We all dote on what our kids draw and paint, so who wouldn’t want a larger canvas for them? Bengaluru-based Anusha Stephen thought using kids’ artwork as design would inspire them to think big and provide them a medium to create magic. And so The Talking Canvas was conceptualised last year after Anusha completed the Women Start-Up Programme (WSP) at IIM-Bangalore. The programme was designed to support women entrepreneurs from an idea stage to proof of concept, says Anusha, who was a HR professional.
The Bengaluru-based startup is made up of Anusha’s husband, Ashwin, who helps with the inventory management, her sister, Gisha, a graphic designer, Divya, an artist and fashion designer, and Udisha, a fashion designer. There is an extended team for digital marketing and content management as well.
“Today, The Talking Canvas is probably the only ‘for kids, by kids’ brand. Most of our artwork is crowd-sourced through our website. Parents usually send us hand-drawings or doodles done by their kids and we evaluate them before taking them into design and finally print. In addition, we conduct art sessions with kids, through which we get a few designs. We also do a lot of work with underprivileged kids in collaboration with NGOs and source our artwork from them,” she explains. The artwork her company collects is not tampered with, except that an element of design is added, “like a splash of colour or something else which will make the artwork pop”.
They work with children through art sessions – their Christmas collection designs came from a community art session they did at Milton Street Park during their flea market. “We shared the Christmas story with kids and asked them to visualise what they loved about Christmas. We got some very interesting designs and finally zeroed down on two.”
They are now working on other themes like summer, football, music, etc. “The idea is to let kids visualise and use their own imagination to put things on paper, rather than asking them to copy an image. We look for originality in all our designs and in the process, the kids also become more creative.” So far, they have converted about eight children’s artwork into production, while they have over 50 designs ready, and which will soon get into production.
Art was very much a part of her childhood, says Anusha, and she very naturally took to drawing, sketching, and painting, winning competitions since she was four. “Art relieves stress and helps one think more clearly. I would call myself an amateur artist. Being a HR professional, I’ve always valued how art makes people more creative, innovative, focussed, and calmer and enables one to think differently,” she says. The initial idea she came up with, to take art to everyone, was to start an art café with art-based activities and merchandise. However, the IIM-B programme made her understand business models better, and pushed her to think of a more scalable business plan, she says. She decided on being product based, rather than service based.
Are the kids paid any royalty for their designs used? “We don’t pay any sort of monetary royalties to the kids as we are giving them a space to showcase their skills and explore their potential. We believe inspiring kids is the most important part. We give credit to the artist who has drawn the artwork by featuring them on the products, as well as on our website. We also give the featured artist a free tee with their design on it,” she adds.
Anusha stresses that her business model includes “giving back to society as an integral part of who we are”. For every product they sell, the company gives away a certain percentage of profits towards art materials or for art education of underprivileged kids. “In addition to inspiring kids, we are also empowering more kids by educating them on, and with art.” They are currently working with Bugguri, an NGO which works to keep children of ragpickers engaged, while the parents are away at work. “We conduct sessions with these kids and support with all the materials required for the sessions.”
The methods of teaching are different too, says Anusha. They avoid a traditional fine art related approach, instead, helping children appreciate art and learn the skills. “Art is very important for kids. It improves in focus, creativity, visualisation, problem solving and decision making. It helps them communicate their thoughts better by using a non-verbal form of communication. Not all kids get the opportunity to learn these skills in a fun way and that’s what we try to do.”
Apart from Bugguri, they are also working with SIF foundation, an NGO working to better education for underprivileged kids. They are looking to collaborate with more such organisations who support art education and also get artwork from underprivileged kids. They also conducted sessions with a government school in Whitefield.