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Design talks with Mira Malhotra

Mira Malhotra recalls journey into the world of design, and overcoming resistance to build a business she believes in, for the community she loves.

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I am always inspired by women who never dilute their opinions to sound “likable” to the world and unapologetically put out their authentic selves out there. I have admired the visual artist Mira Malhotra (founder of Studio Kohl), for months from afar. She has some strong ideas on her work process and the way she approaches her industry. One of my favorite aspects of Mira’s work is how she embraces the word around her and how she recreates it in her own context. 

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Your illustrations are quirky, witty and your work seems to draws inspiration from the various aspects of Indian life. How would you describe your style? 

I like bright colors but with a slightly offbeat vibe which is what most people notice first about my work. But the other thing I put into my work which doesn’t seem so obvious is dynamism and movement. There’s a lot of stuff going on in terms of line, which is very visceral. I like having a sense of humour embedded in the work, and someone whose work I really admire in that regard is an Illustrator called Ray Fenwick. I like to observe things I find around me: Indian folk arts, the bazaar, women’s domestic life, these endlessly inspire me, and now I’ve branched out into work in the gender and sexuality space as well. I’d say my style is still very much evolving, as it can only move forward when I’m not engaged in commercial work, and I do not get that much time for personal work as I’d like.

How did your style evolve from two cultures you grew up in – one that is Indian and the western design elements we are exposed to. 

We are always exposed to western work and I think that’s great. They have a stronger contemporary visual culture and more people understand visual work there. Even before the Behances or Dribbbles of the world, I was exposed to a lot of packaging on the shelves of supermarkets in middle East, Riyadh to be exact, where I grew up. I still find packaging the easiest thing to design. However, when I search for inspiration I need to look around me and find things that exist in my own context, in the physical world, ideas in my own head- that’s where the Indianness comes from. My work I hope, has evolved from imitating the prevalent graphic arts I could see around me to now being more about personal ideas or a personal approach, and conveying emotion. 

What are the key observations about creating art for social cause/change?

Many people’s approaches are different in this regard. I know that in my collective (Kadak collective) each of them look at it in varying ways. My own I feel is a cross between graphic design, type, and illustration. An abstract way of representing ideas, as I am fond of symbolism. At the same time, I like work that emotes, has character, and makes you really feel something, and I feel that is what really affects people behaviourally when they can empathise and feel for the cause. Lastly, there’s a lot of work out there that is created for social change actors already in the know, but I feel it’s still very important for artists to address a larger audience so that the message goes out to the masses rather than stays within one group of people.

This is why I love memes because they are simple, non-threatening but still make people think. In short, I am more focused on creating accessible work. 

What do you feel when you stare at a blank page before your art take shape on the whiteness of the sheet?

That is truly terrifying. I try to not have that happen because my mind mirrors the paper, I blank out. I like the concept or idea to inform me first. Once one has a concept or idea the white paper isn’t so daunting and doesn’t have the time to question (or sometimes mock!) you too much. Either I’m randomly doodling without any purpose to create finished work, or I have a bunch of thoughts I’m trying to string together when I approach the paper but I can see the end in mind. I am not the kind of person who keeps finished drawings from life, or otherwise, in a sketchbook, carefully drawn with no immediate use for them. 

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diwali15_4 If someone issues a search warrant through your tools and sketchbooks, what are they likely to stumble into?

As I mentioned before, I do not keep formal sketchbooks. I know some artists have a disciplined practice of drawing every day and their sketchbooks are dated chronologically but so far I’m terrible with that. Instead, I use 3-4 different sketchbooks, loose papers (the backs of print outs) and I draw on them when I need to. Most often you can’t tell what the drawings are, and if you can they are never from life, I have no fascination with realism. I appear quite scatterbrained, and that is pretty accurate. As for tools, I am particularly drawn to 0.5 2B mechanical pencils, coloured Uniball pens, posca pens, my Wacom Intuos, Nikon DSLR (50mm lens is my fav) and a camera phone. 

Tell us more about Studio Kohl. 

Studio Kohl is my boutique design practice that started a couple of years ago. I do branding, packaging, print and a lot of self-initiated work under the studio and it’s growing with the addition of new, like-minded people. We do some work for gender and the mental health space as well. While the work is primarily graphic design there is a strong emphasis and basis in image-making practices, from illustration to photography. I try to come up with unique solutions for clients hence I choose them carefully. 

3e6dbb41576657-57ab69b43ba28In the world where women never take that enough space with their thoughts and opinions, it is inspiring to know there are women like Mira who speak their minds candidly.

