John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans”. The moments pass you by and before you know it, you’re lost in the floods of time. It’s easy to get lost when you’re looking at the big picture and not noticing the little details in it. The little things are important, because if it weren’t for them, there wouldn’t be a picture at all. Kailash Babu (@bk_pencil_sculptures) is one of those people who appreciate beauty in the little things. His appreciation of the things that people normally ignore is what lead him to making pencil sculptures.
“My father was an artist himself, he used to make small figurines of Lord Ganesha using m-seal” He tells me proudly that both of his parent’s fully supported his art. Though he is known for his intricate sculptures, Kailash began his artistic career as a photographer. At the beginning he was interested in macro photography, which is a form of photography where the subject is photographed using extreme close up shots. “I began by using the camera on my brother’s Sony Ericsson. Then I got my first camera in my first year of college” He also tells me that he briefly dabbled with the idea of wildlife photography.
Kailash is quite the entomophile and his love for insects also fuelled his love for macro photography. He even grew insects, and he tells me that he used to grow spiders and feed them ants. He also tells me that he has photographed over a hundred species of spiders. Kailash was interested in the day to day life of these arachnids and used to spend a lot of time watching them go about their lives. “In a way, Spiders are a big inspiration for me” He proceeds to tell me about a jumping spider which effortlessly carries a lot of tiny, baby spiders on its back. He admires their focus and concentration and always tries to channel that while sculpting.
Then in 2012, he came while scrolling through his brother’s facebook feed, he came across a sculpture by the Brazillian pencil sculptor, Dalton M. Ghetti. Ghetti is a carpenter who later turned into a pencil sculptor. And in 2011 he finished a pencil sculpture which was in memory of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The work consisted of 3,000 teardrops coming together to form a single teardrop. Ghetti began this in 2001 and he finished it ten years later. “When I started sculpting, I used to gaze and admire his craftsmanship for hours on end” he tells me. After seeing Ghetti’s 9/11 memorial Kailash wanted to create something similar.
“In the beginning I used blades from pencil sharpeners, shaving razors. I’d break them apart and take the blades.” Kailash says that he also used needles in a similar fashion. He began with the alphabets, especially the letter ‘p’. This also turned out to be the first letter of the word ‘pencil’. “After that I wanted to do a whole series of sculptures based on the alphabets. That took me about two years”
After that he began replicating the works of sculptors like the aforementioned Ghetti and another Russian pencil sculptor named Salavat Fidai. Then he began posting his sculptures on instagram where he received an overwhelming positive response. Then he had an epiphany, “All this time, I’ve only been replicating. I realized that I wanted to make something that would change people’s perspectives, especially on menstruation” This stemmed from an experience he had in his childhood. He tells me that his family made his mother sit outside the house while she was menstruating, “when I approached her, my grandmother told me that she shouldn’t be touched.” This got him thinking about why things are this way. So in order to normalize such a taboo topic, he made a pencil sculpture of a bloodstained sanitary napkin on a white pencil. Apart from this he has also made pencil sculptures that create awareness about the sexual harassment of women. All of these have been exhibited at the Lalit Kala Academy.
Kailash wanted to use his pencil sculptures to create awareness on a variety of issues ranging from menstruation to deforestation. The careless treatment of the elderly, water conservation, and wildlife conservation are other issues that he sheds light on.
Apart from photography and pencil sculptures, Kailash also creates miniature sets and dioramas. He has been doing this since 2017. He informs me that they are commonly used in films and Web series. While creating these sets, he likes the challenge of finding the right materials. He also tries to give a realistic look for all the sets he creates, because in the case of miniature sets, beauty lies in the degree of realism. He has a liking for dilapidated structures and he tells me that he is very proud of a miniature motor room that he has made.
Coming back to Pencil sculptures, Kailash tells me that it has taught him to accept failures as a part of life. “Working with pencils, I’ve learnt that they break easily. Even a slightly heavy exhale of breath can undo hours, even weeks worth of work. And when they break, you have to start again from scratch.” For him practicing sculpture has helped him cultivate patience, perseverance and stability, not only of the hand, but also of the mind.
He tries to convey this to his students at his workshops. He tells me that he begins with the basics, namely the letters in the English alphabet, and carving a name either horizontally or vertically. So why alphabets? “Alphabets introduce you to all kinds of shapes, and it develops your sense of perspective, which is needed when making 3D sculptures.” For amateur sculptors he tells them to focus on sketching and modeling. “Sketching helps you to create references for the things you have in your mind, in a way it helps you think in 3D” Another thing that Kailash advocates is the vigorous practice of the alphabet. “People who perfect the alphabet, will find making sculptures much easier” he adds. Though the workshop happens only for a day he says that he provides guidance for his students whenever needed. As of now Kailash has conducted workshops in Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kolkata.
Kailash tells me that he chooses pencils based on his subject. For instance, when he made a stone balancing sculpture he went with a hard pencil that breaks less easily. Normally, he prefers to use soft pencils. He has also worked wonders with the lead that we use for mechanical pencils. Kailash has sculpted a chair out of 0.5mm pencil lead and a heart with a hole out of 0.7mm pencil lead.
He tells me that he goes into a different state of mind when he sculpts. “When I’m sculpting almost every thought I have seems trivial” He says that spends around six hours a day on his craft. He tells me that he used to work for twelve hours a day and once he virtually spent two days on a pencil sculpture. With focus and willpower like his, it isn’t hard to see how Kailash has reached where he is right now. And where will that take him? That remains to be seen.