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In a concrete jungle, an Indian illustrator is drawing stunning sketches of nature

Alisha Dutt Islam infuses diagrammatic detail into everything she draws.

Many artists are obsessed with the beauty of nature, but there is a particular meticulousness to Alisha Dutt Islam’s art. The almost diagrammatic detail with which she draws trees, animals and birds has its roots in a learning disability – dyslexia.

“My mother used to teach me through diagrams and flowcharts,” Dutt said. “This reflects in my work. I just try to keep everything very simple. I don’t like too much clutter, I love negative space. My retention power is also very low, and drawing helps me remember.”

A graduate of Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dutt said she prefers to draw nature because it gives her comfort.

“Growing up in the city, I was disconnected from the natural ecosystems in and around Calcutta,” she said. “While living on the outskirts of Bangalore during college, I found myself forming a connection with plants and trees. This was one of the strongest bonds I have shared with another living being.”

A freelance illustrator and graphic designer and part-time art teacher for grades 6 to 10 at Shri Shikshayatan School, Kolkata, Dutt has also worked on an evolution series inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution and modern methods of reproduction. She experimented with a flower series inspired by common trees of Kolkata, which were part of her first solo exhibition at the 8th Day Café and Bakery in Kolkata.

Dutt realised her love for natural forms during a building sculpture course at the Madras Crocodile Bank. “It was oddly comforting working with reptiles,” she said.

She counts her mother Apula Dutta, botanical artist Maria Sibylla Merian, Abanindranath Tagore, her Srishti mentor Alison Byrnes and Salvador Dali among her strongest influences. Although she has interned at firms like Bates & CHI and Amar Chitra Katha, and worked as a full-time graphic designer for six months in Kolkata, she said she finds herself most at peace when teaching.

The young artist’s most recent project on tropical birds was for a client in Jaipur called THEA. “The version that is up is still a work-in-progress and the client is coming up with accessories using these bird illustrations as her inspiration. The illustrations are first hand-drawn and then digitally coloured.” This is her first attempt at drawing birds.

Dutt has experimented with oil colours, water colours, natural paints, acrylic colours, charcoal, wax, clay, metal, glass, paper-mâché along with lino and woodblock printing. Recently, she created a botanical card game called War of the Gardens, which tells the story of Bengaluru transforming from a barren land to the “Garden City”.

The game, which is a tribute to German botanist and landscape artist Gustav Hermann Krumbiegel as well as the trees of Bengaluru, is a way for players to remember plants and their names.

“The memory game is an attempt to bring trees into the daily vocabulary of both children and adults,” Dutt said. “I’ve played on the concept of learning through repetition to help integrate the knowledge of plants into a game. The players need to make their own gardens by trading and stealing trees and secure their gardens from pests and land sharks.”

All images courtesy Alisha Dutt Islam.

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