Check out her work here

 

1 . Studio 1

Illustrations on used moleskine journals

1 . Studio 1

Whoa! No! This girl repurposes her old Moleskine journals to paint pictures of birds with gouache, graphite pencils and aquarelle? There are too many of my favourite things in one sentence. I love Moleskine , I love birds and I love illustrations.

I was grinning like someone who had just seen Beyoncé in person.

Stumbling on Fran Giffard’s illustrations was a massive disintegration of time. It almost felt like serendipity. For so long I had thought that there is no pleasure in the world bigger than going through old journals and discovering those little adventures and narratives that consumed your days and shaped so many memories. But there is.

Skimming through someone else’s journal!

Discovering a trail of notes, reminders, lists among magnificent plumage of birds so beautifully sketched and painted, you want to look away to readjust your eyes to all that creativeness. Fran Giffard is a London-based artist whose work combines a wonderful sense of colour against the white backdrop marked by the memories of days gone by. The result is incredible body of artwork that captures the natural elements of ornithological world. It’s just the sort of work that makes you want to know more about the person who created it. So here is Fran Giffard quelling our curious minds. Thank you Fran for interviewing with Blank Paper Project.

Single . Amethyst Starling

To start of – What inspired you to create your beautiful and intricate ornithological drawings on Moleskine journals? 

I was given an expensive sketchbook many years ago, and I wanted to fill it with drawings of birds from the Natural History Museum in London. However, I was so nervous at wasting the paper, that all of my drawings were tentative and bad. I decided to do some practice sketches using my Moleskine diary, and found I really liked the combination of my bird drawings along my notes and diary entries. I drew more confidently and enjoyed the compositional challenge of fitting drawings of birds in the spaces left by my notes.
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Give us a sneak-peek into your typical day. What does a ‘A Day In Life of Fran’ look like?

My studio is in my home so I can start drawing as soon as I wake up. I spend all morning and early afternoon drawing. I listen to various audio-books and BBC Radio 4 while I work. I always go for a long walk in the afternoon and enjoy sketching the taxidermy birds at my local museum, The Horniman. On other days I feed the birds at my local park. On returning to the studio, I’ll draw for the rest of the afternoon, breaking to cook supper. I love cooking so this is a fun diversion. Depending on my schedule, I’ll work late into the night. In preparation for my solo exhibition ‘All My Beautiful Boys’ at Northcote Gallery (opening on 12 March), I’ve been drawing every day for the past three months.

Single . Fire Tailed Myzornis

What do you feel when you stare at a blank page, before your illustrations take shape on the whiteness of the sheet?
I always feel nervous when I first start a new drawing. As Moleskine diary paper is so thin, it is essential to get the initial sketch right first time, as any erasing will show.

If someone issues a search warrant through your sketchbooks, what are they likely to stumble upon?
Many people comment on the amount of recipes contained within my diary drawings. I love cooking and am usually jotting down entire recipes, or ingredient shopping lists. You’re also likely to find plans with my friends, hand-drawn maps, colour swatches, and to-do lists.
A Joy framed
Which journal are you using currently?
I am currently using a daily Moleskine diary. I also have a weekly planner too.
Single . Blackbird

What are your can’t-live-without stationery essentials?
That’s easy: an excellent sharpener!

A Ponder

Fall in love with here sketches here

Single. Cedar Waxwing

A Paddling framed

 

 

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Women writers on alcohol and the level of hypocrisy in society

