Nikheel is calligrapher and graphic designer. He is passionate about calligraphy and letterforms, especially Devanagri script. Currently working at the intersection of design and art through commissioned art and commercial calligraphy projects, alongside mainstream graphic design assignments. Nikheel has designed many book covers for leading publishers from India using calligraphy & hand lettering. His calligraphy practice primarily emphasizes on the abstraction of letterforms, which further gets translated into different mediums, be it paintings, logos or products.
Nikheel is born as a mumbaikar and now working out of Delhi. Nikheel religiously collects macthboxes, vintage stuff, plain-notebooks. A avid foodie and wanderer, he is still figuring out the cliche “How someone from Bombay is liking and adjusting to Delhi”.
Tell us something about you. How did you develop an interest in Calligraphy/Typography?
My fascination with alphabets began as a child, when I first began shaping letters through handwriting. My primary school teachers noticed the good handwriting and that earned me a permanent place decorating the classroom blackboard. By college my tendency towards good handwriting turned into a full-blown passion for seeing alphabets as more than words.
It was this fascination for letterforms that connected me with calligraphy while woking full time as a graphic designer in a design studio in Delhi. After studio hours or on weekends I kept fiddling with my calligraphy tools; polishing my skills with some compositions and amateurish artworks. I started sharing them on my blog. It received a very positive response and boosted my confidence along with getting me small jobs like invites, greeting-cards, nameplates etc. And also an opportunity to participate in a group art exhibition.
After that various assignments kept flowing in and I decided to leave my full time job and focus on calligraphy as profession.
Tell us something about Leehkin. What is your vision with Leehkin.
Leehkin, was next step of formalising my practice – channelising my work and making it more of a professional business rather than the perception of a hobby.
Apart from art & commercial assignments, I am exploring another dimension where I can combine letterart with other materials. I would like to develop an exclusive product line purely based on calligraphy also to collaboarte my calligraphy with other design disciplines like furniture, textile, lighting, ceramics, landscape architecture or may be a programmer? Why not?. It’s challenging for myself as an artist to keep updating with innovation and skills and as a person to keep searching for individuality.
And what does Leehkin mean? Simply, Nikheel spells reversely. First four letters ‘Leeh’ means ‘Write’ in my mothertoungue (Marathi) – too much serendipity; this I noticed much later.
Is the practice of calligraphy a peaceful release for you? Is it something that you just have to do?
Indeed. For me calligraphy is a purely spiritual experience. The way my pen, ink, paper and hand interact – is a play of action and reaction. I am not sure of how the stroke is going to end or how ink is going to react on the paper or how the tool is going to help ink form interesting unexpected texture. I enjoy this process of uncertainty, surprises, unplanned exploration more than a final outcome.
I have made a workstation arrangement such that I have two desks – small desk for mac book where I usually end up spending more time and right opposite, another big desk for calligraphy and other hand-done work. Latter space keeps reminding me to take a break from mechanical & mundane stuff and use the brain and hands for some peaceful release.
Did you attend school for fine art or design?
I did my graduation from L S Raheja School of Applied Arts, Bandra, Mumbai where, for the first time; I was formally introduced to calligraphy as a subject and built my strong foundation. Later, I pursued post-graduation in Graphic Design from National Institute of Design (NID) Ahmedabad. NID; widened my window of multi-disciplinary approach, design thinking and evolved me as an individual.
Were there any particular role models for you when you grew up?
Parents, my art teachers Sudhakar and Sunil Chandorkar.
Now, MUJI, Steve Jobs, Brody Neuanswander are my role models and Roger Federer is my hero.
Did you get an encouraging response from Advertising Agencies? We would assume Advertising Art Directors would be happiest to see a well designed quality typography/calligraphy for a change.
Honestly, I have done very few works for advertising agency (although I want to explore this field more) but done work mostly for design studios, publishing houses and individuals. They seem happy to see breather of hand-done flavour in the digital clutter.
What kind of research did you have to do to create calligraphic art. Did you dig deep into Indian Culture/Art History etc for any Font inspirations? Research and preparation revolve around the content of a particular project. Since here the letters often play the role of a visual as well as the type I need to think and try different styles, techniques to evoke what is desired. This process goes well especially for book cover design where I get to work on variety of genres. I am fascinated with Indian history, art, architecture, culture etc. I keep observing, grasping, mentally documenting the beauty of the forms of ancient scripts, manuscripts – also there is lot to learn from trucks, shop signs and road signs; they are blackbooks of Indian vernacular typography.
Which other calligraphers/typographers are your inspiration?
My hand-writing had few influences from childhood, one is my mother who still (at 70yrs) has impeccable, consistent, neat (un-shaky) handwriting. Imagine watching her everyday for more than 35 years; I better be good at it. And second one is our colony guard cum care taker – Manohar, who was left handed and his job was to write information or notices on common black board with chalk. It was fascinating for us as kids to watch his beautiful craft.
Prof. R K Joshi – this interview would be incomplete if there is no mention of this legendary Indian calligrapher. His study of vernacular typography and understanding of letterforms are totally awespiring!
Always look up to – Kamal Shedge and Achyut Palav
Talented team of Aksharaya and Indian Type Foundry (ITF)
I also admire the works of Qamar Dagar and Parmeshwar Raju.
Many international calligraphers & masters like Brody Neuanswander, John Stevens, Seb Lester, Luca Barcelona, Ewan Clayton, Hassan Massoudy, Wang Dongling, Toko Shinoda and many such; their passion and the way they have developed their own voice through their practice, its truly inspirational.
What are you most proud of till now in your life?
Yet to come! More than being proud, I am happy and fortunate that I managed to follow & pursue my passion for living.
Mac or PC?
Who would you like to take out for dinner?
My 6 years old daughter. We can have conversation on the most bizzare subjects, some serious arguments and gross jokes. It’s a much needed riot and its totally thearupatic!
What’s on your iPod?
I don’t have one but I listen to anything experimental – Jahan-e-khusro by Shubha Mudgal, Abhang of Bhimsen Joshi, Desert Folk Songs, African Instrumental, Coke Studio, Masala Bollywood.
Whats your Twitter Handle?
@anikheel. But hardly visit there. Fine me on Instragram @leehkin, Facebook @nikheelaphale and blogs here.