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.
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.
So by the time I passed my 10th I had a portfolio of portraits of film actors which I used to show everyone proudly.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
Same 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.
Life 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!
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.
I 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.
I 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.
I’ve been using my newly acquired watercolor supplies and I love the results. I’m enjoying it!
“Not a day without a watercolor!