<I wrote this in 2011 and never bothered publishing it. CraftCanvas has come a long way and I was just happy to look back>

It is my birthday week and the time of the year when I usually want to take stock of life. The rest of the year just goes by with the million things that I do and plan to do that the real things really get mixed up.The big things need to be planned and written down somewhere.

2010 was all about exploring life. I’ve always wanted to travel. But apart from places where work took me, it was just too difficult to get away anywhere. This year, I’ve traveled every month (even twice in some months) to places that are sometimes hard to find, even on a map!

 

Bangalore as a destination was all about friends. But this year, I visited an 100 year old workshop in Ulsoor and discovered the place where the demon gods are made.

Enjoyed some simple pleasures in life by watching a puppet show with handmade leather puppets.

Drove to no man’s land to hear the chisels at work.

Was enchanted by the massive forts in Rajasthan and the intricate weaves of Salawas’ dhurries.

Stepped into the breaktakingly beautiful Thanjuvur temple and stepped onto the simple beauty of handmade Athangudi tiles.

Witnessed devotion at its peak in the Rath yatra at Puri and marvelled at the wonder called Pattachitra.

Was humbled by the living conditions of one of the award winning artisans in our country. Dushasan Behera lives a difficult life in Dhenkanal, Orissa, yet manages to create stunning pieces of art.

Was inspired by a bunch of enterprising women who conquered the tsunami.

A year of exploration, one of learning, one that grounded me and the one that I would live many times over. But it is time to move on, to act on what is learnt, to create a platform to learn more and to prepare for the next year.

A big year is coming my way and I am already looking forward to it!

I called up a friend to chat up after a day’s work. She was getting back from work in a taxi and she had a lot of time. Traffic in Bombay can be a blessing at times :)  She was generally updating me about work and life and she concluded that nothing had changed. When she told me that I sounded tired, I gave her an update of my day. I had driven 80 odd kilometers on pretty tree-lined roads to reach Dholka, a quaint town near Ahmedabad. And I played with colors and shapes! :)

I met Anilbhai at the 15 day wood workshop that I attended at CEPT university. The same workshop that irked my friends and family as I was totally out of touch for 15 days. I would drag my tired self home around 9 pm everyday and reach the workshop before 9 am the next day. So writing a blog was out of question. In the 15 days, designers and craftsmen tirelessly worked on discussions, scaled down models and designs. At the end of the workshop, each team came up with some interesting output. One of the craftsmen, Anilbhai ,  always has this no-nonsense air around him. He was at work well before the designers reached and finishedmore work than one can imagine before the sun sets. With a million ideas in my head that cropped up during the workshop, I landed at his doorstep in Dholka a week later. Niyati (my new colleague who deserves a blog post!) accompanied me. She brings along the energy that only happy 20 year olds can have and makes sure that she rubs it on everyone around her.

So my brief to Anilbhai was that I wanted to make lamp bases and tea light holders. His workshop mainly produces cradles and it is a heartening sight to see that such old world things still have a market. A market enough to sustain a comfortable livelihood for his family. His home is full of his work. Turned and lacquered red railings and a swing make his home very personal.

 

I’ve already covered the turning process once (lacquer in Kutch), so I am putting up the process photographs.

Unlike the Channapatna and Kutch lacquers, the colors are limited. With 7 colors only, we had to decide on combinations. Luckily, most of the colors that I had in mind for the next season’s palette was available.


So here is the result at the end of a hard day’s work! My friend has every reason to be jealous :)

This one is atleast 6 months pending. I’ve always wanted a Japanese style sit down table. Memoirs of Geisha and Nabinkumar’s vist to Ahmedabad rekindled that desire and I set out to make one. I picked up wood from a saw mill, gave it to my carpenter (who by then was used to my quirky demands) and he made the table top in a few hours. The primer was done and after a night of drying, I got Nabin to paint. Nabin comes from a family of Madhubani painters. Both his mother and sister are national award winning artistes. He is also very good and it makes me wonder how good the ladies must be!

A big fan of the peacock motif, I knew all the while what I wanted. I was surprised at myself at the choice of base colors. I am not known for subtlety in colors at all :) It took Nabin 4 days to slowly finish the entire painting. He insisted on doing up the centre, but I wanted to use a runner. So there wasn’t any point.

My carpenter finished up with the base. The table height was decided after much deliberation. And the impatient one that I am, I missed the varnishing step and started using it.

