San Ramon Community Center displays
amazing colored pencil works
By Lou Fancher
Like overwhelming thirst, colored pencil artist Ranjini Venkatachari's passion for her art form is unquenchable.
The Santa Clara-based artist's vibrant, precise works trace their lineage from Bay Area galleries to a small apartment in Seattle to her birthplace in Chennai, India. An exhibit shared with Al Alvarado at the Lindsay Dirkx Brown Gallery in the San Ramon Community Center through Sept. 29 displays 15 pieces selected from her traditional portfolio and a contemporary origami series.
Venkatachari's deft hand with colored pencil has received attention from the International guild of Realism, Women Painters of Washington and the Colored Pencil Society of America. Her works have been published in American Artist, International Artist, American Art Collector and Southwest arts magazines. In the Bay Area, collectors find her art at the Triton Museum Store in San Jose and Blackhawk Galleries in Danville.
The 33-year-old artist came to the United States in 2003. Newly married to a man she'd known as a family friend since childhood, she encountered an entire new world. "It was my first time out of India," she recalls. "I knew only that my husband was sweet. I wasn't working and wanted to do art."
Consumed with the desire to draw and paint as long as she can remember, Venkatachari yearned to resume a practice that in 21st century India no longer holds the precious status of the past. "I always drew. My mom says I'd fill books with circles. Give me a pencil and a book, put me in a corner, I'm happy for hours."
Despite India's mesmerizing festivals during which people decorate their houses with rice powder, or the bright colors and designs that prevail in public spaces or a history including a time when kings ruled and artists were revered like gods before British rule, Venkatachari says that, "Post-independence, things changed. Education took the lead: science and technology became primary."
Even in pockets of the culture where art flourished, she says parents frowned on art as a profession. Becoming a doctor or engineer so dominated India's society that few colleges offered fine arts degrees.
"After eighth grade, we didn't even have art. Prior to that, it was 45 minutes once a week and no composition, art history or technique. Our art teacher just did a drawing, and we were supposed to copy it."
Improbably, Venkatachari persisted and learned to tune out the negative messages.
"In India if you are young or a woman, you're not looked upon in the same way as a male (artist). Here, when I joined arts groups, the first thing I noticed is that people respected you for your work."
A great deal of encouragement came after Venkatachari decided she didn't want the fumes and mess of oil paints and pastels in her tiny Seattle apartment. Searching the Internet for options, she "stumbled upon CPSA (Colored Pencil Society of America) and was blown away." The rich, saturated colors she saw compelled her to buy a 48-colored-pencil set. "From there, I was going," she says.
Now a CPSA lifetime member, five-year merit award winner and exhibitions director of the group's national board, Venkatachari has refined her technique. She applies Neocolor II water-soluble wax crayons on a textured hardboard surface to build a base for meticulous strokes rendered with lightfast professional-grade pencils. Blended with a stiff bristle brush or heat, a water stage is the most improvisational step in the process.
"Surprises happen. The color mixes unexpectedly and changes the whole outlook," she says. "The final piece is always different from the reference photo."
The luminescent results -- more like a fine art oil painting than colored pencils would suggest -- are evident in the glowing fruit in "Asian Pears" or the subtle sheen cast by casually folded cloth and two cups in "Golden Chalices." The origami series is more whimsical and decorative, with bold patterns serving as backgrounds for cranes, butterflies and other origami models that Venkatachari folds.
Classes she teaches in an after-school program at Genius Kids in San Ramon leave her impressed with arts education in the area.
"Students show me work they do in school. They learn about great masters like Van Gogh. I have fourth-graders who copy Michelangelo's technique in their portraits."
Working with adults, Venkatachari teaches basic drawing, a course concentrated on her colored pencil technique, and an advanced course that applies her technique to alternative surfaces.