Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Spotlight on ZOLA (A piece of Earth)

ZOLA” is an Indian jewelry brand that explores the many rich arts and crafts of India, making it accessible to the contemporary global market in the form of bold pieces of wearable art. Each jewelry piece narrates a story of the ethnographic background, history of the art and the artisan, their brilliant craftsmanship and the artisan community. Owner and Founder of brand Zola, “Gina Joseph” gives a new lease of life to the concept of wearable art, creating stunning avant-garde jewelry that celebrates not only the arts and crafts of India but also echoes Zola punchline of "celebrating the art of being a woman”. Through Zola, she aspires to be an advocate for significant issues such as: 
~ Creating sustainable livelihoods for rural artisans (especially women). 
~ Preservation and global showcase of the cultural and crafts heritage of India there by bridging the gap between the rural artisans and the global customer who appreciates a great piece of jewelry but many a times doesn't know its exact origin and technique.
~ And finally, bringing about a new dimension to the concept of wearable art.
Let’s meet the inspiring lady and non-conformist soul behind the brand Zola and chat up with her, about her passion for jewelry designing, the innovative concept of wearable art and her creative journey so far.

TECD: Hello and welcome to TECD Gina! So excited to have you here. I recently spotted creations from the Zola line on Jaypore and was completely smitten with the concept, design and style. I immediately knew I had to reach out and showcase this wonderful jewelryline on TECD. Let’s start by asking you what does the name Zola signify and when was the idea for Zola conceived? 

Gina: “Thank you for the showcase on TECD, Sruthi. Truly honored to be the featured artist of this month! 

Zola in Italian means a piece of the earth. I have always believed that jewelry is one of the most powerful vehicles of self-expression and celebration of one’s personal style. Jewelry in India has always fascinated me and the tales from her rich cultural heritage and folklore, her colors, her emotions, her passion, the fine workmanship and the seamless Indian beauty was what I wanted to explore with Zola. It all started, with my first line of necklaces that were inspired by the women in Indian temple architecture. For this collection, I worked along with the wood carvers of Raghurajpur in Odisha. It was exciting to create these uniquely styled and artistically beautiful necklaces for my Indian Art project and I wanted to explore further. As a result, Zola was born.” 
TECD: We’d love to hear about the journey of how an individual who has worked in the advertising, journalism and corporate communication arena decided to tread on a whole different path to pursue her passion?

Gina: “I did my graduation in Visual Communication 10 years ago from Loyola in Chennai. I started off my career in advertising, later I was a journalist for about 5 years and then was part of the corporate world for 2 years. But all along have been an appreciator of art. I did not have any specific training in jewelry design; it was more of a hidden passion that surfaced at the right time in my life. I think that my background in literature was very important when it came to my foray into the creative field. 

I took a break from work and did an Arts Management program from Dakshinachitra in Chennai; before that I had a peripheral knowledge about art. I appreciated art but did not know nuances of the art of painting or sculpture. So, while doing this program, as part of my Indian Art Project, I created my first three pieces of jewelry. I was very fascinated by the temple women in Indian sculpture, that is the salabanjikas (tree huggers), madanikas and yakshis (goddesses of fertility) so I got them carved in wood and put it together with semi-precious stones. The concept was 'to wear a piece of history on you'. 

If not for what I had been exposed to in my Indian art, western art, temple architecture and cultural studies classes, I wouldn't have been able to start Zola and make it what it is today.” 
TECD: What are the different arts/crafts of India that you have explored through Zola?

Gina: “Zola’s collection includes jewelry of the Dhokra Damar tribes of West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha that use the lost wax casting technique with an alloy of nickel, brass and zinc that lends an antique appeal to the casting. I’ve experimented with the Patachitra technique of painting in Odisha and have designed beautiful hand painted earrings on wood. These exclusive earrings and are inspired by the Devadasis of Konark and other mythological and folk tales of India. Another addition to Zola's collection is an exclusive range of Leather puppetry jewelry by the traditional artisans of Andhra Pradesh. The leather puppets, because of their transparency and jewel like glow, are most popular. I’ve also conducted a workshop in Aranmula, where an exclusive range of necklaces and earrings were created using the traditional Aranmula mirror of Kerala. My most recent workshop was with the lacquer and wood turnery artisans in a small village called Etikoppaka in Andhra Pradesh.

