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Day One! #30x30DirectWatercolor2019: Re:Introducing Uma Kelkar

May 31, 2019

Oops. Meant to publish in the AM. Ok no problem – we start a few hours early :) ~m

Good morning everyone! It’s the first day of #30x30DirectWatercolor2019!

I wanted to start out easy with a mini interview with our co-organizer Uma Kelkar. (NOTE: All the paintings in this post are Uma’s work.). I’ve been getting to know her better during the ramp up to #30×30 – so I took the chance to ask her some pointed questions.


This is the second year we will be doing 30×30 together. I know we both have big plans. (Find out more about Uma’s Project Vivify)

I want to ask you a few things that are on my mind. And I hope new readers can learn a bit about you.

I know you do both watercolor and iPad paintings. We both have worked in tech, and know the power of new media. So my first question: Why do you persist in making art ‘by hand’? (paper, pigment, and brush) – versus committing to making images ‘with technology’. (Software, photography).


Art is primarily selfish and I enjoy pleasing myself with it. All self-pleasurable things build on themselves – and especially watercolor painting which is never the same as the day before.

It keeps giving the self-satisfaction – even self-consolation at times. My relationship with painting is almost sexual – when the brush touches the paper and I get the right value and smooth gradient with a brush, it’s akin to sexual pleasure.


I certainly appreciated Uma’s answer :) but I asked her for some more about digital painting – because it’s on my mind this year, considering my own strategy for 30×30.


“The brush touch is better than an iPad touch. The ‘feedback’ – the drag of the paper and the spring of the brush. In comparison, the iPad feels cold. The glass surface is too slick, to un-yielding”.

“There’s pleasure in controlling something that doesn’t want to be controlled.” (watercolor). Digital drawing takes away this risk and therefore makes it less thrilling. Also – it’s faster – 30 minutes of watercolor gets you so much more than 30 minutes of digital”.

(Ed. note; paraphrasing a chat) In fact, Uma says she tried to enjoy digital with every generation of the iPad, but it just wasn’t good enough until the introduction of the iPencil in 2017. It is only with the new pressure and tilt control that she finds the iPad to be a real tool for art.


Assuming you are painting primarily ‘from life’ – (I see mostly “places” in your published work) why is this your subject matter of choice? Is it simply convenience, is it a question of skill-building, or is it driven by (your belief about) what other people like?


“When we spoke this morning Marc, you hit the nail on its head calling art as a stand-in for virtual travel.

Painting rescued me when I was a new mother by being this intimate activity I could do just for me, where no one else’s opinion mattered but mine and the watercolor usually reacted to my emotions.

My older son was still young and I couldn’t travel. A full-time startup job and there were no more hours in the week to make trips. So, painting beautiful scenes was my escape. I’ve always wanted to live among trees (I am a complete wimp about rats/mice/bugs but I think I will overcome this fear). Trees calm me down.

Hiking is another family past time. Hiking and drawing is a way to make time for art. With a young family whose day time was precious, we could unwind in nature and I could get a quick painting in.

This is the story of why I became a ‘landscape’ painter primarily in the eyes of the viewer. For the record, I draw absolutely everything and my collection of bathroom sketches is extensive. Where do you think new moms draw? Bathrooms!

Anyhow, Silicon Valley lifestyle led to another skill: I spend about 2-3 hours daily in mind-numbing commute. Which means, if I see a good composition, I can actively see, note it to memory and then repeat the looking either next day or the next time I pass by the composition.

I recall this scene when I paint next. I front load my memory with the scenes I have seen and when I am back in the studio (yes, got a studio in 2018) I can put down the atmosphere I felt onto paper.

At least that’s what I’d like to think I can do.”


Later in a chat, Uma said some more about how she balances work, life and art. She says it’s actually an advantage to have a busy life. That she would not make the art she does if it were not a conscious decision to make time every week.

Being a working mother forces her to be present and ready to create when it’s time. It sounds like a good solution to never having artist’s block.

Uma also talked about the importance of building a supportive circle around your art.


“You need a supportive family – even the kids – they see you happy, so they want to make the time for you to work – that’s important. To make them part of your art practice”.

Uma says – and I think this is genius – she consciously trained her family, but at the same time they want her to succeed and make art, so it’s a positive, virtuous feedback loop.

I asked her if she ever resents her career and family – many female artists have been vocal about the sacrifices they had to make in order to be artists. Uma says this is not the case. It works for her, and it is not her ambition to be a full-time artist. The proper balance of art, a tech job, and family is exactly what she wants.

Very interesting answer! I don’t hear that often in artist interviews.


Last question: Is it necessary for art to have narrative or conceptual content? (Story, Politics). Or is it sufficient that it be a physical/visual experience for the viewer? Is painting propaganda, or is it a message for the viewer? (or a roller coaster ride).


”Art has to work for the creator. Eventually, as long as the artist does the job of sharing her/his work, the requisite audience pools around artists whose work they connect with.”

I think she slightly dodged my question – which was aimed at ‘what is the message behind your art’. But she said later in the chat that this isn’t really relevant or important for her.

Her work doesn’t have a pre-determined agenda because it’s a reflection of her experiences. She is producing art as part of her life. Her work is a projection of her feelings when she’s in a place. The world around her is reflected back in her paintings.

“This is a kind of ‘documentary’ or ‘journaling’ art practice that I think is the core of plein air painting or urban sketching or any of the various movements where the artist is going out into the world to see what they can find.

There is more ‘out there’ to inspire than back in the four walls of the studio”.


So that was a fascinating discussion! It’s been great to learn more about what goes on inside the head of one of my favorite painters.

I can’t wait to see what Uma does with this year’s 30×30 painting marathon.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2019 2:14 AM

    I like Uma ‘s frank answers to your questions.It makes the interview very honest and rings true. Very inspiring too!

  2. Grace Haverty permalink
    June 1, 2019 7:22 AM

    Mark how do I go about posting on 30:30 site. Grace Haverty

    Sent from my iPhone

    • June 1, 2019 1:20 PM

      If you’re a facebook user, it’s easy to join the group. Just head over here:

      If you don’t use facebook you will need your own place on the internet to post. Instagram is also very easy to use and is a good second choice. Just put the hashtag #30x30DirectWatercolor2019 into your Instagram post and people will be able to find it.

      Both of these work from a smartphone, so many people just take pictures of their art with their phone and post those.

  3. Dana Richards permalink
    June 1, 2019 11:11 AM

    I can’t help obsessing on that daily 2-3 HOUR “mind numbing commute”. Uma should find a willing commute partner to drive and rig up the passenger seat for her art (on an iPad, road bumps will add interesting marks)! Plus, the trip will be so much faster using the Diamond Lane! Uma should talk to the artist Julie Ford Oliver who shared her rig for painting oils (!) in the car on long trips. Julie is a fantastic painter living in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

  4. Stefan Wasinski permalink
    June 2, 2019 6:07 AM

    Marc I really enjoyed all your dialogue/interview and have often thought art to be ‘virtual travel’ to your own world…you and Uma expressed so many things succinctly like having a supportive family encouraging you to take time out…looking at things continually – I call that 24-hour awareness – and Uma did a fabulous job in summarising the difference between paper and brushes and the cold, unyielding screen of an iPad. Most inspiring – loved the dialogue…I’m on my feet applauding.

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