The first step in the project was to collect samples of Gond art. The number had to be large enough to include all artists with a notable body of work, cover all known applications of Gond art and to cull typical characteristic styles from ones which are one-off.
The sources were: (1) canvas paintings available in London with Adivasi Arts Trust; (2) wall paintings at Masala Zone restaurant; (3) books illustrated by Gond artists; (4) images of paintings from the internet, mostly from the website of Indira Gandhi National Centre of Arts, and many others from blog sites; (5) animation film ‘Best of the Best’. The resulting collection includes over two hundred pieces of art, made by over ten artists. While many of these samples were already digital, others were scanned or photographed to bring all to a common format.
Along side collecting art samples, artists’ interviews and notes were studied to get background information about their work.
The study of art samples started with colour palette. Colours used were grouped together in combinations found in each painting. Gond art often features a base colour overlaid with a pattern in one to three colours. Initially, the palette was organised on the basis of base colour. As the collection grew, it was realized that the range of colours and the variety of combinations is not limited, or artist specific. All artists tend to use bright colours in contrasting combinations. Pastels or subdued hues are rarely used. (The colours in the book ‘The Night Life of Trees’ are exception, with almost all paintings being in one colour. This was perhaps because it was meant to be screen-printed by hand and limited colours make this easy to accomplish.)
The next part of the analysis was to study filling strokes and patterns. An intricate looking painting on close inspection is found to have been marked by simple strokes repeated meticulously. Each characteristic pattern was distilled to its simplest form. This form was then created directly on computer in ‘Adobe Illustrator’ software, but without using aids for drawing straight lines or geometric curves. Each oval and line was drawn individually. This method ensures that the end product is genuinely hand-made yet also purely digital. After making a unit, its either ends were corrected to coordinate with each other to make a smooth repetition.
Over 25 such brushes and swatches were made.
The next phase was to apply the brushes to test and experiment. They were used to make Gond-style art, making Gond art inspired graphic design for print and products, and making website design. (Appendices B-D) The brushes as well as the visual language of Gond art lends itself nicely to these applications. The initial plan was to create a website using these styles, (almost two weeks were spent on this). However, in making a website, the emphasis was shifting towards technical aspects of website construction and content writing and the project was getting focussed on the end-product. For these reasons, this approach was discarded.
While making the brushes, I was testing them out as free flowing patterns. To bring the focus back on these brushes, I worked more on these and experimented on how they work and how they can be modified. The resulting patterns were used freely instead of as fillers within forms. The small patterns of a brush formed larger patterns. For example, the style of artist Anand Shyam shown in Fig. 6a was used to create pattern shown in Fig. 6b. Around 20 such patterns were made.
The results of this exercise were very interesting and encouraged me to take the idea beyond just brushes. I wanted to create more elaborate work. Since I could not have created credible Gond art myself and working in collaboration with a Gond artist was not feasible due to time and distance constraints, I decided to work with existing paintings. Works of Rajendra Shyam were chosen as his personal style has a blend of details, colours and intricacy that is appealing even when enlarged and isolated. I took parts of his paintings and in combination with digital brushes modified them to create a tile that can be repeated in a pattern.
When seen as a pattern, a small piece of art can take a whole new form and while still retaining the artist’s characteristic style. Three patterns were made using this method and printed on fabric. The good results lead me to print three more patterns on fabric, two comprising only of digital brushes. The fabrics were shown informally to about ten persons for their response, which were very encouraging. I realize that many people will readily endorse this art when taken to them in a form such as this. The outcome is not my original work; it serves as an example on how this art can be applied in this way.
The scope of this project could not include working directly with Gond artists. I intend to do so in near future for training workshop and collaborative work using the work produced here as starting point.
As all samples are converted to digital from canvas paintings, and that too by various sources, there is naturally an unpredictable variation in colour perception. This does not seriously hamper the work since stringently exact colours are not required, because the artists do not use specific colours or formal colour codes like Pantone. The colour trends have to be observed to get an indication of the gamut in use.
The brushes and swatches make it very easy to change shape, scale and colour of fills. They have been drawn in a manner that simulates drawing with hand on paper; it has a ‘hand-made look’. The advantage of digital brushes is that they can be scaled, shaped, and coloured easily. However, in their current form, they cannot be improvised according to specific forms. For example, while they can be used to simulate the effect, they cannot be improvised.
The application of the tools in the form of a collection of patterns can be termed as digital craft which re-interprets traditional style by a designer i.e., myself, and is just one of the possible ways they can be used. It is acknowledged that these have originated from other artists; the approach and the process are my own.