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Of Murals, Madhubani and Multifunctional Design: In Conversation with CraftCanvas

Design Inspirations from the remarkable Nisha Vikram

One of a kind murals to brighten up any living space, and thoughtful every day design from the team behind CraftCanvas

Everything you need to know about CraftCanvas, you can get from their recently designed Arka Model shelving unit. There’s a little bit of a DIY aesthetic to it, and there is the reinvention of a traditional Indian craft (in this case, the kind of lacquerwork and woodwork that Gujarat is known for). There is also an emphasis on form without sacrificing any of the “art” that makes it visually arresting. There is the fact that the product is a successful design collaboration between a Mexican design student and Indian artisans- and there’s the final work product, which is near about perfect.

 

Arka Model

Arka Shelf 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nisha Vikram and her team put the same kind of care and attention to large scale murals (most recently this one in the Center of Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship in IIM Ahmedabad), and tiny perfect designs such as these vibrant multi-purpose shelving solutions. We spoke to her earlier last week to find out more,  and here is what she had to say.

Could you tell us a little bit about the beginnings of CraftCanvas. What was the first project you worked on?

CraftCanvas started as blog that showcased Indian crafts from across the country, my suggestions on how each of us can add a little bit of handcrafted touch to our lives and of course, craft tourism; a way to create more interactions and opportunities for artisans who live in cut-off rural areas. The blog turned into projects where we offered custom-made solutions for Interior spaces.

My first project was to design a mural for child’s room. We used Madhubani as it gave us an option of adding many birds and little animals that would fascinate a child. I had never done a wall mural before and so there are mistakes that I made. But as a team, the final product was awesome and set the stage for further projects.

It is very interesting to me how Craft Canvas creates such larger than life installations (such as the CIIE tree- which is a beautiful composite of Gond Art and Ceramic), but also smaller pieces and tchotchkes like your children’s block printing kit. Where does a design idea begin for you, and how do you decide what you want to work on next? 

The CIIE Mural

Some of the design work is pretty straightforward. The client gives you a brief for the space and then we design with a lot of constraints (more often than not).

But there are some projects where you get to have some creative freedom and I never miss out on those projects, even if they are commercially not the best decisions.

For instance, I am going to work on a dome in a residence in Bangalore. Since it is on the ceiling and is visible from every level of the house, I had to work on perspectives. The whole idea fascinated me so much that I started studying chapels and architectural drawings even before the word go. The process of creation is as painful as it is exciting.

For the smaller designs, I have a thousand ideas that I come up with everyday. The most compelling ones (in my head) are the ones that fructify.  In short, my life is all about crafts and their different uses. I see an opportunity, an idea, a need everywhere. I don’t think I can stop thinking like that.

Could you tell us a little bit about some of the people you collaborate with and work with to bring these designs to life?

I couldn’t do anything just by myself!  The artisans form the backbone of what I do. They are almost like family. I am informed about their child births, new house renovations, crop status and even lack of rainfall. I always get the best achaars, groundnuts and other ‘made with love’ things from them.

On the other side, we have the designers that we work with. We’ve worked with designers of different nationalities, but I can safely say that only the kindest and the least egoistic ones have succeeded in working with the artisans. We will continue to collaborate with them.

To keep us focussed and to help us achieve larger goals, our mentors are always there. DICRC, CEPT University is a long term collaborator and so are various design professors.

I’ve been following your blog for a while, and really appreciate you eye for design from the most unlikely of places. Are there any recent everyday designs or colours that have really struck you as unusual or beautiful?

My life is full of colour. Every craft in our country celebrates colour so much that it is a very integral part of what we do. However, of late, I’ve been so drawn towards pencil sketches and line drawings that I am planning a full range of products in just black and white for Diwali. Lines, black and white, city skyline and panorama sketches are some of the things that I have in mind now.

Who are some of the other Indian designers and artisans whose work and sensibility you enjoy?

Rajeev Sethi, Ambrish Arora, Bijoy Jain

Is there any particular art form that you haven’t dabbled in yet, which you would like to do in the future?

Mural paintings from Kerala. My to-do for this year.

Any pieces of literature or pop culture that you found inspiration from lately?

I am reading Nine Lives‘ now and some bits of it are very inspiring. Maybe it is the diversity in cultures that I can relate to that is fascinating for me.

Where do most of your customers come from? Have you ever consciously marketed your products or has the community built up organically?

CraftCanvas_Mural

I have done my best on the marketing front; SEO, maintaining and publishing content on the million social platforms that we have these days, these  are some things I can never keep up with.

But most of my long term customers (and now friends) have happened because they read my blog. I remember exchanging emails with a Japanese family who stopped by in Ahmedabad for a day just to meet the person behind the blog. Another time, a client from Dubai paid me an 100 percent advance even without meeting me. I’ve been working with both of them for a couple of years now, but what stands out for me is the fact that people can make big decisions based on what I write. That is both scary and encouraging at the same time.

I noticed that you’ve conducted a few DIY workshops on Indian crafts. Could you tell us a bit more about them, and the kind of audience you enjoyed interacting with?

It made me very sad to see children oblivious of the beauty of Indian crafts. With western toys dominating the Indian market, there is barely any scope for the humble Madhubani to ask for any attention. Besides, I have close friends with kids that I adore and I want them to grow with all this Indian inspiration. For me, culture is not about touching an elder’s feet as a matter of habit, but about understanding, accepting, assimilating and respecting all aspects of our traditions and practices.

The workshops are mostly meant for children to know about Indian crafts and work with the real materials. We’ve had little ones making dinosaurs and Pokemon puppets or even drawing their super heroes under Gond trees. Though I’d like to do more such workshops, the demand is not quite there and plus working with children is very challenging. I’ve been caught (by kids as young as 5!) telling them wrong versions of Ramayana!

Haha!

We can’t recommend CraftCanvas enough for your daily design fix. If you are in the position to commission a large product there integration of an Indian aesthetic with a functional design makes them absolutely different from any one else in the market.

As for their products, you can browse the entire range here- or look at some of our favourite suggestions below!

 

If we had this Dhokra Fish Stationery Stand inspiring us at work daily, we would probably still be at our 9 to 5 jobs!

Dhokra Fish Stand

This DIY Block Printing Kit for Children is perfect for hours of summer family fun

Block Printing Kit

Probably our favourite of CraftCanvas designs for their marriage of beauty with usability, we absolutely adore these large (and remarkably solid looking) salad spoons!

Salad Spoons

Do share in the comments who some of your favourite designers and design bloggers are. We can’t wait to exchange notes! For some more great design ideas, and home decor inspirations, don’t forget to bookmark our Decor Happy issue!

All image courtesy CraftCanvas. Please do not use without prior permission from them.

1 Comment on Of Murals, Madhubani and Multifunctional Design: In Conversation with CraftCanvas

  1. Pretty! This has been a really wonderful article.
    Many thanks for providing these details.

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