Drawings of Water:
Surface, Depth, Colour,
and Plumbing

Veda Thozhur Kolleri

This engagement with water, ink, and colour began during the monsoon in Kerala this year, which has continued for seven months now. Pattiam, a village in the district of Kannur, is part of the Malabar region in the state of Kerala, which is known for its characteristically wet monsoons. Other regions in the state are periodically inundated and some experience landslides every year. In spite of the relentless rain, Pattiam does not usually flood, owing to its undulating terrain.

This text will touch upon encounters with water through ink drawings and water colours of the landscape in Pattiam, where I currently live.

Rainfall since the 25th of April. Nothing dries. The computer crashes, short circuiting from the moisture in the air, twice, the second time unfixable. Camera buttons jam from rust. A long, relentless monsoon; harsh on the electronics. Living indoors, and still uninsulated from the weather. The humidity affects everything: cardboard goes limp; paper softens; wood splits. Things used regularly, however, do alright, like the phone or shoes.

Thinking through drawing and the climate, with electronics rendered obsolete.

Wanted to work with watercolour pencils. After a few weeks of use, the wood starts to crack; fungus grows on colours that aren’t used as much; the sharpening blade rusts; doesn't shave the wood, but makes it crumble instead. The lead softens, the tip becomes blunt from the pressure of a single stroke or a line, losing precision with a tool that would have otherwise offered it. 

fig. 1fig. 1 fig. 2fig. 2

An entirely water-based medium does better in these climatic and living conditions, especially when the colour is allowed to spread. There’s less resistance, some control, and a lot of affect.

The കുളം (kulam in Malayalam) is a traditional community pool in the village which is naturally replenished with groundwater and rainfall. Its location and construction is based on the elevation of the land and the earth is dug deep enough to hit groundwater at roughly thirteen feet.

Attempting to draw it with black ink on paper - monochrome, to focus on form, without being overwhelmed by colour. The interest is in representing water and understanding, through drawing, what makes it visible.

In this instance, the water is contained within the cuboidal form of the pool’s volume; what one sees is only its surface. (Surface as image.) An amoeboid shape of darkness, slightly off centre and empty of algae, offers a sense of its depth. The lighter tones on the surface represent reflections of the foliage around it. When it rains, this surface is disrupted by falling raindrops. The varying points of contact between each drop and the surface make it uneven, and hence incapable of reflecting anything. In losing its translucency, an otherwise still, flattened surface appears as darkness (or depth). Unexpectedly, the raindrops do not disturb the algal patterns, thickened from disuse, and further nourished by the stillness of the water.

A wash of water on paper with a flat brush, to render the water as water (fig. 3):

fig. 3fig. 3

— too wet; no way to control straight lines that represent the laterite walls that hold the pool. 

fig. 4fig. 4

A perspectival square wash, covering the area occupied by just water (fig. 4). 

A square, in perspective, with an opening to step down and into the pool. The plants beneath the water, a luminous green, reach its surface. The ink diffusing on the surface of the wash does not allow for enough detail to represent the plants.

The water itself, in merely taking on the shape of what contains it, is not what gives the image its meaning. In this instance, the water is: surface, reflections on empty parts of a surface, and a spread of algae whose edges are marked by the angles of the pool’s laterite walls.

fig. 5fig. 5

Representing water in a water-based medium helps encode it into the language of the composition.

Rainfall wets the drawings, the greys seep into the white. When it rains, the surface of the pool is dark, without reflections, like a dilated pupil in the daytime: it looks wrong; like something is missing.

When it isn’t raining, the surface is unmoving, as is the algae, which maintains its rigidity. It may as well be a photograph, without the changing light from the passing clouds or the setting sun. (Movement is caught in a drawing that is layered and therefore durational.)

fig. 6fig. 6

Drawing from a photograph is a drawing of the photograph. Without the possibility of touching what is being drawn, without the material-wetness, it is an image of the two-dimensional image. This defeats the initial exercise: to draw water/represent it within its context.

The water is too far away in its cylindrical depth and volume (it cannot be felt or touched). One could lower a bucket into the well to get to the water, but it then becomes water in a bucket, having nothing to do with the well, even as an image ︎︎︎ there is more concern for water in a well than in a bucket (too banal).

fig. 7fig. 7

The surface of the water, too deep for the wind, moves when the motorised pump draws water out of the well into the overhead tank, or when leaves fall into it; these are difficult to draw unless the hand moves as fast as the ripples widen.

The image is resolved by assuming that it is static. It is (from memory) a crescent moon of darkness encircling a semi-circle of light, with the foliage overhead and the well’s mesh visible against the reflection of the sky; the vantage point, if one were in the well attempting to look up towards the sky.

fig. 8fig. 8

The resulting drawing is of its depth; the inability to touch water, a quick and weak image of the well’s wall, the sky, the mesh, and foliage on a reflective surface, with a hint of pipes and plumbing —> not water, really, but a negative image.

The forest appears somewhere between blue and green (cerulean and viridian) in the rain. It is the colour of water on the leaves and the merging of everything by virtue of being acted upon by the same force.

fig. 9fig. 9

There is a distance (safety) from the rain in shelter, one that is bridged by these gestures in paint, led by the desire to record what it does to the landscape. These images are produced quickly, in trying to keep up with the rhythm and intensity of the rain. 

fig. 10fig. 10 fig. 11fig. 11

The paper needs to resist the wetness, rather than absorb it fully, in order to retain the image on its surface.

It isn’t so much an attention to representing water, but more an attention to wetness and the now merging landscape. The resulting images are present, live, and do not necessarily outlive the moments in which they were made, beyond the fact that they are a record of the gestures that try to grasp the event of heavy, relentless rain. Owing to the expanse and thickness of the foliage, the approaching rain can be heard six minutes before it actually arrives — like the sound of the sea from a distance, with the same sense of vastness.

A drawing of bamboo, accidentally left out in the rain (fig. 12). The initial image is washed away, but the raindrops leave their traces on the ink.

fig. 12fig. 12

Another drawing, this time deliberately left out (fig. 13). With the first layer of ink having been completely washed away, a second layer of ink, once again washed away, helps create the image.

fig. 13fig. 13

This image is layered by three thunderstorms, a few days apart. The third, which was not as heavy as the second, causes the ink to spread inward, towards the centre, from the edges of the paper that absorb the rain/water.

The exercise of representation gives way to sensation - a desire for proximity in distance and distance in proximity, through several thunderstorms and the mediating water.

Editing: Kali Thaker

VOILÀ ist ein Kooperationsprojekt von MM, M und der Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken. Das Projekt wird gefördert von der Stiftung Kunstfonds (NEUSTART KULTUR, Projektförderung für kunstvermittelnde Akteur*innen) und Saarland-Sporttoto GmbH.

VOILÀ is a collabarotive project by MM, M and the Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken. The project is funded by the Stiftung Kunstfond (NEUSTART KULTUR, project funding for art-mediating actors) and Saarland-Sporttoto GmbH. 
VOILÀ est un projet de coopération entre MM, M et la Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken. Le projet est soutenu par la fondation Stiftung Kunstfonds (NEUSTART KULTUR, Projektförderung für kunstvermittelnde Akteur*innen) et Saarland-Sporttoto GmbH.