Interview with Shilpa Dalal, Mosaic Artist and Painter

          It’s hard to know where to begin.  I studied Commercial Art in college and that is where a large part of my art knowledge comes from.  The rest is self-taught.  I married quite early, and because we were going to be moving all over the world, I did not work.  However, to keep myself busy I started painting in oils and and in those days I did a lot of stained glass painting.  I had some transparent glass paints and tubes of black liner and was able to do quite a few projects in those days.  I was quite busy with some project or the other, either in painting or stained glass painting and I was making a little pocket money, too. 

            Then, my daughters were born, one after another, and I decided to concentrate on them for a few years.  During this time, my husband was transferred to London, and we took our two little girls to London, and this kept me quite busy for some time.  However, after about a year or two, when I couldn’t handle singing nursery rhymes while in the shower, I decided to go back to some form of art work.  I did a few courses in clay modelling and silk painting at a local college, and then I found a weekend course in stained glass.  My husband looked after the girls for that weekend while I went for this course, and I came back all fired up to start.  I bought all the materials I needed and started working using my dining table as my work table.  Because my girls were so small, I had to be very careful that there was no glass on the carpet, and I became very good at cutting.  I made some small projects to begin with, then moved onto a tiffany lampshade and some other 3-dimensional projects.  I actually even got an order which turned out very well – a window – the largest project that I had made so far.  It was quite difficult for me at the time.  The stained glass shop was a bit far, and we didn’t have a car in London.  So, I would drop my older daughter to school, and take my younger daughter by bus to the stained glass shop and buy my materials.  I would hang them on her stroller, as it was quite heavy to carry.  Then I would come home and start working.  I had a hand held stone grinder which I had to wet with water and used for grinding my glass.  We couldn’t afford an electric grinder at the time, and I made my tiffany lampshade with a hand grinder!  But I was so fired up, that I walked through all the difficulties that came my way!

            A few years down the line and we were transferred to Antwerp, Belgium.  I found a stained glass shop fairly nearby and by then we had a car and I was driving!  Whew!  What a relief!  I also found a fantastic art store very close to my house and plenty of parking.  Both my girls were all day in school, and for the first time I had the day to myself and I could get around easily.  By this time, I was painting in oils and sending them to Bombay to an art gallery where my paintings were getting sold almost immediately.  Antwerp opened a lot for me creatively – I was able to get materials for anything that I wanted to do.  I made a good friend who was also interested in creating and together we dabbled in all sorts of arts and crafts, although my painting and stained glass was my own.  Then, one day, my friend and I saw a table made in mosaic at the stained glass store.  We asked how it was made and the owners were very helpful.  By this time, I had a very good relationship with them, and had also done some courses of stained glass with lead instead of copper foil, and sand blasting….. and I was going there all the time.  They showed us a glass cutter similar to the Leponitt ones and we were in seventh heaven… we had the means to use up the glass wastage that I had from stained glass and make some new products.  I taught my friend how to cut glass and we made a table each and then another, and I was invited to demonstrate my mosaic at a stained glass exhibition.  There I met the Leponitt cutter manufacturers.  They were demonstrating at the next table, and they introduced me to the Leponitt cutters and different ways to cut glass with these cutters…..

            Then we were transferred back to Bombay – and I had to start all over again! 

            Initially, it was difficult to find opaque glass that I could use in Bombay, so I decided to use china and tiles.  But, somehow I wasn’t too motivated by this medium.  Then I found some glass – very limited colours, but, all of a sudden I had a number of a person who could supply me with spectrum glass.  He would come home with his sample box, and I would choose my colours, and then he would deliver this to me at home.  It was fantastic!  I just had to buy a minimum of 4 square feet in each colour, so this made it quite expensive, but at least I could do some work and I wasn’t stuck!  I was painting madly, too, and had started watercolours.  I would go all over Bombay with my paints and paper in hand, and paint in plein air.  It was great fun.  I put these paintings together in a book called “BOMBAY!”  At the same time, I had started selling in a couple of stores and I was getting good orders.  I went to an exhibition at the The Happy Home & School for the Blind, and saw that they were doing glass mosaic, but with already cut up glass supplied by another stained glass artist.  They didn’t have the tools or the know-how to cut their own glass.  Mind you, these boys were partially blind and not fully blind.  So, I volunteered my services there, and provided them with the Leponitt cutters to start with.  They also learned to score and cut glass and soon there was a mosaic studio at the school, and we were producing a fair amount of mosaic.  We did some huge projects there, including a huge wall and two floors.  We even did a series of Four Seasons – 3’ x 3’ panels each depicting a season.  The school bought their own glass and invested in grinding and cutting machines.  Some of the boys I taught have graduated from the school and are now working there in the Mosaic Studio, and this is their livelihood.  I also came across another NGO called “Saathi” that looked after teenage boys and girls that had run away from home and come to Bombay.  The mosaics that they did were incredible, too.

