Please tell us about yourself
Mridula Harihar slides over to her work desk, which contains glass sheets of various colours, patterns, and textures, an assortment of instruments to cut and shape them, and a pair of protective spectacles. She slips on her specs, which look like large welder glasses, picks up what looks like a cutter, and starts cutting shapes out of a piece of rectangular red glass. “I’m making a batch of Ganesha candle stands,” she says. “I just cut the shapes of the Ganesha out of the glass, and simply fuse them together to create it.”
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
For the last seven years, 25-year-old Mridula, who works out of a studio in Besant Nagar close to the Elliots Beach in Chennai, has been working with glass, and using it to create items of utility. Mentored by an experienced glass artist, Anjali Venkat, Mridula currently takes care of Venkat’s studio. She says that her keen interest in glass art started in school.
“All students had to participate in something called the 30-Hour Project, which entailed picking up a skill that was non-academic. While everyone else took up things like cooking or painting, I wanted to do something a little different, so I went with this.”
What did you study?
In addition to her training with Anjali Venkat, Mridula has also been rigorous on the path of academia. She completed her Bachelor’s degree in chemistry and environmental science, and went on to earn her Masters degree in habitat policy and practice at the renowned Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai. So how do her studies at TISS relate to designing glass ware?
How does your work benefit the community?
“It relates more to the other job I have taken up recently which, in turn, relates to glass art. I currently work three days a week with Kabadiwalla Connect, a social enterprise start-up dedicated to helping Indian communities handle their recyclable waste responsibly. Since I studied a great deal about urban planning at TISS, it helps me understand how to recycle waste effectively. I am concerned with design and research, which means I take various materials other than glass, such as paper and plastic, and figure out how to create an item of utility or a piece of art from it. This is a process called upcycling.”
What about investment?
For any entrepreneur or independent professional, monetary investment and returns are the biggest concerns. And it is no different in glass art, says Mridula. “The quality of glass in India is not suitable for the kind of products I design, so items like fused glass have to be imported from abroad, like the United States. The glass and its import are expensive, the furnace we use to melt glass is expensive, and while the tools used to cut and shape it were costly at one point; they have become cheaper in recent times. I will be buying a new kiln, which costs about ₹1 lakh. I will definitely consider buying a new furnace soon as well. This is certainly not something that can be just a hobby, because it is costly. If anyone has to take up glass art, it should ideally be done full-time.
How do you run the business?
“In terms of sales, we take part in numerous exhibitions, and put the word out through social media (mainly Facebook) as well. These exhibitions are where we make a great deal of our sales, and we get to understand what our customers want and prefer. I also have people coming to the studio to either buy off the shelf or place an order. I have not got into corporate orders yet, though. I do make a profit from the pieces, but the money also quickly gets used up in buying more glass and other materials.
Earlier, I would earn a huge chunk in one day, and then would have to wait a long time for sales to pick up, again. My job at Kabadiwalla Connect now helps me get a constant revenue.”
The prices for Mridula’s upcycled bottle products range from ₹500 to ₹1,000. “If I have to customise a piece for someone, the price will depend on the piece. Name boards (which incorporate other material) usually cost ₹3,500,” she adds.
Since she creates so many unique and interesting items, what is the most memorable thing she ever created? “I recently created a name board for my college senior. It was made using the mosaic technique. It was special because I incorporated pebbles, tiles, and glass. It involved different shapes, colours and thickness of glass. Furthermore, it was an idea I came up with. Otherwise, I’ve always created something in collaboration with my teacher.”
In addition to taking care of Venkat’s studio, Mridula runs her own line of products called Full Fuse. Mridula narrates the story behind the name: “It has two reasons behind it. One is that I work a lot with fused glass. The second is that I was referred to as ‘tubelight’ a lot in school… get it?” she concludes with a laugh.