Category Archives: Portraits

Theyyam #4

I started painting large faces on canvas a few years ago. They were borne as a response to a painting of a Theyyam dancer I had done as a gift for Good Homes Magazine. See the link here.

While doing research for that first painting I found that it takes the dancer many hours before he is ready. The dancer almost goes into a trance by the end of the entire ‘dressing up’ phase which includes 8-10 hours of face painting after which he dons the elaborate costume. By the end he is said to channel the divine within himself.

I got thinking and wanted to paint the face of the dancer when it was still just a man with a painted face and not anyone channeling divinity yet.

Which in turn led me to start painting faces where we use marks as masks. It does not matter whether the entire face is painted or there are some caste/religious marking – horizontal or vertical across the face/forehead. I find even make up is a mask of sorts…

This series is an effort to show the man behind the mask with all the fallibility and irreverence of man.

Do have a look at the progression video of this final painting. You can see additional work on my Instagram feed and my Youtube channel

As a theme, Theyyam lends itself well to artistic interpretations. By it’s very nature, it brings forth goodwill to those in its presence and promises to ward off evil.

Theyyam is an artistic dance form where metaphysical thoughts and expressions of immortal souls are impersonated by a believer through a mortal body. Theyyam originated from “Kaliyattam” once practiced by the tribal community of north Kerala. Theyyam has grown to the present form through many transformations since it’s origin. Landlords and chieftains of those days are the main forces behind many of such transformations. The community and its body began to use this art to propagate the major theme of social enforcement. The artists are also encouraged by the authorities to introduce new themes into its traditional layers and classified different acts and expressions to match specific needs for their desire. The character representations were very broad. They range from mild to wild in representations.

Theyyam is a sect in which old heroes are sanctified and worshiped as the guardians of villages and homes. Yet, it includes a complex universe centred on the belief that a man can—after suitable mental, physical and spiritual preliminaries—don the costume of a particular deity and then become that deity. In this elevated state he assumes superhuman and divine powers—speaking, moving, blessing and even healing as a god or goddess. What is crucial is that the person is not possessed by the spirit of the deity. It’s important to understand that Theyyam has a larger purpose that goes beyond the territories of performance – to all those in attendance, it assures assistance and security during times of crisis, promising to resolve all their conflicts.

You can read about Theyyam here –

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Kathakali as Krishna

Many years ago I got a request from  a fellow blogger asking permission to use an image of my first Kathakali painting on his blog with due credit to be given of course. I said ‘yes’.

Cut to the beginning of this year – that same gentleman wrote to me. He requested a painting for his new home. He wanted a painting depicting a Kathakali dancer as Krishna. And the painting needed to be ready in time for the house warming ceremony.

I was touched and humbled. I was also a tad bit daunted by the very specific list of what the client wanted. He was very specific about the pose the dancer had to be in, his dress, his headgear with peacock feathers etc. The difficulty arose from the fact that the amount of wall space available versus the final proportion of the painting incorporating all that he desired would not match. So I had to crop out the headgear and the peacock feathers from the final image composition. But I did find a way to incorporate it in the final canvas 🙂

This painting was a pleasure to paint. And that it went to someone who obviously loves the finished work and has given it pride of place in his house… I could not be happier.

Do have a look at the progression videos of both the final painting and one of just the face developing. These two videos along with many others are also up on my Instagram feed.

I leave you with images of the finished painting as it rests in his beautiful home.

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Sadhu #7

I love painting faces. In the last few years I have painted portraits of my four legged friends as well as faces of the people that inhabit the dark recesses of my mind. Some are portraits of friends where I try and capture more than just a likeness to them physically and then others may have started with a photo reference but then the canvas quickly takes on a life of it’s own.

Over the next few posts I will share some work that has not yet been documented in the annals of this blog. Some will be videos and others just photographs. The right side on this blog has a categories drop down. Please do use it to access older work and videos.