 

Some floor cushions, bolsters and pretty pretty Dabu printed fabric, my dining area is the coolest spot in my home. This is where I work (at times), read, eat and entertain. A hanging light is pending here, just waiting for that right inspiration to strike me! :)

 

 

I have spent entire summers waiting for 4 pm, the time when I was allowed to go to the park. The only thing that fascinated me there was the swing. I remember swinging for hours on end and reaching home with a dizzy head. I’ve done this every evening, all through the summer holidays. When I asked my parents if I could have a swing at home, my mom told me that swings were supposed to be only in parks. And I believed her! :)

I carried this urge from my childhood and finally found my swing. Like most amazing things in life, I found it when I wasn’t looking for it. I had to purchase some antique furniture for a client and was walking around the antiques market in Ahmedabad. There I ended up rescuing a swing. I would call it rescue because this beautiful piece of furniture was in fact being used to stack clothes. It was termite ridden, the edges were broken off, the rods were rusted and broken and the mirror was in bad shape. It was covered with inches of dust that I almost missed this gem.

When I expressed interest in buying it, the guy jacked up the rates. He even claimed some royal associations! Finally I gave in, paid him and haggled with a tempo guy to get it home. Though my husband is used to these weird looking things coming home, this 5 ft long really dirty thing was a bit too much for him. I persuaded him to finish

I called in the neighbourhood carpenter the next day. He managed to ruin it in just 5 minutes! He didn’t know how to sand such an old piece. I managed to stop him before he caused any more damage.

While I was looking for another carpenter, the swing started accumulating things. It was used to store anything that didn’t have a place of its own. Though not clear in the picture, it has a stack of toothpicks and candles from the last party.

In the meanwhile, I got a couple of mirror cut to size, ordered some turquoise tiles with a hint of yellow to go with my walls and I lowered my standards to buy the steel rods to hang them. I really wanted the bronze ones, but that would have cost me a fortune! :)

Finally I found a carpenter suited for this job and shifted the swing to his location. I waited for a week while the swing was sanded, polished and the tiles and mirror were fixed.

The ceiling needed to be ready before the swing arrived. My heart was in my mouth as the ceiling was punctured to screw up the holders.

Finally the swing was in its place. It is the primary piece of furniture in the living room and has become its signature.

My home, my swing! :)

I know I should have waited for the final picture of the Pooja Room Door. Priya is away and it will take a painful whole week to see the installation. She has an housewarming Pooja at the end of the month and wanted the paintings only by then. I guess this is what happens when you deliver well before the time you were supposed to. When it’s good service, of course I am allowed to brag! ;)

Priya wanted to do her Pooja Room differently. I am glad that she didn’t choose to pick up the regular ‘off the shelf’ versions available in the market. So after a good long conversation, we decided that the puppets would be a perfect idea. She is building her home in Hyderabad and a craft from that state would be ideal.

She was sure that she wanted Ashtalakshmi. I googled up a few pictures and she chose her image from a range that I sent her.

Since the craftsman lives in a village that is best reached by snail mail, I posted the picture to him. When I asked him for a proper address, Tulsi Rao said it was unnecessary and the postman knew him well. For an apartment dweller who hardly knows her neighbours, this was a quite a surprise. I don’t send snail mails and I waited for sometime before Tulsi Rao got my letter.

Thanks to the mobile phone, I explained the rest of the details. He said that the picture was a Tanjore painting. He would only use it for his reference and use his style to depict the Goddess.

The painting was ready in two weeks. I wasn’t comfortable with him sending the paintings back by post. I don’t know the postman here! So I convinced him to take a bus to the nearest town and send the paintings through DTDC. I finally had a CN number to track the shipment online.

I wish someone photographed my face when I opened the parcel. Gorgeous as it was, I had second thoughts about sending it to Priya :)

Here is how the paintings would look against the light.

Some individual pictures. Look at the detail on each of them.

I am still waiting for Priya to install the paintings on the door and send me the final pictures. Will share the same soon! :)

If you are looking for a custom made piece, email us on craftcanvas@gmail.com.

