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Tuesday 22 October 2019
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Beauty in the details

Nalini Singh is inspired by the sea

 The acrylic painted one cent piece shows the sunset at Caroni River.
The acrylic painted one cent piece shows the sunset at Caroni River.

NALINI "ROSHELL" SINGH has a special talent for creating micro-paintings on small surfaces. So far, she's painted landscapes on sapodilla seeds, Cuban cigar boxes, different types of shells and one cent coins, to name a few.

"I always loved art. I pursued it as a hobby when I was a child. The closest to formal training I had was when I attended Chaguanas Junior Secondary School. In forms one to three it was compulsory. I took it seriously and I sketched for three years. I really enjoyed it," the 33-year-old painter from Longdenville told Newsday.

Nalini "Roshell" Singh presents her artwork at the Mount Hope Art Gala.

Her proclivity for painting on generally unused objects has led her to paint on the now demonetised one cent coin, using acrylic paint and a sealant to protect the painting on the coin. But when she posted a picture of a chain she made out of the coin on social media, she received a backlash of criticism as it is illegal to mutilate legal tender. "Since I was unsure I removed any pictures that were online. But I wondered, what are we to do with the remaining coins?" She said based on research done by a friend who is an attorney, because the one cent coin was demonetised and is no longer legal tender, the sections in the Central Bank Act Chapter 79.02 (CBA) that apply to legal tender and the prohibition against mutilation would not apply. In this regard, she said, it appears that people may use the one cent coin for pieces of art and sell it without breaching the provisions of the CBA.

Singh's artistic journey has been anything but seamless. She loved painting so much she wanted to study fine arts in Paris, France. However, when she shared her passion with a family member, he disparaged her dream and told her she should learn to be a seamstress instead. "I showed him one of the pieces I did and I told (him) I had ambitions of pursuing art as a career, long-term. He told me why don't I go be a seamstress so I would make eight dollars sewing a button. The way he said it, I was discouraged and I allowed it to get to me and I didn't do anything for 11 years."

A oyster shell painting of Chaguaramas.

During that hiatus, Singh earned a BSc in mathematics and statistics from the University of the West Indies, St Augustine and became a certified personal trainer. She was working as a mathematics and physical education teacher when a Hello Kitty-related gift inspired her to rediscover her love of art. Her friend Kelly, who loves Hello Kitty, received a birthday gift of an apron with Hello Kelly painted on it. Singh loved the idea so much she purchased art supplies to make a similar gift and used the excess supplies to paint other things.

"I have a business mind. I told myself if I am purchasing the materials, I don't want the brushes to collect dust, so I kept at it. I figured if I do something as a hobby, and I am consistent I would get better and someone would like to purchase it." She started looking at YouTube videos to teach herself how to paint. It took time to get the proper technique and she gradually experimented with different surfaces for her art, among them shells she had collected on a family trip 16 years ago in Mayaro.

She stumbled upon the Instagram profile of Hasan Kale, an artist who does micro detailed paintings on small surfaces. "He painted Albert Einstein's face on the head... of a match stick. By following him I got really inspired. I am a huge fan. I started and never stopped. I started painting on shells January 2017," Singh told Newsday.

A clam shell inspired by scenes from Aripo and Maraqueet Bay.

She practised her work every day on shells and other surfaces while listening to music, but one day, she discovered motivational speaker Les Brown whose messages of self-worth and inner-faith fuelled her drive to continue painting.

"What shapes me as an artist is consistency. What helped my consistency was Les Brown who would say, 'If you wait on others to validate you, you would have a very long wait.' By nature human beings are focused on themselves and their own responsibilities so they would not be very encouraging. But, when you hear things like 'You are more than enough,' or 'There is no limit and within you exists more potential,' you believe you can do anything. So when you hear things, even as simple as you can make it, you feel like you can do anything," she said.

Roshell, a pet name given to her by her late grandmother, was the one she chose to give her business. She also credits her business acumen to her grandmother. "I grew up with my grandmother. She passed away 11 years ago. She always called me Roshell, so I named my business Roshell's Art and it is a coincidence that I paint shells," she said.

"One of the greatest gifts she would ever give to me is awareness. She would always make me aware of what is going on. I love saving. I got that type of thinking from my grandmother."

A clam shell depicting Chaguaramas.

While at university and even after she graduated, Singh worked multiple jobs to pay her bills, but she always found time to paint. Luckily for her, she worked near her home at the time, and as a teacher, she could paint during holidays.

Eventually she left all her jobs to focus on her business full-time. "I love the idea that it has only been less than a year... I have been doing this full-time. One of the beauties of entrepreneurship is that when you work on your passion, the money you get means more than the money you would make from someone else," she said.

The Chaguaramas seaside is her inspiration. She loves to drive there whenever she can to clear her head and she is inspired by the beauty and calm of the water. She started painting seascapes on canvas, then moved on to abstract. Her first abstract was sold for $2,000 and her most expensive sale was for $3,400. Singh believes she undersells her pieces because she is still working on making a name for herself. Since she began painting on shells, Singh has worked on more than 300 shells and frequently exhibits her work. She has had eight shows in the past three years: seven joint shows and one solo show at Art 6.

Her favourite mantra is "The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give your gift away."

She tries to do as much outreach as possible, and whenever she can, she goes to school and sets up an art exhibition of her work to try to foster an appreciation for art. "I love speaking engagements when it comes to schools. When they have an exhibition in an art gallery, I invite primary schools and secondary schools. I know a few years ago it was uncommon for a child or teenager to know what an art exhibition is, so instead of them going to the art exhibition, I take the exhibition to them.

"I have my pieces laid out and the kids would come in. I don't interact with them initially; I would let them look at the work, converse with their friends, and after they take their seats the principal would introduce me and I would answer their questions. That is where you really get to know where their heads are at."

She said her dream of studying in Paris may have been crushed over a decade ago, but she still hopes to formalise her skills and is looking at schools in Sweden.

"If I were to have a goal in ten years, it would be to not stop painting. That hiatus for 11 years is something I would never get back. If I could improve I will improve, and I will do my best to make my grandmother proud," she said.

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