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Art director and freelance illustrator, Suhita Shirodkar deftly captures scenes from her travels across the globe. She tells Destin Tay how her hand-drawn illustrations evoke nostalgia.
Suhita Shirodkar, art director and illustrator
In an increasingly digital world, travellers capture their memories through selfies and Instagram posts. As an avid illustrator, Suhita Shirodkar prefers to sketch what she sees and experiences. “To draw by hand is to slow down, look carefully and take your time. You may not see as much, but what you see, you see and remember deeply,” she says.
A senior designer of Articulate Solutions, a marketing and branding firm based in San Jose, California, Shirodkar runs her own design company and also teaches urban sketching and drawing at Urban Sketchers Symposium, an international organisation that acts as a community for all sketchers.
Your sketches include tranquil landscapes, bustling city life and everything in between. What inspires you more: buildings, people or nature? My favourite inspirations are urban scenes that are full of energy. Capturing movement in a still image is difficult, but the juxtaposition intrigues me. Busy, bustling cities are what I like to sketch most. They remind me of my childhood in Mumbai and how there was always something happening in the streets, unlike the quiet suburbs of San Jose, where I am currently based.
Is there a country that makes you think, “I have to come back and sketch this again”?
Oaxaca, Mexico. It was the first Mexican city I’ve visited and I really enjoy the vibrant streetlife. Oaxaca is still generally untouched by heavy tourism, and retains a lot of its indigenous culture; many buildings are painted in vivid red, pink, emerald and turquoise. Once again it harkens back to the surroundings of my childhood in Mumbai, a colourful city. Also, the fact that it’s only a five-hour flight from San Jose makes it so easy to visit.
What restaurants have you sketched? Café Mondegar in Mumbai. It’s an Irani style café, a rapidly disappearing style of establishment. This one contains beautiful murals on its walls by famous Indian artist Mario de Miranda. They serve unique creations that can only come from India and its natives, such as a deepfried cheese toast filled to the brim with freshly cut green chillies.
Café de Tacuba in Mexico City is another. It’s incredibly popular with tourists, and it owes that to its ambience. It’s a throwback to the past, with ornate decorations, waitstaff in starched whites delivering old-school hospitality, and a roving mariachi band. Combine that with simple classics, such as enchilades con salsa verde and fresh, warm tortillas, and it forms a true Mexican experience. The movement and energy of the place just keeps me coming back.
You recently travelled to Spain and Portugal. What were the highlights?
It’s often difficult to see past the flashiness of more travelled cities like Barcelona, where the loud, unique architecture of Antoni Gaudi takes centre stage. I much prefer Sevilla’s varied influences; the Giralda was once a minaret for the Great Mosque of Seville before becoming a bell tower for a Catholic cathedral; the mixture of Moorish and Christian architecture and tile-work made for better sketching. Portugal is always special, as my family moved to Goa after my childhood in Bombay. As a former Portuguese colony, I love how Goa shares similarities to Lisbon. It feels like home, as Goan culture is based on their colonial past, and you can see that in their food and hospitality.
You did a lovely sketch of the Ghats in Varanasi. What are the best ways to enjoy this historic locale?
I’m not religious in the slightest, but Varanasi calls to me. It has to do with the spirit of the place, which connects to everyone in a very personal manner. There’s something for everyone, if you give it time to reach out to you. There’s nothing like a morning sketch by the river at Lalita Ghat as sadhus go about their rites, or sipping a chai as the city lives and breathes around you. Do check out Dashashwamedh Ghat for the daily gaanga aarti (ritual of prayer to the Ganges river) at dusk. It is truly a sight to behold.
Tell us about your trip to Yosemite.
Being just a four-hour drive away from San Jose, Yosemite is one of my most travelled locations. It’s filled with naturalistic wonders, from the majestic Half Dome to the wide array of waterfalls during the right season. I recently spent time in Curry Camp, now called Half Dome Village, which was one of the first to offer cheap accommodation to tourists in the early 1900s. It’s fascinating to see the rich cultural history, considering that America is relatively young compared to the ancient and extensive history of India.
In this digital age, what does hand illustration mean to you?
There’s nothing quite like holding something in your hands and knowing that someone made this. Especially when so much can be done digitally, people really miss the idea of something being hand done and imperfect. It adds a necessary human element that helps people connect. I don’t think digital art and illustration will ever fully replace hand-drawn pieces. They’ll merely serve as contrasts, precise and perfect against nostalgia and emotion.
Spanish Market, Sevilla
Indian Fisherwoman, Bombay
Suhita Shirodkar sketching with her son while on holiday in Mexico