I often get email asking if I can teach. I have not started that yet. Maybe someday. But until then I hope the albums on my Facebook page and the demo videos here on the blog and on my Youtube channel can help you. Do subscribe to the channel for updates on new videos. I am hoping that those interested will be able to find this helpful in some way.

This canvas is roughly 7′ x 2.5′ and is done in Acrylics on canvas.

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My friend – Shibu Arakkal

Shibu Arakkal. Photographic Artist. Tells it like it is. Without mincing ANY words!
I met Shibu at a Group Exhibition in October 2013. My work was a late entrant into the mix. But that’s another story.

Shibu’s first words to me were ‘so you are the one who has painted this work… hmm‘ And then we made polite conversation and exchanged pleasantries. After about an hour of mingling around at the art opening Shibu called me over and asked -“How do you feel about bartering?” And I was like “Sure. What do you want to barter?” His answer- “Your painted chair for one of my prints.” Of course I said “YES” 🙂

‘Lorenzo il Magnifico Gold Prize for Digital Art’ – Florence Biennale 2013

The ‘Bartered’ Chair

But it was more than getting a print from the award winning Florence Biennale artist. It showed me the person he is. This was the honest best compliment I could have got for my work. An award winning artist wanted to barter with me. There was no monetary value attached to his barter. It was a one on one – honest appreciation. And I thank Shibu for it. That was the start of an effortless friendship.

The next in the series of effortless friendships is with the one and only Shibu Arakkal. We meet rarely. As he says “You are always too busy!!” Though I did make the time to meet him to discuss a project. More on that in the weeks to come but till then I leave you with a glimpse into what I think makes Shibu an artist who feels …

What did you study in college?

Economics, Political Science & Sociology. So glad someone finally asked me this question.

What was your childhood like?

My happiest memories of my childhood were the years I grew up with my grandparents, being mostly outdoors when not in school, playing different sports, climbing trees, inadvertently learning to use tools by making things I could play with, fiddling around with my bicycle and doing lots of things parents today would consider to be dangerous.

My move to live with my parents later on involved a lot of escape from and into serious phases of loneliness and very seriously battling that through my teenage years.

Who influences you the most?

My earliest and most profound influence and I realized this much later in life, was my maternal grandfather who was a metallurgist in HAL. Though he passed away when I was in my early teenage years, I think I learnt my early lessons in creative out-of-the-box thinking from him, apart from many other things that made him the extraordinary man he was. After his death, he became my conscience keeper and a silent guide. I begin every month by visiting his grave and talking to him.

What are your plans for your daughter?

I don’t believe that I have the right to make plans for my daughter as she must follow her own purpose and destiny. To answer this question from a conventional stand point, I wish for her to be most of all, her own self because her real self is extraordinary by any standards. I only and diligently so, strive to give her a solid foundation made up of values such as honesty, responsibility, hard work and conscientiousness, amongst a few other things.

Do you see any influence from your father – Yusuf Arakkal ?

I certainly do. For a man who was all consumed by his work, his art, the time that he took to be a father to me, he taught me many things. I am known to be a perfectionist to a fault, though it’s strange but things like that and the sanctity towards one’s work are things I learnt from both my dad and my grandad.

How tough is it to make a name in photography?

Speaking of photography as an art form, even with its rich albeit brief history in the context of art, it is never the less, today’s artistic medium. Even though photographically, we live in a world of digital, analogue and every kind of cross pollinated possibilities, the recognition for and the reality of creating work that is truly unique is very hard to come by. To do that and to compete with photographic artists from the western world who are supported technically, in terms of infrastructure, not to mention monetarily and are recognized, is a challenge that one has to have a stomach for.

What is artistic or fine art photography?

That’s like asking what is artistic or fine art painting. We can’t assume that just because the medium is painting it has to necessarily be artistic or fall into the fine art genre.

I choose to define any art, regardless of medium, as two equal halves of an unique artistic expression and a high caliber of technical skill. This definition, I believe, is more critical with photographic art as the acquired-over-time technical skill graph is always on a more steeper climb due to technological innovations. And so the ability to articulate one’s artistic expression equally is ever demanding and ever evolving.

