“I was 14 years old when I earned my first penny, 30 Bucks for a sketch. For me it was a moment of pride and motivation to continue my work.” says Rajesh Soni as he opens up about his life and career as an artist.
It was a warm evening when I first met Rajesh ji at his gallery “Gallery One” located near Chandpole. Featuring a beautiful waterfront with petals floating in it and his latest works displayed behind the glass wall, the first look of gallery was quite captivating. Even though it might not be as big as other art galleries “Gallery One” has a subtle aura to it that’ll attract you towards it. And adding to this aura with his charisma and friendly personality he welcomed me into his gallery.
As we walked into the gallery I began scouring it when my eyes stopped on a canvas covering an entire wall of the gallery, wondering what it was for?
As I scoured further; his alluring and amazingly detailed sketches, paintings and other art works got my attention. A work table, a vintage camera, a floor lamp and other artefacts added creativeness to the Gallery One.
This was the time when a question began to tickle in my head.
Why did you choose to be an artist?
“Before me, my family already had an artistic background. My Grandfather was the photographer and artist of Maharana Bhopal Singh of Mewar and my father also pursued the same profession. Because of this I also started taking interest in painting and sketching at an early age.”
Who was your first mentor?
“When I started practicing initially I used to see my father work and then I began to do things by seeing him work. Whenever I stumble upon something I could not do my father used to help me out.”
You must have had a deep connection with your father since early years. Did your entire family supported your career choice?
“Yes! My parents played an important role for my dreams. They supported me and guided me in the right direction and were there to pick me up whenever I fell. They didn’t forced me to take any other profession despite knowing this field can be highly unstable.”
You are a very lucky person to get support from your family especially in a society where so many dreams are crushed by family only.
When you started it must have been a bumpy ride learning to do things, building audience, choosing what to sketch.
How were your early years?
“When I entered this field I was learning art and I thought I cannot demand any price for something I am still learning. So in the starting I started talking to tourists who used to come here and gradually improved my English speaking skills with their help. Along with this I used to work as a guide and show them city’s monuments and heritage.”
“Then I started showcasing my art skills by working in public places such as Fatehsagar, Gangaur Ghat, Café Coffe Day. During that time people used to come and watch me working, creating a sketch from nothing but only a blank paper and pencil. Then they started commenting on my work. I still remember, I was 14 years old when I earned my first penny, 30 Bucks for a sketch. For me it was a moment of pride and motivation to continue my work.”
What was the best comment you ever received?
“It was from my father. He said to me that you continue working with your heart and keep practicing until you achieve your target.”
“After my public hours gained me some exposure, people started to call me for private works. So along with my art interests I also started working on commission works to support myself. I used to draw sketches of houses, people etc.”
“Then after earning enough recognition and gathering funds to work on my creativity, I started to work on buildings especially heritage buildings followed by street art and then photography plus sketching.”
“During these years I learned a lot and started keeping myself updated. I began to change painting styles, ideas every few months. This gave me both uniqueness and has been helping in keeping my works fresh and creative.”
You are world famous for your hand painting skills and I can clearly see that your talent cannot be caged into just one style. It is wild, free and always ready to explore new dimension.
What was the first idea that you stumbled upon?
“When I started my work the first idea that came to my mind was to protect heritage of our city. To realize this dream I started to promote heritage buildings and their beautiful architecture through my work.”
“Along with this I started learning photography to expand my abilities. In 2007 I met an American photographer Waswo X. Waswo during one of his exhibitions. This is when I told him about my hand colouring skills. Luckily he showed keen interest in it. Hand colouring was a lost art form when we began to work together on it. He used to compose the shots and photograph them and after that I would hand colour those developed photographs. The same thing my grandfather used to do for Maharaja.”
Did you had any idea then that this little adventure of yours is going to make you world famous?
“No. I guess it was a sheer coincidence that this thing took off.”
“Since then it has been eight years we are working together.”
Where could we see your hand coloured photos?
“We’ve printed a book titled “Men of Rajasthan” in which these photos are elegantly displayed.”
Apart from the “Men of Rajasthan” you can also see his hand coloured photos and other artworks at Madri Haveli.
Starting as a person with passion for art you have climbed up a long road. During all these years you must have had your own ups and downs. It is really wonderful to see that 14 year old boy in you still alive.
Which one painting of yours you love the most?
