Friday, November 06, 2015

When Art Takes Wings - featured in Sanctuary Asia

In the month of June, 2015, Sanctuary Asia (India's first and leading environmental magazine) published an issue focused on 'Women for the Wild'. To my delight, i was chosen to be one of the contributors for the June publication and even more honoured to be in the alliance of fascinating women and their contributions to Indian wildlife ! 

Featured in this issue were some of my bird illustrations, along with a short write-up about my journey into the wildlife art world.

You could read the online version on the Sanctuary blog -

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A season of butterflies

One oppurtunity followed the other, and i ended up illustrating a small series of butterfly works over the last 2 years.
The first of the works started with a project for ATREE (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment) which was working in collaboration with WIPRO, to set up a butterfly garden at their electronic city campus, Bangalore. It was a prodigious project and i contributed a small bit to it. I illustrated some butterfly paintings for their brochure 'I see butterflies'. Thank you Ramya Ravi for pulling me on board and the entire team at ATREE for your interest, enthusiasm and support.
The recent butterfly project was for the forest department of SGNP (Sanjay Gandhi National Park) who put together a small pocket-sized butterfly guide, 'Butterflying in SGNP', which is available for purchase at their counter. This booklet is a lovely coalition of illustrations and butterfly ID photographs. Happy to have been a part of this effort and to have worked with Shardul Bajikar who was heading this project.

Coverpage illustration for the               brochure of ATREE - WIPRO           butterfly project.

Coverpage illustration for the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) booklet on butterflies

A few other works illustrated for the butterfly projects                                

A fascinating process of metamorphosis - a                       Depicting night and day. The camouflaged
life cycle of a striped tiger butterfly. Illustrated                  Death's Hawk moth active during the night;  
in the painting is the egg laying, the                                  and a drab coloured evening brown butterfly, 
catterpillars / larvae , the crysalis / pupa and a                   active during day and dusk.  
newly emerged butterfly.   

Closeup butterfly wings

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Wildlife in a city Pond

Lakes, wetlands and ponds, are the collection pools of freshwater. Rain is their primary source and responsible for depositing most of the freshwater on planet earth.  Surprisingly, all the freshwater sources put together, glaciers, icecaps, icebergs, rivers, groundwater, along with lakes, wetlands and ponds, form just about 3% of all of earth’s water. Further, it is a small portion of this freshwater that is consumable or drinkable for the entire world’s population of close to 7 billion people!

While these freshwater sources seem to already project a stunning impression, it doesn’t stop just there. These wetlands are like the lifeline of any region. They help restore and maintain the groundwater levels and water tables. It is the severe concretization, unchecked population growth and the overexploitation of resources by man that has been directly affecting the groundwater levels, especially in the urban areas.  Despite that, lakes and ponds act like an oases of calm and stillness, amidst any busy bustling city. And within this stillness, they create a magical ecosystem of the flora and fauna. The life they hoard, and the haven they create for a diversity of life forms is quite a marvel.

With the many wetland bird-watching trips, nature walks, wetland projects and lake surveys I have been apart of over the past few years, a fondness to wetlands had grown on me. It was in October 2013 when a phone conversation with Mala Kumar, the editor of Pratham Books, sprang an unexpected discussion about a children’s storybook that involved three of my favorite elements – rain, lakes and wildlife! However, I had never worked on a Children’s storybook illustration ever before. Bundled with a lot of apprehension, anxiety, excitement and eagerness, I decided to wake up to the new challenge that was thrown my way. I was more than happy to be illustrating a story authored by Ashish Kothari, who is well known amongst the environment and conservation circles, and is the reason behind ‘Kalpavriksh’, an environmental group in Pune.

Soon, the story was followed up with a pagination, which helped me compose each page with the required story elements. The author, Ashish Kothari, beautifully narrates in the story, his move into a new home in Pune; a little pond that his balcony overlooked and the exciting transformation the monsoons bought in along with an incredible variety of birdlife, insects, amphibians, mammals and reptiles that began to inhibit the little ecosystem. He continues to talk about how the lake was suddenly threatened by urban development, and how the people from the neighbourhood came together to save that mini-sanctuary.

I started work with key sketches for each of the pages & a couple coloured plates to decide the style, soon there was a go ahead. Juggling with another project at hand, I probably took about two whole months to finish all the 15 page illustrations for the book. The artworks were couriered off to Delhi to scan. The text was inlayed within the art and in a few weeks, the .pdf version of the book was shared  for final edits. At the same time, the translations in five other languages - Kannada, Hindi, Marathi, Telugu and Urdu were underway.

Finally, in August 2014, the book ‘ Wildlife in a city pond’ was added to the Pratham online library. I am happy to mention that this storybook falls under the Creative Commons license (CC-BY-SA 4.0), and will soon be available for free download !

