Modern Artwork – The rise of the Women Artrepreneurs

In this three part series, Ashwin S. delves into the newer forms of art, and how a young breed of female artrepreneurs are cashing in on these booming trends, while overcoming challenges and hurdles. This month, he focuses on Mandala, Portrait Sketching, Decoupage and Bottle Art.

For the un-initiated, first let’s understand what we are talking about. So here’s a quick guide to help you understand better:

Mandala – Mandala is a complex art form that relies on intricate geometrical patterns to create visually appealing (and often hypnotic) designs. The name Mandala is derived from a Sanskrit word which means a circle.

Portrait Sketching – While sketching may seem to be something that anyone can do, portraits are another story altogether. The ability to draw realistic portraits comes only after weeks, months and perhaps even years of rigorous practice. Sketching is basically a free-hand drawing created with pencils with varying degree of hardness and shades. In painting and most other forms of art, colour has prime value to show the quality of image, whereas in sketching, it is usually black that steals the limelight.

Decoupage – Decoupage is an art where paper cut-outs are used to decorate a surface. Pieces of colourful paper are laced with glues like in a collage, hand-painted to blend and enhance the designs and finally varnished to make it durable. It originated in East Siberia and became popular in ancient China and France. It was only in the 20th century that it gained popularity in the US and later in other parts of the world.

Bottle Art – While the name itself may be a giveaway as to what this art form is all about, it is interesting to note that there is no defined format for this art. While the base element is a bottle for sure, the art in itself can be either the painting, decoration or a mix of both. Also, these bottles are not only showpieces but they double up as useful household objects such as flowerpots, candle holders, lamps etc.!

The Driving Force

So what made these artists take up artwork? Passion? Coincidence? Money? “I was unemployed for quite a bit. I turned to bottle art as an outlet after visiting a few friends in Bengaluru, where we happened to sit and while away time painting a bottle together. They even gave me a bottle to take home to paint. After reaching Mangaluru, I did manage to paint and decorate it. I still have the bottle and a lot of offers for it, but I do not intend to part with it. It is now like my prized talisman.” says Andrea.

Born into a family of people who enjoy artwork (her grandmom does knitting, embroidery, crochet and much more, her mom draws cartoon characters, stick dolls and other craft work), Sankirtha happened to just chance into Mandala. On a two month vacation whilst she was in Qatar, while she sat around browsing YouTube, she happened to watch a Mandala tutorial. As she was bored, she just tried it out for fun, and there has been no looking back.

Reenal started drawing when she was just 3 years old! While she was in school, her drawing teacher recognized her skill and asked her to join drawing classes. However, she refused as she was interested in learning at her own pace. During her high school, she started randomly sketching faces of people around her. “Initially I started with the faces of my parents and friends, but they never came out well. When I saw Indian artist Vilas Nayak’s videos on YouTube, I was deeply inspired and started honing my talents using YouTube itself. It has been 1-2 years now where all my sketches are close to reality and I’m working to make them look more realistic.” she says. On an average, it takes her 4-5 hours to render one sketch.

Most of the other artrepreneurs featured here have tried their hands at sketching and they admit that it isn’t easy. “I used to do a lot of sketching, but I cannot for the life of me make a human look human” laughs Andrea. “If I was to sketch, it’d have been difficult for me. I do love sketching, but I’m not half as perfect. I can imagine sketches, but to put them on paper I need to have a copy of them.” says Sankirtha.

Sapna, who has always been interested in art and craft right from her school days, says she never got a chance to develop her skills or to learn different forms of art, as it is one of the most neglected disciplines in the Indian education system. And unlike today, back then it was quite expensive to take up art and craft classes. Thanks to the internet and smartphones, she has now picked up everything on her own.

“Though I had a lot of theoretical knowledge about decoupage through the internet, it was almost impossible to find the materials locally. Around two years ago, I attended a workshop on Decoupage in Bengaluru, which is where it all began for me. While I also do a lot of other arts and crafts like quilling, glass painting, silk thread jewellery etc., it is decoupage that I enjoy the most. I chose this art because I found it very interesting, very creative and extremely simple at the same time. Most importantly with basic supplies of glues, paints and varnishes, it is possible to upcycle anything that would have otherwise hit the dustbin, be it glass, wood, metal or even plastic.” she adds.

Inspiration vs. Plagiarism – The fine line

When it comes to artwork, plagiarism has always been the bone of contention. What one artist sees as an inspiration can be construed by the other as downright plagiarism. The line is very thin indeed. With regard to Mandala, Sankirtha admits that initially when she started out, she just used to replicate designs found online. But as her hands, eyes and brain adjusted to the geometric kaleidoscope that is mandala, she began creating variants of her own and slowly moved out into original works with minimal reference points. Andrea, who checks out various bottle artworks online for inspiration feels that there is no way that two bottles can be exactly identical even if one of them was deeply ‘inspired’ by the other. “There’s nothing wrong in checking other people’s work for inspiration” she adds, strongly. And she is perhaps right in saying that, as each artist knowingly or unknowingly tends to add their own flavour to every piece of art, thereby making it unique.

