Painting Keeps Your Mind Young and Fresh - Kannan Chithralaya

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1. Tell us more about your background and journey.

I was born in a poor family in a small village called Kattoor in Trichur district of Kerala. Our house was too small and was on the banks of a river that gets flooded every year. I only had my maternal grandmother, maternal grandfather, mother and older sister. That was my small world. I think my Grandmother is the one who loved me the most in this world. She is no more.

My parents separated when I was 4. I don’t remember well about my time with my father. He was an alcoholic and he did not support us. My mother faced a lot of hardships including domestic violence.

The first time I saw someone draw was my sister. I learned the first few lessons from her. I drew a lot while I was in school and won many prizes. This encouraged me to improve myself at drawing. In school, art was the only thing that was important to me - not the studies. I quit school when I was 14 to support the family by drawing and painting advertisements.

I learnt everything myself. I didn’t have any means to afford a teacher. I just started drawing. When I saw that my drawings and paintings are coming right as I wished, it gave me a kind of ecstasy. That was my inspiration which later became my life. I started drawing everything I saw around me. I always enhanced my pictures from its real version which became my unique and signature style.

Initially, my pictures were only seen by the people in my villages and surrounding areas. But the rise of the internet changed everything. People around the world started appreciating my artwork. Some people started buying my art.

Like everyone, I too had people in my life who supported me throughout this journey. Since I didn't know much about my father (as my parents separated when I was four) but I have heard from people at my place, that my father was talented in drawing. I don’t know much about it, but I think that’s true, and maybe because of that both me and my sister got the talent in art.

My grandmother, who is no more, was that one person who always supported me. Even with the worse financial situation of my family, she always tried to fulfil all my desires. Both my grandmother and mother were very hardworking.

I still remember how happy I was when my mother bought my very first watercolour cake box when I was in 4th. My drawing notebook, pencil, and colour box were kept safely by my grandmother, in a small plastic cover. My art life grew in that small cover.

There are other people also who have influenced my life in a positive way. One among them was Vinod from Kottayam. He brought me back to life when I got slipped to the wrong track. He is a person with immense knowledge and a true love for humanity.

Another person is artist Megharaj. He gave me my first job and salary in his art shop. Understanding my situations, he helped me many times without even me asking him. His words keep me going even now. 

Once he told me, “Kanna, Liquor need not be the only thing one can get addicted to, you can get your dose of addiction through music, art, and all other art forms.” This got me very strongly, and later on, I found art as my addiction. Now I can proudly say that I am addicted to art. 

One very important personality I am always grateful to be Mr Anto Chittilappilli, whom I met through Facebook. He always loved my art and appreciated it. Without even knowing my background or seeing me in person, just from my pictures alone he tried understanding me and has helped me in every possible way. One day, he asked me what is my greatest desire, and I told him about my ambition of holding a big art exhibition and becoming a well-known artist. 

Suddenly he told me, “Kannan, you arrange for the exhibition, tell me the estimated cost, and I will help you in all possible way I can.” Hearing this, tears were running from my eyes. It felt like a dream. I see him as a person who came into my life as God and brought light to my otherwise dark life.

With some amount of the money he gave, I started a studio in Thrissur town. I will always be indebted and thankful to him for bringing a great change in my life. My goal is to become a better artist than who I am now. I think I am slowly getting there and then I want to be even better. My life is always about learning and striving for perfection.

2. When did you decide you wanted to be a painter/illustrator?

After quitting school to support my family, I used to paint on large elevated billboards by climbing very high. It was a very dangerous job. But I learned to hold the brush and learned to mix the colours. I painted numerous movie stars and made cut-outs of so many politicians during that time. The wages were not good enough.

Grandmother, mother and I had to work to make the ends meet at home. Still, I continued to do this job for so many years mainly because of the passion. Then I got married and had two children. That's when the commercial art scene encountered a huge change.

Billboards start using printed art and flex boards became very common. My job became obsolete in this new world. My income has almost become nothing. But I continued to paint out of passion. I could not go to sleep without painting one picture a day. I was addicted to art, but with no income. This has created some financial problems at home but I continued to learn something new every day.

My dream was to complete high school and go to college to study fine arts which did not happen. But I observed the paintings of great artists which became my learning. I have never tried to copy anybody’s work. I always believed in my own creativity and got inspired by great artists. I will continue this learning until I die.

When the Internet came to our small village, I tried to figure out how I can let other people know about my artwork and potentially earn a living. I opened Facebook and Instagram accounts and started posting my work. People who saw my pictures on the internet started sharing with their friends all over the world.

