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Neha Sharma: From Struggling To Do the Course To Having My Own Craft Office

  • JWB Post
  •  July 6, 2015

The day before yesterday, I met a woman who is a craft entrepreneur, but when I entered her office, I found her to be much more.

Meet Neha Sharma – a commerce graduate by qualification and an artist and craftsperson by choice! This woman is not just another entrepreneur. What makes her special is her undying urge to never let go of her passion for art and craft. And I also mean that literally! She always has her quilling pieces around her; her hands  turn and roll the paper in what seems as more of instinctive motion.

Sabrang means every color, everything. I am into origami, photography, quilling, rakhis and paintings. I am not restricted to just one of them. Sabrang encompasses my art in all forms,” said Neha Sharma when I asked her about her enterprise Sabrang- An Expression.

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Ganesh painting made through Quilling

So, origami, photography, quilling, painting, how did it all start?

I always wanted to pursue Fine Arts for my graduation, but I wasn’t allowed to, so I ended up doing B.Com. I don’t know why, but there is this fixated perception amongst people that only if you’re a CA, an MBA, an engineer or a doctor, your life will be good! But in my case, this viewpoint doesn’t hold true. During my graduation at ICG, I used to stay up extra beyond my classes to learn painting and sketching. I was working on a Tanjore painting back then, which actually got me more interested in this field. I was also experimenting with origami side-by-side.

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I belong to a very protective family where girls aren’t seen as career oriented. After a lot of convincing, I got myself enrolled for Diploma in Visual Arts following my graduation. That is when I learnt photography! I also did a 6-months training course with Jaipur Public City Centre, a sister concern of Rajasthan Patrika, to explore the scope of visual arts here in Jaipur.

When did quilling happen? How is it different from Origami?

Just then she got up and showed me the paper chandeliers made through Origami. They were beautiful!

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I was into Origami, but it was very difficult to find the paper for it. Origami is a Japanese art. It uses a special kind of paper which is not available anywhere here in Jaipur. I was tired of explaining the shopkeepers what I wanted. Also, there was hardly anybody who could teach this art, and the rare people who did, charged exorbitantly high amounts of money. I learned it online. Gradually, I explored quilling. It is more of a European art. I also participated in Shubham exhibition to ascertain the market for such craft products. I got a good response but overall I felt that this art is not appreciated in Jaipur.

This sounded a bit strange to me. Rajasthan is usually considered to be the hub of handmade products. The city must be a good market for you, right?

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No. That is exactly the reason my art is struggling. You see, people here only value the traditional art and craft. Origami, quilling, these are not of Indian origin which is why people aren’t very open to them.

You must have felt insecurity and fear about the market when you started Sabrang, right?

I honestly didn’t feel that. Because I was never really market oriented. I started with a desire to learn more and more.

I established Sabrang in the year 2012. But there has been a long struggle behind it. My very first struggle was stepping out of the house and setting up an exhibition in Birla Auditorium. Mustn’t seem like a big thing, but for me, it was one. You see, in Jaipur, doing domestic chores, cooking for 50 people in the house, that wouldn’t be called as “work”! But if the same girl goes out and sets up an exhibition, that gets labelled as “working”, which ultimately becomes a subject of controversy. People have that mindset. They don’t want their girls to work. I didn’t receive support.

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Second challenge was that because it is paper, people think this craft has no value. My sincere question to them is why then do you spend so much on wedding cards, which are nothing but printed paper! This is paper creativity which can be easily used in day-to-day life. For example, quilling can be used on boxes, envelopes, vases, photo frames, for making earrings, the list is endless!

So despite these challenges, how did you master the craft?

90 percent of my learning happened online. Moving from the point where I was not permitted to do a course, to having a proper office devoted to my craft, is an achievement for me! It is more than what I ever imagined.

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She spoke the last sentence with such joy, and I could see the innocence like that of a child on her face. Looking at her and the beautiful array of artwork displayed on the wall behind her, I thought to myself, it surely must have been worth it!

What about plagiarism and competition in this industry?

When you’re an artist, you don’t really get satisfied with other person’s work so easily. There is not much resale value in such products. If you sell it for 5000, you won’t find someone who will pay ten! Also, after a certain point, you start feeling so secure that plagiarism doesn’t matter. Because I have learnt the art, I can change my designs whenever I like. The people who copy don’t have that benefit. Plus, I can’t stop working due to the fear that someone might be copying it.

