India, February 2024: My stay at Palette People Artists Residency

Painting on the veranda of our apartment at PPAR

A month in India

In February 2024, I escaped the Montreal winter with my husband Neil to spend a month in southern India! There, we spent the first 2 weeks enjoying great times with family in Bengaluru, Visakhapatnam (also known as “Vizag”), and Chennai, and getting to know some of the places they call home. We also visited Hampi – an enchanting destination (and a UNESCO World Heritage site) , featuring astounding ruins from the 14th – 16th centuries, and located in one of the most unique landscapes on the planet – as well as Kochi, widely recognized as the spice capital of the world.

2 weeks for art!

In mid-February, we headed to a beautiful artist residency located near the hill station of Vagamon, in the Idukki district of Kerala, where I spent 2 weeks, and Neil stayed for 1. Details below!

My stay at Palette People Artist Residency (PPAR)

Artwork: Paava kutti (little doll) and watercolours

During my stay, I created 8 small dolls from repurposed Indian fabric  scraps (helpfully provided by family members I visited earlier in the trip). This collection of figures will be featured in an upcoming animated work named “Paava Kutti”, or “little doll” (title courtesy of Benny, the caretaker and cook!) . I also created some watercolour paintings of the verdant landscape. Below is a sample of the work I created and a bit of the creation process.

About Palette People Artists Residency

Palette People Artists Residency (PPAR) far surpassed any expectations I may have had – from the photos and descriptions, I knew the locale would be beautiful, but I did not expect such a lush, varied, and dreamlike landscape. The residency was a tranquil, spacious oasis where I could immerse myself in creative endeavours while being inspired by the local sights and sounds.

Cyril P. Jacob, PPAR founder and host

Cyril was a wonderful host: He ensured that all our needs were addressed throughout our stay. Given the residency’s remote location, it was highly reassuring to have transportation to and from PPAR, all meals, and any other requirements taken care of! He also introduced us and the other artists to the area on several long walks, where we learned that, in addition to tea, various crops are grown locally, including black pepper and cardamom – proving that we were indeed in the “Spice Garden of Kerala”! We also met some of his local acquaintances and colleagues, and learned about Cyril’s ongoing activities in the arts. His dedication to the arts through his constant promotion of artists, exhibits, workshops, and other related initiatives, is truly inspiring.

Authentic Keralan cuisine – by Benny!

It was a pleasure to make Benny’s acquaintance: His  warmth and good nature immediately put us at ease. Each meal was a delight, as we sampled regional dishes that he had expertly prepared – and that, we were told, would not be found anywhere outside of the area! As I write this, I am longing for a plate of Benny’s appam and kadala curry – the perfect start to a day of creating (…or any day)! I’ll have to wait until my next visit!

Benny with jackfruit

Local coffee

We also became enchanted with the local spiced coffee – prepared with cardamom, cloves, and sugar (and likely some additional ingredients that we could not detect!) this concoction became a must-have and was all the motivation we needed for the 30-minute walk into Uluppoonni, the neighbouring town, where the general store and coffee shop were located.

Work and living spaces at PPAR

One of the best parts of the residency was that it provided multiple spaces in which artists could work and reflect: Each artist’s apartment had a veranda overlooking the hills, and the the path behind PPAR provided an elevated view from where we could watch the sunset. The large studio also afforded views of the landscape from 3 sides, and was a great place to work throughout the day and into the evening. The exterior walls of the buildings were adorned with artwork by past residents, and at any time, we could hear the sounds of the surrounding nature: Birdsong, insects, the wind…plus the daily, local life, which included tea harvesting, the occasional wandering cow, and trucks and jeeps lumbering past, transporting materials, groups of workers, and/or weekend holidayers.

Remembering PPAR – until the next time!

I look forward to becoming a “returning artist” at PPAR – thank you for the wonderful, unforgettable experience!

Sunrise, viewed from PPAR

 

India sketchbook – February 2023

Woman in Indian auto rickshaw

In February, I went to India for 2 whirlwind weeks! As my last visit had been 26 years ago, I was long overdue for another stay. And wow! As expected, the country once again delighted and astonished me, and left me with the sense that a lifetime wouldn’t be enough to experience all of India’s wonders. In the meantime, here are some sketches from my travels. Although I became reacquainted with watercolour (the traveling artist’s friend), our hectic itinerary did not allow much time for staying in one place to absorb and create. That will be the next trip’s focus. Enjoy!

First stop, Mumbai:

Clockwise: Mumbai architecture and cityscape, trying on saris in a Fort district clothing store, and street performer.

Kerala

Backwaters boat tour, Cochin

Kathakali dance: Cochin, Kerala

Tamil Nadu: Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary

27 species spotted by my birdwatching spouse, who pointed these out to me.

Artist residency in Italy, October 1-15, 2022 (Video and post)

Rooster puppet

I had the pleasure of spending the first 2 weeks of October in the beautiful Tuscan countryside at La Macina di San Cresci, a wonderful artist residency near the town of Greve in Chianti.

At the end of my stay, I presented my recently completed works, and those in progress, to the local community. You can view the recording on YouTube . Note: Captions are available in English and Italian : Select English(Canada) or Italian from Settings|Subtitles/CC).

