Shilpa Mitha is a sound engineer by profession and a clay artist by passion. True to her name, Shilpa, meaning ‘perfectly created’ is a true embodiment of the art she embraces, to her heart’s content.
In short, Shilpa makes much more than just food miniatures, she creates clay food that makes you go hungry. Her works create an insatiable appetite for all food sinful, leaving you hungry for more.
In a candid conversation with SreejaRaveendran, Shilpa reveals what got her into this dream world of clay, food miniatures, online craft groups and more.
What got you pulled in to clay modelling? How did you realise you were good at it?
My very first attempt at clay modelling was a failure. I backed out of it in half an hour. And soon, I tried experimenting with quilling and used to make quilled 3 D miniatures of bikes, piano and make up kits. Friends did play a pivotal role in bringing me to this profession. Since I had quit my full time job of being a sound engineer, time was in plenty. Considering the versatility of clay, I took to rolling clay with an initial pay of Rs.500. Soon, creating food miniatures became my second name. I had broken the glass ceiling and never looked back since then.
Most of your miniatures are centred on food? What’s with this fixation? Are you bent on making people hungry?
(After a series of giggles)Well, I am not particularly a foodie. But, food as you know has a variety of textures and colours. There are endless possibilities and lot of detailing that goes in to creating a perfect food miniature which closely resembles the real dish. So I started off on Indian variants and realised in a jiffy that I had got into this a tad too late. Miniature crafts were very much in existence and I wish I started on with this earlier.
How was it getting into clay making full time while your counterparts pursued mainstream careers?
It really did not affect me. I am fortunate to have supportive parents. I strive to be different in everything I do from a very young age. It’s been three years now and I have never regretted this decision even once.
What do you think the one factor that connects you to thousands of crafters, followers and artists?
Well, art has a way of permeating across boundaries. I love talking, so it made me reach out, conduct workshops and make friends. It was with this intent ‘Chennai Crafters’, the online group for crafters was born. Chennai Crafters objective was to recognize artists and entrepreneurs and create a database of talent. It helps when you are thinking of an event and are scouting for people who are experts in a certain art and craft.
Entrepreneurship requires constant innovation and novel approaches. How do you keep yourself inspired all the time?
I see lot of plagiarism of the original works which were done by me. Every time I see a copy of my work, I am motivated to do better than the duplicate. I need to keep raising my bar, at several dimensions of detailing. I want to preserve the authenticity of my work and this keeps me on my toes.
What is the challenge you face being into the category of handmade products. Something you would like to note as a point of caution.
Stick to one medium and specialise in it. A lot of crafters hop from one medium to the other not focusing on mastering the art. Long term success is much better than short term achievements.
You have a basic degree in engg, a PG in sound engg and now clay modelling. Have you thought of integrating the three at any point and creating something which is absolutely out-of –the world?
Yes. That’s my sole strength and a dream project. It’s a secret for now. (Laughs)
What is your advice (tip) to youngsters who want to pursue an unconventional career?
I once met a man who asked what job was I into. I replied clay modelling and he is like, not that, I meant what do you do for a living?
Most people may not accept ‘rolling clay’ as a way of making money. But then, that is the challenge you have to overcome. You must go out of your way, move out from the comfort zone and make a living of what you love doing and not what you must to do for a living.
So, how do you plan on taking this forward? Any big ticket plans?
Yes, I plan to set my own studio in future – a cool place where people can just walk with pictures of which miniatures they would love to make. Rolling clay is a great stress buster and it’s fun too.
Best compliment:When I was asked if I made a giant coin and placed it near real food.
Worst criticism: I was asked if the figurine I made was pregnant. I had rolled the claytoo thick. It made me laugh.
Dream miniature:A Buddha figurine. Capture that inner peace is a challenge.
Favorite model:The girl with a violin. It’s very close to my heart.
Response to mimics:Always credit the original creator. Respect the ethics of art and prove your mettle by creating art with an original personal element.