June 17, 2014

The Designer: Mohan Sakpal

By Pavithra Chandrasekar

“Perfection has become a habit for me now. I have worked around this design to cut down on the cutting and pasting cost but post this, if the design doesn’t look beautiful, it’s not worth it. That’s why I repeatedly re-work on it,” explains Mohan Sakpal while reworking on one pattern for about 20 minutes. He works in a tiny room in his shop, tucked away in a street full of wedding cards shops and showrooms in South Bombay.

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The wedding card business in India is directly proportional to Indian weddings getting more diverse and lavish. It is hardly surprising that this business is estimated at about $ 30 billion and is growing at a rate of 15–20% per year. Despite the dominance of traditional motifs, the wedding card designs are getting more edgy, varied and competitive. The chunk of the market is still unorganized with a variety of big and small players. And in this large pool operates Mohan Sakpal, a local wedding card designer with great artistic skills and an incredible story of his journey.

Sakpal has been sketching since he was a child. He comes from a family of mill workers who had the misfortune of discontinuing school after the second grade itself. “This is why there is a difference in thoughts and values between me and my family which eventually led me to pave my own way.” He did a technical course which helped him procure a job as a motor mechanic and a turner-fitter in a workshop in Lower Parel. Incidentally, there happened to be a textile design workshop right across, which Sakpal would sit and dreamily observe as he knew that this is what would lead him to happiness.

Eventually, he started drawing and designing post work hours, using a cardboard to draw and color. The watchman of the workshop saw him one evening and asked him to show his work to his boss. Sakpal instantly got a job there and that’s how he started learning about textile design. “A friend of mine told me that if I wanted to grow, I’d need a formal degree. So I got myself a certificate course in textile design, which gave me the technical knowledge. However, along the way, the textile industry changed completely and I started finding it hard to find a job at a mill as people started designing individually.”

After this, an artist suggested to him that his designs would work better commercially and he should go to a school to improve his skills and scope. That is when he went to the Bandra School of Art to pursue a diploma in Applied Art. Due to not sitting in for his finals, he was left without the certificate but with a full fledged portfolio. Amongst all the freelance work he was doing, designing wedding cards appealed to him the most as all the courses and the textile work he had done fell into one place. Thus began his journey into the wedding card design world in 1987.

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Enter the digital age. The foray into computerization initially was only achieved by large businesses and it took a few years for it to creep into smaller organizations. Sakpal learned how to work a computer in art school and figured out all the design based softwares by himself. He mentions that there were a few people who lost out on it and would hand over their physical artwork to “computer operators”, who would then ape the design through softwares.

Sakpal’s design process commences with him drawing by hand with a pencil after which he scans it and works on Corel Draw. He then sits with the manufacturer and decides what physical beautification can be done like foiling and gloss etc. They then try to figure out how the work can be done faster, in an easier way and with the least possible cost to get more profit. After he makes the required changes, it goes for processing through punching. There are punching blocks and foil blocks on which the card gets made, since the manufacturing guys don’t have a unified workshop, there are individual people who do the job. There are easy manual jobs like sticking bindis (circular decorational stickers), pasting and placing, which housewives do at home.

He believes that the work they are producing is very close to art. He also thinks that more the work is done by hand, the better it looks and feels, which is what the clients prefer. An offset machine can do the work too but people always want to go back to the handmade ones as the offset cards give a very mechanical feel, he says. When asked if the costing factor affects the quality of the design in any form, he says, “I don’t think so. But I feel disappointed when I do some top-notch creative work and the client reduces the price or when there are flaws in the production by the printers or the cutting/pasting guys. I believe that the client must get the best work. And if the work is excellent and the client is happy, they come back to us for all the other weddings in their families.”

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Sakpal works on wholesale cards for which the costing starts from about Rs 60 per piece. The most valuable one he has worked on has gone upto Rs 500 per card (which was for an individual party). He exclaims that there are people who produce cards which are worth over Rs 2000 a card. That used to irk him initially as he is a socialist and his ideals would make him cringe watching all that money being spent so superfluously. But he eventually realised that because of that money, so many people were employed and were being paid a decent sum for their hard work, which is what the point of socialism is.

He has also started a local Screen Printers Association in 2007 to improve the quality of workers in his area. “I got two screen printing guys to work with me and realized that they were getting paid peanuts for the work they were doing and had no knowledge as to how they should demand and negotiate. And there were also disputes amongst the screen printing guys. So to unite and organize them, I started this Screen Printers Association with some basic rules and framework to maintain discipline which could produce better quality work and result in better wages.” They made a rate card and got in sync with the Card Manufacturing Association, which also helped them sustain their work (even in the dry seasons) and manage their families. He has founded another organization called ‘Eklavya Prathistha’ which rewards students who come from dire situations and households. The organization provides them with means to boost their morale and encourage them to continue studying.

Sakpal is managing all of this while immersing himself in producing some quality wedding cards. Amongst thousands of designers in the ever growing wedding card business space, he is trying to carve his own niche.

A version of this article originally appeared in Kyoorius Magazine 17

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Kyoorius is a bi-monthly print magazine on visual communications. Subscribe here. For buying a single copy (or any of the previous issues), write to us at sales@kyoorius.com. You can order the issue from Tadpole, get the digital copy from Magzter and also buy it from bookstores near you. For any feedback on the magazine or to submit your work, do drop in a mail to us at editor@kyoorius.com. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Anshika

    07.18.2014

    Reply

    Hey could you share the contact details of Mr. Sakpal? Can’t find them online

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