“Nobody teaches you drawing and painting”


says Chandramohan Kulkarni, who has created a distinct niche for himself, be it in the sphere of book illustrations in Marathi or his art works. His illustrations and calligraphy are marked by an alluring imaginative flair with a captivating sensitivity shown in the play of lively swinging lines. Here, Chandramohan Kulkarni shares his experiences at his art school.

Art, my passion…

Chandramohan KulkarniAfter I finished high school, my father said, let’s put you in a drawing school and so I landed at the Abhinav School of Arts. Those days getting admission was not so difficult. Marks in final high school exam hardly mattered and apart from drawing, I didn’t have any interest or marks in other subjects. My high school drop-out police constable father, though rough and tough in appearance and behaviour, had a tender heart. He did not even once question my career decision. The Khaki police uniform understood the value of lines, shapes and colours. He did not think even for a minute about when and how much I will earn after I become an artist.

Art: an expensive affair…

In an art school, apart from college fees, there are many incidental expenses – paper, colours, brushes, rulers, pencils, T-square, set square and what not. In short- art material, which was a costly affair. My father could have sought fee-waiver by submitting his salary documents. But he never did that. So I started working in the morning and evening, outside my college hours. The work was related to drawing.

My classroom memories…

I still remember the classroom for the foundation course. It was a large room and its windows had dark green curtains. Our ‘gang’ liked the colour of the curtains so much that we wanted to make identical shoulder bags to carry drawing material to college. In spite of searching the market, we could not get the fabric that we wanted. So one day, we took away a couple of curtains from the corner windows and got the bags stitched at home. Our teacher used to glance at these bags with suspicion for a long time after that.

There were more than a hundred students in the class, so groups were made according to surnames. Jakkal and I happened to be in the same group. (Later Jakkal was hanged after he and his other friends were found guilty in the series of murders in Pune. These murders shook the country at that time.)

My love for 3D…

Khatawakar Sir used to teach 3D in foundation course. Khatawakar sir used to teach us to ‘subtract’ the chalk from a chalk and what was left was 3D- a chain, female figure, male figure, tower, chain, pillar- anything. It was fun. Parag once took me to Khatawakar’s sculpture studio in the famous Tulshibaug area of Pune. There for the first time in my life, I fiddled with clay. We were allowed to do anything, but first we had to mix clay ourselves. For the first few days we just had to learn to mix and ‘knead’ the clay. Sculpting started after that. Armatures came much later.

We had to make ‘something’ from thermocol in the 3D class. For submissions we made something mundane like a cube, pyramid etc, but the skills came in handy to make sky lanterns for Diwali. Our ‘workshop’ was in Parag’s room. Using the techniques learnt in class, we made beautiful thermocol sky lanterns with intricate designs and sold them ourselves standing on the street. We made enough money to pay the tuition fee for the second term.

Isn’t that education?

During Diwali holidays, I painted name boards of temporary shops selling fire crackers and rate cards of various crackers. During my foundation and elementary years, my lettering was good. I worked in a painter’s shop or worked under painter K B Dev at intermediate level, we started learning calligraphy that soon replaced ‘lettering’. That Diwali we used special calligraphic techniques to paint the boards- very artistic, with different strokes. The shop owner did not approve them. He yelled at us, ‘ What is this gibberish writing? Not a single word can be read. Do it again.’ We did it all over again with simple ‘lettering’. But could pay the fees from that job.

That also was education…

In the second year, we studied a painful subject called ‘life drawing’. A man sat on a high stool or chair and the 10-15 students in that group gathered around in semi-circle, observed him and drew his picture.

Even if we wanted to ‘study’ sincerely, we were faced with numerous problems: our ‘model’ sat with partially closed eyes, so we could not see his eyes properly. Jakkal was smart. His father had a photo studio. During the long break he would take the model to his studio on his motorcycle, make him sit in the same pose, take his photos, and bring him back to college. After college he would finish his drawing in the studio from the negative using an enlarger. Cent percent proportionate drawing. I wondered how he could draw so well.

What an education!

My mother was a voracious reader. Because of her I saw many movies and read a lot. Wasn’t I fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to pursue career in drawing; who wrote and read poems, who encouraged me to read, watch movies?

I used to buy old Diwali issues of famous magazines like Satyakatha, Deepawali, Mouj, Hans, Nawal etc. I could see the works of great artists in those issues. When I was in Intermediate, I got an opportunity to draw for Hans and Nawal. While handing over the manuscript, editor Antarkar used to warn, ‘Be careful. It’s precious. You can’t afford to lose it.’ Even today, in this era of photocopying, scanning, and DTP, I take extreme care of all manuscripts and reserve these.

That’s education…

Udupi sir introduced me to beautiful lettering. We became friends when I was in the Elementary course. He was not my teacher for any subject, but he taught me a lot outside the classroom. During lunch he sat with us and we endlessly drew letters on papers. He was the only teacher who let us borrow books in his name and paid the fine himself if we lost them. I understood the power of letters because of him and got acquainted with stalwarts in advertising through the books he gave me to read.

Gondhalekar sir taught us History of Art. While teaching ‘History of art’ he explained the distinction between ‘work of art’ and ‘art of work’. How true that distinction holds even today!

Those were our teachers. Some professionals turned teachers and some teachers turned professionals. Avachat sir showed us that good artists do not usually become teachers; and even if they do, they do not continue long there.

When did I learn to make portraits?

In commercial art, it’s essential to achieve a plain colour effect. I could never manage that. My paper always had clouds and bumps on it. So I studied and practiced the cloudy effect. Experimented a lot, used enormous amount of paint, scarped a lot of paint. Can’t figure out whether it shaped me or took me off the track. The crux of the matter is, nobody teaches you drawing and painting; it should not be taught and it should not be learnt. Like all other arts, you have to shape and mould yourself and have to find your own path.

The ancient art school buildings will always be there…

They have two doors. The smaller one leads to the art school. It holds a bigger door inside it – the door to the world outside. You enter the art school through the small door. You spend some time there; linger for some time; enjoy the experience. After a while the other door opens – the bigger one that takes you out in the world. There you are on your own. It’s your world. Here you can do what you like.

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