I got a lot of appreciation from all corners of the world and many pictures went viral. With the help of some people who liked my work, I was able to set up a website. Then some people started buying my art over the Internet. That way, I started getting some money at least for the art supplies. Most such orders came from abroad.

I also started teaching art to the students around my village. Then I started teaching at a nearby town called Thrissur. Working from home was very difficult at our very small house with very modest amenities. With some help from others, I was able to rent a place to sit and draw and teach students peacefully.

Now, with my wife and mother working and from the income from art sales and teaching, we are able to meet the daily expenses of our very modest living. Considering the growth of my artwork, I expect to have a stable income in the future and send my children to school and college where they can study what they want to study. Not to mention, both my children are good at art.

3. Is it a financially stable career?

It is a very known fact that artists do not make huge profits from what they do unless a significant sale occurs. We do it for the happiness and the satisfaction that we get from it. It is the most effective way to keep your mind young and fresh and the kind of experience that we derive from immersing in the process, is often unexplainable.

I'm a huge fan of that particular dazing experience. In reality, art is one of the most valued things in the world. And this is primarily leveraged by those creating fantastic art. The process does not always end at just creating art but also marketing them suitably.

Artists following modern art techniques have been able to profit from their art to a large extent. These paintings have a huge market among the audience, and hoarders are often ready to buy them at extravagant prices. This trend has often left me surprised. Because the pictures may often make you feel or experience nothing, and would only be known to the artist himself.

The artist then has to explain it to a third person the meaning behind his art.
Although I don't always agree with such a style of Art, there are artists who do an excellent job in the Modern art scenario - the kind that deserves to be valued and appreciated. I generally follow a path of realism and impressionism, also supported by a creative style in my paintings.

4. Who is your favourite illustrator and why?

The world has seen a lot of artists, and it is them I see as my Gurus. Their crafts have influenced me and my work so much. Thus, it would be hard for me to narrow down to a single favourite artist as its absurd to find out who is better from this plethora of talent.

Nevertheless, I am a huge fan of Western arts - their colouring and mixing techniques and the visuals that we are not very used to make it stand apart from our methods and crafts. India too has several amazing artists. I like watercolour paintings, and Millind Mullick, Bijai Biswal are a few of my favourite watercolour artists.

5. Where do you get inspired to create art?

As I mentioned earlier, observation is the most critical - the sights, experiences, nature - everything stays intact in my mind. And nowadays, we have exposure to other artists and their crafts through social media - this serves as an influence as well. This is something most great artists practice in their lifetime.  To be frank, to create good work, you need the right mind.

You need to be able to respect other artists and their crafts. There shouldn't be any room for ego or jealousy. A healthy competition will always create better work, but you shouldn't ever pose a hindrance to another artist's growth. Such people exist among us, while the truth is, they are not able to create quality content.

Colours come to beauty when they are placed in contrasts. Therefore, I focus mainly on colour combinations. A lot of colours don't necessarily bring beauty to your painting. There is an unspoken method of organization and discipline in it. I have a fixation on a few colours, and that is very evident in my paintings.

It is often easy to do a sketch; the difficult part is making it aesthetic with colours. Similarly, it is not just the colours, providing a sound foundation through the sketch is also significant. Thus, sketching and colouring go hand in hand in the success of art.

6. What does your typical day look like?

My life is almost similar every day. Remaining happy the whole day is the most important thing for me. I get more happiness when I work on my art, and hence I draw every day. A day without drawing is very rare in my life, and that may have happened only during extremely unavoidable situations.

I used to get orders for my art. Now, I am getting orders through online too. Also, I am preparing artworks for exhibitions. Hence I am completely occupied with my artworks the whole day.

7. What piece of advice would you like to give to future aspiring illustrators?

To all those who are in the beginning stage of drawing, and those who aspire to be a great artist, I would like to say that, if your dream is to become a good artist, then approach art with utmost passion and dedication, only then you would be able to succeed in this field. There are people who do art as a hobby, but if you want to make a career in art, do it with more seriousness.

Be creative and never copy art. You can always refer to works of great artists, observe them, and learn the different methods and techniques of painting. But, your art should not look like a copy of other artists’ work. We should have to bring in our own uniqueness to the art we make. There is no doubt that continuous, regular, and dedicated practices will make you an excellent artist.

8. Which is your favourite book and why?

Reading gives us a lot of knowledge. I have not read many books from prominent authors probably because most of my thoughts revolved around art only. I read a lot of books related to art. One of my most favourite books was the life biography of Raja Ravi Varma.

Interview by - Sonam

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