Design Entrepreneur & Blogger
Your work is filled with beautiful expression. What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty means so much at every level. Beauty is care, it is love, it is effort. Beauty is meaning because only then can it touch someone. Your definition of beauty will always change. Because you are always changing.
What would you say is your purpose?
If I can create something that fills a person with an urge to realize something powerful within themselves, and that in turn becomes a catalyst towards positive action in their life, then I would say that I am living my purpose.
How did you find your start?
I started reading design blogs in April 2007 and was blown away. I completely resonated with what these bloggers were experiencing - but they were all abroad. Till then, writing and design had been my two separate passions. My friend suggested that I bring the two together. My first thought was that I didn’t know enough to write about about design. But I had folders and folders of these pictures I would take with a point and shoot camera. When I sat back and looked, I realized I could do this. I started my own blog in August 2007. Once I started, there was no stopping.
What makes blogging so motivating?
Blogging is unselfconscious expression. It has put me authentically in touch with people across the world. I am proud of the connections I have made. I once traveled to Kohima, Nagaland to meet Ritika Mittal. I HAD to meet this girl who dares to follow her dreams and leave her urban life to work with weavers in villages, hours away from electricity. And there was no way I was not meeting Dithi Mukherjee whose work I saw growing into this towering, smoldering burst of beauty. I had to meet her in the place that inspired her art and passion. Every day, I was exposed to people quitting corporate jobs to follow their passions, regardless of their financial or homemaking backgrounds.
Their stories didn't allow me to remain the person I was. They are the bridges to what I will do. My torches. I see their struggles up close and I know I am not alone in mine. Their courage and their bravery brought me to a spot where I did what I did. Because the penny drops when you do. The action is what changes things.
What inspired you to make the products that you make?
There’s this quote about how things should either be beautiful or useful, or they should not be in your home. Everything in my house is there for a reason. Except this one tray that a friend bought me from a store that I liked. Every time I looked at that tray, I'd get annoyed because it was so randomly done. I told myself, "If this bothers you so much, why not pick up that tray and do it the way you would want it done?” So I painted it and showed my friends. One of them asked whether I would take a stall in their exhibition. It was one-and-a-half months away but before I knew it, I heard myself saying yes. And then I had to fill that stall with stuff! Hand painting was absolutely not an option because that takes time. I only had after-office hours and weekends to prepare. I had once tried my hand at decoupage on a small book shelf at home and figured this could be a solution. Of course, decoupage is just one medium. I tend to create things that I wish to own but have no way of laying my hands on.
And so your passion became your profession…
From advertising to designing independently – the shift happened after a lot of yearning, but very serendipitously. Within two months of my first exhibition, I knew I had an alternative career. Though my blog was sacred and I didn’t know whether my product made the cut, I blogged about it because it was my truth and my experience. My office friends and readers suggested that I post on Facebook. Back then, posting felt like self-promotion but I did so on their insistence. There was no looking back. Stores got in touch. Within four months, I quit to do this full time. I wasn’t really sure what ‘this’ meant. People called me for interior design projects, photography projects, advertising freelance. I was blogging, traveling and growing my décor accessories business in baby steps. I couldn’t get over the fact that there was a market for what I was doing. It’s been a miraculous journey.
I had no yardsticks. Every day I would find myself in places where I had no clue what to do. Paying a full-time employee was not an option so I did everything myself - creating products, shooting and styling them, blogging and posting, contacting vendors for new product development, keeping an eye on the stock sheet, managing part-time employees and orders, choosing trade shows.
To this day, this being an entrepreneur business is so... humbling is not the word, it can be crushing. It is not for the faint of heart. Every day you need to be brave.
What was the learning curve like?
Steep. Always. My accountant told me to get an office first thing. Otherwise, I would be in my comfort zone at home and I’d take it too easy. I was used to working in a huge corporate office in a skyscraper. My current office isn’t fancy at all. I need to be clear about where I spend each penny. A lot of being an entrepreneur is unglamorous. You and only you are accountable for the quality of your products, your quality of life, your happiness, employee happiness, and for how much money you make and how much you pay. The luxury of pretending otherwise is not a choice anymore.
How does it feel to be a design entrepreneur today?
The business has been steadily growing and it is something I want to acknowledge myself for. I am still an artist and I struggle with becoming a business person. Being brought up as a South Indian who comes from an academic background, the strengths I have are different than the strengths required. My closest friends are still of the opinion that I should only design. But for me to have the freedom to design on my own terms means I need to sell enough and more to keep this business going. It is the ask for expressing my creative voice, to not have my pace dictated, to not be questioned. To find balance between design and entrepreneurship is so important. The two voices need to go together.
How do you know which voice to listen to?
I sell a luxury product - a non-essential. I understand that in growing a business, there is inventory, there are rentals, overheads, salary. The business reaches an upward trajectory, then dips and rises again. When it dips, questioning my artistic integrity is probably not what I should be doing all the time. And yet, it might make every sense to do that. I always need to keep coming back to the question, “Am I being true to myself?”
What does it mean to be true to yourself?
In the beginning, I was probably the only one making my product in India. Then the big players came. None of us are creating anything new but it is important to not let that suck your energy.
