GUEST ARTIST: “In The Mood For Watercolor” by Mahboob Raja ‘Elham’

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor painting by Mahboob Raja ‘Elham’ - Doodlewash

I’m Mahboob Raja. ‘Elham’ is my pen name which I use in my poems as well as in signing my paintings. I was born and raised in Ranchi, but lived almost half of my life in Mumbai. I am 41 now. Art comes to me from my mother, so natural. She was very good at drawing and into calligraphy also.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor painting by Mahboob Raja ‘Elham’ - Doodlewash

I started drawing portraits and human figures in my primary school days. When still a kid, I used to draw portraits of Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan on the back pages of every one of my exercise books. In my high school I was quite famous… I was called an artist and the one who draws Amitabh Bachchan from his memory.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor painting by Mahboob Raja ‘Elham’ - DoodlewashMy family was a little conservative… nobody had ever encouraged me to go into art. They still tell that it is forbidden to draw or paint living things and I should change my profession.

So by the time I passed my 10th I had a portfolio of portraits of film actors which I used to show everyone proudly.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor painting by Mahboob Raja ‘Elham’ - DoodlewashI remember I started writing poems, Ghazal and Nazm in Urdu at that time only. At the same time, I was introduced to transparent watercolor by our art teacher Tarak Shankar Das and I had just fallen in love with it. In that period, I painted a number of portraits in watercolor.

In Mumbai, I did lots of things like writing songs and screenplays, directing shorts and feature films, storyboarding, illustrations, caricatures but never got the chance to do watercolors. I had gotten totally digitized, but deep in my soul, I was missing those stains of colors on my clothes and that deadly fragrance of turpentine. I wanted to work in traditional medium so badly.

Watercolor is always like a first love to me and while in Mumbai, working in animation or in advertising and design agencies, I did nothing but long to do watercolor. I had missed these beautiful watercolor splatters and effects so much that every time when I was making a caricature, I tried bringing that look digitally. Since it was my favorite medium and in my early days I had practiced it a lot, my mind was very much acquainted with watercolor’s behaviors, its looks and feels in details.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor painting by Mahboob Raja ‘Elham’ - Doodlewash

So I had started experimenting with all those different softwares… and with different digital brushes. I collected many brushes to paint watercolor digitally and even designed some myself. It was a success. Even today my fans and close friends get deceived with these faked watercolor caricatures. After making every caricature I have to tell them, make them confirm that this is done digitally. I think it became my signature style in caricatures lately. I have won many national and international caricature contests.

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Sharing with you some of my digital caricatures where I faked watercolor.

After this entire struggle, I found myself at more unrest. It totally failed to bring that real pleasure, that bliss or satisfaction to my heart which pure transparent watercolor on a tiny piece of paper used to give. So one fine day, I finally decided to return back to my hometown and do only watercolors.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor painting by Mahboob Raja ‘Elham’ - Doodlewash

After shifting my base here, in Ranchi, and doing watercolor, it’s like coming home in a very real sense for me. Now I feel more like me. I feel very much alive after two decades of being dead.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Robert De Niro - Watercolor painting by Mahboob Raja ‘Elham’ - DoodlewashSame as everybody, I also believe that watercolor is a delicate and very impulsive medium just like a playful, careless and a stubborn girlfriend (beloved). It demands patience, constant attention and continued practice. You will have to date every single day or else it will get offended.

So after a long separation, this is like a new beginning. I am trying to study watercolor again, very seriously.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor painting by Mahboob Raja ‘Elham’ - DoodlewashLife is not like what it used to be when I was doing watercolor twenty years before. I am married now and have two kids so I keep doing freelance caricatures and animatic works in between. I never forget my responsibilities.

I’ve a very simple formula which I had borrowed from Vincent Van Gogh in my student life.

“Not a day without a line!”

Since I am in the mood for watercolor at present, I have altered this quote a little…

“Not a day without a watercolor!

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor painting by Mahboob Raja ‘Elham’ - Doodlewash

I like landscape painting but, to be honest, I fear it. Though in the past I had done so many landscapes, this is not the thing I feel very much passion for. From my childhood hours, I am more attracted towards people, characters with stories, interesting gestures and postures, beautiful pauses and actions. I love expressions, innocence, different fascinating faces. I study people and their faces.

