With India’s long history of epics of vast proportion, and the literature and art to match that scale, art materials, stationery and tools of writing and communication have a long and lost history. With the coming of industrial manufacturing brought in by the British Raj, much of the handcrafting techniques took a back seat.
Post independence there has been a growing renewal of local handicrafts but that is often in the areas of aesthetics and the decorative arts. As a counter to that, we’re so glad to see a growing movement of hand-crafted tools and art materials as individual entrepreneurs and art enthusiasts celebrate local craftsmanship.
To us, nothing is more inspiring than the crafting of tools and materials used in individual expression. It’s a pleasure to discover and explore this small selection of Indian stationery makers who are making a unique expression of the tools and bespoke materials themselves.
1. Anupam Chakraborty (Nirupama Academy of Handmade Paper)
Specialty: Handmade Paper, Printmaking, Bookbinding
Anupam Chakraborty, an alumna of Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan, M. S. University, Vadodara and Glasgow School of Art, UK has been teaching papermaking, bookbinding, printmaking, paper marbling, and cyanotype printing, among other handmade papermaking disciplines, since 1995. His art has been shown in a number of national and international exhibits including Chicago School of Art, USA, Tamarind Art Gallery, New York and National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi.
Since 2004 Anupam, who founded the Nirupama Academy of Handmade Paper in Kolkata, offers hands-on training and workshops for individuals, groups, students at academic institutions, government, and non-government organization employees. His institute specializes in handmade papermaking, bookbinding, printmaking and product design. The academy creates a range of paper based products like lamp shades, stationery objects and various papers used for drawing, printing and painting.
Anupam prefers using indigenous plants that grow in West Bengal and in other parts of India for his paper production process. Exploring the physical and structural properties of indigenous plant fibres, working with natural dyes, vegetable and fruit papyrus and experimenting with the structural and aesthetical aspects of bookbinding methods for developing limited edition Artist’s Book are some of the primary focus areas of the institute.
2. Manya Cherabuddi (Treehouse by Manya)
Specialty: Natural Dye & Ink Maker
The history of ink is as old as the history of Paleolithic cave dwellers. It continues to be one of the most critical means and methods of communication. Historically ink was made by combining elements like lamp soot or charred bones mixed with a natural glue such as gum arabic. Post 19th century the ingredients used by manufacturers are shrouded in mystery. We’d love to get our hands on the exact formula for our fellow stationery lovers but that would involve multiple acts of espionage! So, to make it easier, we’re introducing a natural ink maker as part of this roundup of some outstanding handcrafted stationery makers in India.
Manya Cherabuddi is an Indian artist, natural dyer and educator who loves all things art, design and nature. Her aim is to make people fall in love with natural colors. Manya has taught 3000+ people about natural dyes and natural colours and also works with designers, artisans and weavers to help them switch to natural dyes. She undertakes colour research and enjoys experimenting with new materials and techniques.
Manya conducts exciting workshops based on foraging and making watercolors, oil paints and chalk paints and natural dyeing using basic, foraged materials.
3. Manoj Deshmukh (Fosfor Pens)
Specialty: Artisanal Handmade Fountain Pens
Martin Luther said, “If you want to change the world, pick up a pen and write.” And, if that pen is an artisanal handcrafted fountain pen, you’re well on your way to making history! Manoj Deshmukh’s many illustrious clients, including New York-based bestselling novelist Amitav Ghosh, are willing to wait up to two years for a bespoke handmade fountain pen made by him.
Manoj’s journey from pen collector to pen manufacturer is truly inspiring. He works with a lathe machine (to shape wood) in a small apartment and produces high quality handmade fountain pens that are sold all over the world. Manoj is one of India’s premier artisanal fountain pen makers and creates elegantly finished pens out of wood, ebonite, epoxy, and polyester. He continues to explore new processes for creating one-of-a-kind pens, which he sells under the brand Fosfor Pens. Passion for pens and especially fountain pens is what drives Manoj to create these handcrafted masterpieces.
