Interview: Subhashini Chandramani on The Garden Art Journal
The Garden Art Journal, which features wonderfully minimalist images that incorporate petals, seeds and leaves, intends to spur creativity in those who maintain journals. Here, Chandramani, @neelavanam on Twitter and Instagram, talks about the journal, about her form of Garden Art, and her own creative processUpdated: Aug 21, 2019 21:58 IST
What made you create this journal?
I have been writing journals for many years now and one day it struck me that it would be nice to have a journal where I can look at something that inspires me. Not a diary with just dates and quotes but something more interesting. And then I thought, ‘Why not create my own journal with some of my ‘Garden Art’ alongside pages for writing or sketching. All one would have to do is open a random page and it sets the tone for the day. I put together my work in a book format to see how it looked. I want it to be a book that could be carried along everywhere so I made it into a journal. I decided against having date slots and page numbers as I wanted it to be a record of thoughts and art. So I removed lines and created a dot grid layout.
I asked people who write in journals if they did it on a daily basis. The answer was, ‘No’. The regularity in January tapers off with time. Very few used it every day. By the end of the year, many felt guilty and wished that they had a journal without date or year stamps. This, I thought, should be the crux of the journal.
I looked through my old journals and categorised my entries. I ended up with four divisions as the layout: Conversations, Creative, Questions, Rhythm, and Goals.
I thought this would help in archiving important life events if one wanted to avoid the drudgery of recording everyday affairs.
I added my art work on every fourth page along with the scientific name of the flowers to encourage people to read more about them. This is also a nature journal.
At the end of a year’s labour, I had created a flexible journal without the compulsion of dates, where one can doodle and also get inspired by looking at the art while opening at random pages.
In a digital world, a lot of people cherish the experience of writing on paper. What are your thoughts on this?
Though the habit of writing in books is slowly being replaced by mobiles and laptops, writing on paper keeps you focussed. I prefer writing down all serious work, putting all creative ideas on paper. I love to see my poetry handwritten on paper. I like the little notes scribbled on bits of paper which I leave between pages for reference. When I write, it is a small world -- just me and an empty page along with a pen with the endless possibilities of words.
What is your method once an idea strikes you?
It is difficult to describe. An idea strikes when I see something that has the potential to be transformed into something else. Then I become a sort of possessed person with a feverish grip. I feel compelled to create the art work within the next hour or so. I don’t have the luxury of carrying over art work to the next hour or day because the botanical element that inspired me to create will wilt and change shape. Sometimes it is a sketch that goes with the element. At other times, I think of all the things that I’d need and start looking for them. A twig here, a flower there, I keep foraging for the right elements. I arrange them on a white or black board depending on the choice of colours. I don’t glue any of the elements but keep arranging and rearranging until I get what I want. I allow the shadows to fall on it to add depth to the image. And then comes the important part, photographing it. I use my iphone and it does a very good job. I photograph the work from many angles until I settle on a final one.
What is your favourite image that you have used in this journal? Mine is the HMV take off.
Easter lilies, Lilium longiflorum, bloom for nearly four to six months in year. It is trumpet faced and blooms outward attracting bees and butterflies. I’ve seen emigrant butterflies sleep inside the flower. That’s how fragrant it is. When I bought them from the nursery, we had a handful of bulbs. In a couple of years they grew to more than a dozen bulbs. I removed them all and distributed them into a dozen different containers. The next season all bulbs were in full bloom and it was fantastic. The flowers attracted a swarm of bees and their humming was the loudest noise in the garden. It looked like the horn of a gramophone playing music and that’s what prompted me to create the HMV logo :-)
My favourite is the girl holding a red hibiscus umbrella. It is one of my early works and it is close to my heart. I remember the first time I saw the hibiscus in the garden drenched in rain. It reminded me of an umbrella. I put that thought into art, as a girl carrying the hibiscus umbrella extending her other hand feeling the raindrops while her schoolbag gets wet on the ground. It was an emotional moment. It reminded me of my childhood self and how I’ve enjoyed playing in the rain.
You have also done the cover art, using your form of Garden Art, for two books -- Small Stones from the River (2017) and Stumbling Towards Happiness(2019). Where do you get your ideas for your art using botanical elements?
Also, it would be nice to learn about your initial discovery of this art form.
I’ve always been surrounded by gardens, big and small from my childhood days. I remember how fascinated I was watching the ripe kanakambaram (Crossandra infundibuliformis, the firecracker flower) seeds explode with a crackling noise when water fell on them. I took up gardening with more enthusiasm 15 years ago. I had time on my hands then.
I bought a variety of plants, learnt to take care of them, and started experimenting with optimal ways to maintain them.
As the garden grew, like in the WH Davies poem Leisure I found myself having the time to stand and stare. I was so bewitched by the evolving nature around me that I was inspired to write poetry. And then I started taking photos to capture the journey. If poetry gave me an inner eye to search my soul, photography became my third eye. The lens gave me a new perspective on a world I had previously not known of. I started seeing patterns, discovered that some wilted flowers looked like a bird, berries like eyes, and so on.
The culmination of these ideas and the blossoming of this art form happened when I was sketching the face of a woman. I wanted to get away from the usual nose rings I’d sketch. I am quirky by nature. I can never stick to a routine; I get easily bored by it. In everything that I do, whether it is cooking or chores at home, I am always looking for things that will make the mundane interesting. The face of the woman that day needed something to make it interesting. It was a simple sketch but it needed to be different. In a serendipitous moment, I found a bougainvillea flower. I removed the bracts and placed the white flower as a nose ring. I loved the minimalism of the picture. It kindled something in me. I decided to experiment more with this interface of using flowers and botanical elements to create images. Now nearly four years into this journey, I realise that ‘Garden Art’ is a creative mix of poetry, photography and art, which are all close to my heart.