I don’t have any particular way or method of doing watercolor. According to my subjects I approach afresh every time I start it.

Earlier, I used to go out for a lot for plein air painting and I loved that. It used to be real fun and I must say plein air painting always gives a great learning experience. I’m planning to start it and will definitely go for it again soon.

These days, I generally work in my studio, from reference photos. I get requests from people around the world to make their portraits. Girls offer to become my models often. Sometimes, I charge my remuneration but many times, they inspire me to paint and I ask them to be my models. Sometimes, I ask people on Instagram if I can use their photos.

I collect photos. I have my own library of reference photos. I click, take pictures with my mobile camera whenever I travel or visit someone.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor painting by Mahboob Raja ‘Elham’ - DoodlewashI have always used local materials, local handmade or cartridge paper, Camel Artist’s Watercolors and some natural hair round and flat brushes. But, recently I got Mijello Mission Gold pure pigment watercolor tubes and Art Secret 20RQ handmade mop and Mont Marte goat hake brushes from an International watercolor festival that I attended.

#WorldWatercolorGroup - Watercolor painting by Mahboob Raja ‘Elham’ - DoodlewashI also got some Chinese calligraphy brushes. I loved all these brushes. I am enjoying working with different watercolors, but didn’t find a major difference in colors except some reds. Our local brand Camel is simply great. There is a huge difference in price as well. Mission Gold is way too expensive.

For watercolor, I think paper is very important. One should spend some money in buying good quality papers. Sometimes, I use Fabriano paper and it is really great.

I’ve been using my newly acquired watercolor supplies and I love the results. I’m enjoying it!

“Not a day without a watercolor!

Mahboob Raja ‘Elham’
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Creator of Doodlewash® and founder of World Watercolor Month™ (July) and World Watercolor Group™. Sharing daily watercolor illustrations and stories while proudly featuring talented artists from all over the world! If you’d like to be a guest artist on Doodlewash.com, contact me!

18 Comments
  1. Rod Fletcher 9 months ago

    You have a fascinating story and your aptitude with figures is clearly evident

  2. Mary Roff 9 months ago

    Your portraits are beautiful and your digital caricatures are just incredible! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Sandra Strait 9 months ago

    Mahboob, your art is amazing. You have such a command of color and soft and hard edges. Thank you for sharing your artistic journey with us.

  4. Jean Marmo 9 months ago

    Very moving pieces! Thank you for the inspiration!

  5. Chris Alves 9 months ago

    Simply beautiful Mahboob and I love the fact you use lots of colour.

  6. Sharon Bonin-Pratt 9 months ago

    Mahboob, I’m mesmerized by your extraordinary talent. Your portraits are outstanding – I feel like I’m standing next to these people. You have such skill in an area many people fear to even try. What an interesting art journey you’ve traveled – your inner being demanding to be released in watercolor.

  7. Sharon Nolfi 9 months ago

    Your watercolor portraits are excellent. I hope you continue in this medium.

  8. Lori Franks 9 months ago

    I enjoyed reading about your life and watercolor journey! Your portraits are incredible!

  9. Jennifer McLean 9 months ago

    you do incredible portraiture. Thank you for sharing.

  10. ann christina 9 months ago

    Gorgeous paintings! So much talent!

  11. Jill Gustavis 9 months ago

    Beautiful! You have a wonderful way with color to bring lots of life to your paintings!

  12. M. Caulder 9 months ago

    You really capture the movement and the personalities of your subjects. Very nice, and what a perfect motto for Doodlewash–“Not a day without watercolors!” Thank you for sharing!

  13. Janneke Booister 9 months ago

    Thank you, your art and your story are inspiring! I hope to see many more of those portraits (I remember many of the ones you show here from fb)

  14. Thomas Blanchard 9 months ago

    Beautiful work

  15. Pamela Smith 9 months ago

    Your work is amazing and the caricatures are incredible..I am happy that you are able to now work with your love of watercolor and truly appreciate your sharing your story.

  16. Mark Hodgson 8 months ago

    Your work is beautiful… very impressive..

  17. Meenakshi 3 months ago

    Your art has left me speechless! It is awe inspiring. I feel like running away with it. Iys so, so beautiful.

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