How Digital Art Helped Me Rediscover Drawing

I was listening to ‘Oogway Ascends from Kung Fu Panda while I made this piece

The first time I came to know about Inktober was in 2018. It was the first year I also attempted it. I actually made it till the end. All 31 drawings. Inktober is a prompt based one-drawing-a-day activity in October started by artist Jake Parker as a way to improve his drawings. It has now become a worldwide phenomenon.

Just type #Inktober2020 on Instagram and millions of posts show up. Among those millions are also my tiny drawings like a little fish swimming in a big big sea.

I stumbled upon digital art in 2018. I saw a digital drawing posted by a friend and inquired about the app. Autodesk Sketchbook. The best thing about this app is that it’s completely free. I made crazy doodles. Cats, plants, mountains.

I am not a drawing person at all. I barely managed to score a B- in art class in school. I was terrible while some of my friends were jaw-droppingly good. Of course there are bound to be such geniuses in every class. I was secretly jealous for years from primary school to lower secondary- grade 1 to 8. I told myself I could not draw better. Worse, I did not enjoy drawing. Beyond that art became a luxury as we prepared for the important exam of grade 10. Beyond grade 10 little of art survived in formal education.

When I discovered digital art in 2018, it was like a new toy for me. The best thing was how different it was from real art. Digital surface and digital tools are different from real paper and pencil. While there are bound to be areas of overlap, I could make cats on a digital surface and be satisfied that I could never be content with on paper. I could let go of my old discomfort to some extend. The medium helped me rediscover what I never thought I could enjoy. I experimented, and then came Inktober 2018. 31 drawings for 31 days. I mostly did it last minute or sometimes finished a chunk of days at once, either in advance or later on. But I am glad that I tried.

To add a little flare of my own, I wrote poems too based on the prompt. It was drawing + poetry, and that was probably one of the coolest things I discovered. I tried Inktober in 2019 too, but couldn’t go beyond a few drawings. In 2020 I was once more determined to finish. And I did just that!

I had always been interested in designing, but digital art helped me embrace a new side of my curious mind. Every day I am trying to let go of the need to compare with someone else’s work of art. I make cats, flowers, clouds, skies. Nothing fancy, but I like it. And that’s the thing.

That I like it. It’s fun.

Here’s some of Inktober 2020 drawings with poetry. You can find the full list on instagram.com/thewordcastle

#Ideas: Three Ideas to Beat The Awful Feeling from Comparisons

Don’t compare yourself with your friends, isn’t that a utopian statement?’ a friend remarked. I agreed, but added that it was necessary to be content with oneself, and immediately I thought, ‘Look who’s speaking!

Was I content? I couldn’t tell. I can’t. Some days I am, some other days my mind is a mess driving through the exam sheets from grade 2. (I probably don’t even remember it, it must be a constructed memory.)

There’s something more alluring than that packet of chips or plate of pizza. It’s comparisons. I don’t quite remember where was it exactly that I came across the term Obsessive Comparative Disorder on the ocean of the internet. I might have landed on an island whose route I have now forgotten. But the island was an exotic one, and perhaps continues to be more exotic as we deal with comparisons every moment of our lives. Thank you social media. (Well, you might have landed here through a social media link, and I have no words to say about this situation. Thank you for clicking and reading.)

But we can all agree that social media has fueled comparative lifestyle, disorders for some extreme cases. The stories our screen tell are, we know, different from what it seems. We all do. We know it. But just can’t deny, it seems.

Even without social media, the comparative nature doesn’t really go away. We’re bred in such a fashion. Remember report cards from school? Who scored 98%? Who stood first in elocution contest? Competition isn’t all bad, but somehow comparison ruins it all. It’s not I scored 90, see thats how much I knew about and how much I didn’t. But rather, she he they scored 94, 89, 70. It began a long time ago, before the advent of socials, and the unlearning is perhaps going to take an even longer time. Time might not be something we can afford to have, given it’s already about who has a better job, went to a better university, has smarter kids, more caring spouse. It doesn’t stop. It looks like an inevitable part of growing up.

