Chhaya Meena is a homoeopathy doctor, who left her practice to nurture her art business. She creates and sells art pieces on Instagram and teaches various traditional Indian art forms online.
In 2008, when Chhaya Meena moved from Rajasthan to the small town of Dindigul in Tamil Nadu, she suffered from culture shock and homesickness. She had to shift places because her husband, who worked in the railways, was posted in the state. She says that a sense of misplacement at an estranged place with a language barrier made doing daily activities a challenge.
“It was so hard initially. We had just married and my husband would be out at work most of the time. I didn’t know the language or anyone in the area. For nearly three months, I was homesick and depressed,” Chhaya tells The Better India.
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Soon she realised that she had to do something to feel at home. From a very young age, Chhaya was interested in arts and crafts. So, she turned to this hobby for solace.
“When I was young, I would make very intricate rangoli designs for Diwali and watch them get washed away a day or two later. So now I thought, why not make art that’s more permanent,” she recalls.
So, Chhaya started experimenting with colours on canvas and wood by following online tutorials. What started as a hobby soon became a business idea.
Today, she creates art pieces and teaches a variety of art forms — like Mandala art, Warli art from Maharashtra, Lippan art from Kutch, Pichwai art from Rajasthan, and Madhubani art from Mithila. Additionally, she gives traditional art a modern spin to create her own fusion artworks.
Today, Chhaya has sold over a thousand artwork kits and hundreds of art pieces through her Instagram page called @art_o_walls, and is earning lakhs per year, she says. Though a former homoeopathic doctor, she decided to quit her practice to embark on the venture.
But the journey from transforming a hobby into a business was not quick.
Not always a smooth canvas
“Back in 2008, I would visit Chennai to buy different types of colours like oil paints and acrylics. On returning, I would experiment with them to check which kind of paint works best on wood, paper and canvas. Six months and a lot of experiments later, I got hold of logistics like what type of paints takes longer to dry and things like that,” she shares.
Soon, her friends and neighbours started appreciating her work and insisted on buying it. “I was shocked that someone wanted to buy my work. They would approach me, and soon my husband and I realised that we could make something out of this,” she says.
While she was being appreciated more and more, she had to slow down as her first baby came along in 2011, followed by the second in 2016.
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Every art piece takes a lot of time and patience, considering the intricate detailing that goes into creating each piece. “When you have two little kids and a home to take care of, time management becomes really difficult. My husband would help me in all ways possible, but I had to slow down and focus on the babies more,” she shares.
Chhaya recalls that while she was still continuing her practice, finding a balance between her home, work, and artwork had been a challenge.
“I barely got 3–4 hours of sleep a day when my youngest was small. But I could not give my art up because I was so passionate about it. Creating art was my escape. Not doing it would be more suffocating than being sleep deprived,” she says.
Chhaya’s kids, a daughter and a son are now 11 and 6 years old respectively, which gives her more time to focus on the business.
As her popularity grew among her neighbours, friends and relatives, a lot of people started to ask her to teach them the various art forms.
“In 2014, I used to give classes to my friends from the neighbourhood and they enjoyed it a lot. A year and a half later, my husband suggested I start teaching people at a price. To be honest, the first two classes were a failure; we did not get a lot of students. But by the third class we were overbooked,” she shares.
When the pandemic hit, Chhaya decided to move her classes online. Today, she has given classes to more than a thousand students from all across the world.
“When I started taking online classes, people from the United States started to register for the class. I felt so motivated. My kids were grown enough, and I had more time on my hand. This is when I decided to pack my homoeopathy books in a box and throw them in the storeroom. I plunged right into the art business and have not looked back,” she says.
She started preparing kits for her students. “The kits would have all materials — mould, mirror, paint, and stationery needed for the selected designs. They gained a lot of attraction and are one of the best-selling products on my page. We deliver them to people’s doorstep,” she says.
Uniting people through art
Moving to a different state, art became a medium to not only cope with homesickness but also a way to meet her neighbours. Chhaya introduced traditional Rajasthani and Gujarati art forms to them, and they received the lessons with warmth and love.
“We got amazing responses from South Indian states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu. Initially, I was not sure how they would take art from Rajasthan. But they love it. It’s a new art form for them, and they are enthusiastic to learn and make it,” she says.
“To create something more interesting, I take all these traditional art forms and create a fusion of them. For example, traditionally mandalas do not have beads or mirrors on them, but we add those. We call them ‘Jewellery Mandalas’,” she adds.
While Chhaya has been introducing her art to the people of South India, she is also learning and trying to incorporate southern art forms in her work.
“Now I am working on Pookalam art from Kerala and Nittipattam art, which is also native to the state. There are a lot of art forms I have not touched yet, but I will keep exploring,” she says.
Using social media to build a profitable business
When Chhaya started her work in 2008, social media was not used for online shopping as much as it is now. She started posting tutorials and pictures of her work on her Instagram page, which slowly got traction. Today she has over 3 lakh followers on her page.
“I share both my work and my students’ work on the page. And I share short tutorials through reels and stories. Although we do have a website, the response from my Instagram followers, in terms of orders, is very overwhelming,” she informs.
Her art pieces are priced between Rs 1,800 and Rs 11,000, depending on how intricate the piece of work is.
Chhaya adds that she tries to bring out new and innovative ways to reach her audience on Instagram. The responses on the page keep her motivated.
“Once, an elderly student of mine told me how my classes and art helped him overcome depression in the initial phase of the pandemic. These are the kind of responses that keep me going even when the workload gets overwhelming,” she says.
Edited by Pranita Bhat
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