How Swetha Srinivasan used paper and positivity to power through a chronic condition

After being diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, this artist discovered a strong love for paper illustrations and crafts that helped her overcome the worst of odds

A good notebook to doodle in has a magical hold on most artists. Swetha Srinivasan would not just fill the pages of hers with stories told with ink, she would tear small pieces off to create works of art and bring them to life. Diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at the age of 16, the 24-year-old who originally hails from Chennai lost her dream of becoming a chartered accountant amidst months of therapy sessions. But it was during this time that she turned to art.

"I would say that it was the greatest gift at the right time of my life," says Swetha, who shares her work through her Instagram page Confessions of the Heart. She continues, "While I was undergoing treatment, I used to observe a friend of mine who had the same illness who would wear handmade jewellery. That was when I was first introduced to paper quilling. I slowly started coiling up one paper strip at a time. Initially, it would take me hours to quill, as I found it quite difficult to hold on to the wound paper coils. When I eventually got the hang of it, I started making paper jewellery."

HEART START: Swetha's work is shared on Instagram through the handle @confessionsofthehe_art

Always enthusiastic to try new stuff, Swetha shifted from making paper jewellery to exploring other possibilities in paper. With paper dolls, she rediscovered prized memories from her childhood. She says, "In an attempt to escape my chronic illness, I made more than 70 paper miniatures in 10 months. During this time, I also began experimenting with paper illustrations in the form of circular dioramas to convey little stories and moments. In fact, overcoming my physical pain by indulging myself in quilling has been my greatest achievement."

Today, she uses the same strength to overcome the occasional artist's block or spells of procrastination. Swetha, who is currently pursuing her Master's in Yoga Therapy at Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha in Tirupati, likes to tell stories through her work. She puts them out on Instagram for people to enjoy. Initially, she used to make the props and take pictures of them against appropriate backgrounds to set the scene. But, "One day, I found an empty papercup on my table and thought, 'why can't I use the base of the cup for the background and the remaining space to place the main artwork?'. And that's how I started using enclosed spaces," she says.

Today, Swetha is excited to work on larger projects with more scope for storytelling. Over the past few years, she has worked on interior designing projects for friends and a few installations in malls and offices. She says, "I'm looking for more possibilities to share something valuable with the people who connect with my work. I don't want to constrain it to a single perception. I simply love to convey stories. So, it begins with an idea that turns into a sketch, which is moulded into life using paper."

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