Bianca Tschaikner is an Austrian illustrator, printmaker and storyteller with a nomadic spirit. Most of her books and artworks are inspired by her journeys to countries such as India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Iran, Malta, Italy, Jordan, and Spain. Traveling from matriarchal tribes in the jungle of India and on Sumatra to remote villages in the Mediterranean to the bazaars of Persia to the streets of Pakistani megacities, she likes to immerse herself for extended periods of time in the search of stories, images and atmospheres, with a special interest in microhistory, mythology and stories of every day life.
We're in awe of her work Lake City, a three-meters-long leporello drawing created during a two months long stay in the city of Udaipur in Rajasthan, India. Udaipur, also called Lake City and known as the “Venice of the East”, is considered one of the most beautiful cities of India. It is a fairytale city full of gorgeous palaces, a labyrinth of lakes and bridges and millions of intricate alleyways leading to mysterious temples. For Bianca, it was a wonderland she loved to explore, mostly with her bike.
Bianca shares her process and talks about the making of this book:
My illustrated book, Lake City, was created while exploring and directly drawn in the streets of Udaipur over many, many hours. It is a multi-spatial tour through the city and documents things seen, experienced, memorised and fantasised in this surreal city.
For those who don’t know Udaipur, the drawing might appear to depict a completely imaginary place, but the drawing is an attempt to capture the overwhelmingly surreal nature and magical beauty of a city with its people, gods and animals. My drawing blurs the line between imagination and reality, reproducing the feeling one gets while strolling through Udaipur. Palaces swimming on lakes, goddesses showing their tongues, women floating on the water riding on swans and horses disguised as baby elephants – all these are images found in Udaipur and have become part of my fantastical portrait of the spirit of the city.
Gangaur Ghat is the main ghat (a square with steps leading down to the water) of Udaipur.
It is in the heart of the city and one of my favourite places to draw, and in this scene you can see me sitting and drawing myself in the arcades on the left (you can spot my bike in another arcade). Gangaur Ghat is a popular meeting place for people to have a cup of chai and enjoy the beautiful view across Lake Pichola. Being a foreigner everybody wanted to talk to me and I had lots of fun encounters there – but sometimes I had to wear my earphones in order to be able to draw without being interrupted every five minutes, otherwise I think I would still be sitting there trying to finish my drawing.
Udaipur is famous for its beautiful white palaces on the waterfront and some even floating in the middle of the lakes. The palaces in my drawing are inspired by these palaces but also consist of a patchwork of different architectural details and other things and scenes found in the city. This palace, for example, contains shrines with different deities, the door of the blue house mentioned below in the story about the prince, and the portrait of a lovely woman from the old town whose child I drew on the street and who invited me into her kitchen to have a cup of chai with her.
The goddess riding on the swan is an image I found in a small temple hidden near Hathipol Road. I remember sitting there and writing in my sketchbook for some time, when the temple guardian emerged, came up to me and told me the most beautiful words I had ever heard in a house of god: “The temple is a centre of peace and pleasure. You can sit here in peace and think of the god you believe in“.
During one of my bike tours through the old town one day, I discovered a very beautiful blue house and stopped to marvel at it. The owner of the house, Prem, invited me inside for some tea and took me to a ritual at one of the neighbour‘s house. That family worshipped a long gone Udaipur prince, Sagas Ji (whose eternally surprised glance you meet in the little shrine next to the black door), like a god in a little shrine next to the entrance of their house, and in turn Sagas Ji would protect their house and family.
While the sun was slowly setting, we, together with the children from the neighbourhood, witnessed the puja, a ritual of worship involving lots of flowers, ringing bells, rose water, cow pee and water from the Ganges.
The solar observatory
The solar observatory, lonely like an abandoned island in the middle of Fateh Sagar Lake, is one of the most spectacular views. One of my most beautiful memories is of one night when I was on my way back from a wedding in the hills. I was riding a motorbike through the pitch black forest and then all of a sudden emerged between the two lakes into a dreamlike scenery of breathtaking beauty and great peace. There was nothing under the dark sky but stars and silence and the white solar observatory in the middle of the black lake, other-worldly like a spaceship floating in its own universe.
The bridge and the temple
Udaipur foot bridge across Lake Pichola connects the old town with Ambamata district. Near the bridge you find Jagdish Temple, the biggest and busiest temple in Udaipur. I used to go there to draw or write quite often, meeting all kinds of people there – for example Neha, a beautiful, dolled-up girl who had come all the way from Jaipur to consult the goddess Ma Durga about her love life and who then after visiting Ma Durga’s shrine also sought some advice from me; a funny old man who snatched my notebook from my hands and checked it in the same manner an inspector would check the validity of a bus ticket, approving my indecipherable with a sharp nod); and a very friendly policeman who, after he had done his prayer in full uniform except his shoes, gave some bills to a beggar and some candy to me.
Udaipur City Palace
This part of the drawing depicts the famous city palace where once the Maharanas of Mewar lived. It is an enormous and fascinating palace build and expanded over a period of almost 400 years, and I spent many days drawing it and exploring it. My favourite detail of this part is the horse with the elephant trunk – the Maharanas used to dress their horses with artificial elephant trunks in war so the elephants of their enemies would believe them to be baby elephants and would not attack them.
Get yourself a copy of Lake City here.