Check out my post below for more details!

Recording of artist presentation with Neil Kobewka, another featured artist in residence (details below).

At La Macina di San Cresci

Dog in foreground, woman sitting at table painting in outdoor setting
Working in the garden studio at La Macina while Argo, the resident dog, looks on.
Photo by Jodelle Marx

This was my third visit, and once again this place gave me a welcome pause from daily life that allowed me to reflect on my upcoming projects and plan their execution. With full days at my disposal, I was able to fully enjoy creative exploration without time constraints and life’s usual distractions.

The peaceful setting and lack of schedule at La Macina provides an ideal environment for artists to grow new ideas: Indeed, it was here, during a previous visit, that I created my first “Animalesque” drawing, which has now grown into the theme of an upcoming animation. Stay tuned!

My first “Animalesque” drawing, created at La Macina in 2019

Next animated work: A walk around San Cresci

During my previous visit in 2019, I interviewed several residents of the area with the goal of creating an animation: A walk around San Cresci. As I have aimed to do with previous works involving past travels, I wanted to convey the charm, uniqueness, and fascination I have for this place through animation. This project was on hold as I completed my latest animation, Costa Rica’s Creatures, which launched in September.

About the work

A walk around San Cresci will combine puppets, stop motion and hand-drawn animation, and video. Below is some artwork for the piece that I finished during my stay, as well as a glimpse of the creation process.

Backdrop

My decision to bring limited art supplies with me posed an interesting challenge, and one that helped me focus on my goal of using found or discarded materials to create my art: I used found materials from the residency’s supply room to create both the backdrop for the animation and the rooster puppet (featured in the next section).

Background with removable clay trees

Gallo Nero (“GN”): Legend of the black rooster, and puppet

The black rooster (Gallo Nero, or GN as I have named my puppet) will appear throughout the work. The legend of the black rooster explains its significance in Chianti’s history.

This visit was especially fun, as my husband Neil Kobewka joined me for the second week and used his time to create poetry, a longtime passion of his. This was his first artist residency and at the end, he also presented his work: A poem entitled “Autumn in Chianti” (also featured in the presentation recording). He also became GN’s puppeteer, and got to know him a bit better in the process!

Unexpected sights and fun facts

An abundance of guinea pigs

Valerio Cianti, a nearby resident, runs a farm that hosts an assortment of animals, including guinea pigs, peacocks, rabbits, and numerous types of birds. Valerio graciously hosted us for a visit one afternoon. He and his animal companions will be featured in A walk around San Cresci.

Fagioli al fiasco

On the last night of the residency, our hosts Duccio Trassinelli and Demetria Verduci prepared a lovely reception and spread, which included the traditional Tuscan dish Fagioli al Fiasco, made with white beans and sage leaves.

Fun fact: The original meaning of the word “fiasco” is (according to Wikipedia and other sources), “a typical Italian style of bottle, usually with a round body and bottom, partially or completely covered with a close-fitting straw basket.”

In conclusion

The above conveys only a fraction of what I experienced during my stay. I look forward to sharing more stories and impressions in A walk around San Cresci. With each visit, I have learned more details about this area’s rich history and traditions, as well as its evolution in today’s ever changing world.

Grazie to La Macina di San Cresci, and the local community, for another great visit. I look forward to seeing you all again soon, and in the meantime, I’ll relive the experience through animation!

Ciao!

Notes

Photo credit for image of fiasco: giulio nepi, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Costa Rica’s Creatures now launched and available on my Vimeo channel – thank you for your support!


Thank you to everyone who attended the premiere of Costa Rica’s Creatures on September 10, 2022, both in person and virtually! The evening was a grand success. I am truly touched by all your warm messages of congratulations and positive feedback!

If you missed it, you can view the recording of the virtual event on YouTube (the presentation starts at 47:07):

All versions of Costa Rica’s Creatures are now available on my Vimeo channel:

Costa Rica’s Creatures (English, no subtitles): https://vimeo.com/673970036

Costa Rica’s Creatures (English with French subtitles): https://vimeo.com/673970477

Costa Rica’s Creatures (English with Spanish subtitles): https://vimeo.com/673970888

Premiere of Costa Rica’s Creatures, Saturday September 10, 2022 in Montreal!

Announcing the premiere screening of Costa Rica’s Creatures, my recently completed animation, followed by a retrospective of my past works. Check out the full programme at https://umaviswanathan.com/events/

Admission is free (no reservation required), with a reception to follow – details below!

When: Saturday, September 10, 2022 at 19h30 EDT (doors open at 19h00) 

Where: J.A. De Sève Cinema, J.W. McConnell Building (Library building), 1400 De Maisonneuve Ouest, LB-125

Can’t attend in person? Join the YouTube live stream, starting at 19h15 EDT(premiere only) – link to be posted on Events page shortly.

SAVE THE DATE: Premiere of Costa Rica’s Creatures – Saturday, September 10, 2022 in Montreal!

Hello, everyone! Hope you are having a wonderful summer. 