Many of my girlfriends have been part of a conversation where they were suddenly ambushed by their male peers who have asked them “Why are you getting so aggressive?”, and the same men have occasionally afforded themselves the luxury of throwing a fit of anger. After being a firsthand victim of such incidents I started gravitating towards women who stand outside of being ‘likeable’ by the society. They are, in my experience, more real and I have had some of the best, funniest, self-deprecating and most intelligent conversations with them.
Just as the feisty opinionated persona of a woman has been off-putting, for society, women writers and alcohol was rather an unpalatable topic. When writer Jane Bowles went to see her neurologist to cope with her alcohol addiction she was told to ‘go back to your pots and pans and try to cope’. Rather than validating their temperament and choice of lifestyle, even a little acknowledgement by the society, unadulterated by sexist views and stereotypes would have gone a long way. In a moment of ignorance, the neurologist dismissed Jane Bowles, a person, a writer and reduced her to just another undomesticated woman who wasn’t domesticated enough.
I have always worshipped literary geniuses like Ernest Hemingway, Woody Allen, Hunter Thompson, Van Gogh, F. Scott Fitzgerald and admired their struggle as much as their work, but the struggles and stories of women artists seemed to be airbrushed from history. Their struggles are often times dismissed as weakness in character. Although, of late, we have started recognising many female artists for their wonderful artistic and literary creations, their struggles and journey have not been as well-celebrated as that of men.
The relationship between art and drinking has been quite significant. Although some of the most successful artists are ones who have always been much disciplined, there are those who have struggled with addictions. The reality of alcoholism is ugly and there is nothing glorifying, artistically or otherwise, about vomiting and being a painful mess. There is no escaping the brutality of such an addiction.
But what is most astonishing is the unsettling aspect of society’s acceptance towards the art and literature produced by troubled artists, but a total disregard for the tortured mental anguish from where it is birthed. It’s the case of the golden egg and the goose where the world loves the beautiful creations which is equivalent to the golden egg, but would rather detach itself from the unruly, disagreeable aspects of the personalities of the golden goose that birthed such brilliance. “Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them” said Anaïs Nin, a French novelist.
ninWhen it comes to women writers and their drinking patterns the level of hypocrisy they are faced with is just surprising. Society has always condemned and shunned women that are fierce, savage, and opinionated, and rather seeks to mould women into docile little doves that they could tame to their liking. It is disturbing how the society is completely blind about these women’s work and talent, and rather focuses on the negative aspects of their personalities.
DurasJean Rhys, a Caribbean novelist, wrote in her diary that drinking helped her “see the truth, the simplicity and the primitive emotions once more”. Frida Kahlo, whose style and art will never be forgotten, downed Tequila straight from the bottle. “I drank to drown my sorrows, but the damned things learned how to swim.”
Elizabeth Bishop, who was a poet and a Pulitzer winner, heavily reclined towards the bottle and in her poem, A Drunkard, she tried to word the emotions an alcoholic gets caught into, “I have suffered from abnormal thirst – I swear it’s true – and by the age of twenty and twenty-one I had begun to drink and drink – I can’t get enough, and as much as you have noticed I’m half-drunk now”.
PlathSylvia Plath, the queen of confessional poetry, wrote, “I began to think vodka was my drink at last. It didn’t taste like anything, but it went straight down into my stomach like a sword swallowers’ sword and made me feel powerful and godlike”.
Leah Odze Epstein and her partner started the Drinking Diaries blog in 2009 exploring why female writers like to drink. She compiled some brilliant answers  through her project.
Having shared these wonderful bites what remains to be said is that for every talented intoxicated artist there have been many delusional, mediocre, intoxicated failures. It is stupid to romanticize the drug/alcohol-addled, narcissistic, self-glorifying addictions of the artistic world while the majority of great artists try hard to stay healthy so they can do what they love doing the most, for a long time – CREATE.
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Women writers and their cats

Today is World Cat Day. One of my favourite kitty characteristics is how they posses the subtle art of not giving a fuck. It’s their bona-fide non-conformist aura that makes them so dear to writers and artists in general.

“One of the excellent features of the cat – that when you are down, really down – the cat looks at you and is able to encrypt something. How they usually do that that’s a lesson of perseverance against all difficulties and troubles.”  November 15, 1985 –  Bukowski on Cats

Here are some lovely women writers with their cats

Edith Södergran

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Tove Jansson

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Colette

French Author Sidonie Gabrielle Colette with Cat

1900s — Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954), French writer. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Rita Mae Brown

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Elizabeth Bishop

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Patricia Highsmith
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Rachel Carson
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Creativity and frivolous ideas

I love how all the great adventures and collaborations always start with one person saying “Why don’t we <insert a ridiculous idea here> ? and the other one  going “Why Not?”

So when Howard Gossage (a nonconformist advertising genius famously known as The Socrates of San Francisco) sat with the Publisher of Scientific American in a New York Restaurant to explore some new ways to expand the magazine’s reach, he suggested having a paper plane competition for the magazine. The publishers agreed. Details aside, the 1st International Paper Airplane contest was signed off. The contest received 12,000 entries within six weeks of placing ads in local newspapers asking people to join the competition.

The results from the contest were compiled into this book – The Great International Paper Airplane Book. It also featured the winning entries with DIY instructions.

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The book explains how paper airplanes are quite different with paper darts. Darts  do not have any personality – they fly straight and that’s it.

“The paper airplane is a very different affair. It is, more accurately, a paper glider. You do not throw it. You let it go or push it very slightly; and the weight head carries it forward, gracefully and gently, like a seagull coming to rest upon the deck of a ship. A little while ago it was a sheet of notepaper, but now it glides like the fairest of white birds. Yet a perfect flight requires very often an infinitude of patience, a folding and refolding, a shaping and reshaping with the scissors.”