It makes us bitter. The things I failed at make me morose – the ones everyone thought I would excel at. It’s not about giving up, but everyone needs a mental mettle and peace to deal with the little yet pinching things. They say it’s about the pauses in between that makes music sound the way it sounds. Pauses.

I pause and then begin to search for ideas. Here are three ideas I like to go through when I come across the punctured mark sheet of my life. However little or big they may be, they hurt. Ouch!

 

Everyone is equally difficult and awkward to be with. – Alain de Botton 

This line often reminds me that it’s okay, everyone feels such emotions and they too fail. We’re all lacking and wanting. Everyone has holes in them.

Here’s a video by Alain de Botton, telling why we should not go to school reunion!

 

We need to know our strengths in order to know where we belong. – Peter F. Drucker

A planner may find that his beautiful plans fail because he does not follow through on them. Like so many brilliant people, he believes that ideas move mountains. But bulldozers move mountains; ideas show where the bulldozers should go to work. 
– Peter F. Drucker, Managing Yourself 

These are words from the master of management, Drucker himself taken from the article Managing Yourself complied in HBR’s On Managing Yourself. We all have strengths, it helps to learn them. For some it’s in money management, for some in Kindergarten, for others in decorated palette of food.

I am driven to find my strengths ever time I read these words. I am encouraged to try, to take up activities, and to forgive myself for the earlier mishaps.

 

It is what it is, it ain’t what it ain’t. – Anita Fain Taylor

This is one of my favorite videos from the World Championship of Public Speaking by Toastmasters International. Failure is a reality, but it doesn’t tell the full story. It is what it is, it ain’t what it ain’t.

There’s something more alluring than that packet of chips or plate of pizza. It’s comparisons. But we can beat them, both.

The Magic Spell To Conversations

It pains me to know that while I was ardently taught the art of oration for years and years in school and university, the art of conversation was left way behind. Perhaps it was the omnipresence of the action, the idea that we conversed every day that made it too mundane to be considered a skill to be taught or most importantly a skill that can be learnt. Back in school I looked longingly at my friends who got on the podium to deliver magnificent speeches and today I longingly look at the ones who outmaneuver themselves in the art of conversing.

But maybe all isn’t lost, and for the ones who are a little awkward at conversations like myself, there’s still hope.

For me the most daunting task of starting a conversation is the the ice breaker.

What do I say?

“Hi, I’m Alfa. And I am fond of cats!”

Great.

Or maybe not so great. What if the other person is allergic to cats! or even worse what if a cat attacked her/his favorite pet mouse a long long time ago! Ah possibilities!

But if the other person also does love cats, then the conversation might be going somewhere. (Phew, thankfully!).

But well, not all conversations begin that way, and cats are not the second thing I blabber about right after my name. I read it somewhere that a conversation is like making a sandwich. You add an ingredient and then slide it over to the other person, the other then adds something and slides it back to you. As long as the sandwich keeps sliding, the conversation continues.

Leaving sandwiches aside, over the past few months, I have noticed an interesting pattern. And yes it has to do with Harry Potter (I’m known to spread the Harry Potter fandom at work, so well). After getting a little comfortable with people, I usually end up asking, “Have you read/watched Harry Potter?” Sometimes I get asked the same question.

You might have guessed, when the answer is a YES, conversing becomes a lot more easier, just like that. I can somehow take a breath of relief. I know I can add in a little Harry Potter reference to the sandwich to keep it sliding and hopefully the sandwich would come sliding back at me. And more often than not, the sandwich has come sliding back, and then forth.

One time I had to sit down next to a person who I barely knew. I wanted to speak and say more than Hi to settle the awkwardness in the air, but I didn’t know what to say. Out of the blue someone in the side chanted the magic words ‘Harry Potter’ and I immediately asked, ‘Do you like Harry Potter by any chance?’ I was really skeptic to be honest.

‘I’ve watched all the films 5 times,’ was the reply. Totally unexpected. Turns out the other person also liked cats, and we ended up talking about Minereva McGonagall and her transfiguration power. (Spoiler for muggles: McGonagall can transform herself into a cat.)

And just like that a difficult silence turned into an interesting evening of conversations.

