Before he discovered "what people mean when they say the light is beautiful," watercolor painter Mak Dehejia studied applied mathematics at Cambridge University in England and learned that the same equations apply in the design of suspension bridges, coil spring wheel assembly and electrical transformers.
Having come a long way - first from India to the U.S., then from applying his technical training through techno-economic terms as an industry appraiser for the World Bank - to taking his first watercolor classes in 2002 with Bonny Lundy at the Yellow Barn and Gwen Bragg at the Art League of Alexandria, Dehejia has been refining and developing his craft over a decade. He is currently exhibiting paintings with his wife Ursula at Sibley Hospital. Their 30 watercolors, acrylics and collages are on view through December 2011 in the hallway connecting Hayes Hall with the main doctors' building in the Washington, D.C. hospital.
Both husband and wife are members of the Gaithersburg Fine Arts Association (GFAA), the Art League of Alexandria, the Yellow Barn Studio and Gallery, and Mak is also a member of Strathmore.
Dehejia's favorite places to paint are along the Potomac River, the hills in Frederick, Md. and the marshes in Delaware.
"I am attracted to water, so I go looking for it," said the artist who grew up in arid Karachi.
For someone who believes that teachers do not teach but expect you to learn on your own, Dehejia actively seeks engagement with and the influence of mentors.
He was thrilled when GFAA Founding Member Susan Herron showed him glazing, or layering paint through watercolor, in a class at the Art League in 2006.
"I started incorporating warm red and yellow tones in my paintings, which resonated with my childhood experiences growing up in India," he said.
When he was nine years old, he was sitting in a classroom in Karachi, and a young girl sitting in front of him drew a beautiful sunset in crayons, he said. Her drawing impressed him, and he remembers thinking that he wished he could also achieve such effects. He feels that Susan Herron's class enabled him to realize this childhood dream encapsulated in a vivid memory for many years.
The real reason Dehejia turned to painting after retiring at age 60 was his son's untimely death. He read Winston Churchill's book, "Painting as a Pastime," part of which describes how painting can be used to fight off feelings of sadness, and was inspired to try it for himself.
"You begin to see things very differently. It's a great gift that has come my way," said the artist who cites Frederick Franck's book, "Zen of Seeing/Drawing as Meditation," as another influence on his work.
"Franck suggests that by looking, seeing and letting your hand move, you will record what is out there."
Just like glazing allowed him to connect to a part of his childhood, discovering negative space, or the space between objects, filled another void for Dehejia the artist.
"Eric Butters at the Yellow Barn introduced me to Betty Edwards's book, "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain." I had an 'aha' moment because all that time I had been drawing on the left side of the brain."
Additional influences cited by Dehejia include Ron Ranson, Edgar Whitney and Tony van Hasselt.
"Edgar Whitney is the grandfather of watercolor painting, and Tony van Hasselt is the first of his students I was able to find."
Dehejia met Ranson, who has written a book on Edgar Whitney, on a special trip he took together with his wife to Ranson's home in Oregon.
"I wanted to paint like him, so I contacted him, and he invited us to his home. We hit it off right away and painted all day for four days. We discovered we had many parallels in our lives," said Dehejia who has searched far and wide to find inspiration and forge connections.
He took a group of Washington, D.C.-based watercolor painters to Rajasthan in his native India and also went to Cornwall, England to paint. With D.C.-area transplant Susan Abbott, he traveled to Provence in Southern France and started to understand "what people mean when they say the light is beautiful."
To visit the artist's website, click here.