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Green Thumbs & Game Plans – Priyanka Shah

Design Log 01 Sep

Hear designer & artist, Priyanka Shah fondly share about her new born baby - a unique pet project called ‘100 Days of Fantasy Botanicals’ made of obscure, interesting-looking flora, fauna and stories.

  • Flower And Pods

'Flower And Pods' - A collage using pods and flowers found on the street 

“There was a rose stem and a frangipani flower lying on the table. I took a thread, tied them together. It made for an unexpectedly interesting image. I clicked it. And that’s that!  I loved how such simple elements made for such a striking visual and I wanted to see more. Create more. Coincidentally, Elle Luna’s  ‘100 days project’ was starting that day itself. So, I posted that first frangipani picture almost on an impulse, tagged it #100daysoffantasybotanicals & before I knew it-  I had this wonderful project at hand.” - That is how 100 Days of Fantasy Botanicals started.

When asked why she found the need to start this kind of a project, she said, “Other than using the #100days project as an opportunity to take a subject, delve deep, & explore it fully - I had no real plan. No referencing was done. In fact, I don’t think there is any reference all together on this subject. The interesting thing, though, is that everywhere I look, I see possibilities. So even though there wasn’t a ‘plan’, I never struggled for one because it’s the simplest thing - plants! And they’re all around us!”

One thinks, where has it really come from? What has she looked at before starting this project? “Well, I got it from my mamma! Mum loves her plants. Her garden has taken over the balcony, the terrace, the compound & literally, our lives! Everyday she would fondly show the tiny advancements in her plants and I slowly learnt to appreciate the process.”

  • Process A
  • Process B

Process of shooting '100 Days of Fantasy Botanicals' using vegetables

The various forms and designs existing in nature, caught her fancy. She made a pinterest board on botanical illustrations and began studying them, tracing them. It was the details, the textures, the filaments, the buds, the fruiting capsules that she enjoyed recreating and appreciating.

Collecting was the other important aspect of this project. “I’d be running in the park; happen to see a perfectly golden brown leaf and that’d be my find! I’d stamp my leaf with the date and keep them pressed between pages of books. Slowly it wasn’t just leaves; flowers, twigs, branches, anything! I’ve been collecting over my travels across the continents;  gradually my friends, family, tour guides- everyone started collecting “interesting looking leaves and flowers” for me too!”

Her floral library is forever flourishing! She was always a hoarder but this, by far, is her most fascinating collection.

Her process is pretty straightforward. “I collect, I create and shoot it - usually against a coloured paper.  I prefer shooting in the day, making the most of natural light. All the pictures so far are shot and colour corrected on my iPhone. There’s no photoshop involved.”

The beauty and the madness of this process is that the magic has to happen on the spot; depending on where she is and the elements at hand. “There was this one day when I was painting a mural. It was almost sunset and I had to create something instantly. I stepped out, spotted a leaf and held it against the mural. And there I had this idea - “What if plants could camouflage?” I painted the leaf. Stuck it on the wall. Snapped it on my phone and voila!”

  • Sevanti C
  • Sevanti D
  • Dry Rose A
  • Dry Rose E

(Top) Sevanti (Bottom) Dry Rose

This project for Priyanka, is a huge evolution of sorts. In terms of art direction, photography, sensitivity and aesthetics, she thinks. “Pop art and minimalism have always been my source of inspiration. I look at everything through a graphic lens and that has translated to my compositions. Keeping it simple and only playing with light helps to present the plant in all its glory. Colour is a very important ingredient as it sets the mood and style.”

She follows the works of Irving Penn, Camila Falquez, Guy Bourdin, to list a few and couldn’t wait to make her own. Fantasy Botanicals has been a great subject to explore in that sense.

“There are quite a few things I’ve learnt during this project. I like to plan and think through everything I do, so it is very nerve wrecking when I wake up every morning, not knowing what I will make today. But I have slowly started enjoying the element of surprise and uncertainty. Just following the gut has worked for me and now I try to apply this to my everyday life,” she adds.

When asked about her favourite piece of work from the project, she says, “I was sitting with a leaf in my hand, wondering what to make of it and just then someone happened to break a glass. I had a ‘what if’ moment. Nature is a bottomless resource of inspiration for art and design. But! What if it was the other way around? What if nature was inspired by art movements, characteristics of man-made objects, and more. And that was the inception of the broken series. Did it with a leaf, a flower and then took a step further and went on to create a larger composition.”

Broken Series 3, Kantola & Losing Colour, from ‘100 Days of Fantasy Botanicals’

On how important she thinks these side projects are, and what they do to you and your portfolio, she shares, “However hectic my day job may get, I like to have active side projects. There is no brief or feedback to follow. There is complete freedom to experiment and do whatever you like. In such situations, you let go of your inhibitions and fears and the results may surprise you. You end up exploring new techniques or learn a thing or two about yourself which can eventually help you in your commercial projects as well.”

About the intention / future of the project - Is it going to become a book, is it going to become a show / exhibit? What’s next? - She shares, “Along the way, I’d love to collaborate with people from different disciplines of design, photographers, architects,  food bloggers, brands and so on to add more meaning to this project and create a diverse variety of content. So far, every piece I’ve created, has been relatively small, however, I do see this project scaling up.”

When she’s done with 100, she hopes to put up a show, where people don’t just view a plant on the black mirror, but can actually walk through, touch and physically experience this fantasy world that she is building.

  • Caterpillar C
  • Caterpillar A

Caterpillar: What if caterpillars formed fun patterns on leaves? This caterpillar was particularly inspired by Yayoi Kusuma.

You can follow Priyanka Shah's ‘100 Days of Fantasy Botanicals’ on Instagram, here.

Design Log is a weekly design document logging every relevant art and design occurrence in India. 

Image source: Priyanka Shah