Madhuvanthi Mohan, whose company Something Sketchy sells products like notebooks and coaster-magnets, describes herself as “a sketchy sort of artist.” She is a warm and enthusiastic traveller, who paints and freelances out of different parts of the country. Her illustrators’ group, The Sketchup, aims to connect the Indian illustrator community and provide a platform for them to connect on common issues, techniques and the industry.
She is in fifteen stores across nine cities in India, and four stores in New York. She also puts up stalls at flea markets and festivals like Comic Con and The Lil Flea, and will have a stall at the Kitsch Mandi at The Coalition – stop by! Her quirky, fun and off-beat products are just our type! We had the chance to have a chat with her, and you can find here some words we shared.
Mohan was a copywriter in advertising for three years before she quit to do Something Sketchy full-time. She describes her journey, telling us of her passion for illustrating that grew at her ad agency where her sketches were used for a campaign, and where she began doodling at work to counter the boredom of some tasks. One of her managing directors saw her work and commissioned her to illustrate a music video for his band. He asked for a page to link to for art credits, leading her to create a Facebook page called Something Sketchy and, as she says “it sort of took off from there.”
In September 2013, a friend of hers from NID Bangalore convinced her to illustrate some products for a stall at their college fest, D’frost. She got some products done in record time and they sold out. Soon after, she was at Comic Con, started supplying to Landmark and the rest, as they say, is history.
She has been working solo so far, with a lot of help from her parents and her friends (Tushar Doshi, Aishwarya Chhettri and Himanshu Rohilla). She would love to have a business partner in time, but is busy getting organised and growing, and says
things will fall into place in time.
She recounts a memorable anecdote of the time she spent four months in New York attending summer courses at the School of Visual Arts and doing a few flea markets in Brooklyn while there. When she got back, she found that her notebook had been featured on Humans of New York; apparently, Brandon had spotted someone with her notebook and taken a picture of just the book in their hands. Mohan describes it as “a good feeling to see it there,” knowing her work is reaching a larger base.
She finds inspiration in her fellow artists. While in New York, she helped out at the Cotton Candy Machine, a fantastic art gallery in Brooklyn owned by Tara MacPherson. While there, she interviewed artists like Scott C and Kozyndan and these experiences in the city remain an influence on her work.
She enjoys meeting and interacting with other artists, and has helped out at the St+art festival for the past two years, meeting and assisting artists like Tika, Akacorleone, Rukkit, Inti and 1010. “There’s so much to learn from everyone,” she finds. She also names artists she has met through her illustrators’ group, such as Sajid Wajid Shaikh, Pranita Kocharekar, Ankita Shinde, Manas Kunder, Ritaban Das, Sebin Simon, saying “they keep me going!”
She also talked about her travel stint to the North East where she spent three months. Her friend Jaytirth Ahya, whom she met at the Coalition, runs the Roadtrip Experience Project, where he takes fifteen musicians, artists, filmmakers and free thinkers on a curated road trip across two weeks where they collaborate with locals on various projects. They covered Dimapur, Kohima, Guwahati, Majuli, Mawlinong, Dawki and Shillong, and she describes it as “an amazing experience meeting all these extremely talented creative individuals and working with each of them in different places.”
After the road trip, she stayed on at Kohima for a month and a half, painting a seventy-by-ten foot mural in exchange for her accommodation and meals, meeting illustrators and artists in the area, attending the Hornbill Festival and conducting a Sketchup session there with amazing tribal tattoo researcher and artist Mo Naga, and other talents from the region. She loved Nagaland and considers it to have been a wonderful experience that allowed her to meet interesting people who have become good friends.
On our asking about her group, The Sketchup, she told us she realised how much she enjoyed being around other artists, illustrators and people of the same wavelength after attending the first Coalition, and thought they should meet more often. Most of the time, they face the same issues, she tells us, and they talk about all this individually, but never all together on one platform. The Sketchup, she explains,
is meant to connect the creative community, bring everyone together regularly to just chat and be inspired by one another, connect and talk about issues together and hopefully collaborate on things in the future. […] We can change [the system] and move it in a direction that’s beneficial to us by getting together and talking about it.
She arrange for a Speaker to talk about their journey in art for each session and posts everyone’s work online. She recognises that there great talent across the country, and wants the artists in Mumbai to know more about the artist community in the North East, and vice-versa; the Sketchup helps them all stay connected.
In terms of personal associations, she talks of a piece that’s close to her: a small mural she painted in Berlin in August. She had only 14 hours in the city, so at 5 a.m. she found the art garden that one of her friends in Berlin mentioned would be good to paint at, and she painted her Berlin-Bombay mural. It was written in her characteristic abstract typography, with Berlin in Hindi and Bombay in English. Earlier, she had tried painting a much bigger one under a flyover but were chased out by a construction worker. She calls it “an interesting experience.”
Her murals, she muses, give her a lot of joy, and the first large mural she painted for St+art last year was on the building of the Makers Asylum in Malviyanagar in Delhi. Her creative process can be read at the Makers Asylum website.
She also recalls the set of illustrations for the Mumbai alt-J concert, that are both unusual and inventive.
There are many challenges she discussed with us as well, such as not having a steady source of income, missing having a work group of people around her, finding good production people, managing inventory and stock, following up on payments, and dealing with the law, to name a few. However, she believes the positives to far outweigh the negatives in the end, and keeps an optimistic head about her.
She shares that she loves being an entrepreneur, feeling fulfilled and as though she is spending her time doing something with purpose, which she didn’t feel when working at a 9-to-5 job. She also finds there to be a lot more creative satisfaction and every day is a new adventure to her.
In the end, she leaves us with a piece of advice for budding entrepreneurs, suggesting that they be open, talk to a lot of people, let it all sink in, and stay inspired to do more.