrylics.

Kalyani feels that art has been a bit intellectualized of late, by people who seem to populate their works with something to interpret. “Art should be about experiencing something beautiful, it doesn’t always have to be thought provoking. If it turns out that way then fine; but I don’t think an artist should force something to be understood through art” She prefers to keep things simple, and she tells me that this was one of the reasons why she has taken to drawing comics. She looks at comics as a way to simplify complex ideas and to present them in a petite manner, to be understood by all.

Despite working mostly with traditional mediums, she uses digital art to create her comics and occasional illustrations. Still she feels that she will stick to her roots and continue in the traditional mediums which she grew up painting while occasionally dabbling in the digital side; especially when she feels the need to cut loose from the constraints of her commissions and experiment on her own projects.

Kalyani has been taking commissions since she was seventeen, when she reproduced the works that caught her eye in art books and after that; she received intermittent orders from friends and family. As of now she has completed slightly over 200 commissions and it takes her anywhere between three days to a week to complete them.

She reveals that painting for others can get a bit monotonous at times, “It’s a lot of work. You don’t get to paint what you want, plus there are time constraints. To put it short; there’s too much work involved to enjoy it.”  On some occasions she is left completely burnt out after finishing a commissioned work. “Sometimes after I complete a commission I don’t want to go near the canvas for a while. It takes some time to start creating works for pleasure. Every day I wake up thinking that I’m going to paint, but I don’t.”  She also places quality over quantity, “I noticed that I sometimes make art just to post consistently and I feel that that is a wrong reason to create.”

But once she taps into her drive to create, she becomes unstoppable and paints for hours on end. Her paintings are sometimes accompanied by a slice of poetry which serves to enhance the painting’s beauty and expound on its theme “When I paint, I find myself imagining the story behind it, and the words usually come along with the painting.”

On the occasions when she is hesitant to make a mark on the canvas, she works her magic on digital art, as she finds it comfortable and quite personal. She was introduced to the digital face of art while pursuing a Master’s degree in Advertising, but she was unsatisfied with what was taught there. So she went on to re-discover and learn it by herself.    

While painting for herself, she always finds herself fleshing out the female form on canvas. “I love to paint women; I find it indescribably attractive and beautiful to work on. And sometimes I find myself painting the same woman.” And a lot of people have reacted positively to her works, when it comes to landscapes, she cites Easwaran Namboothiri as her chief influence. She reveals that her father Ravishankar, who was also a painter who worked with oils and watercolors; used to recreate his works. Kalyani fondly recalls the first time her father saw her art “At first he was puzzled when he saw my paintings, but he eventually grew appreciative and proud of what I was doing, and he would often convey his appreciation through my mother.”

Though she has racked up a considerable number of paintings, she has yet to exhibit them; but she has plans to showcase her works next year. She feels that people in Kerala are rather appreciative of art, “they know its value, until a while ago people used to buy prints, but of late they have been showing interest in original pieces by local artists.”

After seeing her time-lapse videos of her working on her art, a lot of people have expressed interest in learning from her. And she has also been toying with the idea, “If you’re good at something, you should share it with others.” Kalyani feels that while realism is pivotal to art, she beseeches young artists to develop their own style, “because that is what separates the artist from the photographer.” and to avoid getting stuck drawing fan-art of celebrities, “Its useful when you’re learning the medium, but I feel that it stagnates your growth as an artist. Painting is a skill, just like music or dance, all of these skills can be developed with practice, which is frustrating at first but the more you practice, the more fun you’ll derive from the process. Don't let an obsession with perfection stand in the way of your progress, make as many mistakes as you can, and eventually your skills will improve.”

You can connect with Kalyani on her Instagram handle @kalyanis_canvas

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