internet culture

Nature as art: This Indian artist transforms dried flowers and leaves into quirky sketches

Subhashini Chandramani combines her love for photography and gardening through art.

One afternoon back in January 2015, Bengaluru-based artist Subhashini Chandramani was sketching the portrait of a woman in her home, when she decided to embellish the image by adding in a unique nose ring. Wanting to stay away from depicting the conventional form of the ornament, she took a stroll down her home garden and spotted a wilted bougainvillea flower. She imagined it could be depicted as a delicate nose ring. “It was like I just peeped through a curtain into a new world,” she said. “From there on I kept juxtaposing objects [alongside] drawn imagery to create effect.”

Since then, Chandramani has been creating nature-inspired art under the moniker Neelavanam (blue skies) on Instagram and Twitter. Wilted flowers, petals, leaves and, at times, even eye-catching vegetables and household items make appearances in Chandramani’s artwork.

Chandramani, who moved to Bengaluru from her hometown of Chennai 25 years ago, found a fascination for the city and its abundant greenery. Her love for gardening, poetry and sketching gave rise to her interest in garden art, she said. “It is only when I started growing a garden that it all came together. I also got a small digital camera back then and realised that what I see and what the camera saw were completely different. From poetry, my mind found its way to photography and I started looking at things that could be different.”

Image credit: Subhashini Chandramani.
Image credit: Subhashini Chandramani.

Some of the other prominent object-focused artists include renowned illustrator Christoph Niemann, and Anurag Bhattacharyya and Raj Kamal Aich back home in India. But Chandramani’s art tells stories with wilted flowers and foliage. “I am a bit wary about tearing away new flowers and leaves,” she said. “Very rarely will I even tear a leaf. I am very sensitive about a few things. I do not pick up all the petals of a plant, maybe a petal here and there. I always like looking at withered things. They have more stories to tell. The ones that are fading away give rise to a lot of stories. It is the old souls that have stories.”

The most striking of her images are products of frequent strolls through gardens and her box of collectibles. Most of the artwork emerges naturally without prior planning, she said. “Things just appear in front of me and something is created from it. I collect a lot of things. I have at least 20 books in my house filled with dried leaves and flowers. Most of the times, I look at my collectibles and think what I can do. Every day I see something new. It is like keeping the child in you alive.”

Image credit: Subhashini Chandramani.
Image credit: Subhashini Chandramani.

She never leaves the house without a tiny bag in which she can store the interesting bits and bobs she finds – “It is a running joke among my friends who remind me to take the bag whenever I go to the park.”

Her latest venture is the 100-day project, for which she has been creating an artwork a day since April 3. “Sometimes I do not know what to create,” she said. “I wanted to see whether I could do it. It has made me more aware of my surroundings.”

Image credit: Subhashini Chandramani.
Image credit: Subhashini Chandramani.

Simple and unique

Chandramani’s work is appreciated as much for its creativity as its relatability, for which she has her family to thank. “Some of my work might look like something, but people also have to see the same thing that I see,” Chandramani said. “I have three people at home – my mother, my husband and my son, who are merciless in their comments. That really keeps my work sort of perfect. They will not even hesitate before telling me I have to redo it.”

Some images emerge spontaneously, while others are created with time and sharpened observation. For this year’s Earth Day on April 22, Chandramani attempted a world map with a variety of petals and leaves. “We got these jasmines home and I wanted to make a strand out of them,” she said. “[The flowers] were just spread across the table to string and that moment I realised that it looked like a world map. I figured the map would look better with different flowers. It just happens. Once the idea comes, it is just the elements that you need to think about.”

One of her much-loved portraits is of the Hindu goddess Durga, which took around three days to complete. “You want an image that brings about the calmness in minimalist fashion,” she said. “And for occasions like Navaratri and others I try things. But I always try to keep it minimalist. I tried the Durga with magnolia champaca, bitter gourd and withered hibiscus leaves. The flowers and leaves are like naughty kindergarten children and once you place them all on a board and you want to click a picture, a small breeze will be the villain. So it involves a lot of arranging and rearranging. That takes about 2 to 3 hours.”

Chandramani’s artwork is available for sale in the form of framed photographs and mugs, and she hopes to publish her work in the days to come. “All the photographs are printed on an archival paper, which is an acid-free paper,” she said. “They have a lifetime or 40 to 50 years. I like clicking pictures in the natural light and like a bit of shadows in the photograph. I do not like white light photography. The shadows add to the image and make it more beautiful.”

While Chandramani struggles to pick a favourite among her work, she remembers one of her first brushes with popularity on social media. “I found a lot of colour pencils and erasers when clearing out my son’s cupboard, two years back. I collected all of them and I made a tree out of them. I think that was the one thing that made people look up and say ‘oh, there is something happening here’.”

Once upon a time when my kid was a kid the house was filled with colours. The kid grew and started loving hi tech toys, ignored the colourful joys. But being a mom, the old plastic box containing pencils and pens remind me of smiles that curved on many a face. Of buses, cars and planes that built stories on paper. Of superman and batman bigger than the buildings they stood on, saving the world. Of greeting cards that made us laugh. Of science and geography projects that made us cry. Of a past that is no longer in my hands. Of a time that brings tears to my silly eyes. Before I gave them all away, I created this collage, to remind me in future of stories that are long past. It is picture, 3X2 feet. With guitar picks, pencils, pens, thin lead box, pencil leads, stapler as slide, helicopter and a plane that came as Goodies in Sunfeast pasta packets and erasers of varied shape and size. #stationery #art #collage #pencil #tree #webstapick #lotsoflove #memories #children #pastandpresent #poetry #iphonePhotography #iphone @instazzapp

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