“Whenever I used to see something attractive, I always felt like sketching it. But back then, it never turned out realistic and I always felt like I should work more on it. In this regard, YouTube videos helped me a lot and I derived a lot of happiness and satisfaction whenever I saw the improvement in my art. Some of my art indicates the different ways to think about and to learn how to accept the reality. Someone else may happen to think similarly. Now that can’t be termed plagiarism can it?” opines Reenal.

Is there a market for such goods?

Indians are known to be casual scrooges when it comes to spending on artwork. This generally puts a lot of pressure on the artrepreneurs who are either unable to find a client or even if they do, are bogged down by the heavy bargaining.

“Yes, there is a market for quirky goods, just not so much in Mangaluru. I have encountered people who are really interested in my art work. Generally, the younger people are the ones who approach me for my work. But Mangaluru on the whole is not yet open to support people like me and art like mine. I feel there is a good scope for my products in the metros.” says Andrea. When it comes to decoupage, most of us have not even heard of it mainly because it is difficult to find the materials locally. It is more popular in the bigger cities not only because there are local suppliers of materials who sell it at reasonable prices but also due to the fact that there are many professional craftsmen. People prefer a printed and framed picture bought online over a hand-made painting as it is comparatively cheaper. The fact is, not all handmade goods are expensive and more importantly people fail to see the quality and its value in handicrafts and arts.

For these artists, it is not easy to find a platform to sell on. Andrea who has used some online marketplaces says that the experience has not been the best, with most responders just messaging casually with no intent of purchase, or the cheapskates who try to bargain for rock-bottom prices, often asking it for a price that’s even below the cost involved in making these items. Thus, they have to mostly rely on custom orders from friends and acquaintances, and other similar leads arising from their social networking handles. Of late though, akin to major metros, Mangaluru has been witnessing flea markets, which provide an economically feasible platform to these budding entrepreneurs to showcase, market and sell their products.

Sourcing the stuff

Mangaluru being a small city has its share of disadvantages, especially when it comes to finding materials related to artwork. In fact, this issue is quite common across the whole of Karnataka with the only exception perhaps being Bengaluru. While Bengaluru boasts of art megastores like Itsy Bitsy, one’s best bet in Mangaluru is School Book Company.

While Sankirtha doesn’t have too much of a problem finding materials for her Mandala art (predominantly because generally regular colour pens are used to draw these designs), and neither does Reenal, whose arsenal consists of relatively easy to find stuff like Staedler, Mars, Lumograph, HB, 2B, 6B, 8B and EE pencils, cloth swabs, cotton buds etc., the problem is much more evident in the case of Andrea and Sapna, both of whom find it difficult to get the materials they need. Stuff like polymer clay, decoupage paper and other such paraphernalia is unlikely to be found in places other than metros. Yes, there is an option of ordering them online, but when it comes to artwork it’s all about the touch and feel during the material selection process, opines Andrea.

“The basic material for decoupage is MDF wood and decoupage napkins/papers which I buy directly from different suppliers from Mumbai, Pune, Gurgaon and Bengaluru. Other materials required are glues, primers, paints and varnishes. I either buy them directly from suppliers or sometimes online. Unfortunately, most of the materials that are required cannot be sourced locally and different materials should be brought from different suppliers depending on price, quantity and quality.” says Sapna.

Pricing a work of passion

How do you put a price on something that has taken a lot of creative thinking, time and effort?

While Andrea turns to her brother to help her in deciding a price point, she also keeps in mind the cost of the materials. Even if she feels her prices are fair, many people have told her that the prices seem unreasonable, especially for something as ‘simple’ and ‘useless’ as an upcycled bottle. These are the exact same people who buy mass-produced pieces from high-end malls at exorbitant and often unjustified prices, simply because of the brand factor. “They are unwilling to shell out money for something unique, that would help support someone pursuing their passion.” she adds. Her products are generally sold in the price range of 100 to 1000 rupees.

Reenal, who started her page on Instagram recently in November 2017, started receiving appreciative messages from friends as well as strangers who asked her to draw their portraits, which they wouldn’t mind paying for. This is when she began experimenting with prices. Starting off with a meagre 100 Rs. per portrait, as she improved in her artwork she gradually increased it to 500 Rs. While she currently charges 500 Rs. for simple portraits, there are times when the prices have been to the tune of 1000 Rs. where the detailing work involved was more. Currently, she uses only Instagram as the primary medium of sales.

Sankirtha who shares most of her work through social media has to date sold many items including Mandala drawings, Scooby Stripes and Keychains. She prices these based on the size of the canvas or the effort involved. However, she makes sure it is priced very competitively and affordable to all. Similarly, Sapna has no fixed prices. She bases it on the cost of the materials used and the time spent on the project. She handles sales on a made-to-order basis, with customers requesting their own variants of the sample pieces she uploads on her Facebook page.