I am pleased to announce that my latest animation Costa Rica’s Creatures will be premiering on the evening of September 10, 2022!  

The premiere will be screened at the J.A. DeSève Cinema, on Concordia University’s downtown campus and also livestreamed. 

A retrospective of my past works (in-person only) and a reception will follow. Hope to see you there! 

Details coming soon!  

Animated image of hand-drawn black iguana, with the caption "garrobo".
Garrobo (Black iguana), featured in Costa Rica’s Creatures

My COVID-19 vacation: Stay-at-home artist residency, May 1-25, 2020

Still image from Great Blue Heron (Not staying long), short animation

During the month of May, I did a stay-at-home artist residency when my overseas travel plans got cancelled. Watch the video summary here, or keep reading for details.

May 2020. Like many who had planned vacations during this time, mine too got cancelled. I had been accepted to a 2-week artist residency on the Greek island of Kefalonia and had planned some time before and after for a bit of independent wandering in Athens and other parts. Alas, this was not to be.

Although I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see a new country (and a beautiful, culturally vibrant one at that) or have the opportunity to share an immersive experience with other resident artists, there were advantages to spending this time off at home:

If the main goal of the trip was to create artwork, then home was an excellent location to do just that, for a number of reasons:

  • At home, my entire toolbox (or TOYbox, depending on my mood) is at my disposal:  I couldn’t have brought it all with me had I left home. I had 3 weeks and my choice of materials to create anything I wanted.
  • My dedicated art studio of easel, drafting table and animation stand are located within mere feet of one another in our apartment:  Absolutely no travel or setup time required.
My art studio, 6 AM

And last but not least, I had the company of my wonderfully supportive spouse and our 2 (equally supportive) cats to whom I no longer had to say goodbye for the duration – the dreaded downside to my solo travels.  

Staycation artist residency: activities

Main objectives:

  1. Continue working on my animation in progress, “Costa Rica’s creatures” – a short, handmade work about the wildlife and geography of Costa Rica, based on my travel there in 2018.
  2. Create illustrations and short animations inspired by fashion and nature.

Other activities – the joys of Montréal

I also had the chance to watch our beautiful city blossom, day by day, from spring into summer on multiple running/hiking jaunts to Parc du Mont-Royal, walks through our Plateau neighbourhood, and (socially distanced) picnics (for two) in Parc La Fontaine. All this, plus a bonus sighting of 2 Great Blue Herons who graced our park with their presence for a few days while the pond was low and inspired some artwork (see illustration at the top of this post).

Final thoughts

Although my work does not speak directly to world issues (for now), I believe that nothing is created in a vacuum. Had it not been for COVID-19, this report would have been completely different.

As I write this, the world is being transformed by two incredible forces: one a pandemic, and now a global uprising against racial inequality, calling for change that is long overdue. I am humbled by the magnitude of both, and their impact on life as we know it.

I share the hope – and belief – that our world will emerge from this period a kinder, stronger and more just place for all.

Thank you for reading – wishing everyone safety and good health.

Screening of Saison à Saison // Présentation de Saison à Saison

Onstage at Kino Montreal, November 1, 2019
Participants in the Kino monthly challenge / Participants du Défi du mois Kino

Friday was a great evening at Kino Montreal! My short film Saison à Saison (Season to Season) was screened as part of Kino’s “Monthly Challenge”: Each participant had to create a 2-minute film on a given theme, and complete it within a month. This month, the theme was “Nightmare before Christmas: Films about Halloween and films about Christmas”. Thank you Kino Montréal for the opportunity to participate and to present my work.

View Saison à Saison 

*****************************************************************************

                                                                                                                                                           Vendredi, c’était une soirée géniale chez Kino Montréal ! Mon court

Red bird from Saison à Saison/Red bird from Saison à Saison / Oiseau rouge de Saison à Saison
Red bird from Saison à Saison/Red bird from Saison à Saison / Oiseau rouge de Saison à Saison

métrage d’animation Saison à Saison a été présenté dans le cadre du « Défi mensuel » de Kino : Chaque participant a dû créer un film de 2 minutes sur un thème donné, et tous avaient un mois pour le compléter. Ce mois, le thème était “Nightmare before Christmas: (films d’Halloween et films de Noël)”. Merci à Kino Montréal, pour l’occasion d’y participer et de présenter mon travail.

Regardez Saison à Saison

30 Days in Venice (30 things learned) – film d’animation // animated film

En avril 2017, j’ai eu l’occasion de voyager à Venise, Italie, pour une résidence artistique. Pendant ce mois, j’ai créé des œuvres d’art, en faisant du tourisme !

//

In April 2017, I had the chance to travel to Venice, Italy, for an artist residency. While I was there, I created some artwork and did some sightseeing!

 

Bande-annonce // Trailer

Le résultat : Un an de plus, mon film d’animation, intitulé « 30 Days in Venice (30 things learned) », sera publié bientôt! Voici la bande-annonce: 30 Days in Venice (30 things learned)

//

The result: One year later, my animated film entitled “30 Days in Venice (30 things learned)” will soon be released! Here is the trailer: 30 Days in Venice (30 things learned)