Paint misbehavin’

By now, Abdullahji and his helpers Sahanwaaj and Suhail has gotten used to us coming and invading their space. They no longer greet us like we are some crusaders from outer space. In fact, they even offered me food and made the wooden prototypes just like the way they were told. They made several versions of prototypes of the form we had finally decided on…trying out different size and proportion. This time, we went for a couple of magnet sourcing trips…to the local markets…and fetched quite a few varieties of magnet….ranging from strong to weak and large to small…and got them fixed onto the wooden prototypes. Similarly we got them to make us several copies of final prototypes for us to paint on.

Now that the characters and the form of the toys are more or less defined we started moving forward to the  next step……i.e. choosing the perfect colour ways of each character and painting them on the blank turned wood prototypes.  We have used acrylic paints as a medium and round brushes as tools to get them painted. We started with Garuda and eventually got done with the Jatayu and the Vasuki. With this, we are ready to leave for Banaras.

Family Photo

Little Known Heroes!

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O Holy Artisan: Where Art Thou?

Choosing the right craft style to work within the huge range available in India is not easy. We had several discussions on this internally as well as with Dastkaar, an organisation of craftspeople founded in 1981. For the moment Channapatnam has been ruled out as the cluster there is well developed and loaded with orders. It would make more economic and social sense to work with a craft that hasn’t had that kind of exposure yet. Mostly everyone is on-board with the Banaras idea. The city is easily accessible and there is a good range of skills in wood available: turning, lacquering, carving and hand painting. Plus I have some contacts there that would be helpful in connecting us to toy shop owners, artisans and the master craftsmen.

Here are some of the specific skills we’re looking for: addition of details, patterns and textures on the characters we’ve already developed; good replication skills especially for the eyes and the face; and forming, hollowing and lacquering wood on a turning lathe.

 

turned wood rattles and hand carved birds

These birds on the right are an inch in height. This level of detail on our toys would be awesome.

hand carved figures

Photo Courtesy: Handmade in India, Ranjan & Ranjan

I also managed to source some toys from Banaras itself so that we would have an idea of the prevalent style as well as the skill level.

You can see the details on the feathers of the owl as well as some of the patterns on the elephant. The birds are tiny! Maybe 2 cm in length. This sure looks promising! We should be heading out to Banaras in a day or two. Yayy!!

 

 

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Colorways!

Now that we have three characters, we’ve been tweaking the designs to make them look better and have more emotion. We’ve also been testing out the forms in a bunch of different colorways to see how it looks and pick the ones we want to make. This is easily one of my favorite parts of the process, and while these won’t all get made, These could make some great desktops or shirts. Hopefully we can make that happen, too!

I will let these stand on their own, and feel free to click them to see them bigger. Let me know what you think!

Vasuki

 

Garudas

 

Jatayu

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Fascinating Stories

In the great extended family that is India, everybody is a relative of everybody else. So much so that eagles and serpents are said to be cousins! In fact I even drew a little family tree of our first three characters: Garuda, Vasuki and Jatayu:

Family Tree

Historians speculate that these exotic, half human- half animal tribes mentioned in the Mahabharata were probably tribes that worshipped the animals they are described as. But you know what? I’m going to stick with all the fascinating stories that I’ve been reading up over the last couple of days about these tribes and the characters we’ve chosen.

First Up: Vasuki

Vasuki is a half-snake leader of the snake people (called “Nagas”) who has between 5-7 heads. He churned an ocean of milk to produce the nectar of immortality and 14 other treasures in order to save the world from being destroyed.

Churning

Vasuki wrapped around Mount Mandara during the Churning of the Ocean of Milk

Next: Garuda

Garuda is the half-eagle king of the tribe of all eagles (called “Suparnas”), and a half-brother to Vasuki (different mothers). In a mass of events, the nectar of immortality Vasuki produced is taken by the gods and the Nagas’ mother enslaves the Suparnas’ mother (wacky sibling rivalry). The Nagas, in exchange for freeing his mom, task Garuda with getting the nectar back. He does this, freeing his mother, then tricks them, getting the nectar back, then gives it back to the gods. As thanks, the gods decree that all serpents will become food for eagles (wacky sibling rivalry).

Mount of Vishnu

Vishnu and Lakshmi riding on Garuda

Finally: Jatayu

Jatayu is a demigod who takes the form of a vulture when he becomes the king of all vultures. He lives a long life as a generous and chivalrous king, and is well known for his good deeds. One day he hears the cries of Sita (his friend Rama’s wife) from the forest and rushes to her aid to find her kidnapped by Ravana, the king of all demons. Despite his old age and the incredible power of Ravana, he fights for Sita valiantly, getting his wing cut off in the hopeless battle. Before he dies, he tells Rama where to find his wife, and is still revered as a symbol of courage.