Social media has indeed come as a saviour to these budding artrepreneurs!

Defining moments

For Reenal, the Khilji sketch of Ranveer Singh from Padmaavat was her most challenging sketch to date. Her defining moment came however when Adah Sharma, a leading actress in Tamil and Telugu films reposted Reenal’s sketch of her and also replied to her.

Sankirtha has a never-say-die attitude which helped her master the art of Mandala. A recently completed Mandala artwork of a half-faced Buddha, made using dotting tools was her most challenging one to date. But she was happy with the final result, she adds.

Mandala is known to be a stress-reliever. Many people use it as an outlet to get rid of their irritation, melancholy or even anger. Drawing these is kind of therapeutic, helping people channelize their thoughts in one particular direction, generating positive energy. Sankirtha too admits that she uses Mandala to help her relieve stress, especially during the time of examinations.

Andrea, who almost gave up when things didn’t work out too well initially, says the defining moment was when an old classmate of hers took real interest in her art, purchased a few items and also suggested that she should do more and sell them. Thankfully, Andrea’s mom was also quite supportive and excited for her daughter to have her own business, something that is quite unusual with Indian parents.

For Sapna, the defining moment was when her friends from Toastmasters Club encouraged her to start taking up orders, after having seen the photos of her projects which she had shared on social media. While she was a bit hesitant at first, she says it has all worked out quite well. These days, she even conducts sessions on various forms of arts and crafts to kids of different age groups.

Tips for the budding artrepreneurs

“Go with your gut feeling. Let inspiration guide your brush. Overthinking generally messes up the artwork. Keep it simple, and everything will fall into place. Use the internet to your advantage. You can find amazing tricks like mixing acrylic and glass paints for a better effect” says Andrea.

While sketching, Reenal recommends using a black marker for detailing and a white gel pen for highlights. “When smudging use an extra piece of paper underneath your hand, this minimizes the amount of hand smudges on your pencil lines.” she adds.

“Many of my friends come up to me and ask me how I manage to have such a lot of patience to complete a Mandala artwork. It’s an addiction which I can’t really explain. The more you work on something you like, the better you become at it. So keep practicing hard, do not give up hope, do not be afraid to explore and realize your true potential. Don’t wait for a canvas, make the world your canvas” quips Sankirtha.

“There is no art or craft that is challenging. As long as you have interest and patience, everything falls into place. If we have genuine interest in us to learn something and the patience to practice on a continual basis, it is possible to master anything.” says Sapna.

Reenal Alva

Reenal was born and brought up in Udupi. A pharmacy student studying in NGSMIPS Deralakatte, she enjoys sketching, music and dance. She feels people need to appreciate these talents and encourage them more. She also wants all parents encourage their kids to do more than academics. “I would want to be a successful pharmacist and I would definitely like to continue sketching, while moving towards excellence. There is no specific goal but I will enjoy where my destiny takes me.” she adds.

Reenal can be found on Instagram at RSA art gallery (@sketch.freak_)

Andrea Noronha

An M.Com graduate, who later realized that the finance field is not really her calling, Andrea says she is lucky enough to have found a passion for art, which gives her immense joy. In addition to bottle art, she likes baking, writing, singing and travelling. She also loves animals. “I am a dog person, and a cat person... but that totally depends on the cat!” she adds jokingly. She likes to take things as they come, going with the flow. She prefers living life laid back.

Andrea can be found on Instagram and Facebook at @andicraftz

Sankirtha S

Sankirtha is a 2nd year student of Mass Communication and Journalism. She is an animal lover who enjoys playing, rescuing and taking care of animals. She has a lot of pets at home including birds, fishes, cats and dogs. Apart from this, she loves travelling, exploring new places, baking and cooking.
Quite surprisingly, she loves bikes and speed thrills. She says she got this craze from her mom who rides bikes and cars. “Many people have tried their level best to scare me by riding at high speeds with me as a pillion, but all they managed to do was make me enjoy the ride more” she says, with a wide grin on her face.

Sankirtha can be found on Instagram and YouTube at @mandalaholic_me

Sapna Shenoy

Sapna is a Personal Investment Advisor and trainer based out of Mangaluru. After graduating from St Agnes College, she completed her PGDIM through the St Aloysius Evening College.

“Find 3 hobbies - One that makes money (for me that’s my profession as a financial advisor). One to keep you in shape (I am yet to figure out this one) and One to be creative (for me, this is crafting)” she says.

She has recently started a 2-day beginner’s level decoupage class for a small group. She plans to conduct many more workshops at both beginners and advanced levels where people can actually take it up as a profession or part-time job for some extra income.

Sapna can be found on Facebook at @theserialquillerr

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