Last week I met a few juniors at a program and we sat down after the event for dinner. Being the older one, it was on me to initiate the conversation. I asked them what they liked and three of them said books. Dan Brown was a favorite among them. One was reading Sapiens. We talked about The Da Vinci Code for a while and then I asked about Harry Potter. The girl who was sitting to my left happened to be a big fan. ‘I absolutely love Snape,’ she said. I could sense that she had resented this particular character for a long time before coming to realize his role in the books.

We even had a harmless giggle when we noticed someone in the crowd who we both thought resembled Draco Malfoy (a character from the books). (No harm intended to the person in the crowd!). (I myself was dressed in a long robe, looking like a witch!). The air was already relaxed and I could breathe and continue naturally.

A big chunk of ice breaker had been eased by a literary masterpiece. No wonder they call Harry Potter a work that has touched generations. I am well aware that this does not work all the time. But then again, there’s probably nothing that works all the time.

I have slowly been realizing that these snippets of conversations have been helping me become more confident at initiating and keeping conversations alive. I will eventually have to move out of my comfort zone and into the unknown filled with spontaneity and risk. I hope there will be a day when I will be able to spark a conversation with natural ease even when I do not have magic cues, till then I will have to keep trying to get the magic spell right.

Wingardium Leviosa!

Between the Start and Now

Some of the roads we take 
Some untold ties we make
Take us to places we’ve never seen
To make us the ones we’ve never been. 

August.

Misty air. My alarm rings and I know I am a wee bit nervous, because its my first day at university after getting admitted. I am not exactly home alone, but still home alone. I know I cannot afford to be late. So I keep a buffer margin time of 30 minutes.

Just before breakfast, suddenly a tap explodes. Panic! I don’t know what to do? Shall I just let it be? Find the valve and close it, my mother says over the phone. Where is the valve? Even more importantly, what is the valve?

I know there’s a compartment right over the tiny library by the living room, so I open the   door to the compartment and start closing each one of the valves. Each time I turn one valve, I run down to check if the tap had stopped flowing.

First valve. Second Valve. Third Valve. Finally, the tap stops flowing. I look at my watch, my 30 minute buffer has already been blown! Panic Part Two. I hurriedly have breakfast and catch the first tempo that comes. I can’t be late! I can’t. But it seems like I was. Heavens!

I see a dusty road in front. I guess this must be the stop. I had never taken a tempo to university before today. I get down. Suddenly the view seems different from when I had seen it the last time. NO! THIS CAN’T BE! I could not have taken the wrong tempo. NOT NOW. Panic Part Two and Three Quarters! Thankfully I had just gotten down slightly, actually a lot earlier than my intended bus stop. Phew!

Finally, finally I get there. Not on time. But I get there. I know which valve to close and which stop to get down. The second one particularly, very important.

***

December.

The cold air hits my cheeks. My mother is slightly agitated that I have blown up the 15 minute time buffer all over again. Black robes everywhere. Everyone looks good, surprisingly everyone does in that black robe. May be we all just look funny in our oversized robes and that is why we look good. Or may be we’ve finally made it, and thats why we look good. Whatever be the reason, everyone looks good.

There’s a big commotion going on. Over a thousand students are graduating today. Phones on each hand. It’s a big day, no one wants to miss a single moment. It’s a big day.

And as the start would have some how foretold it, it took me a little longer than expected to reach the moment.

***

Faces that seemed strange 1095 days ago have filled my phones and I have filled theirs. Our caps are flying left and right. And words fall short to describe what came between the start and now. I would not dare call it the end, I’d just call it ‘Now’. The Start and Now.

Its like a jigsaw puzzle, it is almost impossible to predict the final outcome without having all the pieces placed. So, lets just keep on adding the pieces one after another.

I wish you luck, love and happiness my friends. When we meet again, it shall be a new space and a new time. And still it will be now.

The now that keeps on expanding. The now that never ends.

Everything between the Start and Now.

This journey’s gonna end someday
But you’ll find footsteps on every way
That lead you to me
Lead me to you
Lead us to the ones we used to be, 
Lead me to you
Lead you to me
Lead us to the ones we used to be. 


Photograph: Class of 2017, with many many people missing, in front of the main building of our Alma Mater.