While writing this piece the dreary sky outside my window spoke of our constant abuse of natural resources leading to global warming. This imminent green sunny deficiency has led me to appreciate young individuals like Jisha Unnikrishnan whose black and white, pen and ink artworks of nature evoke a sense of nostalgia; a world which like the sand timer is slipping through our hands.
Read on to learn how this Ahmedabad based textile designer and illustrator connected the dots to arrive at depicting a thriving eco-system of the bygone era.
MD: Acquaint us with your family and creative background.
JU: My parents moved to Delhi from Kerala when they were in their 20’s in search of job opportunities. My older brother and I were born and brought up there. Since they (parents) had long working hours a cousin moved in with us to oversee our activities. At that time she was studying fine arts.
Growing up around her was my first exposure to drawing. She used to play drawing games, draw our caricatures and introduce me to several art magazines.
But, I pursued commerce in school and graduated in Home Science, specializing in textiles from Lady Irwin College, Delhi University. Then for post graduation in Textile Design I went to National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. With the institute I worked on a 6-year research project documenting traditional textiles of North East India. Therein I realized how much I enjoyed documentation through illustrations.
Currently I am a print designer, illustrator and researcher with Tilla, a design studio by Aratrik Dev Varman, in Ahmedabad.
MD: Tell us a bit about your art.
JU: My hand drawn illustrations and prints are mostly in pen and ink; yet oftentimes water colours are a product of my observations.
Drawing was introduced to me as a form of play, laughter and curiosity. I realised its power when I drew a 70-year old Naga woman’s loom which she had seen during childhood, only through her hand gestures. We did not have a common language. But when I showed her the drawings of the loom, she smiled and nodded. My illustrations since then have become a constant source of study for me of nature, people and culture, forms, functions – basically everything I wanted to understand and communicate. I have used my skills for projects related to craft books like Crafts Of Uttarakhand, recently published and Textiles of North East India, yet unpublished, and ofcourse textile prints.
Drawing to me is a language through which I describe things as I have a good photographic memory. My education and work too have given a larger context, to analyse and describe more complex concepts like that of growth, time and relationships. There is no greater satisfaction than to show someone through your work, details I see in things.
I’d like to say, art is my first dearest tool for accessing the world.
MD: Why do you prefer to draw nature?
JU: Having associated with communities in North East India and Uttarakhand, their relationship to nature was an absolute eye opener for me. Then a print project for a wallpaper with Aratrik (also a nature lover), 5 years ago, gave me a platform to discover it further. I haven’t stopped falling in love with it since!
My instagram handle is a new play area where I draw my love and curiosity for natural living things and phenomenon. Every time I find something in the natural world fascinating me, I draw and share it. It is not exclusive to nature drawings but I don’t see myself getting tired of it anytime soon!
MD: Who are the people you admire in the same space?
JU: I admire the works of many, many artists, cartoonists and illustrators from across the timeline — some I absolutely love- Henri Rousseau, Aubrey Beardsley, Charlie Harper, Quentin Blake, Ernst Haeckel, Maurice Sendak, David Gentleman, the Singh Twins, Albert Uderzo, Mario Miranda, Olivia Fraser and Yuko Shimizu.