There are many more crafts across the country that I want to explore and bring into my designs. Right now I have visits and workshops scheduled in Gujrat, Rajasthan and Kerala. Am sure something exciting will come out.”

TECD: Tell us a little about the design process behind a Zola creation?

Gina: “Each collection is a new experience for me - new materials, new techniques and new ideas. I don't have designs planned out in advance before going for the workshop. It's all done on the floor while I interact with the artisans and see and feel the material and learn about the techniques. It’s very hands on. I make sure that the style of art is not tampered with. I let the artist/craftsman do what he is comfortable with, only the form changes, in my case they become pretty jewelry with a story.” 
TECD: What has been your most rewarding experience through Zola? 

Gina: “It's been a year since I started Zola, very recently one of my artisan told me that he could now afford better education for his two children and also improve his standard of living significantly after he started working with me. Another artisan from Andhra said he has started paying part of his house loan from the earnings of Zola. In Orissa the women artisans I work with have promised to continue sending their daughters to school as a part of the income goes towards the girl child's education. It gives me a lot of happiness and a sense of fulfilment when I hear about the little changes Zola has brought in their lives. These are just small drops in the mighty ocean and Zola has a long way to go and along the way hope to change many many more lives.”
TECD: Before we wind up, is there a special thought/message that you would want to share with my readers?

Gina: “Educate your children about the rich cultural heritage of our country. We are not taught the cultural history in most schools here and only the political history is focused upon, which is sad because the child has no clue about the rich cultural wealth of his/ her country when he grows up. Preservation is not just the job of art museums or organizations; it starts from the very grassroots, in your own homes by educating yourself and your children about it. This will go a long way in not only making them appreciate what our country has to offer but also keeping the rural arts and crafts alive by buying the work of these artisans and keeping their livelihood going and not letting the craft die.” 
Let’s hold that thought and continue to support our artists and craftsmen by making a conscious decision to source and buy handcrafted treasures. To get your piece of Zola head to Zola’s Facebook pageChamiers and Shilpi (Chennai), Seamstress (Kerala), Paperboat collectives (Goa) and online at and Zola will soon be retailing in Delhi, Mumbai, Singapore and Kenya too. For detailed price enquiries or to get in touch with Gina write to her at

Thank you Gina for taking the time to share your incredible work and inspiring story with the TECD readers. We wish you success in every step of the way, be it your creative journey or your endeavor to support artisans and in keeping alive the culture, arts and crafts of India!

Images Copyright/Credit: Zola, Jaypore and Gaatha 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How to make the most of the Flea markets this Summer

If you, like me are drawn to pieces that have a story and character to them, then may I suggest you scour the summer flea markets for some weathered relics that may be repurposed, recycled and restored to add that special stamp of personality to your home.  Flea market style makes it easy to pull together a look that's individual, stylish and affordable. What's even more wonderful is that flea market style is versatile. You may choose to create a style that suits your personality - modern eclectic, romantic country or simply traditional. 
This image that I'm sharing today is from my sister's (Sunayana) home in London. She like me, loves to decorate and has an eye for interesting finds. Showcased here is a bronze tea kettle she scored at a London flea market for £15! The table used to showcase the kettle was also a flea market find. A lick of paint gives it a new lease of life!
The basic virtues that you need to possess to be a flea market shopper are:
~  a discerning eye to spot those special pieces in a pile of junk,
~ a creative and imaginative approach to look beyond the dust, grime and marginal wear and tear and imagine it adorning a corner of your home and
~ a great deal of persistence and enthusiasm as not every flea market trip is going to be a success story. I thought it would be fun to share a few pointers that I've learnt from my shopping experiences at the flea market. These simple guidelines will help you make the most of your flea market hunt:
  • Start by making a wish list of the specific pieces that you would like to score at a flea market. Make sure to make a note of the necessary dimensions in a book kept exclusively for this purpose. 
  • Next, make a list of the various flea markets in your neighborhood that you’d like to visit. Settle for the ones that have a larger number of vendors as that means more choices to choose from. Also do an online research (where possible) to know who the vendors are and what experienced flea market shoppers are saying about this place. 
  • The little red Chinese foot stool was bought at the Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative Market (Bethesda, MD). I use it as a mini side table to host a plant or statue. 
  • On the day before the flea market, clean out your car and make sure you have enough room to carry back all your flea market exploits with you. Load up on newspapers, bubble wrap and an old blanket to bring your goodies back safe.
  • Tick off the checklist for a measuring tape, your book (with the dimensions), water, hand sanitizer and wipes, and a comfortable pair of walking shoes.
  • Carry real money (dollar bills). Most vendors prefer cash over checks. A sling bag would be great as it frees up your hands. Also carry a rolling cart or mini suitcase on wheels to avoid aching arms and make the shopping experience more pleasant.
  • On the day of the flea market, rise early, eat a heavy breakfast and arrive early at the flea market venue. This was you have a great chance at calling first dibs on the best items available for grabs. (You could also get a great deal later during the day when the vendors are restless to unload and would be willing accept a bargain price rather than lug the stock back to their own store.)
  • The wooden utensils (originally used to store salt and other spices) were brought back from our trip to Cochin. Found these in a pile of clutter. After some sanding, a coat of dark polish, varnish and hardware to hang, they now adorn my breakfast nook. 

