Seated in the midst of a bustling crowd on a street of Bangalore City Market, Somesh Kumar, a 25-year-old freelance artist, makes himself comfortable as he takes out his sketchbook.
This young artist finds inspiration on every busy corner when he goes out to sketch the city as part of Sketchcrawl. Even with people poring over his shoulder, the strokes on his paper take him to a space that is his own.
A cup of tea and a host of unfamiliar faces can keep him intrigued for hours. He tells us about a quiet time in his childhood, his morning breakfast, his hand-eye coordination and the inertia between the things that sit still, the things that crawl and the things that elude us.
The Fuschia Tree: When was the first time you drew something, and what was it?
Somesh Kumar: I am not very sure, but from what I remember I must have been five years old when I first started drawing. During the month of December, my mother, elder brother and cousins would make New Year cards and I joined them in the task. I didn't really know how to use the drawing mediums, my watercolours were blotchy and pencil drawings were heavily engraved in the skin of paper. I think the first thing I drew was a sunflower.
TFT: What is up on the walls of your room?
SK: I have an international Kite Festival poster of Gujarat tourism, a gift from my mentor Mr. Dhun Karkaria. There is a poster of Paul Simon and Bob Dylan's concert, illustrated and designed by Bob Masse. On my pinboard, I have postcards from a Sri Lankan tea estate, post it notes scribbled by my colleagues from Amar Chitra Katha, a ticket from a Zeb and Haniya concert, typographic postcards from Aksharaya, a rough timeline of my graphic novel, and a postcard from Perch Project.
TFT: How do you scout a spot to sketch, in your mind’s space and on the street?
SK: Whenever I am travelling alone or waiting for friends or clients at a café is when I sketch. Some tea to sip on in between makes it all perfect. For the times when I plan to go sketch a specific site, being there on time and finding a suitable place to sit is all that is required. A friendly crowd that doesn’t question my intentions makes it easier. Otherwise, I have to convince people that I am not robbing them of their shops’ decor or that I am not planning to bomb the place by making a blueprint.
TFT: Do you prefer a lake with birds and trees or a marketplace with vehicles and people?
SK: A market place definitely. Being in the middle of nature that is unadulterated stops me from making an effort to try to portray it. I try to be serene and let its calmness seep in. It's the tension and conflict of a marketplace that invigorates me to draw or make a comment on it. A bustling area where you can see everyday activities and interactions makes a good environment to sketch. If it's nestled close to old buildings and structures that give a context to the chaos around it, then it makes the subjects far richer. At times, a quiet spot where one can observe people like a fly from a wall helps too. Airports, cafés, upper berths of railway compartments - these are some of the good places where you can draw people without being invasive.
TFT: Is there a time in your as-yet short-lived life that you would like to return to, and live again?
SK: My five years of childhood when I stayed in a Fertiliser township located in Barauni is very precious. Since it was a township, the infrastructure was planned and had enough patches of open fields to play and cycle. Sadly, it got shut nine years ago, and going back to it would be like roaming a ghost town of good times.
TFT: How did Sketchcrawl happen?
SK: I was working in Delhi for a few months when I first heard of Sketchcrawl. Being in the peak of summer, one hardly goes out to explore. Sketchcrawl gave me and my friend Samia Singh the required push to bear the scorching May sun. We went to Majnu ka Tila for a few hours and sketched a Gurudwara and a Tibetan temple. I moved out of Delhi soon after, but Sketchcrawl stayed. It has become a habit to go out and sketch the city.
TFT: What colour do you tend to begin with?
SK: I am partially colour blind, so I have no preferences towards any specific colour. I work with form and shades. But I do use colour and often with a playfulness that sometimes defies logic. It's a spontaneous process for me, sort of like a dance where your next step is often formulated from the act before.
TFT: If you sit down to sketch and you see a dog, an old beggar and a woman buying vegetables, which of them would make the perfect muse, and why?
SK: The old beggar. When I decide to invest time in a sketch, I would like my subject to stay with me for a while. A dog and a lady buying vegetables would fly off depending where the best fresh food/vegetable is being offered. An old beggar would give me the time to detail and study their features, activities and environment. I am not denying the importance of a dog and a lady buying vegetables by making them seem like sub-standard subjects; they are equally rich. When I want to do quick gesture drawings, I handle all subjects with equal importance.
TFT: What do you do if the picture in front of you changes?
SK: When you sketch market areas, people and objects are bound to move or block you from your view, this is something beyond your control. To counter this, I keep building an archive of the necessary key details in my head while I sketch, apart from hand-eye co-ordination, there is a secondary flow of information about the place and people which fills in my memory and often comes to my rescue when I have to fill in the gaps. Memories are funny things, they change shape and get mangled with other memories quite easily.
TFT: Which world do you live in, the picture you've drawn or the space in front of you?
SK: I live in the space in front of me, but I selectively engage with aspects of the reality that make my existence more meaningful.
TFT: Who is the first person you call when you need to clear your head?
SK: I generally take a walk, don't really like to talk when my head is swamped with doubts.
TFT: What is the song stuck in your head right now?
SK: Flume by Bon Iver.
TFT: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
SK: Mini tiffin at A2B (Adyar Ananda Bhavan), which has a small dosa, vada, idli, pongal, kesari bhath.
TFT: Which would you rather be, a dolphin in the sea or an eagle in the sky?
SK: None of the two, I get ear infection in water and altitude troubles my ear too. A dog on a farm, maybe.
TFT: If you could live on only four foods (you have these in abundance), what would they be?
SK: Tea, biscuit, peanuts and khichadi.
TFT: You're traveling around the world with one book and one song. What are they?
SK: Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham, Tum pukaar lo, sung by Hemant Kumar.
TFT: Your most valuable possession?
SK: My father's watch.
TFT: What were some of the jobs you had when you were young? What would you tell a lost, young practitioner in your field?
I have worked only for three years as a professional in which I worked for a NGO and a publication for children. I mostly made graphic novels, comic strips, designed magazine pages and illustrated heavily.
I treat my work as my refuge, it's a sheltering space for me where I live selfishly. I never treated my work as a job, my work is something which completes me. If one shares that relationship with their work, then it will keep prospering and help the person evolve with their work too.
TFT: Besides your work and what is the one thing that completely consumes you?
Watching a football match.
As told to Sanjana Kapur, a writer by profession, who loves children’s books and finding stories wherever she goes. She currently makes a living writing for children.
Somesh is an independent graphic designer and illustrator. He is an avid reader of graphic novels, and invests his late evenings in inking his own comic. When not inking, he's busy doing his bit for urban wildlife rescue, writing Hindi poems as 'Khufiya Kaatil', sketching crowded city areas, and measuring his life in teacups.