“Ummm…I remember there was this painting of Buddha. I made with my imagination in which I made Buddha using lotus.”
How did you manage to stay motivated and focused all these years? What is your secret?
“The only secret behind this is that when I first drew something it was because I loved doing it.”
“I love art be it sketching, hand colouring, painting. It makes me happy. And that is my secret.”
I would steal this para to say to everyone reading this to do what makes you happy. The journey might be bumpy but being happy with what you are doing would make it easy and an incredible journey.
Signor there is so much more to you than just hand colouring which made me knock on your door. The things you are doing are really mind blowing but It is also true that you are just a petal in this flower of art. There are so many amazing artist around the world even in our little city.
How do you manage to stay creative and unique in your field with so much competition?
“First of all I am not competing anyone. I love what I am doing and I am not a fond of “bhed chal”. Copying what someone has already created and is profitable is not me. Its true everyone needs money to survive and when going gets tough creativity also suffers. This is might be the reason why so many artists having really good skills copy others instead of creating something of their own.”
“But that’s not me. Even if I have to work on commission I keep finding ways to keep my work unique and creative.”
“I keep experimenting new styles, ideas and that is why you’ll always see me doing new things every few months.”
So what have you been working on lately?
“Recently I am working on portraying day to day life via my art. To do this I ride around the city clicking photographs of things or activities I find worth telling. Then I come back to my studio and study the photos selecting which parts I want to keep in my sketch.”
“Then I sketch the version of the photo. Usually all my art works have a message hidden in them.”
“Like look at this sketch of an autowala. You might think this is only a man fixing his auto. But if you give it a thought.”
“This autowala is telling us to never stop in life. No matter how big the hurdle is. Even if it breaks us down. We should use whatever we have to start fixing our life and keep moving instead of waiting for right time or tools.”
Wow! That was inspiring. Despite being educated till 10th you have wisdom than a college graduate.
Would you suggest young artist to take professional degree?
“This is everyone’s personal choice. But with my experience: No, I don’t think they should go for professional degrees if they are really interested in art because in our education system art is taught and when they graduate most of them had lost their creative insights. When I started learning I was only 12 and at present I am 32 and still learning. I gained a lot of experience in these 20 years with my creativity still alive.”
“I focused all my energy into the thing I love to do the most and the only thing I was taught were skills.”
How you first used your skills?
“When I began learning I needed something for practice so I bought a poster of Lord Ram. I still remember what I loved most about it was details. Then I started sketching it.”
“Whenever I used to get low I used to remember my father’s comment. “
“Continue working with your heart and keep practicing until you achieve your target.”
The glimpse of the same genes can be seen in his younger brother’s work too. While he is still a young fellow his talents did leave us amazed. He currently works with paper modelling and have created a wonderful and detailed model of a bike.
With this we left his studio and went on a little road trip to see his currently displayed works where we continued the interview.
While my eyes were still stuck over the biggest sketch I have ever seen in my life displayed on an entire wall of the restaurant I involuntarily asked
How long did it take complete this?
“8 months” he replied with a smile.
Seeing his talent on such a big canvas I could not help but ask
What was your most challenging work till date?
“As I recall my toughest work was to redraw a photograph. It was a commission work and the reference photograph I received was smaller than a square of 2.5cm. The photo was taken from a very old camera and commissioner wanted me to draw a larger sketch of it.”
“It was a tough job. I had to invent a new technique to do it.”
You do both kinds of work commissioned and free will.
What do you have to say about your clients?
“Since I have worked with both Indian and foreign clients I can say that they both have different requirements. Indian clients are usually harder to please. They appreciate details and clarity in work. Western client mostly prefer ideas over details in work.”
You say Indian clients. If we talk about Udaipurites
What would say about their support?
“Well…foreign tourist are undoubtedly major supporter of art here but if we see local support it is very less. It would be really nice to see more support of local governments and people.”
“I have visited many countries especially in Europe where it was commendable to see the amount of support artists receive from their government.”
Then we went over to Madri Haveli where his hand coloured artworks were displayed.
City of Lakes is undoubtedly blessed with world class beauty and world class talents to capture it. Before we met Rajesh ji the only thing we knew was that he is a brilliant hand colourist but now we are captured by his amazing talents that would leave you too amazed.
Wishing him best of luck for the future. We bid him adieu!
or simply visit him at
Inside Chandpole, 36, Udaipur, 313001 (Raj.) India