Drawing on humour

Doodles are the cool new way to sell everything from cups to corporate stationery, says Sushmita Biswas

  • Published 12.06.16

For visual artist Alicia Souza it always came naturally. She had started drawing as a child but what had begun as aimless scribbles in notebooks in her school and college has now become serious artwork. Today, the banker turned full-time illustrator is putting her lighthearted doodles on everything from badges to greeting cards to mugs and posters. After quitting banking she first joined Chumbak, a design company in Bangalore. But she has now struck out on her own.

Cut to Delhi-based doodle-artist Sushil Bhasin whose e-commerce site Doodlewala sells doodle-based merchandise like coffee mugs, notebooks and wine bottle bags. Bhasin’s a marketing professional during the day at a Delhi-based consulting firm, but after working hours he creates doodles on an unusual medium — white curved pebbles. His sub-brand Pebble People has witty one-liners and funny cartoons with comic characters like gang leader Gambhir Singh Chuski and neighbourhood aunty Shimmer Kapoor. He keeps experimenting with styles ranging from the cute to the bizarre to the just chaotic. He says: “I’m always on the lookout for quirky stuff in people.” To decorate his pebbles Bhasin uses a riot of colours and anything from acrylic to oil and pens.

Souza and Bhasin belong to a growing group of doodlers who are brightening up everyday products by decorating them with quirky one-liners and funny sketches — and making a good living from it.

Delhi’s Sushil Bhasin draws on white pebbles and also sells merchandise like coffee mugs and notebooks through his e-commerce site Doodlewala
Photo: Rupinder Sharma

Anyone who has been given a pen and a piece of paper has, at some point of their lives, whiled away the hours doodling. Even Tagore used to doodle in his manuscripts. But doodling is suddenly the new-cool thanks to social media like Facebook and Instagram. It has now been elevated to an art form and can be seen just about everywhere from boardroom stationery to paper tissues in cafés.

Want a funny take on urban life? Or, how about creating a doodle based on your favourite cartoon character? Says Bhasin: “Once upon a time doodles were mindless drawings limited to the margins of notebooks. But today it’s seen more as an effective medium to promote social causes or just plain fun.”

What’s spurring the trend is artists who’ve suddenly got the freedom to express themselves — and make money at the same time. Brands, too, are cashing in on the popularity of doodle-style drawings and using them in their social media marketing and for brand building.

Alicia Souza, who quit her bank job to turn full-time doodle artist and illustrator, has built up a sizeable following with her fun and wacky style of doodling on everything from badges to greeting cards to mugs and posters

Doodle-based merchandise starts from around Rs 150 and can go up to Rs 2,000. At a more sophisticated level, doodle art prints can sell for anywhere between Rs 15,000 and Rs 2 lakh. Says Bhasin: “Pricing depends on the details and the time involved in doing it.”

Crucially, doodling must have an element of spontaneity. Once the drawings are hand-drawn, they’re scanned and then digitally tweaked and tidied.

Pune-based visual illustrator Aditi Deo is a strong advocate of environmentally sound practices and uses biodegradable materials for her products. A self-taught illustrator, Deo started her brand The Doodle Factory a few years ago offering objects like grocery bags, calendars and diaries. She says: “Doodling is unplanned and spontaneous. What I like about it — which is also my forte — is the detailing that goes into such a small space.” Her hotsellers include biodegradable products like pencil holdalls (they replace plastic pencil boxes), grain-filled cotton pouches for hot and cold packs and cotton grocery bags with screen-printed funny graphics on them.

Her doodles — mostly detailed in black and white — are heavily inspired by the flora and fauna of the Sahyadris. Deo confesses she has been a compulsive doodler since she was a kid. “I would doodle in physics and chemistry textbooks. The doodles helped me and my friends who photocopied my books to learn better.”

Former lawyer Apurva Chaudhari does a lot of typography-based doodles and sells her merchandise through her quirky webstore chachichaudhari.com
Photo: Gajanan Dudhalkar

Or look at Mumbai-based lawyer turned doodle-artist Apurva Chaudhari, 26, whose quirky webstore chachichaudhari.com set up in 2014 sells mugs, posters, T-shirts, clocks, postcards, laptop skins and notebooks. Says Chaudhari: “I discovered my hidden talent as a doodler during my law internship and started scribbling on draft agreements.”

What started as customised gifts for friends eventually became a full-time profession for Chaudhari and she set up her doodle company What’s In A Name? almost three years ago. “I couldn’t come up with a name back then. A year later I came up with a quirky brand chachichaudhari,” adds Chaudhari, who works out of a co-working space in Andheri, Mumbai. Most of her doodles are typography-based as she loves text-heavy doodles using funny lines. For instance, her funny anti-smoking doodles are a humorous twist on Batman and called Buttman. Another illustration titled Lord of the Rings shows smoke rings coming from a cigarette.

