“If it’s something that makes you happy, then totally pursue it.” –...

“If it’s something that makes you happy, then totally pursue it.” – Mana Santhanam, Custom Artist.


Mana Santhanam, the 20-something custom artist from Bangalore, recently made it big, when she was featured in the Fastrack Youngstirs Campaign for her work on multiple pairs of custom hand-painted shoes. We caught her up with her in a small chat, where she talks about her day job, about the shoot experience for Fastrack, the future prospects for her custom art on things ranging from clothes to flutes, and more. Read on. 🙂

1. What made you take art and put it on shoes? Tell us about the first shoe that you customized, which started it all.
It started when I was really young. My sister and I used to paint on our old jeans and shoes, and walls even. Art has always been a part of our lives, and it was something we did for fun. I revisited it a few years ago when one of my favourite, and most ancient pair of shoes needed some desperate saving. I did some tweaking and brightening up and didn’t think too much about it at the time.

A few years later, that customising streak returned and continued onto a bunch of shoes and T shirts, and college notebooks. It was around this time that friends started asking me to customise their stuff too. And with those requites came the realisation that I could do this for more people, anyone who wanted anything customised really. And that’s pretty much how it took off. I started putting my stuff up and the orders have been coming in ever since. It’s something I’ve taken up seriously for less than a year, but it feels like I’ve been doing this forever.

2. How many shoes have you customised so far? If you had to pick your favorite, which one would that be?

Well, I started in May 2014, and not counting the ones I’ve done for myself, I’ve done about forty one orders till now. Out of these, around 25 have been shoes.
I really can’t pick a favourite. They’ve all be super exciting to do, but I’ve especially enjoyed the rock band themes and the comic and cartoon characters.
3. How long have you been sketching/drawing for? How important do you think it is to be good at these things considering what you do?
I’ve been into art and painting since I was a kid. I never pursued formal training in either, but I think a lot of practice is always important, and this hold true for any art form.

I think the more important focus should be on developing your own unique style. And that can only come with practicing your art. So yes, a lot of sketching and doing a lot of work is important. Basically, by just making more and more new things, and exploring styles and themes, trying out new ideas, you’ll be on track to defining your own style. And I think being good then becomes a natural outcome of this process.

3. Tell us a little more about the Youngstirs campaign. How did FastTrack approach you for it and what was your initial response?

Fastrack has a fun campaign called Youngstirs, which basically features young people creating a ‘stir’ through their work, and I was the third one to be featured in that series. The agency handling this got in touch with me, and wanted to feature me and my custom art as a part of the campaign. I was more than happy to oblige.

4. What was it like to shoot for the Fastrack Youngstirs Campaign? Your video looks like a ton of fun. Share an unforgettable moment with us.

The shoot itself was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the entire experience. I’m used to working in my study, all by myself, so it was a welcome change to have a whole bunch of people around, with cameras and everything. And thanks to their slick editing skills, the video turned out quite nice!

Because I’m used to working in my one space, one of the funnier moments was when they had to take shots real close to the shoes I was painting, and I had to sit very, very still so that I wouldn’t shake the camera.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m anything but still and wave my hands around a lot. So I had to be reminded a bunch of times, until I sat perfectly still and just moved my wrists to paint. It was definitely unusual! But the people who came over for the shoot were really nice, so it was just a whole lot of fun.

4. What is Mana Santhanam like besides customizing shoes? Where did you complete your education from? What are you doing currently?

I competed my Masters in Communication from Christ University (Bangalore) almost two years ago. Custom art is something I pursue independently, but I have a day job too, as a content creator for a web design firm called The Random Lines. I’d like to say it’s a standard day-job like everyone else’s, but it’s really not. While it is a place I call my office, it’s a lot more than just that. It’s a space where I get to learn a lot, and the work is great, the exposure is massive and it’s just a lot of fun! At the risk of gushing, my colleagues/friends are some of the most hard-working and talented people I know, and just watching them work is a learning in itself.

And this is true of my friends and family as well, who are the people I spend the remaining part of my free time with. I’ve just been very lucky to be surrounded by people who are incredibly talented and are at the top of their respective fields, and this has really motivated me to be really good at what I do as well.

When I’m not working or doing custom art, I pursue music as well, through a choir I am part of, called The Choral Riff which has featured along with the Bangalore based Progressive Rock band Slain, and more recently, the genius duo Bryden-Parth.

Apart from that, I love doing very regular things like watching movies, catching local music shows, sleeping an hour longer than necessary, spending more time than advisable on social networks, and generally exploring all the amazing knowledge the internet has to offer.

5. You’ve had 40+ orders for customizing shoes till now. Have you ever considered doing this full-time?

I’m really happy in the space I am right now, just learning a lot. I get to learn at a great job, and also get to pursue my custom art at the same time. It’s ideal!

6. Have you ever done an internship during your college, or after? We’d love to hear about it! 

Yes. I did three internships while I was pursuing my Masters degree as part of my degree requirements and I absolutely recommend it. Internships are just the best way to find out whether or not a particular job you saw yourself doing actually works for you. It’s the practical test of all your career theories.
– I interned with Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness, an NGO that works towards incorporating civic education in schools and handled their curriculum development.
– The second internship was with DNA, in their supplement section, where I worked as a reporter and did a lot of fun, city-based articles covering events and trends.

– The longest, and most important internship I did was with Lowe Lintas, an advertising agency, where I interned as a copywriter. This was particularly important to me because advertising was one of my career options at the time, and the internship helped me understand just how things work in an agency. I met a lot of very creative people, doing some great work, and I think it helped me get a much more rounded and mature understanding of the industry.

7. Anything you’d like to tell our readers who’d want to pursue something like you? 

Absolutely go for it. If it’s something that makes you happy, keeps you thinking, and is one of those things where the more work you get, the happier you are, then totally pursue it. The excitement, and consequent satisfaction, is unparalleled.




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