What started out as a pastime during the lonely days of the Covid Pandemic in 2020 soon grew into a full-fledged creative fire that had hitherto been smoldering since my childhood days. In loneliness, I rediscovered colored pencils. One artwork followed another, and with time at my disposal, I was soon hooked to the world of colored pencils.
Why colored pencils? Why not any other media which have been so popular throughout the ages? The answer would surely vary from person to person, but for me, the appeal of colored pencils lies in the fact that I can indulge in my favourite pastime without the mess that generally accompanies traditional painting media. And colored pencils offer precision. Colored pencils these days are no more the crayons that I had during my childhood. Professional colored pencils are rich in their pigment load, and lend themselves wonderfully well to precision and thus realism in art, which I do strive for in my artworks. Added is the fact that the professional colored pencils are lightfast and artworks produced with them are guaranteed to last lifetimes.
Of the various colored pencil pieces I have done till date, ‘Times Square: Before the Pandemic’ has been the most challenging for sure. I have always been attracted to crowded places and the vibrant life that accompanies the crowds thronging the cities, be it in celebration or otherwise. Be it the people thronging the streets and by-lanes of Kolkata during the Durga Puja festivities or the multitudes of people enjoying themselves at tourist locations throughout the world, it’s nothing but a celebration of life. What’s this world without life? Work had taken me in 2017 to New York and not really expecting the crowds I am familiar to back home, I was surprisingly proven wrong. Times Square, New York was such a crowded place, dazzling, vibrant and so full of life. The razzle-dazzle was mindboggling. The photographs taken by me during this trip were soon to become references for this artwork. At that time, nobody could have imagined that in the days to come, Covid would cripple life on this planet and Times Square would turn into a desolate and lonely place.
As Covid eased off and as the world slowly started recovering, I was stunned to chance upon a photograph showing a desolate and deserted Times Square during the Covid period. Where had all the life gone? This was the thought going on as I revisited my old photographs showing a lively Times Square and in June 2021, I decided to celebrate life, as I had seen it, through an artwork. I was never sure I would be able to pull this off, but my approach was the same that I follow in all artworks. Slow and steady does it. Colored Pencil artworks, for me, progress at a painfully slow pace of about a square inch, maybe two, a day. I proceeded at a snail’s pace, slowly drawing the line art, putting on the layers, completing sections, then again continuing with the line art, putting on the layers and so on. I lost my way umpteen times among the cars and the people but after persevering for seven long months and countless hours, I could finally finish it. As the world recovered, I relived the experience once more over those seven months. The upper part of the artwork took me long, but the lower third, full of the multitudes of people in the foreground, took me ages to complete.
I would like you to believe me when I say that I now know all those people there in the foreground. As I drew them, I was drawn to them. I had fun imagining the emotions they would have been going through in that moment caught on camera. Most of the likenesses have been preserved in the artwork, but then at places, artistic liberty was allowed to run loose. Some people were removed for the sake of clarity from the final artwork.
This was a pure colored pencil project and no solvents were used. This was drawn with Derwent Lightfast and Faber Castell Polychromos colored pencils. It was really fun working with the creamy laydown of the Derwent Lightfast pencils and the precision offered by the Faber Castell Polychromos ones. Most of those faces there are the size of those pencil tips and I had to keep those pencils super-sharpened at all times to render the facial features. The faces were the toughest of the lot. Once the artwork was completed, I had the feeling that I have had a lifetime’s fill of drawing portraits. Regarding the surface, this was my first time working on the Arches Hot Press 140lb sheet and I found it fabulous, ready to accept layer after layer of the colored pencil pigments. At places, I tried to scrape some details into the portraits with my x-acto knife, but the knife did not lend itself well on this surface and I had to create the textures and details with my pencils.
The world has now returned to normal, well almost. Covid keeps rearing its ugly head every now and then, but then the indomitable human spirit has found out ways to come up trumps, as it has done innumerable times in the past. Times Square has returned to its former ways. And Life continues.