What advice would you give to upcoming artists?

I think that practicing art is like having children. If you don’t do it for the right reasons, the amount of struggle and rejection will in all probability either break you or worse, make you compromise. Even with instances to the contrary, the practice of art isn’t sustainable at the highest levels, if it isn’t supported by a unique viewpoint, skill and integrity. It is true at least for artists who create for time and not for markets or people.

What advice would you give to upcoming photographers?

  1. Although photography is as technical a medium as any, one would be wise to not forget that it is ultimately a creative medium.
  2. Just as everyone with a fountain pen can’t become a Shakespeare, everyone with an expensive camera won’t become a photographer.
  3. If you cannot or are too lazy to achieve what can be achieved through photography and rely on post-production for it, you will in all probability lose ground in terms of the price you command or be eventually surpassed by someone younger and better.
First place | 'Ventipertrenta 2011' - International Jury, International festival of digital art | Italy

First place | ‘Ventipertrenta 2011’ – International Jury, International festival of digital art | Italy

What is your quiet ‘go to’ place?

It is primarily my balcony but my quiet place is my own head when I’m traveling or riding motorcycles.

What beverage makes you feel comfortable?

GTL (Gin, Tonic & lime)

What movie touches you?

Lawrence of Arabia

With hindsight what do you think you would do differently?

I would firstly go full throttle in my twenties and early thirties but most importantly, I would follow every gut instinct I have and not be so analytical as I have been.

Your one favorite piece?

I truly don’t have one.

What do you think of ‘completion’?

I tend to think the Italian way about this. It will take as long as it takes and it is done when it is done.

What do you think of artist residencies?

I absolutely love the idea of artist residencies and I have done a few over the past four or five years years in different countries.

The idea of a certain sense of seclusion to have the luxury of being able to think about life and everything that is important to an artist and carry that train of thought through to your work, without being interrupted by responsibilities and such, is as close to an artistic utopia as on can find in this world.

What is art?

I am philosophical about art. Art to me is interpreting and articulating the secrets and the language of the universe into physical and in this day, virtual art-forms. Hence, our understanding of reality, specially in art, is greatly subjective. It is possibly why life imitates art.

What is design?

To me, design is creating an efficient aesthetic that is born out of function. And not the other way around.

What are the basics of photography?

What I have learnt of photography is the ability to get into a meditative state of mind and respond to your chosen subject, which also happens instinctually. But that happens when you hone and perfect your technical craft for years, where it enables you to use light, space and form to piece together a photographic puzzle created out of YOUR subjective and artistic soul.

What are the first steps to take?

Study, study, study!

Would you lend your name to limited edition or mass produced?

If done right, surely.

What do you think of the art scene in India and abroad?

In India, the artists who have made a name for themselves in the last ten or fifteen years seem to dissociate and ignore the foundation that was laid by a whole lot of landmark artists, for what is today called Indian art. I find that disrespectful to what is inherently your own artistic roots. A tree without roots isn’t alive.

This I believe happened because our “new age artists” thought that to be truly international they need to adopt international roots and hence, the rampant dominance of installations, video art and everything that falls into the genre of new media. Although, most artists I know practicing new media have studied painting, sculpture, printmaking etc. and not their current medium of choice. I don’t wish to be misunderstood. I don’t have an issue with any medium but with the lack of a unique and artistic proficiency in it.

It is an arguable fact that internationally, the last great movement in art was Abstract Expressionism or at best, Postmodernism. Which means that the world hasn’t seen a truly landmark art movement or artists of truly great caliber for the past thirty odd years.

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Fempowerment Women Achievers Award 2016

I won! And the best part – I had no clue that I was even in the running!

Some one from YourStory wrote to tell me that they had nominated my name for an award and that someone from the awards organization would get in touch with me. I thanked the said person and promptly forgot all about it.  Imagine my surprise – I learned that I had won the award in the category of Fine Arts – Painting and sculpture 🙂
Thank you YourStory!!

