Last year, artist Indu Harikumar was going through a rough patch. On the face of it, things seemed great – Harikumar had contributed to a beautiful colouring book for female prisoners incarcerated at Byculla jail, her illustrations of Indians on Tinder was receiving steady acclaim. But the 37-year-old illustrator was experiencing a problem common in the age of flooded inboxes and multiple tabs: burnout. Harikumar, who lives in Mumbai, said she had grown exhausted of responding to fans, queries and media requests on a daily basis.
In a desperate attempt to disengage from what had turned into a emotionally draining project, she began drawing images for a calendar – the work of designating days to dates, choosing an illustration to mark each month, helped Harikumar visualise the year, but also drown herself in tiny details.
“When I was doing #100IndianTinderTales, I was facing the fatigue of dealing with other people and sometimes stuff I did not want to know about other people,” she said. “This calendar became a way to find balance.”
Calendars in India were once considered conversation starters – every home had a unique one: some favoured traditional handmade calendars, others preferred pictures of gods or holiday destinations, and still other liked their days to be marked by Bollywood stars. With the advent of digital and screen printing, calendars became cheaper and ubiquitous: corporate houses and government offices alike began using their employees’ calendars as a site for some casual branding.
Priced at Rs 600, Harikumar’s hand-drawn calendars are created around the theme: We Are The Stories We Tell Ourselves. Like most of her work, they double up as colouring books. The 12 illustration cards, which measure 8 inches x 10 inches, can be cut out, framed and sent to friends as postcards. There is also space for people to jot down notes, if they feel like it.
As 2016 drew to a close, Harikumar was amazed at the amount of positivity that came her way with every purchase. “More than 80% of my sales have come from absolute strangers who read #100IndianTinderTales, in India and abroad,” she said.
Her favourite illustration in the calendar though, speaks volumes about her experience with #100IndianTinderTales – it depicts a woman concealing her face with a mask.
“Put on your mask before you help others,” she added.
Choosing better days
For several other female designers, designing calendars had to do with visualising productivity and happiness for the coming year.
For instance, Garima Shukla, whose favourite books from 2016 were The Happiness Project and Gretchen Rubin’s Better that Before, decided she was going to spend 2017 as a happier, more well-adjusted person. As step one, Shukla, a graphic designer, decided to make herself a positivity calendar.
Also titled The Happiness Project, Shukla’s calendar is a square, 8-inch-high tabletop calendar with a message for each month: January, which begins with a doodle of a person playing the ukulele, reads “Learn Something New”. The year ends with “Exercise often”.
“I feel any piece of art should either inspire, motivate or make someone happy,” said the 26-year-old.
Part of Shukla’s happiness may also owe itself to her business savvy – this is Shukla’s fourth calendar, she has been designing them since 2014. She has sold 300-400 calendars each year, and this year, she has increased her price to Rs 399 per piece.
Meanwhile, Ayushi Sharma, a first-time calendar creator and self-taught graphic designer, decided to create a calendar with a plan.
In Sharma’s calendar, every Sunday is linked with a thing to do. For example, she has allotted one Sunday to “being totally weird for the whole day” and another to “sending postcards to your best friends”.
“Initially, I had decided to go with a holiday or festive theme for each month, like love for February,” she said. “But one lazy Monday I decided to make a calendar which tells you how to make your day more wonderful, by doing something which could be on your wish list. So, that became the theme of my calendar.”
Priced at Rs 450 each, Sharma has received 50 requests for calendars for 2017 so far. “I like the fact that artsy calendars are quirky and have a thought behind them, which is unlikely to be present in mass-produced calendars, for instance.”
The power of mass appeal
In Sivakasi, the industrial town in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu known for its firecracker factory, is the place where most of India’s calendars come from. In the 20th century, artists here excelled in manual colour separation, used for making the plates used in printing. According to popular lore, anyone who doesn’t want to work with fire here (apart from crackers, Sivakasi also produces most of India’s matchboxes), makes calendars.
Art director Manu Martin remembered visiting a calendar factory in Sivakasi as a child. “You can still find those fantastic calendars being sold in Old Delhi and other parts of India,” he said.
Something about the childhood memory remained with Martin, who has been designing his own calendars for nearly seven years now.
“People don’t keep a calendars to look at dates anymore,” the 36-year-old said. “They rely on computers and mobiles to look at dates, instead.”
For someone to actually buy a calendar now, Martin said, there has to be something really unique about it.
“In reality, if a calendar has to last more than a year, then it should feature a substantial idea, unique design and lots of art.”
It usually takes Martin two to three weeks to finish one calendar and he often works on two calendars simultaneously.
“My themes revolve around the history of Delhi and its surroundings,” he said. “My inspiration is always Urdu poetry, Bollywood musics, lyrics of Gulzar or Mughal paintings. It varies. My North Indian heritage always shows.”