Every day I stumble upon something curiously interesting in my Instagram feed. The colours are vibrant, the stories are unheard and the strong portrayals are spellbinding. This is real art, inspiring and authentic.
It’s not just me who’s affected and inspired by Tanya Kotnala’s vivid depictions. At 23, the young illustrator and crafts fashion designer has travelled across India, worked with numerous artisans, started her own initiative ‘Bhuli’ and bagged a series of popular awards. When I finally reach out to her one fine day, she is exactly like the art she makes: lively and delightful.
A conversation with the artist who is changing the modern outlook towards traditional crafts, one sketch at a time.
How you came across illustration and design as a career?
I’ve been drawing since childhood! My mother would make me draw on the back of letters that she wrote to my grandparents. I remember being 7 years old and drawing a woman holding lots of paint brushes. One of my teachers pointed her out as a “fashion designer” and I wanted to be her! My parents have been super supportive about my passion ever since.
I have lived in at least 17 places across India, from metro cities like New Delhi to the remotest areas in Kashmir and found myself completely smitten by the local cultures. I would hunt for local artworks & crafts and collect them as a hobby.
While pursuing my graduation in design from NIFT (2011-2015), I initiated a little research about the crafts culture of ‘Bhairavgarh’, a small town in Madhya Pradesh where I happened to meet a National Award winning artisan, Mr. Raheem Gutti. He inspired me to the core! It was after that trip that I realized I wanted to dedicate my life working towards the welfare of art & crafts culture in India.
Why the name ‘Bhuli’?
Bhuli means ‘Little Sister’ in the native Garhwali dialect in Uttarakhand. A few years back I was visiting my maternal village ‘Kaudiya’ in Raja Ji National Park when I noticed two little girls helping their mother with the harvest. They were humming a sweet local folk jingle that seemed really merry and curious for a highly tedious task. It inspired me to stage ‘Bhuli’ as a name to display my artworks.
Is there any constant source of inspiration, a muse if you may, or do you prefer taking things in your stride?
All my travel experiences inspire my illustrations; there’s always something unusual about a usual being and I love to capture that! Living in the Himalayan foothills in the Dehradun Valley, surrounded by breathtaking flora and fauna, I am never really out of inspirations!
I see a lot of diversity in your work, illustrations from several states portraying their cultures and costumes. Is it a conscious decision you make to study as many cultures?
Well,I have been an arts and history enthusiast since childhood and I absolutely enjoyed studying about various crafts clusters and their history. Most of my sketchbook entries are first hand experiences. Throughout college, I worked and documented various crafts clusters across the Northeast, religiously maintaining sketchbooks and picture stories of all the projects I was engaged in.
Even today when I work at rural crafts clusters as a fashion designer, I make it a point to illustrate about the local art and crafts culture of the place! It’s an interactive way to educate people across the world about our culture.
Other than that, there are a couple of sites I visit for pure knowledge’s sake. And then of course there is reading, my favourite book being ‘THREADS & VOICES’ by Laila Tyabji.
How would you define your style? Any new mediums that you look forward to exploring?
I usually leave it to my audience to decide how they want to interpret my artworks. I draw to celebrate the Indian arts, local folklore and traditions. My favorite drawing medium is the classic paper- pen; I am an avid sketcher and not a day goes by without drawing! Other mediums I enjoy working with are water paints, surface development and textile art. I am currently exploring digital illustrations apart from that I would absolutely love to explore a little bit of sculpting.
So what do you do when you are not sketching?
I am either travelling or trekking or staying at home baking!
If you could go back in time, who would be the one artist you would love to have a conversation with?
Ah! Well there are two: Edward Gorey for his dark and strange illustrations and Mario Miranda for his excellently detailed sketch studies.
I am so much in love with what these artists could make the onlooker feel with their illustrations that I would rather just watch them drawing!
What about the contemporary artists and illustrators?
There are so many amazing illustrators out there, but I’ve recently developed a massive admiration for Dinara Mirtalipova; her beautiful and intricate hand-drawn, folk inspired works are simply out of this world.
You’ve recently worked on a calendar and a series of portraits as well, besides your artworks. What’s has been your most favourite project(s) so far?
It happens to be a program I undertook with Lepcha Weaver’s Centre in South Sikkim, to uplift Lepcha crafts and promote women entrepreneurship and Braject, which basically encouraged constructive conversations among young Indian women about bras.
Any exciting projects in 2017 your fans should look out for?
In 2017,I am going to keep refining my art style and simultaneously prepare for Bhuli’s 2017 exhibitions of artworks and textile works. I am targeting for a couple of exhibitions this year! Fingers crossed!