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February 4, 2013

Capturing Chaos

Someone asked how I capture the bustling activity of the scenes I am often drawn in India, and it got me thinking about how I approach it. Funnily, I've never had to think of it before, it's just something I am drawn to and love capturing. So here is an attempt to put my process into words:

At first, any scene with a lot of unrelated shape, color and activity is overwhelming. Where do I look first? What do I focus on? And if I were to draw it, where do I start? But if I look at the scene for a while, a pattern starts to emerge. What looks like a random moving mass of people has a flow, a direction and a structure. Once I can "see" the bigger picture, I start to draw, always remembering that even though I’m drawing in the details: the people, the cats, dogs, cars, there is an underlying pattern. 


My challenge? To work within the structure I see, yet not make the scene look too structured and organized. After all, my main aim is to convey the feeling of being on the scene. And that involves capturing my first impression of overwhelming chaos, and of a sensory overload of shape,color, sight, smell and sound. And what do I do to capture the chaos? In the scene below it meant knowing how the crowd generally moved: it seemed to emerge from the mosque at the end of street, straight down the road and towards me before it dispersed to the left and right. But, while I kept this in mind, I drew in everything that disrupted this flow as well: The handcart that blocked traffic, the large yellow umbrella that forced the crowd to move around it. 
Little observed details add authenticity, even if they are unrecognizable in the final sketch: the wheel-like structure to the left is a man holding a wicker basket over his head (to keep the crowds from bumping into it), The funny chromosome-like shape in the crowd, far in the distance, is the large pole carried by a cotton candy seller, and decorated with bags of cotton candy.
When I am working with color, I try not to simply load a brush with one shade (say of yellow) and apply it to everything that looks yellow to me. Almost every little yellow in a scene is different, either because the light hits every surface differently, or because it just IS a slightly different shade. And almost every surface in India is patterned and textured: from the brightly colored saris to old peeling posters on walls, to typography on billboards... each little surface is an opportunity to capture the little stuff that  lends authenticity to a scene. 

Mosque near Crawford Market

I hope that helps explain a little of the method behind the madness! More hustle-bustle and hectic urban life from my travels in India, here on my blog.



17 comments :

Tracey Travis said...

I love your sketch, it's interesting how you approach things! Thanks for sharing.

Ethna said...

Thanks for that explanation, Suhita, but can you please tell me...where do you actually begin drawing...the foreground with the cart? and then work back from there?
Thanks....I love the excitement of your work!

Nigel Mcauley said...

Great sketch.

Agnès Bolley-Vittot said...

Great sketch and lively colors - thanks for sharing your approach to it!

Shari Blaukopf said...

It is wonderful to read about your process Suhita. Every sketch you do looks a bit like a stained glass window to me. Or a mosaic. Really enjoyed reading about the movement and the dabbing of the colour too. It has been such a treat to see India through your eyes.

Suhita said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suhita said...

Ethna, that's a tough question: if this were a still life I were drawing, I think I would have a predictable place to start, but because I usually draw crowds or people that just momentarily pass through scenes, it is not such a planned process. I sort of have an idea of what the overall image I want to capture is. Sometimes I will start with a relatively stationary person, often with the architectural structure. But I will break away from what I'm drawing and add people as they "pass through" my scene in real life. it's the only way I can get the sea of humanity in. They are never where they are all at one time, but they all pass through in the course of my drawing.

Jennifer Appel said...

Thank you for sharing a bit of your thought process - really interesting.

Your sketches always have a nice sense of movement too them.

Firefly Workshop said...

Thanks for sharing. I will try out your tip when I am overwhelmed by the crowd here in Singapore.

Firefly Workshop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kumi matsukawa said...

Great work and wonderful depiction! I know it is difficult to explain in words how you observe the scene (as a whole) and at the same time how you pay attention toward every aspect. We do it like almost automatic / unconsciously in each moment when we draw/ improvised .

matthew_c said...

Wow, a captured kaleidoscope of movement.
Impressive!

Liz Steel said...

Suhita - really really loving your india sketches - they capture so much of what I expect India to be (have to go there one day!) Thanks for sharing this process - really helpful... and the extra tips in the comments!

Ethna said...

Thanks for your answer, Suhita....I love that phrase 'the sea of humanity'!

Stephanie Bower said...

Suhita, I've admired your sketches for quite a while since I discovered them before my own trip to India. You REALLY captured the beautiful chaos!!! I could never quite tackle this, it is so overwhelming at times,
but your sketch captures the crowds of people, colors, scooters, architecture, all in one shot. I can almost hear the horns honking! Amazing. I really love the woman in the sari right up front.

Were people watching as you sketched?

sanjeev joshi said...

dear suhita, these scenes are so close to my heart and always surrounding me..method in madness !!..lovely depiction of indian scene..loved your style too..wish to see more of these.

Suhita said...

Sanjeev, thanks so much. When my work from India feels true to a fellow India, it makes me doubly happy :) next time, I will come sketch in Pune! I remember all Ravivar peth from my childhood, and shrewsbury biscuits!

Liz, lets do a week of sketching together in India next tim I go: you sketch like I do on vacation: totally obsessively, in a frenzy, and I mean that in a nice way! Anyone else want to join us??

Kumi, you are so right: I had a hard time putting words to something I do without thinking!

Paul, I would love to stop by in Singapore the next time I am that side of the world. We could sketch the frenzied world of Singapore. And then I could feast on pepper crab!