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Sketching on Vacation in the Himalayas - July 2021

After our plans to travel to my hometown kept getting postponed due to the pandemic, we finally managed to do that in the first week of July. Lately, I’ve been struggling with more than the usual anxiety on top of all that this pandemic has brought, so I was really looking forward to some time away from work and daily life and just having fun with my family.

But is there anything worse than hearing stories of other people’s vacations?! I won’t bore you with the details but I do want to share a bit from my mum’s lovingly tended garden, how much inspiration I found there, and some botanical sketches of a Himalayan native tree for a botanical piece I am planning!

It’s monsoon season in India at the moment and even though the rains have been unusually late this year, my mum’s garden was a riot of greens. The mango trees were laden with fruit and even though I missed the peach and grape harvest, I’m thrilled I got to enjoy homegrown mangoes.

I also saw, for the first time, the flower of a turmeric (Curcuma longa) plant. Since the blossoms on this plant are not a frequent occurrence, I was quite lucky to see it. It’s a gorgeous inflorescence and quite a complicated one at that. If you are curious to understand the morphology of the flower, check the Wikipedia entry on it which has a brief explanation.

Even before this trip, I had an idea to draw a botanical piece of a Himalayan White Oak (Quercus leucotrichophora), the most common oak species in the Western Himalayas. I traveled up in the mountains armed with my sketchbook and pencils to make copious notes about the plant. I knew I wouldn’t be able to bring back a usable specimen so I had to rely on sketches and photos. And I took a LOT of them.

The underside of the banj oak leaf is almost white, making it quite conspicuous

The trees weren’t hard to find as they were literally everywhere! Locals use the leaves extensively as nutritious cattle fodder. The oaks were also impossible to miss since from a distance the underside of leaves would shine bright white, especially when surrounded by green. If you would like to read more about the importance of oak forests, here is an excellent piece by experts.

I am still new to working in my sketchbook so it wasn't very easy for me to take notes which I could use later. Nevertheless, I have noted down the colors, the leaf texture, and the pattern of the veins as well as their arrangement on a stem. Since I am planning to draw a branch of the oak tree, I assumed that this much information would suffice. The rest could be figured out from photos.

I have only just begun work on this botanical drawing and if all goes well, I will write a separate post on how I went about it.

Before signing off, I will say one last thing. For two weeks, I barely touched my art supplies (except for the 2 days when I did some oak sketches) and I felt a little guilty. Yet, at the same time, these days away from the pressure of creativity were quite rejuvenating for me. I could find time to revel in the joy I find in other activities and now that I am back, I am filled with new excitement to begin drawing again! If you are feeling tired and frustrated with your art, I highly recommend taking a break from it and focusing your attention on some other things that make you happy.

Here's me on a riverside family picnic in my hometown.

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