Sadly due to unforeseen scheduling problems and prior commitments I was unable to make it to Mumbai for the Award show on the 17th of July 2016. Swanky affair it was from what I understand. I looked up the past recipients for 2014-15 and 2013-14 of the awards and this year’s winners in the 16 categories – I am in exalted company and I love it.

It would not have been right to post about it without actually having the physical award in my hands. I just got my hands on the trophy a few days ago. So now I am sharing it with all of you.


It’s been a joy to receive the Fempowerment Women Achievers award 2016 for Fine Arts. Recognition of any kind for work one loves is always wonderful. The jury was daunting to say the least and the illustrious lot of achievers before me is both empowering and humbling. Thank you so much for giving me yet another push in following my dreams.

You can read about the award here

And this is an excerpt from their letter to me –

“…proud to inform you that you have been selected as the Fempowerment Winner in the category of Painting and Sculpting Artist, your selection has been done unanimously at our Jury Meet on 7th July’16 at St. Regis, MumbaiFempowerment Women Achievers Awards is an initiative of Molecule Communications where women achievers are honoured in their respective fields, the one and only Women Awards where the nomination process is open and anyone can nominate any woman along with one unique category.  Zee TV has associated with the awards for the cause of social betterment and soon the awards will be telecasted on Zee TV. The nominations have been received from the every corner of the country in all the 16 categories and a strict and unbiased on-site review has been done by the Screening & Main Jury. The event is happening on 17th of July, 2016 at Mumbai.

Mr. Subhash Ghai, noted Director, Mr. Annurag Batra, Chairman & Editor in Chief – Business World, Mr. Adil Malia, Global Head For Leadership, Learning & People Management, Essar Group, Ms. Mrunalini Deshmukh, Senior Lawyer, Ms. Bhawana Somaaya, noted Journalist & Author & Mr. Ridham Desai, MD Morgan Stanley were the respectable Main Jury for the Fempowerment Women Achievers Awards 2016.”

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Raisin and Rage

I do commissioned portraits from time to time. It is something I enjoy and dread. It is a lot of pressure but the outcome is so worth it. To see joy, love, recognition and memories in a person’s eyes when they see the finished piece is priceless.




Raine and Raisin

Ritu and Rahul lost their little one Raisin over a year ago and had asked me to do a portrait of her. So I did. And since I was on a roll of sorts. I did one of their daughter Raine holding Raisin as well. The second portrait was my gift to them. The thank you note they gave me had me in tears.

Sadly a few months ago they lost their second daughter Rage as well. Rage was Raisin’s mother. It was gut wrenching to paint this second portrait and I delayed it as long as I could. Somehow I hated that I was painting one more memory that would be just that… but now they have Rumour – a gigantic Great Dane and I intend to paint her while she is living flesh and blood! 🙂






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ChammC with love

ChammC came into my life on a morning walk. Rakesh who is the founder of VoSD was walking his dogs one morning and I happened to meet him. He had a baby carrier of sorts slung around his torso and inside was ChammC. This absolute adorable bundle of joy. A Cocker Spaniel with eyes that would melt the hardest heart.

She was found in a dumpster by a good samaritan and handed over to Rakesh. When found she was in a terrible state with a gigantic hole near her bottom filled with maggots. Tiny and young, I think just 2-3 weeks old. No one thought she would make it. But Rakesh did. He hand reared her for the first three months and literally brought her back to life. And she became Helen and Rakesh’s little love. One amongst the many others that live with them but that is another story!

Sadly ChammC passed away while she was only about 7-8 months old. A routine operation to spay her resulted in complications which led to her passing away on the operating table.

12 July 2015 was one year to the day she left and since I could not get her back for them. I painted ChammC as a gift for both Helen and Rakesh. Three portraits from different grainy Facebook pictures that show her at various ages/stages in her young life.