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Jerry Mander, George Dippel and Howard Gossage, authors of the book write, “In our experience, we have found that the biggest thinkers we have dealt with are the ones most willing to support such “frivolous”projects”

It’s important to explore our ability to go astray and come up with some really frivolous ideas.

Kim Cao - round nest 2015

Woven nests and the vision of a perfect society

St-Paul de Vence is such an amazing place with incredible art, antique shops, charming boutiques at every turn. I was  really amazed by the sheer number of galleries in the city, and the fact that it was home to artists that I love – Chagall, Matisse, Picasso. While this too beautiful-to-true place left me so overwhelmed what stayed with me was a beautiful nest I saw floating in isolation, hidden away below the ramparts. Apart from the creative artistry behind the project, there was a kind of comforting aspect to it. If I was not in South of France I wonder if I would ever come across this beautiful project. I really want these wonderful sculptures and the artist behind it to be known.

Kim Cao uses weaved bamboos as the only material to make his floating nests. The manner they support and intersect to form natural shapes inspired him  to create this artistic vision of the perfect society. “The bamboos are men, relying on each other to shelter something bigger, something more beautiful, some unspeakable, and invisible mystery, floating on the winds. A testimony to the grace and solidarity that we humans can show.” The beautiful thing about such art is that it does not always answer the problems faced by the society but makes us ask the right questions.

Nid Vivant - Kim Cao 2015 - 240cmWhat is the creative process behind the woven nests?
After feeling what kind of shape needs to come out, I go out and choose the materials, the thickness of the bamboo and its breed define the natural bend I can get from it.
Depending on the size of the piece, I either use the main stem or the “branches” (axillaries although I’m not sure about the English translation for this, axillary in french, can’t really speak of branches, as bamboo is a herb, like palm trees ).
 I then decide whether to weave with the whole plant, leaving the leaves to decay and eventually fall, or clean up the branches for a more geometrical render.
On some occasions, I heat up the bamboo to artificially bend it beyond its natural limits. Like steel, bamboo fiber becomes flexible when heated, then keeps its shape when cooled down.This technique is indeed tricky, as pressure and temperature have to be adjusted to the stem’s freshness/dryness. Doing so without breaking half the stems in the process takes a lot of patience, but mostly it needs attention and sensitivity, one needs to be “listening” to the bamboo, both literally and metaphorically.
Kim Cao - wandering nest 2013.jpg
I took the time to describe precisely this process because t became obvious to me after a few years of working with this material, that I had much to realize and learn about individuals and societies, from bamboos; as individuals, we can, of course, bend beyond our limits, our balance, but we have to listen to the cracks, pops and pains during the process, otherwise we are sure to break at some point. As a society, we survive and prosper by accepting the links and the pressures that are a natural consequence to these links.
We bond with people, it makes the structure hold itself together.
When the pressure is too great for the individual to withstand, at least a piece of him/her breaks and begins its own journey. Of course, there’s no such thing as a perfect society, that’s why leaving my creations to decay and be used as a ladder for young sprouts to get to the light is an important stage of the creative process, which I adore.
Kim Cao - cocoon 2015What inspired you to create weaved bamboo nests?
The need for a shelter, I guess, and the need for a cure to overthinking🙂 My dad was born in Vietnam and my mom is french. Growing older (and more vulnerable), I admitted lacking a sense of belonging. When you’re mixed blooded, people from either country ask you where you’re from. Hence the attention I gave to societies, big or small, my opinion is we’re all in need of that sense of belonging, and of a connection.
KIM CAO - NEST HD©Kim Cao.jpgTell us more about your vision of a perfect society. 
I wish people would listen to themselves more. To me, it all starts with listening and contemplating. In modern western society, listening to others is considered as a sign of weakness, when to me it’s the greatest sign of strength, and listening to yourself is selfishness when I call it self-alignment. How can anyone else know better than myself my feelings, and in a more general way, what defines me as an individual?
We’re taught to memorize, not feel.
We don’t know our own selves.
My opinion is, people would feel better about themselves by taking a break, breathing, listening and contemplating, and this simple act of self-love could help society into an upwards spiral. Connect, in real life, do something you like!