Jatayu Vadh

Jatayu Vadh by Raja Ravi Verma

Such fascinating and involved stories, and they all intertwine with each other.

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Birds of Pray

Unlike the other anthropomorphic heroes of the world, the ones that are associated with Indian Mythology are not very popular. They are the least noticed and spoken about. That is what inspires us to bring the animals back into our character line through an entirely a new concept (Now this is so over-the-top awesome that I can’t wait to share it with you).

From warriors to mythological warriors, we now have moved forward towards a new character line of “anthropomorphic mythological warriors” (which is seriously hardcore). Coming to think of an anthropomorphic character in the Indian mythology, all that comes to my mind is Narasimha ( the great lion-human avatar “incarnation” of lord Vishnu). But hang on, there has to be some other characters as well that has both human and animal features. Pulling out a few from the pages of Mahabharata and Ramayana, we finally decided to work on the characters of Garuda, Jatayu, Vasuki, Jambavan, Bali and Varaha, beginning with the first three right now.

As of now, we have tried to sketch out each of these characters and explore the standards for emotional expressions across the characters. We’re also reading up on them and trying to include symbols for each.

Garuda is a large mythical bird that is depicted as having a golden body of a strong man with a white face, red wings and an eagle’s beak and with a crown (a killer detail that can’t be overlooked under any circumstances) on his head. He is cool with gladiatorial combat above ground.

Garuda

Jatayu is again a bird which is depicted as a demi-god who has the form of a vulture. Surprisingly it is supposed to be the nephew of Garuda. He is known for his aerial combat skills.

Jatayu

Vasuki is the great king of serpents. It belongs to the Naga species in Hindu mythology and has the power to exhale Halahala (the most potent venom in the Universe), which is quite impressive actually.

Vasuki

 

And these are the digital drawings for Garuda, Vasuki and Jatayu:

Outlines

More fantastic stories coming soon!

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Potato Warriors

Potatoes!

For the next review meet we want to have some definite characters on the board with a couple of colour ways for each, maybe two characters each for the historical and the mythological warriors categories. I got Abdullahji to make me copies of the final selected form (my mom was wondering why I have been carrying a bagful of potatoes with me to the studio everyday) so that we can directly sketch onto the wood pieces. The illustrations take on a completely different flavour when drawn on the three-dimensional surface from what they look like in the sketchbook or on the computer screen.

Warrior Potato

Some of the historical warriors that I’ve been researching on, like Rani Laxmibai or Guru Gobind Singh hardly have any photographs or original paintings, they do however represent certain communities (Marathas and Sikhs respectively) and its the symbols of those communities that we must tap into; Marathas have a signature mark on their forehead while Sikhs sport the turban and beard.  Soujanyaa has come up with anthropomorphic mythological characters like Vasuki (multi-headed hooded snake king) and Garuda (Eagle King) and these look like they have a lot of potential. So far we have four characters with about 4-6 colour ways for each.

Dronacharya: The priest turned fierce war Guru

Dronacharya

 

Rani Lakshmibai: Go Maratha Wonder-Woman!

Wonder-Woman

 

Garuda: King of Eagles and Mount of Lord Vishnu

Garuda

Eagle King

 

Vasuki: King of Serpents

Vasuki

Serpent King

 

 

 

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Deep into character

Now that we have a shape that seems more or less defined, it’s time to go deep into the characters we want on the toys. Right now we really want to incorporate the history of India into these adorable little fellas, to give another level of depth to the character and identification with each person. Everyone has such amazing stories, and hopefully we can teach people a little something about them.

Personally, I like the ancient warriors throughout history. I’ve always had a thing for ancient warriors, from Samurai to Spartans to Soldiers. (I’ve also always had a thing for alliteration.) There are so many great eras of warriors here to choose from, we may pick some from each to get a full line.

There are some amazing people throughout history, and we may have some trouble narrowing them down.

Emperor Ashoka, the first unified ruler in Indian history, who ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent stretching from Afghanistan in the West to Bangladesh in the East in 230 BC. He became a Buddhist after he abandoned all war during a brutally bloody battle. His Lion symbol is now the national emblem of India.

Prithviraj Chauhan, a Rajput king from 1100 CE and an excellent archer skilled in the art of ‘Shabdabhedi Baan’ (to be able to aim and kill just by following sound) who became his capturer’s nemesis by killing him in his court after his eyes were burned out with hot iron rods.

Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth Sikh guru who established the ‘Khalsa’ – a military order of saints in 1699 in response to religious persecution by the Muslim rulers, giving present day Sikhs their identity.

Rani LaxmiBai, queen of Maratha state Jhansi and a symbol of female bravery who was one of the leaders of India’s first mutiny against the British in 1857.