As all high res images of ChammC were lost in an unfortunate computer crash. The Facebook images were the only ones to work from. I hope these ‘high res’ versions bring comfort to her parents…




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The lines on my face

I read this in a book the other day and I can’t stop thinking about it. Literally. I love how the words string together and somehow the simile connects on a visceral level.

“.. life is a portrait. It’s a picture you paint everyday, every minute, every second, with the palette you were given at birth. It’s an expression of yourself, whether you want it to be or not. Make sure it’s a picture you are proud of..”

For a while there I found myself thinking about all those men and women who have somehow aged so gracefully that there seems to be a beacon shining from within. I just hit 40 so vanity demanded I look in the mirror and assess. Yes – I have wrinkles and ‘bad skin’. Crows feet and lines on my face. My hands have veins popping out and the skin is dry most of the time. Truthfully – I got worried there for a bit.

Ok – Deep breath. Inner calm.
I need to work with the palette and get control on my colours, school my expressions better and so on.

It did not work.

Deeper breath…

And then I got thinking again. This is me. My face. My body bears the marks of my journey through life. My palette has not always been of jeweled tones and candied hues. There have been harsh greys and some blacks too. But if you look closely enough there are more laugh lines than frown lines. The crows feet appear every time I smile. The bad skin tells me just how passionate I am – the hormones that still go crazy and pour out on my skin. The dry skin is a result of years of love with my paints, thinner and acetone. It is an outcome of the many times I forgot to put moisturizers and creme because the smell and feel of paint and thinner was too seductive to wash away. I wrote of me some years ago… you can read that here. You can also read more here.

I will still try and paint a portrait worth looking at. It is a work in progress. I have a few more years yet to finish it I hope. But I do believe the current version is an honest reflection of me.

Does your ‘portrait of life’ reflect you?

I thought I would leave you with a portrait of me I did some years ago as well as a link to an animation of one I attempted later…

Note- Not the best quality photograph. The painting is more vibrant though and me even more so in real life – I promise! (tongue firmly in cheek here)




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Divya Thomas and I have been friends on Face Book for a while now.  And I have greatly admired her work – Karmasuthra Jewellery. Her FB page is filled with beautiful jewellery and even more beautiful women. Each image begging to be painted with their luminous eyes. I always thought that I would be painting that set of eyes one day. But a mail from Divya changed that to one better 🙂

Divya wrote to me with pictures of little Lola and asked if I would paint her. The original source images were not the best quality and I was unsure if I could work with them. So I requested her to send me clearer high res images. Preferably where Lola’s eyes could be seen! Otherwise in almost all images her hair was covering them. Divya did one better. She actually sent me a new set of images shot in a make shift studio setting! This next portrait is a composite from about four images to get just this expression…

Lola. Acrylics on board. 16×16 inches.



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VoSD 3015- Doggie portraits again

July. It is time for that mid-year review.
At the beginning of the year I said – “I have just one agenda for this new year. To paint every day. Something. Anything. Good. Bad. Even ugly. But consistently. To do something creative everyday. 365 days.”
And I am happy to say that I have been able to stick to that resolution for the most part.

I also started this year paying it forward to my four legged friends. I do so again with 15 new paintings. Like the many times before, this entire set of doggie portraits is my gift to ‘The Voice of Stray Dogs‘ (VoSD) as part of their VoSD 3015 Fundraiser .  As always for the Poonchh Portraits, I take one rupee per portrait and the rest of the money goes to the dogs. This time I added 15 hugs to the deal too. What can I say I am greedy that way. Besides the dogs hug you like there is nowhere else in the world they would rather be than in your arms at that moment. I feel the same way. The Poonchh Collection is my  labour of love. It is something that I do only for love. As selfless as I know how.

I tried something different this time. I painted on red thick card stock paper with acrylics. And was it hard! The first few layers just soaked right in, just like that first experiment on plywood. But I persevered and am quite satisfied with the results I might add.

These paintings are available on the VoSD Face Book store. To buy please click here. Though a few have already been sold from this lot. At last count – we raised about INR 80,000/- from the sale of seven of these paintings. So I am over the moon 🙂

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