If you would like to buy a copy of the bood, here's the link -

A peek into few of the illustrated pages.....

Small Blue Kingfishers love clear water as it helps them spot their prey easily. They sit around on reeds, low shrubs and rocks along the water edges, to dive into water to catch their meal for the day.

Tall grassy Bulrush reeds with brown rods inhabit any wetland habitat. Scaly-breasted Munias and Baya Weavers fly away with thin blades of reeds to build cozy homes to lay eggs. Baya Weavers are known to build intricately woven nests that are left suspended from twigs and branches hanging over water.
Life co-exists in a wetland! The White-breasted Waterhen walks with an elegant gait along shallow grassy patches, while Spot-billed Ducks take to deep water where they can swim. Pond Herons too, wade through shallow water, hunting patiently. They freeze for many minutes, cautiously looking around, and in an instance, strike to kill! While all the drama unveils, the Flapshell Turtles silently bask in the sun.

The cacophony at night from the pond might feel creepy, but you will find the source to be nothing but harmless little frogs, toads and crickets crackling away in the darkness.
With big enlarged pupils, Spotted Owlets and Nightjars are wide-eyed and awake through the night. While Spotted Owlets love to hunt rats and mice, Nightjars catch insects with their wide mouths.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Frugivorous birds of the WesternGhats !

Same time last year, April - May, i was bogged down with projects and was on a continuous working spree! One of the interesting projects that came out of that super busy productive phase was a poster -

"Bird Droppings : More to it than meets the eye!"

Sneha, a PHD student from IISc, got in touch in early feb with an exciting poster plan for her Rufford Grant project! Her study had mainly been on the frugivorous birds of the Western Ghats. She was absolutely keen on using  illustrations for her poster, than photographs. It was her sheer enthusiasm that got me to say yes for the project. She was so composed, clear and organised with her data. Very persistent, she kept me on my toes, but yet, wonderful to work with! Another added incentive that got me excited about her project was when she mentioned that she would be printing hundreds of posters in different languages and it would be distributed across many forest departments and schools in the 4 southern states!

I got started on these illustrations in April. I used a completely different approach myself. After looking into the list of plants and birds, i planned out the vertical composition with some very rough doodles. Broke it down. Worked on different elements of the composition. And fit them all back together like a zig-saw puzzle. They were all mainly pen and ink sketches to start with. Later, a wash of the respective colours completed the final layout. Getting started - the initial planning and the composition bit is the most challenging! Once you chalk that down, it will seem like half your work is done!

rough doodling, playing around with the compositions and trying to get the general positions of the birds and fruit bearing plants. 

Working on the whole composition as seperate elements...
Throughly enjoyed drawing these pen and ink sketches!
birds of the dry-deciduous forest                                                                 birds of the evergreen forest

When the seperate elements were fit in togehter.... 

and then...
After the wash of colour...

By the end of May, the posters were printed! The poster layout and all the relevant information was put together by Sneha. These posters were made bilingual. They were printed in 5 different languages - English, Kannada, Tamil, Malyalam and Marathi. As planned, they were sent out to many forest departments, schools and NGO's. Sneha, might just have about a few more copies if anyone wants to put up these posters ! 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Endemic & endangered - Uluguru Bush Shrike

Uluguru bush shrike (Malaconotus alius)

The slowly encroached and dwindling habitat of the Uluguru North forest reserve, poses a major threat to the survival of the rare and critically endangered, Uluguru bush-shrike. The population counts down to just 1200 pairs in the wild and its confined to a small forest patch of just 84 sq km. It is endemic to the Uluguru mountains of Tanzania, Africa. Such a rare sight that there hasn't been a photographic record of this species in the wild as yet !

When I was asked to illustrate the Uluguru Bush Shrike about three years back, I was directed to just one reference image online, which was an illustration done by Martin Woodcock. I had access to just couple species description files and that’s it. I poured over hours trying to look for more information about the bird, but didn’t find much. After browsing through image-over-image of other Bush-shrike species, I finally had a composition for the Uluguru in place. With the thick black hook-tipped bill, glossy black head, an olive green back and tail, and the yellowish underparts, the painting was done. A rigorous fast paced week it was, but soon enough the illustration was accepted to be published in “Defying extinction: Partnerships to safeguard global biodiversity” by GEF -Global Environment Facility. 

The publication highlights some of the most threatened pieces of the fabric of biodiversity, specifically individual species at risk. It illustrates GEF’s efforts, their success stories and the actions required for safeguarding the future of the species under threat. The whole publication has been made available online as a PDF - here. (Page 18-19 - Uluguru Bush-Shrike)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

GreenScraps Nature Journaling Workshop, 2013 !!

