The first visual that comes to mind when we talk about an artist is a brush & a colour palette. Keeping with the times, perception eventually has to change. For me, a cup of chai with Kabir Shah did the needful. Like a lot of us reading this, Kabir Shah was also subject to the “IT-is-my-future” syndrome in his early stages of career. After pursuing his Masters in Computer Science in the US and working on a few platforms, he finally realised his inner calling to be an artist. A piece of the puzzle was constantly missing. It took him no time to realise he doesn’t belong to the IT domain. Today, being a Digital Illustrator, the only connect with technology he shares are his tablet and the mouse over a brush.
For Kabir, breaking the stereotype wasn’t easy at all. He was venturing into a space that was absolutely amateur for the Indian art environment. Digital Illustration was hardly recognised as a career choice. There were few who could recognise the difference between digital art and traditional art. Being an optimistic, he saw this as an asset and an opportunity.
Art is Life is Art
Talking about the essence of Art in his life, he says “Art communicates emotion & philosophy to the world. It’s a natural tendency that’s acquired through social conditioning or how one’s brought up. Fortunately, though it took some time, I could realise the calling. Once I did, I was pretty much sure this was going to be my path.”
Caricature gave me Confidence
“I am one of those stereotyped guys who started a career in the IT sector. But a few months passed and I realised I don’t belong there. I started testing the waters as a freelance writer – summarising books precisely. During this period, I had given animation a shot. I took a year long course to get my basics right.
You know you are in the right place when you wake up every morning with the zeal to work harder in what you are doing. I am a constant learner when it comes to digital art and till date I keep learning a lot.”
Indian Perspective to Digital Art
Inquisitive about the reception for this fast progressing industry, I ask him how cordial did he find the Digital Illustration industry back home. “India has a lot of catching up to do in the field of Digital Illustration and Animation. Frankly speaking, I think we are better than what I expected. The environment in the digital art industry is evolving and cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai have a lot to offer in the coming years.
For someone who wants to make a career in this segment, they need to be very sound with traditional skills. It is very important to study anatomy, lighting, perspective, composition before starting creating the artwork. For every artist, connect with the object of art is very essential.
For instance, you have to know each and every aspect of a car before you can attempt creating it on the digital canvas. You have to study scale, shadows, angels etc. You wouldn’t want the light rays from a car’s headlights to be shooting straight down at a 75 degree angle. This is where traditional drawing /sketching are helpful.
Having said that, if one has the passion for digital art, a few hours of self study every day will help in acquiring the necessary skills. There are a lot of online communities that offer help and guidance to starters. I am a regular in a lot of such communities and one can buzz me anytime for further information.”
The Lifecycle of Art
As a layman, the question that constantly keeps popping up in my mind whenever I visit an art gallery/exhibit is ‘How do I know if an art piece is good or bad’. I shoot this question to Kabir for his perspective.
“Art goes through a life-cycle of multiple phases. People adore a certain genre of art for a few years. Another genre catches up later and the previous one goes into hibernation. It comes back to limelight after a complete circle. In a way, the Indian art industry is in its hibernation. It’s a matter of time before it comes back to limelight and reach its apex.”
Proof of the Pudding – The Piper
As they say Proof of the pudding lies in eating, I have a look at Kabir’s latest work. I let him describe it to me, without me jumping to half-baked interpretations.
“This is a recent art work of mine called The Piper”, he says. “This one is important for me personally because I tried to challenge my limits through this one. I tried to re-invent the character of the pied-piper. I feel his character hasn’t been explored much in the traditional story. Before I started with this one, I spent a long time in doing the character study, reading up about architecture – Indian, Medieval, Futuristic etc. You can actually see the process in the Thumbnails.
I also read a lot of fiction, fantasy, science to evolve a lot of my ideas. They have a lot of detail about costumes, people, environment and landscapes. You can see a blend of Medieval and Futuristic architecture and landscaping in this piece.
When I first started to work on this one, I had to decide which time period to place him. After some tough thought, I placed him in a setting independent of the time period. Hence you can see some futuristic aspects to it along with some Nizam inspired architecture in the backdrop.”
For most of us readers to understand the various stages of his art, he has given us a timeline of the evolution. The pictures speak for themselves.
How long did it take to complete this artwork? “As I was telling you, I tried to challenge myself in terms of timelines and perfection. This piece would have probably taken a month if I did this a year ago. I could complete this in a week’s time. If I stay with this rate of improvement for a year, I should be able to do it in a day. Fingers crossed!”
Every artist has a certain bond with a few colours or colour schemes. I ask about his affiliations.
“I strongly believe in using colours to the minimum. I am a great fan of “Chiaroscuro”. It is an Italian term which literally means ‘dark-light’. It is more about playing with the light than colours. You will see this prominently in a few of my artworks including “The Piper”. There is generally a single light source which is either bright or sober depending on the mood.
Too many colours may subtract the uniqueness of the art. Selecting a colour family and sticking to its variants will help most of the times. But again, it is always unique to the artist.”
What’s in store next?
At the moment, Kabir is working on a few picture books. “I am also trying to get my hands dirty in the gaming industry. Have been developing landscapes for a few gaming companies of late. 5 years down the line I would want to have my own IP for my works. Anything and everything I do will be in that direction. Let’s see what time has to offer. That’s the best thing about art. As long as I get to enjoy my work and fill my tummy, I am contended!”
The Graph is going nowhere but upwards!
When asked what would be his advice for youngsters who are interested in pursuing a career in this industry, swift cometh the answer. “As I said, getting our basics right is the most important thing. There are some people who are inherently blessed with this. But for others like me, it was important to start from the scratch.
Today India is really opening its doors for a lot of opportunities in the Game and Digital Art industry. You see growing number of Hollywood movies being done by Indian animation companies. The number of Gaming companies is also rapidly increasing here. I see the graph going nowhere else but upwards.
As a brownie point from my side, for those interested in honing their skills and living in Hyderabad, they can join “The Weekly Sketch group”. We are a set of professionals and amateurs trying to mutually learn from each other. We meet up at Lamakaan every Sunday morning. One is welcome to join us.”
Thoughts on Youthopia
Before we have the last sip of chai (which has now gone cold), I ask Kabir his thoughts on Youthopia.
“Firstly, Kuddos to your entire team! You guys have taken up your passion to the next level. Youthopia is the need-of-the-hour for a lot of people who want to showcase their work. Free-style expression really needs a window and you’ve created that. This idea has immense potential and I am sure this will scale heights very soon. All the best and keep talking to us(artists) often!”
Get in Touch
You can read Kabir’s blog here http://kabirshah.blogspot.com/ or get in touch with him on Skype on his ID ‘sketchypages’.