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Competition exists in this industry, but then it all boils down to one’s uniqueness. In Jaipur, I have monopoly in origami. 

Have you used your quilling or origami pieces in your day-to-day wardrobe?

Umm, not wardrobe as such! But I have a diary. I practice Buddhism. That diary has prayers written in it. I have made the label of that diary through quilling.

Tell me about your personal favorite work of yours.

When I was in college, I drew a Hanuman Chalisa illustration with pencil colors. I consider that as my best piece of work. Other than that, I have devotedness towards Ganeshji. As a kid, I used to think, ‘Kaash aisa bhi kabhi din aaye, ki hum bhi ganeshji bana sake!’

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And before she continued further, I saw an exquisite quilling craft painting of Ganeshji on the wall behind her. And I told her, ‘aa gaya vo din!’ She picked out that painting and explained to me, “This is made up of more than 1200 strips. It is available for a price of 3000 rupees, without the frame. The framed one costs 4500 rupees. It is very difficult getting such paintings framed because they’re so delicate! If you’re interested in learning, I also offer the kit and teach how to make it, for a price of 2000 rupees.”

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I must admit, after seeing that particular painting, I can safely proclaim myself as a fan of her work. She told me that it took about 80 hours to create that piece.

If you had to be depicted in a painting, how would you want it to be?

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I think the painter would go mad drawing me! She laughed, and continued, if I were to be framed, I would see myself devoted!

How do you define success?

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For me, success is being self-sufficient and happy with yourself, no matter what is happening around you. I did more than what I could do. I am satisfied. My art and craft is a source of happiness and life for me. Being able to do this, makes me feel successful.

What role does marriage play in your happy picture? Won’t it affect your work?

I believe marriage changes your focus. In India, the first priority is given to the guy’s job. Second, his family! Third, the household! A girl’s career comes 5th or 6th in the priority list, and in some cases, it doesn’t stand a chance at all! I have friends who have left work after marriage. But I guess you need to be determined! That this is what you want to do and that your work is a part of you which cannot be separated! I can’t sit idle. I am very adamant. Maybe this is because I didn’t get the natural way of learning my passion earlier in life, somewhere inside me there still is a craving. Maybe this craving is what makes me never give up!

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While I was processing this information, our photographer Nupur launched a question. What if you had all the support and resources since the beginning, you must’ve been super successful today, right?

Just as Nupur said this, mentally my brain answered “Yes!”, even though that question wasn’t aimed at me. But what Neha replied next, still hasn’t left my mind.

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I think, our resources were scarce and we didn’t have permissions, that is why we value our passion so much. If everything in life was a piece of cake, we wouldn’t be knowing the value of things at all! I have taken care of Sabrang like a mother takes care of a child! It is precious to me.

I don’t know about Nupur, but I certainly got the answer to some of the confusions of my own brain, in my own life.

What is your vision for Sabrang?

In my journey, I’ve had to crib for little-little things! Sometimes material wasn’t available, sometimes resources! And most of the time, support wasn’t available! If I stay in Jaipur, I would try that this should not be the case for others. Maybe Sabrang can become a teaching institute too! Let’s see. I am taking baby steps right now.

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In the long run, I wish to expand Sabrang online. Even today we are functional through social media. But maybe in the near future, I will take it to the next level. I assist my father in his business and half of my day is spent with him! When I devote whole of my time to Sabrang, I will diversify the product-range as well. I create the products all by myself. I am not satisfied with the same work done by any other person. I am weird that way.

I think that is the problem with the creative bunch of people!

What is your message for all other Neha Sharmas out there, who are juggling stereotypical mindsets and their passion simultaneously?

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I just have one thing to say. Never ever give up! Don’t let these things bring you down. Know in your heart what you want to do and then strive for it.

For people who have a love for art and craft, I would say, begin right from the bottom! Once you start grasping things, your mind itself will show you a huge range of possibilities that you can do with your art! Such possibilities go on to become renowned brands later!

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Wallets made through Decoupage technique

There are no fancy words to say it. It is plain and downright. I am personally inspired by this woman.

Standing against the world is easy! What’s tough is standing against your own people for what you love, yet striking a balance between the two. May women continue to let all their rang shine! Just like Neha Sharma did!

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