Why I Love Art: Talking to Drawings with Gagan Singh

Gautami Reddy

How I rediscovered the joy of drawing during the pandemic after an online workshop with contemporary Indian artist Gagan Singh.


They say learning comes by doing. And I think I truly began to learn about (and love!) art when I started doing it myself. I had always appreciated and marvelled at art, right through my school and college days which led me to a career in art. But it was only after I attended an online drawing workshop by contemporary Indian artist Gagan Singh that I understood this new way of being ‘in’ the world of art.

I had been a fan of Gagan’s drawings which popped up every now and then on my Instagram feed. He was like a naughty, witty philosopher who exposed bare human truths while making us LOL at the same time. And true to his character, he showed up in a friendly shirt and beard to conduct the workshop or… ‘workout’ as I’d like to call it. “Let’s start with a few warm-up exercises,” he announced, “Scribble. Scribble until the page is dark with marks. It helps loosen your hand.” And it did. “Now draw shapes. Circles, squares, stars, whatever comes to mind. Make them up if you have to,” he said. It felt good to let go.

Sketchbook drawings by Gagan Singh featuring the artist and the author, 2021. Ink on paper. Image courtesy of the artist

“Look at your scribbles, how the lines cross and form small white spaces. Draw these shapes in an enlarged size, and in a further reduced size. Invert them, upside-down or left to right,” he continued. “This is so silly. I can’t do this!” squeaked a little saboteur voice in my head. It was so loud, that for a second, I thought Gagan heard it too. He said, “Listen to the sounds around you: the fan above, the aeroplane crossing the sky, dogs barking, birds chirping. Mark these sounds on paper.” Before I knew it, my notebook was filled with colours and lines: straight, squiggly, zigzags, loops and curls. It was one big, sloppy, childish mess.

It was now time for a few core exercises. “Each of you must draw a portrait of any one person in this workshop,” said Gagan, breaking into a grin, “But you have to do it spontaneously in one gesture without lifting the pen off the paper.” Although it seemed intimidating at first, I realised gesture drawings were easy to do. Over the next few weeks, I would make over a 100 portraits in this style. Drawing objects was next: “Start with what’s in front of you. The water bottle on your desk, your phone, shoe or book. Make it move, ring or fall.” Going all out in the final exercise, he said, “Now imagine a room and draw it in different perspectives, from the top as if you’re a fly on the wall, or from the side as if you’re peeping in from a window.” I laid out my own little bedroom on paper, with the furniture arranged in all strange ways for a fresh feel. A whole new part of me had awakened.

Sketchbook drawings by Gagan Singh featuring the artist and the author, 2021. Ink on paper. Image courtesy of the artist

After the workshop, I kept in touch with Gagan on Instagram. We exchanged routine life updates through doodles and rhymes. He appeared in my drawings, and I appeared in his. There were no formalities, only giggles. “You should talk to your drawings!” he said in one of our chats. For someone who enjoyed inside jokes and conversations with the self, this came naturally to me. Every time I spoke to a drawing, the subject or object in it would come alive. I had accidentally found my ‘voice’ and began drawing comics, combining visuals with text.

Sketchbook drawings by Gagan Singh featuring the artist and the author, 2021. Ink on paper. Image courtesy of the artist

“Art is nonsense,” I remember saying to Gagan when I met him in person after a year of knowing him, “and that’s what I love about it the most.” By then, I was revelling in my half-mad, nonsensical self, and for me, drawing became a space to express, be improper, laugh and grow outside the confines of polite society. It has been nearly two years since I began my journey in art making, and I can’t wait to see where this squiggly road takes me!


Gautami Reddy is the Director of Digital & Communications at India Art Fair. In her free time, she likes to write, rhyme, draw and aww, mostly on Instagram @gautamireddy.

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