There’s also Mumbai-based company The Souled Store started by friends Aditya Sharma, Vedang Patel and Rohin Samtaney which sells pop-culture merchandise like T-shirts, mugs, tote bags and coasters with doodles inspired by television shows and comic book characters.

Aditi Deo’s pen-and-ink doodles are heavily textured and have intricate detailing that gives her work a distinctive look

Says Sharma: “We offer an e-commerce platform for multi-disciplinary visual artists to monetise their artwork. So an upcoming illustrator can submit his doodle-based artwork and illustration on our site. If the design’s approved by our in-house team of illustrators, the artist can go ahead and can retail his products and get royalty from the products sold.” Their hotsellers include funky doodled tees — more than 20,000 fly off the shelves each month. Adds Sharma: “Next we are coming up with a range of abstract doodles and various Indian city-based doodles.”

Meanwhile there’s The Doodlers, formed by friends in Mumbai — Sameer Kulkarni and Abhijit Kalan — who started the brand when they realised that they all loved doodling and were good at it. Colourful hand-drawn calendars were their first creations.  “The idea was to test the market. In the first year we sold 350 calendars and in 2014 we sold 500 and 400 the next year,” says Kulkarni. Now, they are busy working on a line of doodle-based T-shirts that will be launched soon on their Facebook page. Their doodles are inspired by a mix of sci-fi characters, animals and funny characters.

Although the themes for doodles may vary all the artists have their respective styles ranging from the abstract to cari-catures. While Deo’s pen-and-ink doodles are heavily textured with intricate details, Souza’s hand-drawn visual diary is underlined with wit and humour. On the other hand, Bhasin of Doodlewala focuses on the idiosyncracies of characters drawn from real life. Chaudhuri however offers a fun take on social and environmental issues from anti-smoking to stray dogs and domestic violence.

(Left to right) Vedang Patel, Rohin Samtaney and Aditya Sharma of The Souled Store do doodles inspired by TV shows and comic book characters
Photo: Gajanan Dudhalkar

Most of these doodle-artists are self-taught. Souza, who was born and brought up in Abu Dhabi, did communication design in Melbourne and stayed on there for five years. She moved to Bangalore as an illustrator for Chumbak in 2012. Kulkarni and Kalan have an advertising background and also have a flair for this art. Chaudhari was an
intern at a law firm in Mumbai before taking to full-time doodling.

So when and where are these doodle artists at their creative best? Souza, says her doodles reveal her impatient streak. “I draw quickly and take a minute to sketch. So my biggest challenge is to spend a bit more time on a drawing.” On most days she works from her desk at home, drawing two to three doodles at a stretch.

Some doodle artists, like Bhasin, still sketch in their free time. He has a day job in a Delhi-based consulting firm and sketches anywhere in between work — on paper and on his iPad. Saturdays are also spent in his studio drawing
on pebbles. His part-time scribbles fetch him around Rs 15,000. He also earns about a lakh for pebble-based doodle installations. On the other hand, Kulkarni and Kalan brainstorm after work and draw at night and on weekends. However, there is certain stuff that these doodle-artists will not do. Souza doesn’t do fine art caricatures. Deo focuses mainly on black-and-white drawings with just a few bits of colour in them. Bhasin is all for quirky social humour but stays away from sketches with political undertones. Inspirational quotes are a big no-no for Chaudhari.

It started with hand-drawn calendars for Sameer Kulkarni (left) and Abhijit Kalan of The Doodlers and now they are also making doodled T-shirts
Photo: Gajanan Dudhalkar

Most of them are also doing corporate work like brand-building and promotions on social media. For instance, Souza draws mostly for corporate brands in addition to her own line of lifestyle products.  She has worked across industries with several corporate clients like Yahoo, Tanishq and major newspapers and magazines. She
says: “Corporate projects include doing illustrations for text-heavy internal communication and infusing humour in boring presentations and branding.” Recently, Souza did humorous doodles for Zivame’s social media campaign to promote their range of lingerie.

On the other hand, Sharma’s The Souled Store is the official merchandise partner for NH7 Weekender and the AIB comedy collective handling everything from designing to production. Kulkarni and Kalan’s The Doodlers once covered a Tata Nano car in eye-catching doodles. Chaudhari too designs logo and internal communications for brands and does everything from invitations to catalogues and brochures and illustrative comic strips for start-ups on social media.

How far can these creators of doodles go? Almost all of them are keen to expand. While Bhasin is in talks with a few art galleries in Delhi to exhibit his doodle-art pebble installations, his doodle-based merchandise will also soon be available on Amazon and Flipkart. Deo has two book projects on hand and is looking at opening her own store in Pune. Chaudhari on the other hand is in the process of learning text-based 3D motion doodles (a process of sketching a character and animating it).

For doodles, observation is key but this art form cannot be taught. Says Deo: “It is a great form of self-expression and has to be spontaneous. There is no undo button to it.”