Your answer lies with your authenticity. What you do comes from your own interpretation. I always ask whether it is important to do new things. I really think doing work that has personal meaning will save me every time.
Is it hard to stay on track?
About two years back, my health took a turn. I was traveling, packing a lot into my day, really having a ball. Yet I fell ill. I asked myself, “What led to that burnout?” I am from an Ayurvedic family and my uncle who has been my only doctor, put me on bedrest. He tried to tell me to switch off and rest at every level. This was when I was building my online store. Even when I was on the mend, my eyes would ache but I was impatient in my head and in my heart. I could not accept what was happening at a physical level. The time was not right but I refused to realize that the time is never right to fall ill.
It seems that you are very critical of yourself.
I have always anticipated criticism by criticizing myself. When I was younger, my uncle said to me, “Don’t think because you can think.” When you use your ability to judge and weigh yourself from many points of view, you are doing yourself a disservice.
Everything right that I have done in my life, I have done in a sweeping love that has sailed me through. When I was so excited that I was not really thinking but instead, doing things out of that joy, that buoyancy.
Where do you get your strength?
These dips are when you need to keep your feet on the ground. To know when to draw the line with questioning yourself. My big support system is reiki. I started my process in 2008 and my teacher Prasad Karmarkar remains the single most inspiring factor in my life. I also derive strength from my uncle, who is an Ayurvedic physician. What he does and who he is, I can never separate the two. He and my teacher are my biggest examples of integrity.
How do you know when you’re successful?
You always have your yardsticks – “This is what I should be doing, how much I should be producing, how prolific I should be. Is what I’m creating relevant, is it beautiful, is it useful?” It is detrimental to judge yourself like that. We are conditioned to always look for external results.
But validation also comes when you are doing things. Like when I create a piece, I revel in it. I am peaceful. That for me is success. There is also a phase when things are quiet. When you are not visibly doing but things are growing in you all the time.
What’s this quiet phase like?
When you pour things into yourself, let those things simmer and cook, and marinate. Only then will you be who you are meant to be. You are not meant to be this presented dish ready to be consumed all the time. So during that process when the world is not seeing you, when you are simmering and cooking and becoming who you are meant to be, that’s when you must never say, “Show me what you did today. You wasted today.”
That’s a beautiful thought!
You know Rainer Maria Rilke, the German poet? He has taken care of me from across the centuries. I always go back to his quote that says you’ve got to live with your questions and then you live into the answers. He is the first artist who told me that you need to be patient, that you need to be gentle with yourself.
To be gentle means seeing things as a whole. To not be caught up in a particular point in time. To be gentle, you really need to have faith. Because you need to keep those insecurities at bay. Tell yourself that you will be taken care of. You are good… but give yourself peace today.
That is so important in a creative person’s journey. I feel only the strong and wise can truly be gentle. And being gentle to myself is something I’m learning every day.
Vineeta Nair is an award-winning design blogger in India who comes from an advertising background. What began as a passion to share her love for design, décor and art became ArtnLight - a design blog which has grown into a brand and an online store that stand for creativity, passion and inspiration. Vineeta’s trays, boxes, wall art and mirrors reflect her love of typography, Rajasthan and Bombay. ArtnLight is for people who like their homes to be a reflection of who they are and who take the pains to keep them that way.
ArtnLight retails at the Out of India Store in the International Airport T2 in Mumbai, and at very select stores in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Baroda and Delhi. It mainly sells online at ArtnLight.in and at Jaypore.com. ArtnLight products have been featured in Elle Décor, Better Interiors, Mid-day, Better Homes & Gardens, Good Homes, Somerset Studio (a U.S publication on the creative arts), Ideal Homes & Gardens and Kyoorius - the premier Indian design magazine.
ABOUT THE FIRST EXHIBITION
Before the exhibition, all the stuff was piled in my living room. I had my mother, my closest friend, and my doctor cousin from Kerala all sitting and painting. Some of the designs that I created for my first exhibition are still best sellers. Every time we go to an exhibition, I speak for all entrepreneurs, we put our best together and we stand there, ready for the adulation or the brickbats and most importantly, the sales. When a person walks in, they need to see a full stall, they need to see variety. There’s only so much stuff that sells. But you need to be there with your show whole and varied and intact.
ABOUT DESIRE TO INSPIRE
Blogging gave me a chance to form an enduring bond with author and artist, Christine Mason Miller. I was invited to be a part of her amazing book as well as its launch in LA, “Desire to Inspire.” It is about twenty extraordinary women - writers, artists and entrepreneurs - all of whom share an example of how they create a meaningful life and, in turn, make a positive impact on the world. Christine is an inspiration for all creative people who think being organized and disciplined is difficult. She embodies creativity, love and discipline, all in one.
ABOUT THE WOODEN HAND SERIES
This is definitely not the first time hands have been made. And yet so relevant hands will always be to an artist. Eyes can but see, hands can love. The mind can visualize, hands create. Hands are the point where the mind, the will and your emotion and energy actually turn into reality. Hands protect, hands heal. Hands cook, sew, paint, create. Sacred hands. Hands pray. Hands heal. Hands hold. Hands love.
“Yatho Hasta thatho Drishti, Yatho Drishti thatho Manah; Yatho Manah thatho Bhaava, Yatho Bhaava thatho Rasa"