    Also seen in the image to the extreme right is a 1960's ITALIAN GLASS VINTAGE GREEN HANDBLOWN WINE CARAFE. I scored this at the Lucketts annual spring market.
  • If this is your first time at the flea market, walk around and take a look at the stock. Note down the shop numbers that have a style similar to yours and come back to them later to explore in detail.
  • Establish a relationship with vendors who stock pieces that are similar to your style. If they don't have what your looking for, let them know about the specific piece you have in mind. Sooner or later, you will get lucky.
  • Bundling always helps and gets you a better deal. So make sure to check out the vendor’s entire selection before you make your final offer.
  • Also don't forget to check out the neighborhood garage/yard sales and car boot sales! The little basket you see with all my decor magazines stashed in it was a $2 find at a garage sale:)
  • Finally when you find a piece that you love, bargain with grace. Don’t be afraid to counter offer but keep in mind that the vendor is here to make a fair deal!
  • Once home, make sure to wipe down and clean your find and then bring it into your home. If the piece was bought for its patina, preserve it (whether iron or wood) with a coat of polyurethane.
  • Display your find with pride and enjoy it for years to come.....
I hope these tips are resourceful and inspire you to bring home some flea market style this summer. Have  a wonderful weekend!

Image copyright/credit: 1 - Sunayana Singh, All other images are the property of Sruthi Singh. No images may be reproduced without prior written permission.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Meet Ambika Sambasivan of Studio Wot Mot (Featured Artist)

Art is as subjective and personal as one’s preferences when it comes to fashion, décor or food. While some of us tend to analyze the artwork and connect with it on many levels, there are others that think of art as a fun and creative approach to add color, personality and visual interest to ones space. No matter which way you choose to go, the one thing that binds all art enthusiasts is that art has the undeniable power to generate emotions.
I recently spotted New York based artist/illustrator Ambika Sambasivan’s vibrant and animated digital art on Society 6 and was immediately drawn to the familiarity of the Indian scenes depicted by her. Her name might sound familiar as she is also the owner of Studio Bommai - a small business venture that specializes in wooden dolls for the Indian festival of "Golu". Largely inspired by her Indian roots, her artwork created at Studio Wot Mot and her crafty creations at Studio Bommai, bring to life distinctive desi influences in a riot of colors. Ambika trained as a product designer at the prestigious National Institute of Design (Ahmedabad) and then later went on to do her Master's in product strategy at TU Delft in the Netherlands. Let’s chat up with this multi-faceted artist and delve deeper into her mind to know how she juggles it all. 

TECD: Hello and welcome to TECD Ambika! Delighted to have you here. Artist, illustrator, communications consultant and a small business owner at Etsy. Tell us about your foray into the world of art and how you manage to juggle it all?

Ambika: “So happy to be featured on TECD, Sruthi! Thank you!
By day, I am a communications consultant working with non-profits to restructure their overall communications strategy and design short and long-term campaigns. By night, I work on my illustrations and craft. This journey began when I created illustrations for my mom's (Kala Sambasivan writes regular columns in The Hindu and Deccan Herald in India) short stories that she was sending to a publisher. The publisher took delight in my artwork and asked me to do a picture book for them. The first book was very well received and it so happened that I ended up illustrating four books in a short period of time.

