To highlight threatened and flagship species which the organisation has been working to protect, designs of murals to be carved on stone were commissioned by World Wide Fund for Nature, India. The hand-crafted murals were meant to be installed outdoors, in the front lawns of WWF-India secretariat in New Delhi. This project was undertaken in collaboration with The Stoneland (a professional firm based in Jaipur that specialises in handcrafting on natural stones).

Above: Finished mural at the entrance of WWF-India secretariat compound

Planning phase
The project started with specifying species to be highlighted on the murals and then researching or identifying reference images for each of them. Experts at WWF-India, along with the designer, shortlisted images of each species from a liberal selection of photographs and illustrations from books, from the web and from the WWF database of images. Shortlisted images met two important criterion: to be good if not ideal representative of the species and to be in profile (and not in perspective) so that they would look good in relief (without use of any colour) on stone.

Selection of stone types
Along with images, stone-types which could be used for the assignment were also identified and their samples shared with the organisation for them to get an accurate idea of the feel and colour of the material. Sandstone was selected as the medium for it does not have self-texture and is maintenance-free. Since it does not have self-texture, any carving on it is clearly visible. Some of the sandstone types submitted for approval included Bansi Pink, Agra Red, Beige and Mint. Sizes of murals were decided in advance and smooth stone slabs were ordered accordingly from distributors.

The drawing phase
Selected images were used by the graphic designer to create a couple of rough compositions in the desired proportions and options were presented to WWF-India. Logo of WWF was also included in the compositions. After the compositions were approved, simplified line drawings of each species were made (on the computer in vector format and hand-drawn in some cases) by the designer in consultation with The Stoneland. This was a difficult and extremely time-consuming process. Backgrounds (featuring vegetation, water, land and mountains) were also included in the compositions to balance them, to make them interesting and to show inter-relationships in nature. The final drawings were presented to WWF-India and after approval, they were composed on the computer (hand-drawn images were scanned and inserted into the compositions) in actual size, printed out on a large format black-and-white laser printer and submitted to The Stoneland for carving.

Above: Composition with simplified drawings for the main mural

The carving process
Stone slabs reached The Stoneland while the drawing and composition process was taking place. It was decided to hand-carve the compositions on stone in bas relief owing to its subtle, eye-catching and artistic effect, perhaps drawing a little from India’s rich art heritage wherein countless temples and historical sites are studded with relief sculptures, with Elephant carvings in stone at Mahabalipuram being some the most famous.

Along with full-scale drawings, photographs of each species were also submitted to The Stoneland. The relief aspect of each species and the whole composition was first understood by The Stoneland, then compositions on stone slabs were divided into layers and carving done accordingly, with meticulousness.

Above: Angular view of the main mural showing bas relief and layers

The reference photographs submitted helped the craftsmen to understand relief, expression and skin texture aspects of each species, which were not coming out clearly through simplified illustrations. The craftsmen were also not familiar with some of the species so the photographs also helped in that regard.

Above: Craftsman carving Otter skin on stone slab while using a photograph as reference

Full-size laser prints were pasted on the slabs and major outlines were traced directly on the material. Carving on stone is a specialized skill and it was done by skilled craftsmen in Jaipur (Rajasthan, India), for many of whom, this has been a profession for generations. Even today, in the countryside east of Jaipur, one can find little shops selling crafts carved out of stone and stone craftsmen sitting right there and working.

Above: Mural detail revealing intricate carving including texture for delicate fur of Panda

Skilled craftsmen used simple chisels and hammers to carve. Since there is no room for error while carving on stone, the process was slow, work was paused whenever there was any confusion, on-the-spot decisions taken and changes or suggestions incorporated then and there.

Above: Mural detail showing intricate carving done to render the image of a Gharial

Preparations for installation
While carving on stone slabs was being done, discussions about where in WWF-India’s secretariat compound the murals would be set were on. Photographs of all prospective locations around the compound were taken by the designer and based on feedback by The Stoneland on how they would be fixed, rough mock-ups were created on Photoshop and presented to the organisation to give a realistic idea of how the murals would look at different places in the compound. Basis the mockups, their places were finalised.

Above: A computer-generated mockup of the main mural

Finished stone murals were transported from Jaipur to Delhi along with other required material including stone bases. Craftsmen were also sent from Jaipur to install the murals at the secretariat front lawns. An architect was consulted for the installation process.

The main standalone mural, carved on beige sandstone, was installed at the entrance of WWF-India secretariat compound and it featured key flagship species (Bengal Tiger, Indian Rhinoceros, Indian Elephant, Black-necked Crane and Ganges River Dolphin). The size of this mural was 84 x 60 x 2-1/2 inches and it weighed around 400 Kgs!

Above: The main mural

Two smaller murals, 48 x 48 x 2 inches in size, were commissioned later, to portray WWF-India’s focus on additional species. The first smaller mural highlighted Nilgiri Tahr, House Sparrow, Red Panda and Olive Ridley Turtle.

Above: The first smaller mural

The second small mural highlighted Great Indian Bustard, Snow Leopard, Indian Otter and Gharial. Both were carved in Agra Red sandstone. Since the two looked like a pair once completed, they were installed not too far from each other, in the front lawn facing the entrance of WWF-India secretariat building.

Above: The second smaller mural

The standalone murals, immediately after installation, were coated with waterproofing sealant. Names of craftsmen were engraved on their back side.

The standalone murals in stone met WWF-India’s larger objective of highlighting its focus areas and some truly wonderful birds and animals in an environment-friendly manner, using natural material and traditional craft techniques. Unlike most outdoor displays, these would hopefully communicate their visual message for decades to come!