Choosing Paints from Desert Sands

By Sujata Devadas, June 10, 2015

The desert is often stereotyped as an arid, barren land. Instinctively, we reach out for water, sensing a parched throat slaking with thirst.

Find the artist

Shiju, however, found his paints there. Surprised? You should be amazed! He paints with sand, glue and a knife.


It is not flat. It is not 2-dimensional. Luckily, I had the sense to walk up close to his art, exhibited in the lobby of a Mall, to find out that … just ever so slightly, the wings of a falcon, the nose of a helicopter, the mane of a horse, the rounded curve of a minaret defied the ostensible limitation of a framed painting and pushed outward, expressing a richness crafted so deftly by this humble, modest artist whose name could not to be seen anywhere. I made up my mind to find him.


Have you painted? You will understand.


An ordinary beginning


A week later, I sat opposite a smartly dressed young man, happy to talk about his brilliant revolutionary innovative idea to use sand for coloring his paintings. Just sand, that lies in the desert, the mountains, the seaside known to us all as the United Arab Emirates.


It started out oh-so-mundane. Shiju Vannathan Kandy - that’s a mouthful, so he just calls himself ‘Shiju V.K’ - is a villager from Peralassery (Makreri village, Kerala) He has a 10th grade school education. At the age of 10, he found his favorite hobby: drawing with a pencil and filling it with colors. Taking that as his cue, he veered off books and academics after high school, to study fine arts for 2 years at Geethanjali College of Fine Arts, Kannur under Prof. Balagopalan. He got a job soon after, but that did not amount to much.

It is a natural inclination in Kerala to look towards the Gulf in search of fortune. In 2005, he reached Abu Dhabi, employed in a souvenir shop. Once here, his job was to make a common UAE tourist souvenir: framing ‘the sands of time’.

7 different hues of sand separated

in a glass frame; representing the different types of sand found in UAE. Modest and quiet, he did it.

The colors of sand

Things were less than optimal, however, at the souvenir shop. Shiju had time, a creative imaginative mind. As he sat back and looked out, he missed home. He missed his childhood. He wanted to paint. He was not rich, but all around him were buckets and buckets of sand. He reached out and ran his fingers through it as his mind drifted. It crystallized on the stoic beauty of a falcon.

2015, © Sharing Solutions Publications

Shiju Vannathan Kandy

That was his first painting, colored with sand, done in 2005. The top half of a falcon, similar to the painting shown on the left, perched high, looking out with its keen predatory gaze. It took Shiju 4 days till his creation met with his satisfaction.


At that time, the shop had a contract with Men’s Higher College of Technology(HCT) to supply them with gifts for visitors. HCT always requested them for novel gifts. Something different, more original. His colleague and friend, Ratheesh, took this sand-painted falcon with him to display at HCT. Love and appreciation poured out. So did the orders.

2015, © Sharing Solutions Publications

Art and art again

From 2009 to 2014, Shiju did a short stint in ‘God’s own country’, Kerala. Ever creative, Shiju set up his own shop and ventured into glass etching. But his artistic acumen was known among his friends in UAE, and admired too.


So in 2014, his Sri Lankan acquaintance, Mr. Alikumar opened a new business venture and requested both Shiju and Ratheesh to join him.

3D perception - The outer rim of the falcon's wing closest to the viewer juts ever so slightly out of Shiju's painting colored with sand.

Now Shiju tells me, “I have lost count of the number of paintings I have made with sand. We still supply to HCT and of course, to many other places.” Has Shiju met or heard of anyone else engaged in painting with sand? No. It looks deceptively simple. Yet, the innovative idea of painting with sand dawned in his mind alone. He had the courage to pursue it. To the best of his knowledge and mine, he stands alone.


The first sand-painted falcon earned him AED 500/-. Now, a decade later, his impressive artwork will cost you nearer to AED15,000/- , often more.


Exceptional gift and talent


The seven sands, scooped up from the deserts of Dubai, Sharjah and Umm-Al-Quwain, from the mountains of Fujairah and Ras-Al-Khaimah, as also from Abu Dhabi and Ajman seaside, has to be sifted through a shawl that Indian ladies wear over their shoulders as part of their attire. Only the finest particles of sand are used for crafting an immaculate painting, rising first in the mind of Shiju. Many have it. Many want it.

The same sands mentioned above are mixed and blended in different measures to set apart shades of gray, gold yellow, auburn, deeper greens as well as its faded, jaded elder cousin, tints of black, so many shades of brown, faultless white … I am, by no means, an art connoisseur but this has to be seen to be believed! It stands out, pun intended. In the falcon above, you can see shade of brown, dark brown and white showing off its plumage, its intense black gaze surveying the scene. The dagger, however, projects a steely sheen of silver. It looks so real, you want to grab it and tuck it into your belt.

2015, © Sharing Solutions Publications

If you want to see Shiju's breathtaking artwork, keep July 14 free. His work will be exhibited at Mazyad Mall, Mohammed Bin Zayed City for 1 single day. 


Shiju is far from famous yet. But certainly, definitely, he would love to be known for his remarkable paintings colored by the wealthy demarcations of sand. He deserves success.

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