Junior Shyam Sundaram draws what he sees in his dreams. He begins to wake from a night of hazy visions, and in the waning minutes of his slumber, at the periphery of dormancy and consciousness, he unknowingly begins his sketch. From there, the canvas is his territory to mark with his expressions, thoughts and ideas.
“[I get my inspiration from] dreams — it’s all kind of eerie, it’s surreal,” Sundaram said. “When you’re asleep you don’t really remember anything. It’s those moments when you wake up but you’re not fully awake and you’re mind is still a little jacked.”
Sundaram started art at a young age, beginning with line sketching with help from his mother. More recently, he has transitioned to digital art, citing its portability and ease of sharing as a reason for the switch. He believes that while digital art may look better overall, fundamentals in sketching such as line work must be learned in order to capitalize on the benefits of digital art.
“Everything digital is built to emulate pencil and paper,” Sundaram said. “For example, all the brushes you’ll find, all the pressure sensitivities; it’s all built to resemble pencil and paper, and because it’s meant to resemble, it’s not going to be as good ... but you get much cleaner lines and a more refined image through digital.”
Other than his mother, Sundaram cites Japanese woodblock printing as a large inspiration for his art. The genre taught him the importance of choosing the correct color combinations, as the art style places an emphasis on limited pastel color use and detailed linework.
“Essentially, each different color is a block carving,” Sundaram said. “So because of that they have to mass produce images, yet they can only stamp a couple of times with each color. You have a limited amount of colors but you want to put as much of the environment as you can, so it’s very heavily reliant on linework and the contrast between different colors.”
Another reason Sundaram likes Japanese art is its abstract way of representing the objects in the piece.
“When you see animals or people drawn [in the Japanese style], they never look real,” Sundaram said. “They look very stylized … so by tweaking it and making it look like something different than reality, then I think that’s where you get art.”
Sundaram says altered reality is representative of his outlook on art — it should be personalized and used as a medium to express oneself rather than being extremely realistic.
Outlook on Art
Sundaram compares the freedom of expression he experiences in art to having a conversation with himself.
“It’s a way to mediate talking to yourself,” Sundaram said. “You can say anything logical, illogical; it doesn’t matter. You’re in a world where there are no restrictions and you can put down all your thoughts on paper.”
He also compares art with writing, which he considers another avenue in which people can achieve self expression. He finds writing more restrictive, however, as he believes that in writing, there are a limited amount of words to express oneself, while with images the expression is limitless.
Due to his belief that art is highly reliant on personalization, not all of Sundaram’s projects go as planned. Sundaram says that he eliminates approximately 90 percent of the ideas he puts on paper. Of the 10 percent that remain, around 60 percent are eliminated after he does basic digital coloring on the piece.
“Sometimes you have an inspiration to draw something or you want to create some artwork,” Sundaram said. “But then after you get to a certain limit, you just lose inspiration or you just get tired of the piece. And it’s really hard to do anything in art if you don’t actually want to do it. All art has to be personal to some extent, you actually have to want to do it.”
Sundaram currently has at least five pieces in production, but he is unsure whether he will finish any of them.
“If I don’t like a piece more than the last piece, I’m not interested,” Sundaram said.
Not only does Sundaram see art as a vessel for his thoughts and ideas, it also acts as a foundation on which he perceives art.
“You just have more appreciation for any composition or building structure around you,” Sundaram said. “A lot of people say ‘Hey, ... I really don’t understand [modern art ]. It’s just like some crazy stuff.’ A lot of these weird lines and stuff on paper; a lot of them have a very intricate balance of color and composition, and to the average person maybe [they] won’t appreciate that, it just looks like a jumble. But if you have some experience with art you can see the detail in that.”
Art teacher Jay Shelton, who is one of Sundaram’s art role models, agrees with this sentiment, using his opinions on realistic art as an example.
“So let’s say that you became a pretty good pencil artist, and you want to draw somebody. You spent three years looking at a photo and you just copied everything, and it looked exactly like the person,” Shelton said. “Some people who don’t follow art, don’t care about art might say that’s a wonderful piece of art. But really, it’s just a dry practice, you might as well just be knocking down toothpicks or something else that takes time.”
Although he doesn’t have an overriding philosophy on art, Shelton explains that something can be considered art if it is made with integrity.
“You get somebody that might even just be mentally dull in the head, but they have a plateful of ketchup, and they’re running their fingers through the ketchup and making designs,” Shelton said. “And to them, the swirls are so important. They have to get it just right. Well, how can you deny that’s art? They’re there. They’re invested. They’re trying to form things.”
Sundaram agrees, and explains that while realistic art shows talent, it fails to demonstrate self expression.
“Art allows the artist to convey something without the physical restrictions of the world, but by limiting art to realism you are restraining many possibilities of expression,” Sundaram said.
Endeavors and the Influence of Art
Sundaram sees the skills that art has taught him to be useful in other facets of his life, one of them being his future endeavors in the medical field.
“I don’t think I’m going to go into any professional setting that’s strictly oriented to art, but even the skills that you learn in art, especially the control ... knowing how to move or some fine tuning of your hands [can help in the medical field],” Sundaram said.
Beyond the practical skills that Sundaram says he learned through art, many around Sundaram believe that the creativity seen in his art bleeds into his personality. Junior and close friend Daniel Amirthiraj recalls an instance where Sundaram’s creativity showed when joking with strangers in public.
“One time we were at Target, and we were like ‘Yo look at those people right over there. How do we f--- with them?’ and then Shyam was like ‘Go up to them, and then pretend like we’re having a discussion about [what I look like], and then ask the person what I look like, and then when they say ‘guy’, say ‘I’m a f---ing salmon,’’” Amirthiraj said.
Amirtharaj believes Sundaram’s eccentric sense of humor is an unintentional yet still positive effect of art on his life outside of art.
Significance and Message to Aspiring Artists
For Sundaram, art has an impact on aspects of his life from his personality to the skills he is able to employ in his daily life and possible future. However, he places its role as a form of expression as the most important contribution of art to his life.
“[Art] lets you explore what you think and your ideas,” Sundaram said. “And because it’s such a free forum where you can draw anything, you have a blank canvas that you can put anything on. ... There’s no immediate plan. So because of that, it’s kind of liberating. You don’t have any restrictions.”
For any aspiring artists, Sundaram suggests learning through experience and creating pieces rather than using guides that explicitly tell you how to draw or sketch.
“Learn the basics, but not through following a drawing guide but by creating whole pieces using new skills and techniques,” Sundaram said. “To me all art is personal and finding a way to use the technique one wants to practice in a personalized art piece is so much better than any step by step demonstration.”