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Like a Musical Note

Jatin Das Artist Painting Art

Years of observing and sketching culminate in the making of a line. It’s like a musical note when a line escapes out of your finger.


In my early days in Bombay, when I was a student at the Sir J J School of Art, we were asked to submit ten sketches a day. By self-imposed discipline, I decided to do three hundred sketches a day. Buying the newsprint, fifty paisa per kg, resting it on my arm and sketching, I walked five kilometers to the hostel. Even by then, if there were not three hundred sketches, making my left hand as a model in different positions, I sketched. Made many trips to the zoo and the botanical gardens sketching flights of birds and movements of animals. The sketchbook accompanied me to the dance performance and in the dark, I sketched the dancer’s hands etching into space.

Even now I sketch and draw like a student at Konark, Khajuraho and Mahabalipuram; the fantastic lyrical gait and rhythm of classical sculptures demands a different flow of line. The main thing is understanding the “Brahma Rekha” – the key line. The rhythmic structure of the key line in everybody’s movements.

The beginning and the end of the line is very important, like a musical note; like the end of an arm-rest of a chair; or the extremities of the human body as fingers and toes. When I stop, I know whether the work stands… or else it finds its way into the bin. When you finish a drawing you wonder how a drawing got done. The drawing draws itself.


I assimilate from various visual cultures; traditional and contemporary. I draw mainly human figures, completely devoid of embellishments and any reference to time and space. They are energised bare figures.


I draw with ink and conté. Drawing with pen and ink, the Indian ink, the Chinese ink, the black ink on white paper can create stark figuration…like chiseling. Different sizes of the nib or crow quill on different textures of paper create the peculiarities of a line. The nib and handle, over a period of time creates a personal rapport. It is a unique marriage between the tip of the figure and pen that brings about spontaneity.


But drawing and engraving on a metal plate, be it copper or zinc, with a hard needle especially for a dry point, needs tight control. The needle has to be held steadily or else it could puncture and etch into other grounds. Let’s take for instance drawing with a brush on canvas, hog-hair brush which is flat on one side and sharp edged on the other, it depends on how you manipulate the brush. Painting is also drawing. Drawing is also sculpting. It is a matter of creating negative and positive spaces. The ecstasy and the poetry of a line transcends tone and colour. Conté has another dimension, that of creating texture and tone in a singular line.


I believe strength of an artist is in his drawing. The power of creating a flowing line, without it being superfluous, is when a line meets another line, intersecting and flowing together, crisscrossing one line demanding another and so on; there is fusion and charge. A “Dead line” destroys the flow creating a dead end.


To etch, to draw and pull a line on a surface is to accept the challenge of an arrogant virgin space. It is like blood flowing through the tip of the nib. It is like a river flowing.


Jatin Das


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