India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Framed
April 05, 2018

How Karen Pereira Creates Entire Worlds Using A Pencil As Her Canvas

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

The artist carves miniature lead models of popular characters from Game of Thrones, Marvel and DC among others using nothing but her skill and a few simple tools

As an intern at an advertising agency, Karen Pereira was diligently fulfilling her quota of downloading images for the day when she came across an award-winning ad creative featuring a lead carving on the back of a pencil. She admired the intricacies and inventiveness of the art, wishing she were as talented as the artist who had created the model. During her next internship, her boss casually gave her a pencil, which she held onto as a keepsake with the intention of putting it to good use. That’s when the proverbial light switch in her head went off and she attempted her first-ever lead carving — a gentle, grey elephant — using the pencil gifted to her as a base.

Now employed as a sub-editor with a leading daily, Pereira spins words at her desk all day long, reporting the nitty-gritty in the world of entertainment. On coming home, she sits down with her rudimentary work tools, chipping away at lead and creating miniature models that speak for themselves with the blood and sweat she invests in the whole process. Pereira isn’t complaining about the hours though. When inspiration strikes, she doesn’t even spare a glance at the clock, choosing to get cracking immediately and stopping only when she is satisfied with the final product.

Excerpts from a conversation with the editor-cum-artist who draws comparisons between her profession and her passion — the former requires her to whittle down words while the latter involves the chiselling of metal.

Taking the lead
“When it comes to lead carving, what sets the ball rolling is a series of rough blueprints with stick figures followed by the ‘chipping away’ process. To be honest, it’s all about trial and error. Earlier, I used to get impatient at the number of attempts required to get the model right, but I’ve now grown to understand that the whole affair is an exercise in permanence; once the blade slices a piece off, it’s gone. Before I could make my first-ever carving — the aforementioned elephant — I went through an entire pencil sculpting elephants that kept falling apart. I finally sought advice from an artist friend who enlightened me about the difference between charcoal lead and graphite lead. That was the beginning of my love affair with carving.

My art is inspired by practically anything that ranges from movies, songs and TV shows to poetry and the people I encounter. Sometimes, it’s a cross between the two. For example, my carving of Master Oogway was based on the character from Kung Fu Panda but was inspired by a mentor. The hand and candle carving I made after Chester Bennington’s suicide was inspired by his own song One More Light. The Russian dolls were fashioned after a poem I came across on Instagram. And then there are the Batman, Minion, Iron Man or Game of Thrones pieces that I constructed purely to be part of larger pop culture conversations.”

The devil is in the details
“My aim is to construct something that is completely out of the ordinary; something that hasn’t been explored in the lead carving realm before. As mentioned earlier, I first sketch a rough blueprint with stick figures and get an understanding of the dimensions on lead before I begin carving. Then, I reduce a cylindrical piece into either a square, circle or a triangle and begin shaping it to achieve the desired results. This is followed by rendering the details I’ve envisioned for it and finally smoothening the mass with a rubber tube. Occasionally, I’ll also add some colour to the miniatures since most artists out there restrict themselves to silver lead.

My carvings are usually between 3 – 7 mm in height and employ the use of a regular stainless steel blade. I rely on syringe needles and sewing needles to incorporate the finer details and work on a 4B pencil, which is of no artistic use. I would recommend it to aspiring lead artists as it does not require any magnifying tools or professional equipment during the whole process. While using acrylic colours, I cut up a regular size zero paintbrush to get the job done to perfection.”

Favourites first
“My ability to render intricate details has greatly improved, if I may say so myself. Of late, I have been doing quite a few busts and face carvings that I previously steered clear of. I always try my best to inject life and animation into my work otherwise, my models are merely different shapes of lead that don’t make the viewers feel anything in their bones.

As an artist, I can’t possibly pick my favourite works because I’m biased towards everything I create. The elephant, which was my first model, and Superman holding up a giant kryptonite boulder are my favourites. The Captain America piece is also special because I am hoping beyond hope that I can someday present it to Chris Evans in person. Although rendered on the point of a pencil, all my pieces have room for improvement as I truly believe in the adage ‘Art is never finished, it is merely abandoned’. I carried my model fashioned after Shah Rukh Khan’s character in Fan to a meet-and-greet with the star, and to this day, I kick myself for not having given him one of my better pieces. The only way I can placate myself is by recollecting the priceless expression on his face.

The journey hasn’t been a bed of roses. Sometimes, the final product turns out to be quite different from what I had envisioned. One of my milestones is the Superman carving because it has him kneeling under a 1 cm piece when he measures only 3.5 mm, added to the fact that he’s painted. I would also like to mention the Beauty and the Beast model that features two people and the hand preventing the candle flame from going out that I actually lit by putting a tiny wick in the candle.”

Learning from the greats
“India has quite a few lead artists who make do with the limited tools they have access to and achieve terrific results. I can’t say the same about the recognition and fame. However, with Russian sculptor Salavat Fidai’s work gaining increasing popularity, many people are now taking an active interest in micro-sculpting as compared to two years ago. I would love to master the finesse of his technique, but I also admire Birmingham-based jeweller Tom Lynall’s work because he does such innovative things with his pieces.

I think it’s important for an artist to remain grounded and focused, but motivation plays a huge role in enhancing the output of our work. Some of my most memorable comments have been words of praise from real artists and graphic designers; it’s a different high when someone you look up to, follows you and appreciates your work apart from actively helping you improve. It is always nice to receive compliments but the cherry on the cake is receiving tips on how I can do better.

Besides lead models, I also enjoy making miniature wire sculptures, which I then fit inside fused bulbs. Additionally, I experiment with blending the wire with paint and other materials to create pretty objects. These are quite fun to make since they are constructed out of a single cord of wire from start to end.  I’m looking to up my game in the carving domain as I progress along this path, so the dream is to conquer the impossible, which for me, is carving a weighing scale that moves within the same point. I also hope to host an exhibition with my pieces on display in the near future.”

You can follow Karen’s work on @karen.l.pereira

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