Behind The 'Chai Botanical' Scarf
Although the 'Chai Botanical' scarf ended up becoming a celebration of chai tea, it started out as a celebration of Indian miniature painting. Specifically, I love the way that trees are rendered in these meticulous, pattern-filled works—the abstraction is genius. My original idea was to fill an entire scarf with just trees painted in this style.
However, I also fell in love with the exquisite botanical art of the Mughal period. I decided a botanical composition would be the centerpiece while the trees would make up a significant border—which is arguably the more important design area on a scarf, as it is what's seen most when the scarf is being worn.
The birds swooping across the corners were from this beautiful reference, one of the innumerable details that caught my eye during research.
The structural portion of the border takes cues from classical Indian architecture and decorative embellishment, but also from more modern interpretations. Marie-Ann Oudejan's fanciful interiors blew up on the design scene and kept drawing my attention.
Finally, it came down to the subject matter of the botanical centerpiece and how to render it. I could picture in my mind many times I'd seen beautiful photographs of what goes into making chai tea from scratch. Not only do I love chai, but it also fit in well with paying homage to Indian miniature painting.
I painted this for a botanical illustration contest, knowing that I could use it as a study for my scarf design. I submitted it with this statement: "This botanical illustration celebrates the ingredients used in concocting chai tea: ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorn, and tea leaves—in their plant forms that would be found in nature. I was inspired to create this piece not only because of the beauty of these plants, but also because I find it important to contemplate the sources of what we consume. Cinnamon, for instance, is part of my every day life, but when I set out to illustrate it I realized I had no idea how it was harvested (it is the inner bark of the cinnamon tree). Taking the time to understand our resources helps us to appreciate the vast, interlocking chain of nature, human labor, and machinery that allows us to the live the lives we lead, and hopefully to become more conscious consumers."
The style of this illustration, however, did not suit the border that I had already created. I wanted something much more simple, with abstraction and an emphasis on line work. The central ginger plant reminded me of compositions from the Mughal paintings I had been looking at and I went with that feeling of composed, almost rigid representations of the plant life. The idea of adding the banners fell out of theme a bit, drawing much more from a European look, but the consistent line-weight and style allowed it to blend in and capture a little whimsy.
As shown above, this central illustration was created all in ink, with two separate layers: one for the outlines and another for the shading. All of the color was added in Photoshop.
When I put the whole composition together, there was a lot of negative space that needed a special extra touch. In order to add some dimension and texture, I developed a repeating pattern using the leaf designs from one of my hand painted trees.
And it all came together! It was very rewarding to tackle this subject matter for a project this important, as miniature paintings and Indian textile designs in general have been at the top of my inspirations list for the past few years. I hope you can see why!