            Around this time, I started my journey on a Spiritual Path with an Australian Guru, and I was juggling many activities at once. I had had several art shows with my paintings, but then my father fell very ill with a terminal illness, and I stopped all mosaic orders, because I knew I wouldn’t have the time to fulfill them.  I took a break from mosaic for over a year – I couldn’t get back my earlier orders and the shops that I was supplying to had closed down or had moved on.  It seemed as if the door had shut on me for mosaic.  Even if I started again, I wanted to do something that was more challenging than what I had done before.  I became very involved in my Spiritual path, and my paintings.  I had also moved house twice in this period and was a bit unsettled where mosaic was concerned.

            One day, I decided that I was not going to depend on any store buying my stuff, and I was just going to start again.  I racked my brains for something that would challenge me and decided to make some carpets in mosaic.  I had made a large one earlier 6’ x 3’, and it had taken me about 10-12 days to make it, but this time I felt to make some smaller ones.  I had friends who had birthdays coming up, and so I started again.  The carpets have been a real joy to make and have!

            I have made small and large projects in mosaics – from trays to chairs, tables, mirrors, lampbases, vases, carpets.  I have searched chor bazaar and hunted for different types of furniture to mosaic on.  Earlier, I used to do a lot of floral designs, but lately I seem to prefer more geometrical designs.  I work quite fast and once I get started on a piece, I work for several hours in a day, because I enjoy it so much, although now my back kills me!

            I have a small space in my home where I cut my glass and work.  All the glass is in two cupboards with the spare pieces in different jars.

            Although I have worked mostly on wood, I would love to work on bathroom sinks – this is a challenge for me, as I don’t know what are the materials needed in these projects, in terms of glue and grout.  The greatest challenge in India of mosaic-making is the procuring of the materials needed in smaller quantities and another challenge that I personally face is the space required to do bigger projects.  It is so expensive in Bombay to hire studio space and so I work from home, which has its limitations.

            Mosaic-making definitely is very therapeutic.  This was proven while working with the girls from Saathi.  They used to open up with their problems while doing the mosaic.

            I wish we could get more materials readily available in India, and in smaller quantities, otherwise mosaic is a very expensive hobby and this can put people off.

            My advice to a new mosaic learner based in India is “Where there is a will, there is a way”!  Just persevere and you will find the all you need!

            The Facebook group Mosaic India is a very good start – it definitely shows people how to start their own mosaics, and the website is very informative.  I feel there could be some videos and demonstrations and tutorials that people can take part in online, and that might be helpful.  Also I wish we could sell the materials needed from the website, too, so that it’s easier for people to start if they want to.  So, the materials required and some helpful videos and how to books would be greatly helpful to beginners.  Maybe a Mosaic Artists magazine giving names of suppliers, etc. based in India.

            Today, with Pinterest and Facebook, there is a lot of inspiration available on the internet.  I used to buy books because none of this was available when I started.

            I have not put my projects on the internet until recently.  Its just that with all that I was doing, I just didn’t have the time.  My children and friends have been after me to at least get on to Facebook, and so after much pushing and prodding, I joined Facebook.  Some of my recent paintings and mosaic can be found on Shilpa Dalal Studio. I have yet to add more of my earlier works and paintings, too.

            I hope to do more challenging work over the next five years – although I don’t know what that is as yet.

            You can reach me either via email:  shilpadalal2@gmail.com or my phone number:  098210 22559

            WHERE THERE IS A WILL, THERE IS A WAY!  That’s my philosophy!

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