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Madhuvanthi runs a retail brand called Something Sketchy where she illustrates products like notebooks, calendars, stickers and postcards. She also runs The Sketchup, a great initiative that brings the illustrators’ community of India together through intimate and informal gatherings, steered in an interesting direction by established speakers from the visual arts community.
Could you tell us a bit about where you grew up?
Both my parents are scientists, and after they were married, they worked in London for about 10 years which is where I was born. We stayed there till I was eight years old. I have really fond memories of London, especially of my schooling there. We would study one or two subjects a week, and be completely immersed in it. Like once I remember we were studying about the Victorian era in a History class, and the classroom was completely transformed to reflect the Victorian times. We also did a lot of creative writing which I really enjoyed.
And then you moved to Bangalore. How was that initial experience? How did you end up in an offbeat, unconventional and unique career such as advertising?
It was a very different experience from London, especially in those days. Now things are more globalized but at that time it felt very different. Some of those differences were subtle like in London strangers would smile at each other, but here it was slightly strange. Then there was some difficulty with the language, as I hadn’t learnt Kannada properly before. But schooling was nice; I did a lot of creative writing in school here as well. I studied Science in pre-university college and then did a Bachelor of Arts (in media studies, psychology and literature). In between, I did internships at places including Bangalore Mirror newspaper and ad agencies Saatchi & Saatchi and Orchard India as a copywriter.
When did the move to Mumbai happen?
During the internships, I figured copywriting in advertising is what I wanted to do, and so I applied to Xavier Institute of Communications in Mumbai to study advertising and marketing.
How did you like Mumbai?
You feel a bit lost after college with regard to what to do next, but there is also a sense of adventure when you are younger. I just loved Mumbai so much right from the beginning. I don’t know what is it about Mumbai, but the people, the energy, and the vibe is really nice. No one is really judging you. Also, it was great being away from the place where I had grown up and where everyone expected me to be a certain way. It was very liberating to be in Mumbai.
What did you do after your course ended?
Post the course, I got placed in a direct marketing company as a copywriter. As soon as I joined, I had to work on this internal campaign that was supposed to talk about every department in the company and how they all function together. I made each department into a piece of a machine, explaining how each piece made the whole machine work. Because the art director was busy at that time, I ended up drawing the creative myself and really enjoyed doing it. It was called ‘The Big Picture’, and it was pretty much the first thing I drew. Post this, the company sent me to Amsterdam for a workshop for a week. After that one week, I couchsurfed there for a few more days to explore Amsterdam and especially enjoyed the Van Gogh Museum, and just walking around seeing the cycles and cobbled streets and flowers.
After Amsterdam, I had to come back to real office life that included working for banking clients. I started doodling more at work to be creatively satisfied, and one day one of the managing directors of the company saw my work and commissioned me to create some artwork for his band. He needed some kind of a website or a page to give credit to me for the work, and I ended up creating the Something Sketchy Facebook page overnight.
How did it all pan out after that?
I continued at the same company for about two and a half years, and then joined a creative boutique that had some interesting clients. I did enjoy the creative work there and stayed there for almost a year.
Something Sketchy was taking off too at the same time. I had started putting my illustrations on products like notebooks and doing flea markets and Comic Cons. In advertising, you don’t have too much control over the end product as it goes through so many levels and ends up being a distorted version of what you imagined. But with Something Sketchy, I had complete creative control and freedom, and eventually I decided to start working on Something Sketchy full time, while freelancing on the side a bit. This was in April 2013.