In our series, Job Perks, creators share little learnings, fun habits and other endearing peculiarities from their daily lives on the job.
Product designer Priyanka Shah is the founder of Shed, a design studio based in Surat, Gujarat. She studied architecture at Parsons School of Design in New York. Many of her products — bowls, note stackers, placemats — are made out of wood. Here, she explains how learning the sitar helps understand different facets of the same material she works with everyday.
My family and I live in a farmhouse in Surat, with cows and greens all around. My workshop, in fact, is situated right next to our cowshed. It’s no surprise then that a lot of my work is with wood — the material seemed like a no-brainer for me to work with because it just fits into the ecosystem naturally.
Three years ago, I began playing the sitar. I really missed music in my life, and Surat really isn’t a place known for its music scene (it’s virtually non-existent). It’s actually quite barren on the culture ground because it’s an industrial town with factories all around. I was lucky enough to find a tutor for sitar-playing who is trained in the Hindustani style and whose family consists of classical musicians that go back three generations.
It definitely helped that the sitar was such a beautiful object, even just to look at. I remember being mesmerised with the construction of it — it’s made from wood, dried gourd or pumpkin, and brass, with metal strings — so it’s largely natural too!
At this point, it was also about cultivating another skill from scratch. The sitar is a relatively difficult instrument, and it was humbling to get back to basics — stumbling along the way, but determined to hold on to the music.
It’s been interesting for me because I’ve been handling wood in a completely different way than I would in my wood shop, obviously. I have to be super careful with the sitar — every tiny movement lends a consequence in the sound; it is a very subtle activity. The wood shop sees a much more physical handling of the wood and bigger gestures lead to more tangible effects. I think I feel closer to wood as a material after I started playing the sitar!
Another reason I picked the sitar and not another musical instrument is because it had to be analogue. The sitar has about 24-odd strings, and it produces a very wholesome sound. You use only one main string to play — when that vibrates, all the smaller, thinner strings vibrate — and still, the sound is so full. I know that music is a big part of my creative thinking. Although I can’t put my finger on what exactly I get from playing the sitar, or how it directly applies to my design, I know it all comes together somewhere in my head or in the consciousness.