My mom and I wanted to take our teamwork a notch up and set out on our own publishing journey - Yali Books. We were thrilled and humbled by the lovely response our first picture book, “Bye, Bye, Motabhai!” received. Our second book, “Jaipur Jamboree” was launched this May and we are working towards a visual puzzle/activity book for late-summer. We hope to develop Yali Books into an independent publishing house that features new writing and illustration talent through stories that open a window to South Asia.

With Studio Bommai, it really began when I had to set up my first golu after I got married. Golu is a traditional display of dolls from Indian mythology and I didn't have any dolls! I tried making some with clay, paper mache, even Play-Doh, with little success. I then discovered these unpainted wooden doll shapes on Etsy and tried painting them. I liked the results and soon, I couldn't stop making them. After giving gifts to everyone I knew, I experimented with an Etsy shop. So far, I love the whole process of crafting and sending out my creations to buyers around the world!”

TECD: Your artwork has huge doses of Indian influence in it. What aspects about India do you find fascinating? Are there other things/people that have an influence on your style of work and art that you create? 

Ambika: “I grew up in Delhi and Chennai, my schooling was almost equally split between the two cities. So I can switch between my North and South Indian sides and I 'get' both cultures. But I do think of myself as a proud Chennai girl, I love my hometown and miss being there despite the heat! 

What I love about India are the contradictions, the little absurdities and general unpredictability. Life in India is never boring - every day is a mini-adventure. You learn something new if you keep your eyes and ears open and cultivate a zen-like acceptance of the way things work. It is this colorful, chaotic, beautiful mess that I try to capture through my art. Every piece of art lets me relive a memory or 'travel' to a new place. If I inject a little bit of humor into my artwork, I feel I have succeeded.”
TECD: Ambika we’d love to know more about the creative process that goes into making your digital art at Studio Wot Mot? 

Ambika: I have no background in traditional art techniques and my 'artistic style' is a result of my training in product sketching, which helps me see objects, people and animals as a composition of simple geometric shapes. 

My technique is paper collage - I cut out pieces from textured/printed paper and assemble them into a scene. My companions are my trusty X-Acto knife and a glue stick! Once the pieces are cut, I then scan them at a very high resolution in a .tif format to ensure that the details and colors are replicated without quality losses. Finally, I work on Adobe Photoshop to assemble the little pieces into a complete artwork."

I'm sure you are inspired by Ambika's creative journey and have fallen in love with her out-of-the-box fascinating art.Thank you Ambika for taking the time to share your creative journey with us and we wish you all the very best in all your creative endeavors.

To stay connected with Ambika, you could follow her on Instagram ,where she shares images of the projects she’s working on, occasional contests and promotional sales. To purchase Ambika’s artistic creations, make sure to click on Studio Bommai and Society 6.

Wishing you a wonderful week ahead!

Image Credit/ Copyright: Ambika Sambasivan

Friday, June 5, 2015

Hello June! Give me Summer......

June is here! I can't believe half the year has already gone by.... Summer does not start for us officially until another two weeks but one can already feel its presence....The grass has turned a deeper shade shade of green; pastel colored blooms are now giving way to more deeper shades of color; hot cups of chai have been replaced with iced-tea, lassi, buttermilk and fresh fruit juices; cotton fabrics and open toed sandals are dominating the style scene; parks and pools are alive with squeals of laughter; ice-cream parlors have people queuing up for the new flavors of the season, farmer's markets are popping up in neighborhoods and the kids are counting days to their summer vacation..... 
As for me, I'm as excited about summer as the schools kids! And even more excited about all the wonderful posts I've got lined up for you:
~ We have deep conversations with inspiring artists and a close look at their fabulous work ( from digital collages to wearable art). 
~ A wonderful giveaway  in collaboration with Coppre
~ And tonnes of summer decor inspiration! 
Have a great weekend!

Images: Clicked by Sruthi Singh. Please do not use without prior written permission. 
Images are the property of Sruthi Singh and subject to copyright.