We see the world around us in 3D format and what we see through our eyes is imprinted in our minds. Some have the ability to convert this memory into a 2D format using shapes and colours. This process is done through coordination between the eye, mind, and hand, and this is known as painting or drawing. Those who have this ability are known as artists. A gifted artist has perfect eye-mind-hand coordination, as well as a sharp eye that is trained to observe details, a mind that is trained to memorise them all, and a hand that is well-trained to reproduce the mind’s picture on a 2D surface.

However, every human being is not gifted with this skill.

Following his father’s steps

Among the few who are gifted with this skill, young artist Sithum Sudhara Ranjithpriya is a promising artist.

Based in Veyangoda he is the son of the well-known Sri Lankan artist Ranmuthugala Ranjithpriya whose drawings filled the pages of chithrakatha papers. Sithum learnt his ABCs in art from his father and has been drawing since his early childhood days.

“My father shaped my talent from my early childhood days,” he said.

Sithum is a past student of Yakkala Anura Madhya Maha Vidyalaya but as he emphasised, his artist father and his exposure to classical arts and literature, including cinema and music expanded his horizons since early days.

A Disney fan

“After my father, my biggest inspiration is Walt Disney.”

As a child, he loved and still loves Walt Disney cartoons and said that an artist should explore the world of arts including films, cartoons, songs, and literature. Gaminda Piyaviraj is also an artist that has inspired Sithum greatly.

“Exposure to various forms of arts, expands one’s imagination, creativity and taste.”

Although Sithum uses watercolour, oil paint, acrylic and charcoal, colour pencils are his signature medium. He is known for his excellent colour pencil drawings. 

Talking about his style he said that he mainly follows western art styles. His portrait drawings which are his professional work follow a realistic style. He uses colour pencils for his portrait drawings and his ability for detailing and shading is beyond excellence.

His second category of paintings is the historical events and scenes that he recreates. In these drawings his imagination and talent for detailing are breath-taking. Some paintings such as the Sigiriya Lion, Construction Work at Sigiriya and Isurumuniya Lovers are truly beautiful. He blends our traditional styles with his western-influenced style.

“When drawing historical scenes, they are not purely imaginary work. I study and do a lot of research. These drawings are realistic and I used mixed medium for them.”

His Love for Sigiri Kasyapa

He explained that to draw scenes of Sigiriya, he has spent many days at Sigiriya.

“My father loved this place and I would come with him and spend days here, as a child.”

Sithum also said that he studies a lot of ancient texts such as the Mahavamsa before recreating historical sceneries.

Answering a question about why he has a special bond with Sigirya, he said that his father loved the place a lot and that Sigiriya is a breath-taking man-made marvel, built causing minimal harm to the environment.

“I feel connected with the ancient architect of this masterpiece and also a strange feeling of closeness to those artists of Sigiriya. Some of my friends say that I must have been here in my previous life as an artist,” he giggled. Therefore, recreating Sigiriya’s past in his drawings is not a tiring effort for him.

The other reason why he has a special bond with Sigiriya is that, his mysterious bond with king Kasyapa. “Since a child, I wanted to know about him. I was searching for his tomb. There is a small brick stupa at Pidurangala which prof. Paranavitana identifies as a Kota Vehera (a type of stupa that is built as tombs for special people) and I believe it is the tomb of Kasyapa. I spend hours and hours at this place in the evening.”

Villagers come and light a lamp for Kasyapa, as they believe he is a god.

Answering a question about Bodhi and Uppalawanna, the tragic artist king’s daughters, Sithum said that he has painted Bodhi playing the Sitar. He is also of the view that they both were trained in arts; music and painting, just like their father.

Recreating history

One of his most fascinating paintings is the construction of the Ruwanweliseya. He explained that according to ancient texts, the stupa was built in a short period of time and it needed efficient machines to do that.

“I sketched many machines and showed them to an engineer friend of mine. He approved my plans.”

Sithum is an artist who used his great skill to recreate the beauty and simplicity of our village life and bring it closer to the public. In times where we reject and humiliate local culture and values, Sithum’s paintings of village life, local folklore, folk games, traditional food, and local mythical creatures should be highly appreciated.

Talking about his drawing of Mohini (a mythical demoness) he said, “I wanted to portray her as a beautiful damsel.”

A word for budding artists

Sithum said that our school education is not supporting and encouraging enough to give birth to great artists as it is mainly an exam-based competitive education system.

“They do not create a suitable environment for an artist. Children should be exposed to classical arts at an early stage and guided to improve their good taste in art. Our music literature is unique and art students should be taught about classical music. Also, an art student should study and enjoy classical cartoons, films, and literature”

“The Government should have programmes to support and encourage artists,” he said.

Media too has a great role to play in supporting artists and giving people exposure to quality arts.

It is crucial to love art and literature and then love your own work if you are planning to become a professional artist. One must learn different forms of arts and then explore your own style. This is a slow journey and in this journey, one must not focus on money at first. Once you are skilled enough, you can be independent and then you will be an artist with a demand.

He also said that it is important to have hobbies such as collecting coins, stamps, gardening, pets, and so on. This is to keep your mind focused and to maintain your sanity.

“I am a gardener and an animal lover. I help street animals and I am a fan of Volkswagen Beetle classic cars. I love spending time taking care of my car and I do all that all by myself.

“I also love to admire the beauty of flowers and therefore, I grow lots of flowering plants,” he said.

Sithum is also a coin and stamp collector, and he feeds street animals whenever he can.

Asking how he manages his time between all of these work, he said that it has never been tough for him to manage time, and that these hobbies help him to keep his mind focused.

“I do art when my mind is free and relaxed. These hobbies help me to gain the relaxation and freedom I want.”

By Ama H. Vanniarachchy