Portrait of a young artist

Portrait of a young artist

Unique hobbies

Portrait of a young artist

It isn’t difficult to identify Shantha Prabhu’s passion for the fine arts – the young artist has a portfolio of works that range from ‘warli’ and ‘madhubani’ designs to still life paintings that use instant coffee powder as a medium. Quick to pick-up different techniques, she plans to master as many Indian art forms as she can.

At the moment, Shantha is busy learning how to draw Thanjavur paintings. “I’m going for classes to learn Thanjavur paintings. There are so many different Indian art forms – Mysore paintings, Gond work from Madhya Pradesh, Mandala Thangka paintings which are common to Coorg and the North-Eastern states... Each state has its own form of art,” she says.

Talking about her love for art and how it all began, Shantha says, “I started doing art from quite a young age. I used to go for drawing classes and slowly ventured into shading, water colours, pencil sketching, portraits and still life. I developed an interest for art that I can’t quite explain. When I was working, I would receive requests from people for my artwork. So, eventually I quit my job and decided to make this a full-time profession.”

Not only does she experiment with different art forms but also with the medium she uses. Currently, she knows seven to eight traditional Indian art forms and works with medium like pencil, crayons, water colours, oil, acrylic, coffee and chocolate. Her favourites are India ink, which is commonly used to draw tattoos, and coffee. “I like how India ink works on paper and cloth when compared to skin. And coffee is a technique that isn’t very popular and I learnt on my own. There are a few videos online that use coffee but they don’t show the application technique. Art is a field where most people don’t like to share their techniques.”

Is she also hesitant about sharing her techniques? “Not really. I take classes for people so that’s not a problem. But to some extent, hiding your technique is acceptable. People tend to copy something they see and pass it off as their own, so a few secrets are necessary. But in the long run, sharing that sort of knowledge will help keep the art alive.” 

How does she work with coffee and chocolate powder? “You get instant coffee powder and mix it with a binding agent like Fevicol or fabric glue. To change the shades and tones, you adjust your usage of water and powder. After that, you need to use a coat of varnish to seal the painting. The same works for chocolate.” Shantha says she enjoys working on traditional, earthy and ethnic paintings. “Indian art really fascinates me. I’m not sure how I developed a fondness for Indian art but I think it’s because my parents and I travel a lot and have visited many temples and monuments. The architecture and art is beautiful and there are so many different forms in India. Murals, which we see on temple walls, are now done on cloth and paper – that’s how painting has evolved. This makes me want to try out all the different forms.”

She also relates this enthusiasm to boredom. “I tend to get bored if I’m working on the same thing so I do one art form this week and another the next. Like, if I work too much with coffee, I don’t feel like drinking it for another week because the smell remains in my nose.”

Calling art subjective, she says, “Every art form has its own beauty; it depends on whether a particular piece appeals to a person or not.”