Nidhi Chanani gets candid about her work with Surabhi Chowdhary. She talks about how she started out as an artist and what inspires her.
Since when have you been interested in art? Tell us about your journey.
I doodled all my life, but I never thought of art as a career. I was introduced to the concept of living and working as an artist in college, but I was much older when I started to think and dream about living an artist’s life. After finishing my bachelor’s degree in Literature from UC Santa Cruz, I worked for a number of years, and during that time I took hobby art classes but, that wasn’t something I was interested in. I wanted to understand and explore art my own way. After a series of jobs, I took the plunge and went to art school. That lasted for about more than a year. And once I had a strong foundation, I pursued my own work and voice.
And, what inspired you to start illustrating?
Writing and storytelling have always been a passion of mine, and have been doing that since as far back as I can remember. When I began taking an interest in art, illustration called to me because of the storytelling involved.
What went through your head when you made your first illustration. I assume that must have been very close to you.
I made a lot of illustrations in college but none of those were close to me! In fact most of my student level work is vastly different from the work I do now, for then I was learning and was still very rough. Art and drawing is like training for a long marathon, you have to keep training and running. The same way I had to keep drawing, and as a result I have now become a stronger artist. But I exercise and train different muscles everyday, so today my skills in posture or movement might be strong and tomorrow in composition and lighting. The work that I’m the closest to is the one that has a connection with my life. I recently drew a piece called “Secrets of the Sea” which is a fantasy version of a kayaking trip I had arranged for my husband’s birthday. We both love kayaking and to recreate that as art was really special.
Your illustrations are adorable! Do they depict certain aspects of your own life as well?
Yes! I draw from life quite often, and from my memories. I also create from the appreciation that I have for nature, and a world where we can befriend elephants and dance with fireflies.
How did wood carving happen for you? Its painstaking and also requires a lot of attention on detail.
I begin with a sketch of the character and then transfer it onto wood, Then I burn the wood with a burning tool. It’s like a pen with a nib that gets hot. Its a delicate balance of the right temperature, consistent pressure and of making sure my hair doesn’t get singed in the process! After I burn the characters on the wood, I go in and add patterns, that is pre-determined, and completely organic. If there’s ever a time when I feel that art is meditative, it’s then when I am burning wood.
What was it like to have your work exhibited for the first time?
I had my solo show at Rare Device, I remember the night we installed the last piece, and then to look at a room full of my work – the wood work and the framed illustrations. It was a sense of accomplishment and giddy-schoolgirl-happiness. It’s still hard to believe sometimes that creating art is what I do every day. Some days the choice feels hard and mentally exhausting, but to have a solo show, that felt like all the internal (and external!) struggle is worth it.
What was the most memorable moment of your life as an artist?
That’s a hard question! The trip to the White House comes to mind though! I never imagined that choosing a path of art would lead me to be honored at the White House. It was memorable and humbling.
Did you ever consider doing something other than art?
I want to do a lot of things within art. I would like to write graphic novels, create stop motion animation, kids books.. In terms of how I spend my days, I think art is it for me. It’s definitely my thing. Other things like traveling, cooking, dancing, they are things I enjoy but not enough to make it my career.
What do you want people to take away from your artwork.
I simply want to make people happy. If an image I’ve created makes someone smile, laugh or think fondly of a moment in their own lives, I am content.
What would you like to say to artists who are up and coming?
Draw everyday! Learn from everyone and be open, but shut everyone out and find your own voice and process.
Interviewed by: Surabhi Chowdhury
Art work by: Nidhi Chanani
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