Artistic hobbies that became entrepreneurial opportunities in the pandemic

Pandemic-induced lockdowns have prompted people to explore and marry their artistic and business side. But, it has not been a journey bereft of roadblocks

By Anjali Palod

Some free time, hours spent in anxiety and uncertainty during the pandemic and its lockdowns got many youngsters to rekindle old hobbies; some found new ones to learn. Deepakshi Datta, a 24-year-old from Kolkata, who runs an online store @knotsoflovebydeepakshi, said, “When I realised it may take some time for me to get a job, I decided to teach myself how to macrame.”

In the pandemic, people relied on the internet, which turned into this giant school where skills could be learnt. Delhi-based Drishti Arora, 21, who runs a small business called @kalaadrishti, said: “I learnt a few basic stitches of crocheting from my aunt. Everything else I have learnt by watching YouTube tutorials.”

From digital illustration to crocheting, there was no dearth of creative hobbies to explore, as time was hardly a constraint.

As such, social media pulsated with small businesses, like thrift stores, jewellery businesses, and art stores. This exposure made artists view their art as an entrepreneurial opportunity. Tavleen Kaur Rajpal, 19, who runs the Instagram page @_artsymomo shared that it was during her best friend’s birthday that her sister suggested she make illustrations of the people close to her — as well of her pets — get them laminated, and turn them into keychains. “I put up a story on my personal handle asking if people would be interested in something like this and the support I received was overwhelming.”

Something similar happened with Naziya Nafis, 30, a mother-of-two from Patna. Since childhood, she envisioned a life of creativity and artistic exploration, but expectations from family and society held her back. Macrame appealed to her and she now sells customised macrame art on her page @crazy_knot.

Mind you, all of them are artists, and not seasoned business people. As such, the art of making sales was alien to most of them. Tavleen had to face a huge loss due to the mishandling of packages by the shipping company, and she realised “there will be days when a business faces loss and it is okay, because it is a part of the entire process”.

Drishti said a customer once asked for a custom illustration and then “ghosted” her after she completed it. She had to learn the basics of business the hard way. Now, she takes a 70 per cent advance before starting a custom piece.

For Komal Nagi, a student at NIFT Bangalore, running her small business (@komal_drawings) along with attending college meant a packed schedule. On the other hand, the social media aspect of running a small business inspired Deepakshi to pursue a master’s degree in Communication Science at the University of Amsterdam.

While businesses have offered learning and personal growth, it does not hurt that money flows in, too. Tavleen is delighted that she has been able to pay 50-60 per cent of her college fees this year using her business money.

New trends

Drishti, whose Instagram page has a varied collection of products, said, “I do not like to stick to one type. If I was knitting yesterday and clay rings became popular today, I would quickly learn the craft and sell clay rings tomorrow.”

Customers fancy new products from time-to-time and artists try to keep up with what’s trending.

The world of social media, which thrives on content, necessitates that artists become content creators. Aesthetics enter the picture and the success of your page depends on much more than just good products — photography, videography, language, and engagement become considerable factors.

With a limited budget, most artists are compelled to learn these skills by themselves. Naziya explained, “There is a high barrier to entry for selling on digital platforms. It requires expertise in video and photo editing, like creating a good reel in Instagram.”

A personal touch

Digital artists like Drishti, Tavleen, and Komal customise their artwork according to the needs of the customers. Komal mentioned gifting someone a piece of art with a personal touch is always special.

The worth of handmade products

Any handmade piece of work tends to be pricier than machine-made items. Which begs the question: does the Indian consumer think it’s worth the money?

“It is getting better,” the artists say. They have encountered both antipodes. Some customers are appreciative of talent and efforts, and are ready to pay whatever price is quoted to them. Others often ghost them and haggle about prices. In some instances, friends have requested a free art piece or a free product!

The role of family

For many artists-cum-entrepreneurs, families have been hugely supportive. Tavleen described how her entire family is a part of her small venture. “My father helps me with logistics, mother helps with packaging and my brother asks for parties whenever I reach a milestone.”

For Deepakshi, her mother is her “biggest support”. “She is my first investor, who looks into my PR. I lost my father in 2019 and ever since then, my mum and I have been an inseparable team.”

Drishti feels grateful for her friends, who gave her a box of paints when she started the business.

Their customers — mostly strangers on the internet — have also been considerate and kind. “They’re extremely open to ideas, and when they like something I’ve made, they definitely go out of their way to share the same. I kind of tear-up when I receive a good review,” Deepakshi said.

What next?

For Tavleen and Komal, the business will remain a side hustle, while they focus on completing their education. Drishti is looking at her business as a freelance opportunity. For Naziya, this is just the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey. A master’s degree awaits Deepakshi, and she has “big plans as far as Knots is concerned”.

(The writer is an intern at Indian Express)

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