Historical Warriors

From Left: Shahrukh Khan as Ashoka, Prithviraj Chauhan's statue in Ajmer, Guru Gobind Singh, Rani Lakshmibai

We are also looking into some mythological warriors that are even more fantastical, like Drona Charya,who gave the power to end the world to his brightest student, or the Pandavas – five brothers who take on their half-brothers in the greatest battle written in Indian mythology. The Pandavas include Yudhishthir, who gambles away his kingdom, his brothers and even his wife in a game of dice, yet is described as just and compassionate; Arjun, who can pierce the eye of a fish with his arrow while looking at its reflection in a pool of water; and Bhishma, who is as quick with anger as he is with food.

Faces!

Whichever character we choose, one thing we’ve discovered is that we need to convey a lot of emotion with these little guys. They are small, and need to pack a big punch when you first see them. So we really need to focus on the faces. I drew a bunch of simplified faces with a similar look. It’s similar to both urban vinyl and anime styles, and when it mixes with the Indian craft and aesthetic, we’re hoping it makes something amazingly unique.

It’s certainly an interesting experience working with such a small group of people who are so enthusiastic about making these toys the best they can be, and that know so much about Indian history. I can’t wait to see how this all comes together.

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Our own little guy!

Our little guy!

It looks like we have narrowed down to one form now, and it’s a great one. A huge oversized head with an adorable little body, and an almost entirely curved surface. Just by itself it feels like an adorable character that you want to hold in your hand, and we have a few body variations.

To test out the shape, we went crazy quickly drawing different characters, trying to break the limits of what it naturally felt like. This opened up cool new directions and gave us a lot of faith in the shape. People, animals, robots, steampunk creatures, guys with giant afros, monsters, skeletons, luchadors, we really tried to see if anything wouldn’t work in this form, and it all turned out better than we hoped. It was all really fast, and I think it will turn out even better once we get detailed.

Check out this massive gallery of sketches we worked on to get an idea of the range we looked at!

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Forming the forms

Now that we’ve managed to come up with different character lines, I thought it would be fun to try to add some action to the toys. This time we aimed at keeping the form simple . The whole idea was to strike a balance between a collectible toy and a very playful children’s toy.

So we sketched… all over again…trying out newer ideas. Now we have several forms to go with the characters.

with pegs

On the first round, we have a form which consists of 3 spheres which are held together by magnets. The parts (head and body) could be mixed and matched with other characters. People can make their own character with various parts and customize it according to their own style. This could be real crazy (as long as people don’t start beheading them for fun).Then we have a form that could have a turned wood torso with flexible hands made of springs. The flexible hands could be stretched and drawn into various postures.

spherical form

We have several other forms in mind like bobble heads, figures made of turned wood rings. But out of all of them, we decided to work on the most simple form…and that finally got us to a stage where we could actually see the character fit into the form in the perfect way. The final form has two units attached together by magnets. The upper unit derives the head and the lower one makes up the body. We got both units turned on the lathe in three different sizes so that we have enough options to play around with, eventually narrowing down to one.

variations of wooden prototype

Although, I would love to have an additional feature to it in the future…maybe by adding a cool accessory (“skull-crushing-poisonous-club” sorts) or a head gear that could go with the kind of toys they turn out to be.

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Urban Vinyl meets Indian Handcrafting meets Us

We were beginning to feel a little lost amongst all our character sketches and form options so we decided to put together a wall-sized moodboard that can hopefully streamline the process towards a definite direction and give us multiple starting points at the same time. The moodboard has come together as a meeting point for western urban vinyl -art toy style and really intricate, traditional Indian craft style which is what we hope to translate onto our toys as well. So we had references from both Kidrobot and Handmade in India, as well as this really cool Brazilian artist who has illustrated Indian gods and goddesses in his own unique style. Some cool stuff we learnt from this exercise : every Indian handicraft uses a library of textures, patterns and line work that defines its graphic language, much like an identifier of the craft style (context!), but none of them have managed to come up with expressive facial features (stagnancy?) which western urban vinyl captures so well (playful, awesome). So an interesting direction would be to combine the textures and patterns of an Indian craft (maybe even colour) with western character illustration.

MoodBoard

Chris got a taste of the excruciating Delhi heat on a field trip we took, visiting the various state emporiums and handicraft shops that dot the city’s shopping landscape. We saw a lot of turnwood toys and a lot of hand-carved and painted wooden toys as well. There’s only so much you can do with turnwood in terms of form but the lacquer finish is one of the best finishes out there. Initially we had thought of working with the turnwood lacquer cluster in Channapatnam (down south, near Bangalore) but I feel hand painting is definitely a skill we can use to our advantage. Banaras would be a good starting point. Scroll down for all the pictures that Chris clicked while pretending to message on his iPhone!

Field Visit

Clockwise from Top Left: Banaras wooden handcarved toys, Channapatnam turnwood toy, handpainted Ganeshji outside a shop in CP, handpainted figurines from Karnataka

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