 Lets explore what's around us !!
..a fun & colourful way of collecting interesting observations and notes about nature..

(please click on the image to enlarge)

For more details about the Workshop, please contact us on -
or Call us ! 

The registrations are limited to just 12 participants. 

About GreenScraps -

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sketchy forest walks...

As soon as i set foot in the hustle-bustle busy town of Panajim, i was driven off to a forested pocket of the Chorla Ghats, along the the eastern boundary of Goa. Nestled well between the Mhadei Wildlife sanctuary of Goa and the Bhimgad Sanctuary of Karnataka, the mountain range of Chorla Ghats treasures a rich biodiversity of life.  I was stationed at Swapnagandha in Wildernest, for a whole week, where i spent my time sketching all that i could, in the winter month of December ! 

Pasted below are leaves from my journal, frozen in time !

grasshopper and lizard                                                                                                    s                                    
The well camouflaged Forest Calotes, Calotes rouxii, in their non-breeding attire are hard to spot when they pose motionless on a tree bark, but every now and then you get a fleeting glimpse when they shoot past your feet, once again, into the dry brown winter woods. 

A beautiful green grasshopper attracted to the tube-light at night!

On 2nd December, I accompanied Rahul Khanolkar and a bunch of school children from Belgaum to the plateau, near the Mhadei conservation center. I was amazed by the brown-ness to the whole place. The yellow-ochre-brown glistening with the bright sunlight and swaying in the light breeze weaved the path to the flat plataeu area. With the scattered trees and shrubs interspered within the landscape, it was a sight to behold!

Growing upto a feet long were these beautiful yellow-red inflorescence, standing bright and elegant against the contrasting golden brown plateau. It is locally known as Wakeri, but i am yet to find out the scientific name. 

Later, on the night drive, a hollow, lined and plastered with silk on the cut mud wall along the side of the road... a nest of a tarantula !! 

A dense forested path leads to a bouldered stream... hop over the boulders and follow the stream up-hill, it opens up to a tall cliff-face, and there, drops down the Valvanti waterfalls. Growing on the damp rocky cliffs, right next to the waterfall are clusters of pink Impatience flowers enjoying the cool showers throughout the day and night.  
All day, along the waterfall trek, i had my eyes  gleaning through leaf litter, trees, boulders and all the nook and cranny, trying to spot a snake in the wild... dissapointed... i retreated to my room... Well! little did i know, there was one waiting for me right in my balcony!! 

A beautiful Malabar Pit viper !!

For 5 days since, it stole all my good mornings and good nights. I paid a number of visits to the balcony, even in the middle of the nights, wondering but happy, and admiring its choice of my balcony! Hovering around this grumpy frown faced visitor at a safe distance, i did manage a few sketches! 

On either side of the walking paths, the carpeted web of the funnel web spiders was a very common sight. To ambush their prey they peek out at the entrance; and with the slightest movement or disturbance, they retreat into their woven funnels within an instance. 

Known to have a good eye sight, probably they did watch me sketch, i wonder?! 

Continuously chirping throughout the day, the Crimson backed sunbirds were busy with their feeding duties and visiting the nest every few minutes.                                                                                                                                                

Below the dining area of Swapnagandha, attracted to the tube light, were a canvas of moths of myraid shapes, sizes and colours ! Each night there was always something new to look out for. 

The bright light also drew grasshoppers, beetles and other insects. Along with them a very smart bat ! With the flutter of any moth, the bat would swoop down, over my head and snatch its meal for the night. I sketched and watched and ducked and i lost count of the number of meals it caught and missed!

But two windy nights, with the gusts of wind directly hitting the wall, there was an empty canvas. Sadly, no moths, nor any bat in sight.

Terrible with watercolours and landscapes still. Lots to improve on, but for now, thats the Anjuna dam seen from one side of the dinning area in swapnagandha. 

The birdlife promised some excellent sightings of Orange-headed Thrush, Puff-throated Babblers, Red spurfowl, Verditer, Nilgiri and Tickell's  flycatcher. The walls were taken over by the most bizarre patterned gecko's by night. Three Vine snakes showed off their presence during my stay. 

After 16 years to Goa... What a pleasant comeback its been! A great trip to mark the end to a busy 2012. 
An overwhelming gratitude goes to Nirmal Kulkarni, who made this little sketching journey of mine happen! Thank you for your support and the hearty welcome to such a beautiful place restored. I  appreciate the work, energy and enthusism put in by the entire Wildernest team, for making it such a haven of a place for nature and life to co-exist.

Friday, November 16, 2012

GreenScraps @ Puttenahalli lake

The UN’s convention on biodiversity, the 11th Conference of the Parties, was held in Hyderabad from October 8 - 19, 2012. As a curtain raiser for the big event, a series of awareness programmes on 'Urban Biodiversity' were organised in Bangalore, by ATREE (Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment), INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage), Citizen Matters and Red Frames, from 4th - 7th October.