There has never been a better year. 2011 has been an eye-opener in more ways than one. I found my calling, better still I found the courage to pursue it. I surprised myself in many ways. I walked out of something that I dearly loved, set up an organisation, even signed up for an Interior design course. With less 1000 fans on my Facebook Page and a measly number of regular readers on the blog, I may have not done much. But to think that these numbers were zero once does bring a smile to my face. In all this journey, my vital support has come from my family and my dearest friends, some of whom have done things for me without even asking them for it. But there are others who are oblivious of my existence, whose stories and life have inspired me to take this step. Their work is something I look upto and their beliefs and ethics are things that I will strive to imbibe in my work, no matter what.

Archana Srinivas is a blogger, photographer and with all that I’ve read is also a great designer. Her home will make your eyes pop out, so do her cakes (I’ve only seen photographs!) Her blog Rang Decor is one of the first that I started to follow. When I started on this blog, I wanted to do it just like her. Though it is difficult to match up to those standards, I am hoping to get there some day.

Vineeta Nair blogs at ArtnLight. Her designs are breathtaking, so is her journey. She was recently featured in a book ‘Desire to Inspire’ and rightly so. Her projects are beautiful, thoughtful and I am sure it reflects the person that she is. Her blog is her account of things that make her happy. How simple isn’t it to have a great blog?! :)

Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan is a superstar. If you’ve read Apartment Therapy, you’ll know exactly what I mean. The website covers everything from house tours to parties to home supplies to flea markets to just about everything one will need if you were to live a life (in the US, of course!) Their research is so thorough, so reliable and unbiased. I hope 10 years later, someone will say this about CraftCanvas.

Design*Sponge is a design blog run by Brooklyn-based writer, Grace Bonney. Her column on Biz ladies provides free advice on the subjects of PR/marketing, legal concerns, business/financial decisions and wholesaling for women entrepreneurs working in the design space. The blog is drool-worthy and covers a wide range of topics like home design, DIY, planning a party, even recipes! On a really dull day, all I need to do is put on some good music, get a cup of coffee and open Design Sponge. It is a cure for any kind of day!

This list is not exhaustive and there are many many more people I’ve missed out. I am happy I found all these people. I thank them with all my heart and hope their lives and work will continue to inspire people like me.

P.S: There are still times when I think that quitting a high paying job, putting my foot down on a start-up that I co-founded and then venturing again to do the bootstrapping wasn’t a great idea. When I hit this point, I have my list of inspiring people. Then it’s all about following your heart, no matter what.

I made Phirni for Diwali (I did ‘brag’ about it, if you remember). It took me about 2 hours of continuous stirring on low flame (mom’s instructions) to get the right (almost right, cause mom thought that another half hour of stirring would have yielded better results) consistency. One thing that really helped was using a wooden spoon. It’s round handle fits better in the palm making the whole process very ergonomically. Why else do you think that cricket bats, tennis racquets, hockey sticks, all sports equipment is made with rounded handles?! Also a spoon with hard edges can damage delicate ingredients. Wooden spoons, with their smooth and gentle curves are much less likely to bruise, crush or tear your ingredients as you stir.

Some extra marks for the wooden spoon as I could leave it behind in the pan while I took breaks to stretch my shoulder. Wooden spoons are non-conductive. However long they stay in the pan, they are never hot! :) They almost never react with your food, leaving it just the way it is supposed to be. You can read this and some more info about using wooden spoons from here.

On my recent trip to Kutch, I met Vagha Meran Vaghela and his family. The entire family is involved in lacquer work and they make beautiful wooden spoons, candle stands, bangle holders, etc using a hand operated lathe. The process is so eco-friendly and sustainable that all the materials are organic and locally sourced. The water-resistant resin is collected from the bark of a local tree, mixed with colours sourced fom other natural sources and made into bars of coloured lacquer used in this process.

The shape of the wooden spoon is first crafted with wood from the locally available babool tree.The spoon is then carefully fitted inbetween the two ends of the lathe and the bar of colour is added to it while it rotates. The rotation of the lathe is orchestrated by the back and forth movement of the a bamboo stick tied with a piece of thread.

The surface of the spoon is roughed up to enable the resin to stick easily to the sides.

Next the resin is gradually applied on the surface with one hand, while keeping the rotation constant (the back and forth movement) of the other hand.

Then vertical lines are added on the coloured surface using rods covered with the resin.

Every line is added with precision by hand.

Next the surface is wiped with a small cloth dipped in oil. The movement is kept constant.

This highly precise process creates rippled on the surface and the colours are altered in a constant motion.

