A scroll down Shabna Sumayya’s Instagram feed, filled with surreal paintings of gorgeous women in hues of deep blue and black, seems to transport the viewer to a magical realm born of her own inner world. A world that the artist says she nurtures by daydreaming.
Sumayya who has designed book covers for several publications, has also illustrated for magazines and newspapers like Madhyamam and Suprabhatham. When she isn’t painting or teaching, Sumayya writes poetry. Her collection of poems in Malayalam entitled Kanal Kuppayam (Pendulum Books) was published in 2018.
In an interview with Lounge, the artist who has conducted over fifty painting workshops for both children and adults, talks about her creative process, influences and her ever-evolving workspace.
Describe your current workspace to us.
I have converted a small room in our small apartment into my studio. It is filled with my old paintings, paintings that are in the making, scattered paint tubes, unattended blank canvases, unfinished acrylic works, dried brushes and so on. To someone who visits the place, it may seem messy, but I guess it is a reflection of my own mind filled with both ecstasy and uncertainty.
Has it always been this way? Or has it evolved over the years?
Both my art and my workspace are ever-evolving. In the beginning, it used to be a small corner… I didn't even have an easel. I used to work as a content writer and started saving money only to buy better quality materials. After that, my workspace was a small room in our first-ever rental house. My art was also improving. At one point, people started buying my paintings and I used the money to upgrade my workspace with an easel, some cabinets, bigger canvases, and other supplies. This was a slow process. Nothing happened overnight. I still look for new supplies online and keep adding them to my wishlist.
How would you define your daily relationship with this space?
I spend my days at home mostly. My workspace is where I daydream. I don't paint every day. But I spend a lot of time in the room learning new techniques by watching art videos, thinking, or sometimes just idling. I rarely come out of this shell into daylight.
Tell us about some of the eureka moments you have had and major works that you have done from here.
The big ideas only occur on nights when I try hard to sleep. Sometimes I note them down on my phone, but I miss many because I’m too tired to. In here though, I experience ecstatic moments more than eureka moments. Most of my paintings come into being one stroke at a time because I often start painting without any concrete ideas in my mind….some abstract images in my head and some unknown feelings in my heart transform into paintings... I translate my feelings into art.
If you were to trade in this place for another, what would it be?
I dream of a compact studio where I can hang large canvases on the walls, sit amidst the mess of paint tubes and paint whatever, whenever I want. But I count my present workspace as a blessing. I don't have any complaints about it. Still, I am a human with dreams…I’ll work for a better studio.
What's the one thing that has always been at your workspace over the years? Why?
My first-ever sketchbooks! Every time I have a blank canvas or feel stuck in an emotional void or find myself drowning in self-doubt, I grab one of these sketchbooks and flip through the pages to see how I have improved over time. It helps me overcome my fears.
The first artist whose work you followed closely/sometimes imitated. What about them appealed to you?
I love magical realism, surrealism and expressionism. As a self-taught artist, I have drawn inspiration from and been influenced by contemporary artists like Tanya Shatseva, Iris Scott, and Dimitra Milan. I'm also a great admirer of artists Kabita Mukhopadhyay and K Shereef.
Indumathy Sukanya is an artist and independent journalist based in Bengaluru
Creative Corner is a series about writers, artists, musicians, founders and other creative individuals and their relationships with their workspaces.