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How do you dismiss all the conflicting thoughts in your head and focus on the singular process of creation?
Most of the times,  it’s the overdose of thinking that leads me to empower myself by manipulating matter. My redundant thoughts are always about things I understand, but can’t change. But I can change bamboo!
Give us a sneak-peek into your typical day. How does an ‘A Day In Life of Kim’ look like?
I’m lucky enough to live in a small house with pets everywhere, and a vegetable garden.
On a typical day, I’d eat fruits and take a walk in the garden with my dog, check on the veggies and on my two beehives. Then I either work on video editing or music, or on sculptures.  I also grow a ton of experiments, like Koke Damas to include in my nests, water lentils to put in recycled lightbulbs, or moss for terrariums. I’m passionate about plants!
I’m also part of an association that promotes artists and also help people/companies install growing systems with recycled materials in homes of offices. And of another, that aims at protecting bees and related insects.
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If someone issues a search warrant through your tools and sketchbooks, what are they likely to stumble into?
Very simple sketches, as I prefer simple shapes, sometimes to help with staging or proportions.
As for tools, the main one is a good sécateur, a quick Japanese saw, a hatchet, strings of differents kinds and a small blowpipe. I also use a variety of climbing equipment to hang the pieces in between trees.
photo KIM CAO Portrait HD ©Dana Sardet
Do you have any other creative projects you are currently working on?
I’m working on an exhibition, a path in the woods I spent my childhood in, in Saint Paul de Vence, and have some other ideas in the area.
I’m passionate about storytelling, so there’s a story I wrote, a philosophical journey, of a young man looking for his roots. Maybe an audio book, child book or animated movie with this.
I’m working on a project with a polish illustrator, for an animated movie. I also love dance, a project involving cadavers acquis (exquisite corpses) with 15 dancers is under construction, I’d  like to explore mixing dance on stage with pre-captured dance videos in a yet to come project. As for sculptures, I’m exploring working with living materials, plants, mosses, maybe even ant colonies!
You can check out his website to see what’s new:
Visual art (sculpture, miniature garden and videos: http://kimcao.portfoliobox.net/

 

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If everyday objects were alive

Peeking Chair-2Imagine if objects in our surroundings were alive. If it had a form beyond its function. If it followed a rhythm. Would it change how we perceive life? Would it change the way we perceive everyday activities?

Would it make our lives less mundane?

Juno Jeon’s project ‘Movement’ aims at answering this question. He imagined if all the objects in his room were alive. His research led him to a discovery that our brains needed to witness the unexpected.  “I found what really makes something look alive is not just the ordinary movement of the object but the unexpected movement which could make people surprised.”

In his interview with Blank Paper Project, the artist behind the “Pull me to life” series  talks about his inspiration and what gives that special abnormal characteristic to his designs.

Pull me to life-1 Pull me to life-2What is the creative process behind your work?

When I have a concept for my project, I usually render many drawings from the basic idea (I call it drawing research). This research is not only for shapes, style or color but also for fusing the concept into an object.

Drawing makes me break the boundary of limitation. I try not to think about all the realistic / practical issues. That gives a unique and abnormal character to my designs.

Yet, I do not ignore all the practical issues in the design altogether. However, if I consider them from the beginning, I will lose the character and the story I am trying to convey in my design will get lost.

After all the research is done, I make a book with all my drawings. This book becomes Bible for the project.

 

How do you dismiss all the conflicting thoughts in your head and focus on the singular process of creation?

In this process, drawing helps me again.

After being in the fairytale mode during drawing my ideas, I start to focus on the practical issues – production, efficiency and so on. I choose some of the ideas from my drawings and make small-scale models to see proportion, shape, and if they have any practical problems.

This is the second filter of my design. Through this process I can finally choose a singular idea.

Give us a sneak-peek into your typical day. How does ‘a Day In Life of Juno Jeon’ look like?

When I have to work on a project, I spent most of the day in the workshop. I work solo. Since I try to get some special, abnormal character into my design, my design became a bit hard to mass-produce So it takes me some time to make them.

There is a lot of work that goes into it, but it is fun. When I am not working on my projects, I am hunting for inspiration. I read a book, watch a movie, watch some sports and write a song.

Print Fasde drawing Peeking chair drawing-2 Peeking chair drawingWhat do you feel when you stare at a blank page before your art take shape on the whiteness of the sheet?

Before, when I used to be in front of a blank page, I used to feel some kind of pressure. That I have to do something cool on the paper. But I found that pressure pushed me away from cool stuff.

After a few years of doing this, now, I get a kind of free feeling in front of a paper. Whatever I draw or write it is original. I didn’t know that before.

Peeking Chair-3Tell us more about any other creative projects you have explored in the past?

Writing a song. My creativity comes from my desire to communicate with the world. Writing a song is a way to expose that desire. Of course, it is not some professional music that I am making. But it does help me to refresh my head.

fade - 2 fade - 3 fade - 1What are your can’t-live-without stationery essentials?

I would say a pen and a paper.

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