What happens when a girl loses herself in her artwork?

Shreya Sharath holds the book she wrote.


Shreya Sharath, at 13, has a passion for art.

So does Rachel, also 13, the central character in the book Shreya wrote, “The Hidden Realm.”

“I definitely do think that she has come from me,” said Shreya of the character she created. “I have been into art from the time I was super young. It’s always something I’ve been really passionate about.”

Creating art, Shreya says in this week’s Enterprise podcast, brings her peace and joy.

“I can just paint for hours; I can sketch for hours without even knowing the time went by.”

Shreya’s book is illustrated with her own artwork “so that people could see exactly what I was imagining.”

Her imagination is vivid.

Rachel is an introverted girl who feels overshadowed by her outgoing, popular, prank-playing younger brother and so loses herself — quite literally — in her artwork.

“I’m an only child,” said Shreya. “I know as a kid I always wanted a sibling because I was very lonely … I wanted someone to play with.”

Early on, Shreya writes in the first-person narrative voice of Rachel as she is being tricked by her brother, “His green eyes were shining in the sun. I would normally paint his eyes like jungles, with trees swaying in the wind. But that wasn’t what I was going to paint today.”

Asked about her metaphoric use of words, Shreya said, “Well, when I had first just thought about how I wanted to write the sentence as her looking through his eyes, I had made like my own picture in my mind. So, like, there’d be his eyes, and then there’d be, like this entire jungle, an entire forest of different trees, maybe a few animals in there, and then the trees swaying in the wind.”

In writing poems, which Shreya does often, she uses metaphor as well. One of her poems takes off from the Japanese practice of kintsugi, which she describes this way, “Whenever there’s a broken pot … they fill in the cracks with gold so, even though it’s broken, they can still make it beautiful in the end.”

Shreya’s poem is called “True Beauty.” In it, she rejects the commonplace assumption of wrinkles being ugly and likens an old face to “a road map that shows where you’ve been” — the cracks filled with joy and love. “Just see the gold shining through,” she writes.

“The Hidden Realm” is equally poetic, tracing Rachel’s journey once she has entered her own painting. Rachel is befriended by two fairies and an elf — each with powers from one of the four elements and names to match: Airia, an air fairy; Thistle, a rather prickly earth fairy; and Tidal, a water elf.

In a 54-page story divided into 12 chapters, Rachel has to draw on courage she didn’t know she had to help her new friends in their quest to end a brutal war caused by a fire fairy named Ash.

But even the evil force is not simplistic. “Ash was a fire fairy,” Shreya explains, “but she was born without being able to control fire … which made other fairies and other creatures pick on her … So she figured out how to control power and how to get power.”

Since Ash was “traumatized as a kid,” says Shreya, “it really twisted her mind into thinking that the only way that you can be powerful is if you can actually control people, which made her evil and which made her mean and really controlling over others.”

Rather, says Shreya, “Everyone is talented in their own way.” Her story shows that controlling others through fear and brute force, as Ash did, leads to ugly turmoil and unhappiness — even for her minions.

The character, Rachel, through entering into “the hidden realm” of her own painting re-emerges as a stronger person, able to appreciate her brother and, as importantly, herself for who she is.

Shreya has dedicated her book to her parents.

Her father, who works as an information technology project manager, consistently challenged Shreya to make her book better, she said. “He would always tell me that I had to rewrite something … so he was my editor at home and, although it was a little irritating — at some point, I was like: I’m done with this — he really pushed me so much that it brought out my writing skills.”

Shreya went on, “My mom has been my encouraging person. She’s always been there for me, always telling me to keep writing.” When Shreya would feel like “no one’s going to like” her book, her mother would say, “You know what? You can do it. Just keep pushing, keep writing. You can do this.”

Shreya concluded, “She’s always helped me so much with writing and with so many other things as well. And I really do thank my parents a lot for doing this for me.”

Shreya’s mother, Sujatha Shareth, is a teacher of classical Indian dance and Shreya has performed, along with her mother’s other students, at the Albany Hindu Cultural Center.

“Dance and music are a really big and important part of my life,” said Shreya, noting she started studying both classical Indian dance and music when was very young, learning from her mother.

“And then, as time went on, I started to really like the American culture and the American way of singing and the American way of doing other things,” she said. “So I started doing ballet and hip-hop and jazz dance and I started singing Western music and I started playing the piano and the violin.”

Despite her many artistic talents, Shreya thinks she’d like to be a psychiatrist although she acknowledges that may well change over time. “Right now, I’m really into mental health and trying to help people … because I know that mental health is one of the really, really big issues that’s occurring in our world today,” she said.

All proceeds from her book, which can be purchased online through Amazon, will go to a charity based in India that “helps kids in rural India find housing and to also study until they graduate so that they can actually make a life for themselves even though they aren’t as privileged,” said Shreya. “So that is really an important cause to me, and my parents also contribute to that.”

Shreya’s book is, itself, about a child finding her way. She wrote it with children ages 7 to 10 in mind, but says, “The book is really for anyone who wants to read it … Some of the lessons can be taught to anyone.”

Those lessons include “teamwork is literally everything” and “you should never give up,” she says. 

Rather like writing her book, Shreya says, “There’s so many times in this book where characters have felt that they have to give up, that they want to turn back because they’re scared, because they feel like they can’t do it. But they didn’t give up because they had an end goal to reach and they had to meet that.

“And there’s so many things with feeling that you should be secure about yourself. You don’t need to be an outgoing person. You don’t need to have so many friends in order to feel good about yourself. You should be happy with how you are, just as you are.”


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