Miniature painting which requires hard work and steady hands to hold the frame and carve, was introduced in India during the Mughal era and eventually became immensely popular; so much so that even today it is practiced and loved by many. Agnika Banerjee age 31, an MBA in Human Resource from Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management turned craft entrepreneur has been dabbling with miniature sculpting since her childhood.
In a bid to reach out to the art connoisseurs, Agnika recently started showcasing her oeuvre on Facebook which was followed by creating a dedicated page named Agnikacreations. Eventually she also placed her collections on ecommerce sites like Amazon and Etsy, for sale.
In a brief interview with The Optimist News, Agnika opened up about her passion and profession.
An excerpt –
1. Tell us briefly about your journey of becoming a miniature artist?
In 2017, while still at job with a project management company, I was looking for unique gifts for my mother on her birthday and resorted to my childhood passion for making crafts with air dry clay and also that collecting miniatures. So I settled on making a miniature birthday cake for her.
That was the beginning and soon I found myself searching the net for ways to make air dry clay more flexible. Soon I chanced upon oven bake clay and its possibilities in making dollhouse miniatures. Getting inspired I started sculpting miniature foods which received great appreciation and many started requesting my pieces for collection. This is when I thought of taking it up professionally.
It took me a few months to chalk out the business plan including the name, the product design and range, the inventory, and the government regulations. I finally started selling my miniature creations online from December 2017.
2. What made you ditch human resource management for craft?
Since I wasn’t being able to get any job satisfaction from being an HR Professional, I decided to pursue my passion of sculpting miniatures, a work which was more meaningful and fulfilling for me. Also when someone does something connected to their passion then the work seems less like work and more like fun.
3. How supportive were your family?
My family has always believed in my capabilities, at times even more than myself and they have been a constant source of encouragement and support in this decision as well.
4. What were the hurdles you had to face while setting up this business?
There were a lot of hurdles which I had to face since I was shifting from being an HR professional to being a craft entrepreneur. The entire business plan had to be chalked out including the sales channels, product designs, and concepts. Government regulations needed to be dealt with. After I launched my own products, within a few months I started receiving customised orders, some of which made me go beyond my comfort zone.
5. You make a lot of clay based models on Bengali Cuisine, what are the common tools and materials you work with and what is the process?
All my clay miniatures are made up of polymer clay (a kind of clay which hardens when baked in an oven). I also use chalk pastels and glaze for added effects. The common tools used are blades, needle tools, rolling pin and shape cutters.
I always like to have a picture of the real food item which I am replicating in a miniature form in front of me while sculpting it. At times I also study the recipe to understand the texture and colour behind the final dish to make the miniature look as realistic as possible. After giving the clay the desired shape, colour and texture it is baked in the oven. Once it cools, a layer of glaze/varnish is applied if required.
6. How is social media helping in promoting your creation?
I have already started getting very encouraging responses from Kolkata as most of my best creations are custom orders regarding Bengali cuisine. Media write-ups in local newspapers and magazines have also showcased my creations.
My business is solely promoted and sold through social media as I have no offline outlets. So the popularity gained till date has been through social media giving me recognition in 10 countries apart from all over India.
7. What are your thoughts on following the heart in case of life changing decisions?
I think life changing decisions always come from the heart. At times we don’t even realise how big the impact of the decision would be on our lives while taking it. In my case I followed my heart and it worked for me. Had I followed my mind regarding this decision of choosing an unconventional career path, I don’t think I would have been where I am right now.
8. What do you think about the youth-driven startup culture in India?
I think it is great to see so many young people starting their own venture instead of going for a conventional job. It encourages others who want to start something similar and unique by following their passion.
9. How do you plan to expand your business in future?
I feel that I had taken the right decision of quitting my job to follow my passion. I am truly humbled with all the love and appreciation I have been receiving from people for my work not just from India but even from other countries. As I am receiving requests for making miniature human figurines I want to start sculpting them soon.
I have already sold my products in 10 countries apart from India. Food is a very important aspect of culture, at present, I am thinking of reaching out more to the Indian diasporas worldwide who are interested in collectibles depicting their cultural heritage.