Skip to content

Parcel from India

2011 November 3

Readers of this blog might already know that we discovered Indian publishing house Tara Books on Twitter a week or two after we first launched. Since then, we’ve followed them with interest, and recently we got a lovely parcel in the mail with a review copy of Following My Paint Brush by Dulari Devi, which I’d like to show you.

Bright pink cover for Following My Paint Brush, showing a detailed Indian folk art painting of a boy in a tree while two women look onBacking up a bit, though, first, who are Tara? Based in Chennai, South India, they’re a “fiercely independent” publishing house showcasing illustration and writing from various regions and communities. They value “adventurous people around the world”. The feminist principles of dialogue and creating opportunities at the heart of their work are outlined pretty well in this piece over on For Books’ Sake. They want to open your heart and your mind, balancing “the pleasures of a beautiful book with wit and political rigour. Our titles are often unclassifiable, straddling accepted genres. We have pioneered the art of the book made entirely by hand, making artists’ books affordable for the average book lover.”

From the point of view of my illustrating I get particular enjoyment from their picture books, which always teach me new things – when we spoke to Gita Wolf and Sirish Rao about their work with artist Bhajju Shyam on The Flight of the Mermaid a few months ago, I found I was learning about Gond tribal art in the process.

Moving on now to the book in question, which is artist Dulari Devi‘s first book. She paints in the Mahdhubani style popular in the Mithila region of Bihar, eastern India, which you can read more about for starters on Wikipedia here.

I am an artist, but I wasn’t always one. This is the story of how it happened.

– Dulari Devi

Spread from Following My Paintbrush showing two Indian woman bartering fishThis is a gentle, inspiring, true story about the urge to create – and running mildly but persistently through it, Dulari’s struggle to work that process out in a context where art isn’t a career she can economically support, and where education in artistic technique is not easily come by. She learns, in her own words, by doing, and keeping doing. One day after a long day working as a domestic help, she finds herself fashioning a bird from clay, and a journey begins. And for her, the discovery of her own creative power, and through it a new sense of self, is a momentous change. It would be really facile and silly to compare my own life to hers, so I won’t, except to say that I struggle with neurotic “creative block” a lot in my own way – and this reminded me to pull my finger out and get down with the muse again. There’s something very essential and beautiful about the way she describes having the ‘get excited and make things’-epiphany, and I love the cyclical way the text, which is all transcribed from Dulari’s oral account of her life, begins and ends with the affirmation “I am an artist”.

The art is serenely beautiful, full of detail that jumps out at you on a second look. Art Nerd moment: Mithila folk art really appeals to my love of strong line-work. Dulari’s work is high on decorative geometric borders and patterns, and double-lined and crosshatched outlines lifting the figures off the page. If I had kids, I’d read them this. As it is, I was super happy reading it to myself, with lots of pauses to notice all the birds hiding in the trees (I made a mental note to make Markgraf, our resident bird-art enthusiast, look at the birds).

So there’s a pile of reasons why you should keep an eye on Tara (plus the fact their latest graphic novel, Sita’s Ramayana, hits these shores in 2012, but it’s already made the NYT bestsellers). Christmas is coming, after all! Buy your family some beautiful readables.

Spread from Following My Paintbrush. Under a colourful canopy of fruit trees children gather to see the ice cream man who has arrived with his cart. Dulari watches while holding her paintbrush.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS