Artist Behind The Art: Sparking Joy With Sparkling Paints And Calligraphy
STORY: Nicholas Yong
01 October 2021
Sometimes I wonder if anyone can decipher my horrendous handwriting – which is why I love scrolling through Karthiga Ganesan’s mesmerising calligraphy on her Instagram page @karthiga.ganesan.
Her inspirational and sometimes cheeky messages are a welcome sight on my Insta feed. Just look at the beautiful flourishes of inked script.
She’s recently been trying her hand at gouache painting as well. Gouache is similar to watercolour, but the biggest difference is the sheerness – gouache is more opaque than watercolour. The more layers of gouache you apply, the less you see of the canvas and layers of paint underneath.
Not only that, the 31-year old artist makes and sells her own paints too @kgcolours, something she started exploring because of the expensive shipping fees she had to fork out to get hold of handmade paints. Truly #goals.
We speak to the self-confessed “handmade paint hoarder” about her process and her paints (and the awesome names behind them), how her day job as a school teacher led to her passion for the arts, and the secret to great calligraphy. Teach us, sensei!
Tell us the story behid your handmade paints. How long did it take you to perfect your paint formula?
I absolutely fell in love with handmade paints the moment I discovered it. When I first started out, it was really difficult to find local or neighbouring countries that sold them. I had to pay about US$20 just for shipping alone, and it cost me a bomb every single time I purchased [paints] from overseas because I bought them so frequently - although it never actually stopped me from purchasing them, haha! It has always been at the back of my mind to try making them. But being so new to the art world held me back.
Thankfully, I had a good friend, Kathleen (@andflowertales) who is also an artist and equally obsessed with handmade paints. She wanted to try making them together. We were both inspired by Randy (@allerandy) who was also starting a handmade-paint business in Singapore around that time.
We tried out a basic formula that we found online. Eventually we ventured out on our own and did our personal adjustments and research, resulting in our own brands and formula.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in your research and experiments with handmade paints?
It took me about close to a year to get the right consistency and texture that I wanted for my paints. And it is still a work in progress. Various pigments react and come out differently. I am always experimenting and troubleshooting my formula to see what works
The biggest challenge would be getting the right formula that fits all artists. I've received my fair share of negative comments about my paints at the beginning but eventually I realised that there's no "one size fits all".
What keeps me going is that I constantly remind myself why I started this: I wanted to make paints that I'd love to share with the world. And that it's okay if not everyone likes them – what's important is that I give it my all, I know that I love what I do, and I love the products I make.
We love the awesome names you’ve come up with for your handmade paints, like Diamond Dust, Halo Holo Chrome, and Golden Ticket. What are some of your favourite paints, and how do you come up with these amazing names?
Names are the hardest to come up with! Usually it takes me a few days before it hits me that my paints should be named this or that. Sometimes I see a word in a book, or I see it in an advertisement, or I see it in a mall and I record it down immediately before I forget the name. It's almost like it just rings a bell in my head, and I know, this is it.
My favourite would be my first high quality colourshift set – The Gemstone Series. This was a really special set to me as it was the only set that would sell out in minutes every single time I put it up for sale.
I was looking for a Swarovski bracelet for myself one day (but eventually didn't buy it for myself) and the salesperson shared with me the benefits of those gemstones. I felt that it was meaningful and the names just had a special ring to them. I took them down and decided to name this set after the gemstones she shared with me: Tanzanite, Amethyst, Topaz, Apatite, Carnelian, and Chrysocolla. These names were definitely my favourite!
Which are some of your favourite shades that spark - or should we say sparkle - the most joy?
Definitely the Chrome series! They are the sparkliest and the best pigments to work with. From mixing them with the binder to drying to using the paints on paper, they are just absolutely perfect! The chrome colours are very pigmented and so smooth to use with a brush - although I do love all the colours I've made.
Every time I work with any pigment, it just brings me such joy that I'm making something magical that could make someone else happy and, most importantly, make me happy too.
You even create vegan watercolours - tell us more about this intriguing process!
Yes I do! The difference between vegan and non-vegan watercolours is that non-vegan watercolours contain honey!
Initially I started out making my paints with honey but I really wanted to do something that could make a little difference even if it was something small. I tried making them without honey and tweaked my formula quite a bit – I ended up loving it even more.
Getting it right was a long process, with a lot of failed formulas. But it was so worth it.
We notice you've posted a few gouache paintings recently on your Insta. How did you get into gouache?
I discovered gouache about two years ago. I purchased different colours of this medium and tested them out. However, it was a little tricky and new at that time, so there weren't many tutorials that I could learn from. I eventually gave up.
But recently, gouache has become popular and there are so many courses these days. I signed up for a few and have been getting back into it.
I made a floral gouache composition recently, and that has to be my absolute favourite. Gouache has been an outlet for me to relieve stress. I look forward to coming home to 20-30 minutes of painting these days.
You’re a teacher. Can you tell from students’ handwriting who would make good calligraphers? Do you even need good handwriting for calligraphy?
Not at all! There's absolutely no need to have good handwriting to be good at calligraphy. I have terrible handwriting myself. But to be good at calligraphy, you have to practice, practice, practice! I sat down every night for a good six months before I saw myself starting to get good at calligraphy. Eventually with more practice, I found my own style after a few months.
Till today, I am still working on and adjusting my style. Never give up because you're bad at something at the start. We all suck at something we try for the first time. You're not alone!
How do you juggle life as an educator with your passion for painting and lettering?
My first love will always be teaching. I enjoy being in a classroom and nurturing the younger generation. Each day is a new challenge but it's something that I truly love and enjoy.
Teaching is not easy. You're not just a teacher. You're also a Counsellor, a Planner, a Parent, a Disciplinarian, and so much more. It's easy to feel like you have a lot on your plate.
I was doing a part-time degree at NTU while teaching - that was my lowest point and I was so stressed out. At some point it took a toll on me, and I told myself that I needed to take care of myself first. So, I quit my part-time studies and I attended various art workshops – [that’s how] I fell in love with modern calligraphy. I looked forward to coming home to start practicing. It was a form of therapy for me to keep me sane!
At that point of time, I never thought it'd end up blooming into a small business and being a huge part of my life now.
What inspired you to become an artist? Can you remember the first thing you ever drew or calligraphed?
I started calligraphy first. That was followed by painting galaxies! I was inspired by the art community on Instagram and how supportive they were of each other. When I first created my art account, it was just meant for me to dump my artworks for me to see my progress.
But I eventually got so much encouragement from friends, family, and the community online that it motivated me to create more. This made me want to tap on my creativity, and I branched out to trying out different things and different media.
What do you enjoy most about being an artist in Singapore?
I've made some really good friends in the art community here in Singapore. I'm always so grateful for these friendships. They are a huge reason for who I am today. They are super supportive and encouraging. Singapore is a small country but the hearts of our people are so big.
I have terrible handwriting but I want to create calligraphy that will make my girlfriend swoon - any tips, please?
Practice! Practice makes progress. Progress, in any form, is what artists live for. Plus... I'm pretty sure that your girlfriend would love anything that you make! 🙂