A good portrait is not just a visual representation of a person or an element of nature, but also reveals the very essence. My quest for this ‘essence’ draws me to nature. As an artist, it is what I strive to capture in my paintings. For long, seeds and seedpods have fascinated me. They are much more than their intriguing shapes or forms; they are little packets of life! They hold the power to support and transform life on this planet. As an exercise to immerse myself in the world of seeds and portray their unique personas through art, I set off on a personal mission – 100 days, 100 seeds.
Seedpods are as unique as the trees that bear them. Some are woody and strong, while others are delicate and fragile. Some are rough and hard, while others are smooth, soft and light. They often go unnoticed when compared to the earlier stages, as a flower or fruit, which are more colourful and attractive. Seedpods have highly individualistic adaptations to enable effective seed dispersal. Each shape and form is designed to function in a particular way. It is this diversity that intrigued me to take up seeds and seedpods as subjects.
I had been collecting fallen seeds as souvenirs from around Bangalore. Slowly, seeds I found in places I travelled to made their way into my collection. Soon enough, I discovered the joy of painting seeds. Painting in nature helps to observe with a keen eye and I tend to see a lot more when I sketch or paint. The entire process helps me connect deeply to what I choose to paint, and it becomes a part of my memory with a deep sense of knowing.
The ‘slowing down’ that happened during the pandemic worked differently for me. The longing to paint seeds as a series came true and I challenged myself to paint every day. A new seed each day, for the next 100 days! It seemed like a huge commitment, but I was determined. Many seed forms filled up the pages of my sketchbook. Painting outdoors has many pleasurable benefits that I cherish. However, the seeds I had collected helped me stay connected with nature even when I was cocooned indoors.
On day 100, when I looked back, I was amazed with the body of work I had built, along with the playful experiments with watercolour and the new insights I garnered about plants and trees. I used to have just enough time to start a painting and end it within four to five hours before it got dark because natural daylight is the best source for painting highlights and shadows. I didn’t have the time to make any preliminary sketches or doodles, so I had to decide the composition on the spot, while setting up the seeds on the table. On cloudy days I would get hazy shadows and subdued highlights and when the sunlight was bright, I would get clear shadows. Every day brought up a new seed and a new challenge and ended with an enriching experience. I am humbled by the kind of diversity of species around us, even though we live in a concrete city. Nature never ceases to inspire; all we need to do is to look around and take notice.
Pride of India (Lagerstroemia speciosa)
Once the pretty blooms of the Pride of India tree fall, the enclosed pale green fruits become visible. The seedpods have thin winged seeds compactly packed inside. The dried clusters of seedpods look like brown flowers arranged in beautiful formations. They transform into woody flower-like structures when they open up to release the seeds.
Red Cassia (Cassia roxburghii)
I noticed the seedpods of the Red Cassia along with the pink blooms on a tree during mid-August. The seeds inside the hard, yet brittle casing made a rattling sound. I was curious to take a peek inside and when I broke the pod open, I got to see them in clusters, with an interesting arrangement, which is characteristic of the species.
Camel Foot Tree (Bauhinia purpurea)
A beautiful avenue tree with purple flowers, the Bauhinia purpurea is native to India. The seedpods are flat and long, with small seeds placed at equal intervals. It is interesting how the flat seedpods turn into hard twirls once they open up and go dry. The twisted pods remind me of satin ribbons used for wrapping gifts.
Wild Almond (Sterculia foetida)
Wild Almond fruits are red in colour and generally found in a cluster of four. They turn into pods that are hard shells which open up into many interesting shapes. It is hard to stop sketching when the same form of an object looks different from various angles, so I drew the three seedpods I had several times by changing their angles.
Shisham (Dalbergia sissoo)
A common avenue tree, the Shisham is popular for the use of its timber. The light green fruits glow like fluorescent LED lights while the rest of the tree is covered in dark green, highlighting the colour of the fruits. I tend to see everything in terms of colours and what added to the beauty of the tree was the presence of light pale browns and rusty and fresh burnt siennas. The different stages of the fresh fruits and dried up seedpods set the stage for painting that day.
Canarywood Tree (Centrolobium microchaete)
In mid-February, I came upon a leafless Canarywood tree with only dry seedpods – many on the tree and some on the ground below. The seeds are six to eight inches long with a spiky concealed pod that could give a painful prick if handled casually. The winged part is brittle and cracks easily. Native to South America, the seed of this tree is a bizarre beauty, a wing with a spiky blob!
Bottle Brush Tree (Callistemon)
The arrangement of flowers in Bottle Brush trees is distinctive – they grow in swirling patterns around stalks. Each flower turns into a fruit which then turns into a seedpod. The pods were closed when I found this stalk, and a few days later, when I decided to paint it, I could see coarse powdery substances fall from the stalk. They turned out to be the seeds, and I think it would take just a breeze to carry these tiny seeds out in the air to get dispersed.
Gulmohur (Delonix regia)
Gulmohur trees open up a bundle of memories for me. As kids, we used the long seedpods as swords during play-fighting. The sepals of the flowers were used as monster nails and the pollens came in handy for pollen fights, called koli jagala in Kannada. When the seedpod is opened up, one can see how each slot is occupied by a seed, making it such a perfect design!
Champaca (Magnolia champaca)
The Champaca is a very common household tree in Bangalore. The bright vermilion seeds are captivating and I collected some fresh seedpods in mid-August to paint. Unlike the seeds which have harder pods, Champaca fruits don’t live long, so I had to hurry up and finish painting because they were disintegrating fast.
Castor (Ricinus communis)
Every other empty plot of land in Bangalore is home to plenty of Castor plants. These weeds have spiky green fruits which dry up and sport alternate dark and light brown seedpods. Each section of the pod splits open to shoot out the seed. On a warm sunny day I got to witness the pods bursting open to shoot out the seeds; the entire action was over in a matter of few seconds.
African Tulip Tree (Spathodea campanulata)
The seeds of the African Tulip tree are arranged in rows in woody pods, under a flexible cover which is on the top. The winged seeds are found all over the place when they open up, taken far away by the wind. As kids we used the pods as boats and loved to squirt the water from the buds of the flowers .
Pongam (Millettia pinnata)
It is a pleasant experience to be in the shade of a Pongam tree. The seedpods are hard to miss; they are green as fruits and then turn into pale yellow ochre pods. The wrinkled seeds are well encased within the hard shell of these mango shaped pods.