The result is a beautiful piece of art. The entire family is involved in this process and the process has passed down through the generations. There are few products in line that I will introduce in the coming weeks.

For now, I am happy with my wooden spoon set and I am sure that my Christmas cake will come out better!

Click here to buy your set. In case you are wondering how to maintain your wooden spoons, follow these simple instructions to make sure they last forever. :)

 

My wooden chest was made using leftover plyboards. It was one of my first ‘recycle’ projects. Though the final output was quite flawed in terms of proportions, the chest has been invaluable in our household. We have a rule at home, ‘If you can’t something, then it is definitely inside the chest!’

This useful piece of furniture has now become centrepiece at home. It has moved from its place in the corner to the middle of our drawing room. All thanks to Laltu Chitrakar who decorated the chest with his beautiful art- Pattachitra from West Bengal.

Unlike it’s Orissa counterpart, the one in West Bengal is characterised by big motifs, distinct characters and cover a wider range of themes. A marriage of two fishes is an interesting theme that is depicted in these paintings.

Each painting is conceptualized as a song. So the painting’s story is sung by the painters. Radha Chitrakar is one of the last in her community to follow this trend. Her daughter and her son (Laltu) have learnt this art from their mother, but are unable to conceptualise the songs behind them.

Another reason to visit West Bengal, the land of the Sundarbans :)

 

It’s time for Christmas and I am planning to get out the tree in a day or two. But this time around, I am going to decorate the tree with a few Indian decorations. As the festival is incomplete without the jingling bells, here is what I found in Kutch last weekend.

The villages of Zura and Nirona are well known for their bell making. The craftsmen belong to the community of Luhars, who brought the craft with them from Sindh. Primarily used to identify herds, these bells are now used widely in decorative accessories. Luhar Siddik Husen’s family has been practising this craft through generations. His very enterprising son has introduced some interesting designs using this craft.

While writing this post, I did some research on the acoustics of bells and here is what I found on www.msu.edu. “The bell is more complex acoustically than any other vibrating body intended for musical purposes, and its manufacture presents a formidable challenge. It’s cup shaped design produces an array of frequencies which, if not controlled, would prevent any harmonious blending of tone when two or more bells are heard simultaneously. Consequently, proportions must be determined that will result in frequencies and their amplitudes considered desirable in a musical bell.”

There are 13 sizes in all, starting from the small one that a goat wears to bigger ones for cattle. The precision is evident while they are played in succession, the first eight bells resonate the sa-re-ga-ma-pa-da-ne-sa.

Made using scarp sheet, this craft is as eco-friendly as it can get. The entire bell is hand cut and joined using very basic tools. There is no welding in the piece. Each bell has 3 distinct parts, the dome, the lower cylinder and the hook on the top.

Once the parts are joined, they are covered with earth, sprinkled with some copper dust and the pieces are fused together in the furnace.

Once outside the furnace, they get their copper tinge with a beautiful patina that can only be achieved with something handcrafted. They are bent a little at the edges, the bend giving them that resonating sound. A wooden piece is attached to the bell.

This beautiful piece of craft resonates with such clarity. The echo is music to the ears.

So this Christmas, let your tree and your spirit echo the sound of these bells from Nirona. To buy these bells, click here

I met a very interesting interior designer recently. She only designs schools, how cool! :) Vivacious and a colourful personality herself, this mother of two looks just the kind of person who would make the usually drab school environment ‘all happy and fun’. During our discussion, she was telling me about how ‘Mogli’ appeals to children and hence it is used widely used in classroom decor.

Instantly my mind started racing about how our cute little Madhubani elephants and Gond deers can appeal to kids. How about Panchatantra with the enormous source of wisdom and values? Do kids these days immerse themselves in Amar Chitra Katha and Chandamama like we used to decades ago?! And why shouldn’t these stories be a part of their lives?

I ordered a few books on Panchatantra from Flipkart. Honestly, I was a little shy to be looking around for them in the children’s section at Crossword! :) I discussed this with a few artisans and they came up with some motifs and I also put together some of them from magazines and googled a few. Now I have about 6 crafts that I will be focusing on.

I’ve done my bit, the artisans are all excited to do theirs. A few suggestions from your side, considering you are the end user will help me finalise designs and start work on the range of products.

Here is a small questionnaire in this regard, hope you will help us bring back the fond memories of Panchatantra for your kids.

Please click here for the questionnaire.