We at GreenScraps, were honoured to conduct a nature journaling workshop, as one of the preceding events to the conference. On a Sunday morning, 7th October, a bunch of us gathered at the Puttenhalli lake at JP nagar. After a brief introduction about ATREE by Harini Nagendra and INTACH by Aravind, the doodling took over. As we were at a lake, the day was about the lake ecology. Sketchbooks and pencils in hand, we observed the lake, the plants and the birdlife. With a few initial activities to start with, we sketched leaves and seedpods... further on, to weeds that were threatening the life of the lake. 

We stood facing the lake and all we could see was a carpet of green... the lake was infested with the overgrown giant Salvinea (Salvinia molesta). An aquatic fern that it is, shares an interesting story of its own.We got a few of these free-floating fronds to observe up-close and sketch. As pretty as it might be, for its uncontrolled growth, its banned as a weed.... a threat to any lake ecosystem. The rooted emergent, Alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides), formed a dense interwoven mat around the Salvinia, enacting another role of a characteristic weed.  Even these we observed, sketched and recorded. There were many other weeds all around, hindering the healthy existence of the lake and its inhabitants. All this because of the nutrient rich water. And the reason for this eutrophic condition in such lakes, are all human caused - the untreated, unchecked sewage and wastes that are allowed to flow in !  

As we walked along the fenced, concrete path of the lake, we tried to take note and sketch anything that caught our attention. It was almost 11 and the sun was high up, but before we wound up for the day, we tried our hand with sketching the trickiest of all - birds - the purple moorhens that were trotting along the thick carpet of weeds. 

Finally, to mark the end, Usha Rajagopalan made a brief mention about the  concerns and efforts of the PNLIT (Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust) team, to restore and save the lake. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Greeeenn overload - Kudremukh !

A quick doodle of the kudremukh scape from my photograph
The monsoon green - so rejuvenating, so crisp! The lush green grasslands, the moss laden green canopies and the hues of green-blue mountains that fade through the distance... a sight to behold! At each step the landscape transforms, unfolding miraculously, the richness of pure 'life'! With every other instance soaked in rain.. if not mist.. we threaded along those weaving paths smiling and absorbing as much as we could see.

The random bunch of 6 that we were, set out, all geared up, to feel the wetness of the monsoons. The little critters on the forest floor, the sorts of wildflowers that seem to peak out from the carpet of grass, the loud wavering strum of cicadas from within the sholas & a gazillion other calls and sights enriched the whole experience of a typical monsoon trek.
The leeches were least of our worries as we were happily trotting along with leech sock. It was those continuous steep downhills that bought out a 'sigh' at times. Our wet clothes, wet shoes accompanied by the chilly breeze and hunger, almost made us frown at one *particular* instance; but that biting-cold numbness and pain, was still hidden by harmless stares, giggles and laughter !

Habenaria grandifloriformis

There wasn't too much of a birdlife to exclaim about, because of the rains, the clouds and the canopies. However, we did get to see schimitar babblers, bar-winged flycatcher shrikes, scarlet minivets, malabar grey hornbills and such. Every once in a while, we could hear the Flameback's rattling call, as it zips past the trees in the valley and watch a lone black winged kite hovering motionless above the canopy.

We enjoyed observing much of the flora around as we walked. One by one, we all peered down to see the little insectivorous plants beside our feet, Drosera peltata, trying to stand tall, yet too small and hidden within the grass. Two beautiful ground orchids, Habenaria grandifloriformis & Habenaria heyneana, were in bloom. The pretty inflorescence of Bulbophyllum mysorense and Eria mysorensis, clad on to branches in huge clusters like an adornment on the tree. We walked past many species of dendrobiums, oberonias & tons of other orchid species which i fail to ID yet! As if the trees needed more to enhance them, they were further dressed with moss, ferns and lichens. 

Indirana sp.
Thanks to Ishan who found a caecilean sp., a rare find, high up in the grasslands. Yet another very cool find was the rare, endangered and endemic species of the Western Ghats, Ansonia ornata (Ghatophryne ornata), Black Torrent toad. An otherwise small, drab, dark colored toad, until you see their belly which is reddish with bright golden yellow spots! 

Sigh! Back in the routine urban life now. But back with a few treasured memories!  Just got to imagine EC - the weatherman, the flying umbrella & ofcourse, Payal's descriptive narration of the 'badly behaved Indian frog'...  none of us can stop rolling with laughter even if we are sitting all by ourselves! 
Must say... Abhisheka, Ishan, Manju, Payal & Ramya... you are all such wonderful buddies to get lost with in a beautiful green wonderland!