4. Khyati Dodhia (The Black Canvas)
Specialty: Handcrafted Leather Stationery and Lifestyle Products
Journals, diaries, and organizers are used for more than just keeping track of important dates. They are recordings of our own ideas and creative processes, as well as testaments to our progress. If you’re on the fence about journaling, we hope Khyati Dodhia’s handcrafted stationery company ‘The Black Canvas’ can sway you.
Khyati Dodhia, a photographer, designer, and entrepreneur, established ‘The Black Canvas,’ a handcrafted premium leather stationery and lifestyle goods brand in 2012. Her product line is hand-stitched and created with a strong emphasis on form, style, and design. Her motivation stems from always being compelled to work with her hands. Making something with your hands is a personal and natural process and each item made by Khyati is handcrafted from genuine leather and is one-of-a-kind. The product range includes bespoke and minimalist products like leather journals, totes, hobos, and laptop bags, camera bags and camera straps, wallets, phone covers, key chains, dog collars and leashes, DIY kits and quirky products like wearables. To nurture and support local talent, the company also hires talented craftsmen from Dharavi (Asia’s largest slum).
5. Pia Meenakshi (Pigmenta)
Specialty: Handmade Watercolors
Pia Meenakshi is a Bangalore-based artist, illustrator, printmaker, as well as the creator of Pigmenta, a brand known for its one-of-a-kind original range of handmade watercolors. Pigmenta was created in response to the country’s scarcity of high-quality art supplies at reasonable prices.
Pia experimented with blending colours and pigments, and honing her technique via trial and error until she was satisfied with the colours, texture, and aesthetic appeal of her final result. A search for the perfect gold watercolor was what got Pia started and today the Pigmenta range of metallic paints are her best sellers.
As a niche brand Pigmenta has already earned the patronage of many renowned illustrators and artists in the country. Pigmenta’s range of metallic and fluorescent watercolors are perfect to add some magical shimmer to your illustrations and watercolor artworks.
6. Hussain Papers
Specialty: Handmade Paper, Quill Makers
Handmade paper production in India dates back to the third century BC. Handmade paper making is a traditional art form that has been practiced by a small community of people for generations who are referred to as “Kagazis.” They claim to originate from Turkey, from where they moved to China and then finally settled in India. The size of this community has dwindled over the years and the Kagazis and their ancestors have mostly resided and worked in the Kagazi Muhalla (Paper neighbourhood) in Sanganer, Jaipur (Rajasthan).
While the Hussain Papers company was setup in 1998, the history of the Kagazis, who run it goes back 400 years. Back then they were one of 4 families producing high quality paper for their royal patrons. Today the Kagazis are the last of that clan, with three generations currently involved in the business of making fine hemp papers, indigo and calligraphy sheets, reed kalams for Urdu calligraphy and much more. History, stories and the most unique of handmade stationery. We can’t ask for more.
7. Dr. Sreekumar (Krishna Inks)
Specialty: Ink Maker, Handmade Pens, Nib Shaper
Krishna Inks is the brainchild of Kerala-based Dr. Sreekumar, an anesthetist by day and stationery entrepreneur by night. As a creative and curious youngster, Sreekumar felt constrained by the limited choice of black and blue ink available in school. He spent many hours with his grandfather, an art instructor, and was not only captivated by his work, but also ended up using his German-made colour dyes to produce his own ink.
By the age of 15, Sreekumar was well on his way to creating his own inks, and he quickly recognized that there was a need for customized ink colours. Sreekumar started selling his own fountain pens and inks under the brand Krishna Inks on eBay and his bespoke inks are currently available in over 21 countries.
The Krishna Inks product line comprises a wide range of inks (regular, sheening, basic, iron gall) with medium to high intensity and a vibrant colour palette. Krishna Inks are non-toxic, designed for clog-free writing and are very popular among artists and calligraphers.
All of us lovers of stationery see in them that potential for creation, so perhaps creating the stationery itself is the ultimate pleasure and potential. We loved finding and celebrating this selection of wonderful stationery makers in the subcontinent. We’re glad to see that it’s a growing number and we’ll be sure to dig deeper and explore this further in time.
Telling the stories of the people who make unique stationery is our favourite thing. For more of this, please sign up for our newsletter. We’d love to introduce you to more.
All the images are shown here in fair use context. Every image is © by the original artist or stationery maker.