Making the Cut

From intricate laser-cut mandala wall art to a hand-carved resin-wood furniture range, Ahmedabad-based product designer Karan Nawab’s experiments are an ode to creativity and an ongoing labour of love.

Text: Diksha Jawle
Photographs: courtesy Karan Nawab Designs

Product designer Karan Nawab

“Little drops of water, little grains of sand; make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land” — these lines by Julia Carney sums up the artistic journey of Ahmedabad-based product designer Karan Nawab. Having studied mechanical engineering, he had no plans of venturing into the arts, and aimed to join his father’s factory that manufactures carbon fibre products. However, it was dabbling in the technique of laser cutting that inspired him to be a self-taught product designer that he is today. “My father, who is an aeromodeller by hobby, used to make aircraft models by laser cutting. As a kid, I used to help him build these models and that’s what developed my interest in art. It was during my final year in mechanical engineering when I was truly mesmerised by this amazing technology. It made me think of the things one can make with laser cutting. Upon doing a lot of research, I decided to make something of my own,” he explains. Thus, his brand Woodpecker was born.

Moroccan architectural design and colours influence the 27-layered Wall of Hasan I artwork.

Initially, Karan used his knowledge to create laser-cut wooden coasters and wooden mobile covers. The turning point in his design journey came about when a request from a customer — for an engraving on a mobile phone cover — introduced him to the intricate patterns of mandala art. Spellbound by the fine geometric details of this artform, Karan went on the research further. It was the design sourcebook The Grammar of Ornament (an examination of diverse styles of decorative design by 19th-century architect and influential design theorist, Owen Jones) which answered all his queries, and also inspired him to try various other facets of mandala art.

The Pursuit of Joy conveys the emotions Karan went through during the beginning of his first wall artwork. Made from MDF, it shows a boy on his knees experiencing joy and success. The detailed mandala art highlights his thoughts.

During his engineering years, Karan had learnt the importance of layers in the formation of design, and applied the same concept while creating wood relief mandala wall art. “The idea was quite simple and traditional, where I used number of layers to create a three-dimensional form,” he says. The outcome of this first experiment was the Pursuit of Joy artwork — a depiction of a boy on his knees feeling both grateful and fatigued — made of 23 layers of hand-painted MDF. In 2018, Karan applied to participate in Raw Collaborative, a curated exhibition of the best furniture and home decor design from India. “I was quite clueless when they asked me to share my portfolio because I wasn’t practicing the art professionally. On WhatsApping them a few images of the Pursuit of Joy, the organisers told me they would be launching me under their Raw Discoveries category. They also gave me a small space in their exhibition. And the response I received was crazy,” shares an elated Karan, who cites this incident as his professional breakthrough.

As the name suggests, the Draped Table mimics the effect of fabric. It is hand-carved out of solid teak.

Going forward, he changed his brand’s name to Karan Nawab Designs to give his work a personal association. He also mastered mandala art and tried it on diverse mediums. Inspired by human emotions, Islamic architecture, Persian and Arabic art, and mythological figures, today his work is nothing short of artistic brilliance. For instance, the Persian Dreams wall art is a nod to magnificent Persian rugs; Aphrodite portrays the beauty and bravery of the Greek goddess; and The Circle of Life highlights the importance of balance. Serene and colourful Moroccan designs and an ethereal touch of Jainism also find interpretation in his wall art. “The idea is to fuse all the elements with mandala art and convey the meaning in an artistic form. I create the entire design in Adobe Illustrator and then start creating layers. Each of my artwork — crafted from either MDF or paper that is locally sourced from Ahmedabad — has got at least 15-20 layers. Each of these layers are laser cut, hand painted and stuck together with Fevicol,” explains Karan.

The Ocean Bar Table Set is Karan’s first experiment with resin and wood. A representation of an island, the wood in the bar table was arranged to resemble an island with the resin bringing to mind a tranquil lagoon.

Besides wall art, Karan has tried his hand at furniture designing as well — a galaxy-themed coffee table, a hand-carved teak table with the effect of a drape and a bar table set made from a mix of resin and wood. Eager to explore his craft further, Karan plans to fuse his layered art technique along with kinetic art. “It’s still just a weird idea. I haven’t really worked it out yet, but it would be having a rotating mandala,” he muses. While his products are currently available to peruse on his Instagram page (karannawabdesigns), the young designer is working on a website and has set his sights on international waters as well.