Artistic Process: Girangaon- The Mill Village

2017-18: Girangaon-The Mill Village

Its easy to assume that anyone who studies architecture will automatically be good at art. It was certainly not true for me when I started out; there was a particular style of art that was meant to be followed before architecture school and I wholly disagreed with it. I was never able to properly draw proportionate people, nor understand perspective and shadows. But as you begin to discover your style of design and find artists who use unconventional methods of expression, art becomes easy. Over the years, I made many art pieces in a style similar to Mario Miranda’s (although I applied it more to buildings and objects than to people). I thought I should archive them on my blog and write about the artistic processes.

The artwork seen above was done in about a month, in the last year of architecture school and was meant to supplement my thesis. I was studying the industrial history of Mumbai in the locality of Byculla. Through many site visits, interactions, books and articles, I was able to understand the culture of the place and felt it would be great to depict it in some form of artwork that isn’t entirely architectural. While I have already written about mill history in short , I want to use this space to talk about how I made this:

The rocky beginning

I started without a clear path in mind. Initially, I wanted to make a collage of the mill buildings. While these don’t exactly represent any particular mill in Mumbai, I was attempting to pick up elements of arches, brickwork, mangalore tiles and buttresses. While working on my design thesis, I wanted to keep the chimney as a central icon for orientation– it is, after all, a symbol of that era– which is why it is depicted in such a proportion here. It also limits the artwork on the left, keeping the focus in center and not crowding the whole base unnecessarily. I was very sure of that– I did not want to fill the whole page, instead I wanted it to be central, but also slightly asymmetrical to make it organic. The buildings were relatively easy to make: draw the basic outline, and fill it with repetitive elements such as windows, roofing, columns etc. After making these outlines, I tried to give every window an individual character, which is fairly easy to do when you’re drawing by hand. If I were doing this digitally, I would’ve definitely made 4-5 variations of windows and copy-pasted them sporadically to give it the ‘look’ of being organic. The building in the middle was slightly tough– you can see that the proportions of the broken parts are incorrect. I was attempting to replicate this from a picture. It didn’t come naturally and I abandoned this for the top-most building and went with my usual approach. Below are some photos that helped me with the visual characteristics of the facade. Notice the prominence of trees growing on them.

These pictures of Mahalaxmi Mills show the proportions of the arches as well as nature taking over structures. I used these visuals to appropriately draw the architectural bits of the artwork.

At this point, it was proving rather tedious to finish the work. I was growing tired of sitting hours at a time with my neck bent over the piece and considered continuing it digitally. This is a debate I’ve had time and time again and while I do take pride in my knowledge of graphic design software, I felt this was much more personal and deserved the time and hand work I was putting in. It is becoming increasingly easy to mass produce art over the computer and it is an activity I partake in liberally, but the work I cherish the most will always be done by hand.

With the ‘architecture’ complete: onto the next task!

Now, the buildings were complete. I was contemplating how to fill in the chimney. Usually they’re made of brick and plastered, but I was inclined towards showing the exposed brickwork. This would again, be a tedious task, so I decided to do it later. This artwork was meant to depict the current state of the mills. But architecture doesn’t come without its context and people, and people were the most important part of my thesis. Thus, I needed to incorporate daily life around the mills in some way. Now, the industrial history of Mumbai is rather complex and there were a lot of people of various professions involved with it. Without knowing the structure of how I wanted to place humans in my drawings, I started by depicting the different activities that happen in Mumbai’s streets. So I began by drawing fisherwomen selling fish, a ‘dabba’ (now that I think of it, it seems a bit out of place. Maybe at the time I was thinking of making a collage) and lightly traced several people behind them, in a line. I felt this gave an impressions of a ‘street’. Below, you can see how I went about doing this. Oh, also, I should address that the smoke blowing out of the chimneys was added to give more volume to the work. The humans are heavily inspired by Mario Miranda’s artwork. I felt it was the best reference I had. It is perhaps the only artwork of mine till date that features people so prominently.

Adding people to this was an absolute task but in the end, it is what ties everything together.

Drawing hair is my favorite part of making people. It’s the easiest and feels like I’m taking a breather from drawing eyes, noses and arms (I’m terrible at arms). The other people that I drew were people I was seeing all over the streets; schoolchildren, shouting men, dabbawaalas, hawkers, women with shopping bags, etc. While I may not have been able to represent them all, I personally feel I did a good job at it. Below you can see how I managed to cramp them near the mills– and also how I conveniently darken parts that I don’t want to draw, especially the lower halves of humans. Its a trick I’ve always used and it suits me well. Its all about the composition and playing a trick on the eye.

The people make the place (rather crowded).

Now that I had appropriately placed my humans, the artwork was beginning to take shape. Suddenly it clicked; I had three distinct parts in the design: the mills of the bygone era, the people of industrial Mumbai and then finally, the places they occupied now. From left to right, it was a transition from old to new, with the people representing the culture, holding it all together. So the third layer, the one on the right, would have to represent what architects call ‘ancillary activities’ to the mills. I had to refer to a fair number of pictures of chawls and markets to draw this. In elevation, they would look similar to the mill (at least in my art style), which is why I decided to mix it up and draw one in section. Again, the proportions are a bit off, but I justify that by saying that this is not a ‘memory drawing’.

It all begins to come together.

After this, my speed grew. I knew what I was doing and I was excited to see the results. Below, you can see the ‘first draft’ of the artwork. I added embellishments later, mostly in the form of patterns and hatches to make certain parts stand out. Its a very convenient method that I use, although at times I feel it borders on cheating. I need to find more honest methods to make elements stand out but I’m not the most patient artist out there.

Almost there!

This was the last step. Everything looked a bit… flat. I needed to add more depth. I detailed certain parts more, added extra linework to make things look darker. I was extremely happy with the results. Unfortunately this is the only artwork I’ve done in this style and the encouragement I got was enormous but it also made me complacent and lazy. I knew I could do more, but did I really want to? Its something I grapple with now as well. I had a purpose to do this: to enhance my thesis. I had a purpose to make my handmade maps. I’m hoping to find that purpose again, many times in life, I hope. Without it, I’d consider my own art a sham.

I wanted to create a TLDR image for this as well because I know not everyone has the patience to go through an artists’s ramblings (I most certainly skip blogs that talk about people’s musings and feelings). Also, I like to communicate visually and felt this was a good way for y’all to interpret my art too. If you guys have any comments, please feel to message me. What is your favorite element from this piece?

Please do give credits if you want to use these images. Please contact me regarding this as well. It took over 50 hours to make this, respect that.

Published by Simran Arora

An architect exploring cities, cultures and histories.

2 thoughts on “Artistic Process: Girangaon- The Mill Village

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