Monday, August 29, 2011

Painting Hari Singh Nalwa

Last month, I spent my time mostly working on Baba Deep Singh and all other works in progress. This month I did not work on other paintings, rather I studied Art (yes, it is something you have to study) and focused my attention completely towards Hari Singh Nalwa.

I have been making some changes to Hari Singh Nalwa. This painting just keeps getting better and more challenging. One could say it is growing up like a human child. It is currently a teenager, very difficult... at a stage where I must have a lot of patience with it.
For one I added some more canvas at the bottom, expanding the piece to show Hari Singh Nalwa's feet and the carpet below his feet, like in Ingres's Napoleon. That not only opened up the space, gave this teen some room to breathe but provided some opportunities to add in Indian carpets and other props like a shield and a musket.
Paintings start to "plateau off" (like a square-root graph, yay math!) after a while. The progress on them starts to slow down as more research is done and when more items and photographs are collected. This process itself makes the painting very valuable but this is where patience and persistence is necessary to keep the artist going. At this stage, the painting gets quite frustrating. Not only because of the additional research on small details but because the artist himself grows and his vision expands, at every new stage he has a better vision than he had before. So he continuously strives to turn the painting into his vision, and every time he thinks he's captured it, it escapes right before his eyes and becomes more magnificent. It is a never ending battle that I am also "fighting" with Baba Deep Singh Ji's painting.

I had stumbled across this video last year "In Praise of Steel". It was a recording of a presentation by historian Davinder Singh Toor. I thought it was very informative and quite entertaining to watch. I recommend it to anyone who does not know about Sikh history and also to those who think they know about Sikh history... to everyone really. In the video, he presented quite a lot of photos and paintings of Sikh related artifacts. And so when it came time to detail Hari Singh Nalwa, to work on the very minute but important bits, I felt I did not have enough resources, I contacted him and he was very generous to help me out with lots of references - these mind blowing close-up images of ancient Sikh weapons, helmets, armour and battle standards! I cannot thank him enough.


Going back to Ingres's Napoleon. I think it is an awesome painting, the design decisions he made, truly add a majestic touch to Napoleon as he sits on the throne. Napoleon is made to look like an emperor. Indeed it was painted when Napoleon rose to the throne. With Hari Singh Nalwa, 'majestic' is good but he is a general and not at Maharaja Ranjit Singh's level. So I removed the throne I previously had. Also because I did not find a single image with Sikh thrones looking like that.

I also found an old painting of Maharaja Ranjit Singh on his throne (though not the throne most of us might be familiar with). Now what was special about this painting was that wall behind him, had a design painted on it. I am experimenting to see whether it will sit well behind Hari Singh Nalwa. Also there are some tricky shadows and lighting in Hari Singh Nalwa that I am constantly dealing with. The shadows overlap some complex structures. Another issue is painting accurate carpet designs and the other designs and patterns.

Hari Singh Nalwa's going to have some designer clothing. ;) I noticed a lot of rich, high status men did not wear bland single-colour clothes, rather they wore clothes with patterns. They wore rings, plumes, with ornate armour. Not to mention, ear-rings... Yes, high-status men of this era are seen to wear big loopy earrings. Not sure if this trend started from or before the Gurus times, it certainly seems that way from the artwork I am looking at from the 1800s.

Some people pointed out how Hari Singh Nalwa looked very old in the speed painting. They are in fact, correct. Hari Singh Nalwa was 46 when he died, around Guru Gobind Singh ji's age, who was 42. In Hari Singh Nalwa's paintings, his beard is shown to be very grey at 46, and I suspect that even Guru Gobind Singh ji's beard would be very grey... if it was, it is a major flaw in previous paintings of Guru Gobind Singh ji. Even in my own Machhiwara scene, he should really have a more grey beard. Another small bit of info I picked up along the way.

Anyways, here's a nice big sneak peek at Hari Singh Nalwa. A lot of the engravings on armour and other designs e.g. on the battle standard, are still incomplete. The kara, ear-rings and musket are also incomplete. I end up going through many shabads, songs, videos, breaks, going-out-and-never-coming-back-to-it-for-several-days... while I work on these things. It can pretty tricky trying to curve the pattern around the gauntlet, for instance.