Why this Jammu-based woman decided to quit her job and become a full-time artpreneur

An HR professional, Sakshi Khullar decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge by following her love for art. She now hosts painting workshops and runs an art studio-cum-gallery in Jammu.
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Pursuing art as a form of therapy, Sakshi often doodled on books and canvases while she was a student and during her corporate career. She wanted to explore the field of art as a full-time professional, but did not have courage to take the entrepreneurial plunge. 

In 2014, Sakshi, who was working as an HR lead at SBI Insurance’s branch in Jammu, got her big break. 

She got a call from Radisson Hotel, New Delhi, for creating mural work for one of their walls and was offered Rs 1.5 lakh for the job.

This word-of-mouth lead gave Sakshi, an MBA from Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University, Katra, J&K, immense confidence. She quit her job and decided to pursue the artpreneur opportunity full time. 

The ‘artistic’ journey 

Following her work at Radisson, Sakshi started getting local assignments. Within a short span, she was asked to do murals for a local school and private hospital in Jammu and Chandigarh, which helped her become more noticeable and earned her business of around Rs 2-2.5 lakh.

However, the capital was insufficient to start a studio. The artist tied up with architects for home-based murals and applied for government art work tenders to build up a pool of capital to start a studio. 

By then, the 32-year old had managed to create a buzz in the region. 

“Jammu is a small town and doesn’t have many entrepreneurs, let alone women entrepreneurs. I had zero confidence in turning my art into business and that is why it took me years to open my studio,” says Sakshi, who worked round the clock to meet private orders generated out of referrals. 

A place where fun meets art 

After finding a suitable place and enough money to pay monthly rent for the next few months, Sakshi opened her studio-cum-art gallery in May 2020. 

The initial vision was to have a fun ‘vibey’ place where the artist could paint and display her work for sale. Slowly, however, it transcended into something bigger. 

But Sakshi soon hit a roadblock, struggling to pay rent as orders became erratic amid COVID-19. Managing to make minimum sales through local orders, she had to look for an alternative source of income to sustain her business. 

Donning the ‘teaching’ hat

Besides selling her art pieces through word of mouth across Jammu, Punjab, and Delhi-NCR, Sakshi decided to do two things: revamp her social media presence for sales and conduct workshops. 

“I invested in colours and materials, and threw the studio open for fun workshops. The aim was to introduce people to easy DIY paintings they could finish in the studio itself besides having fun,” says Sakshi, adding that 90 percent of people who enrolled in the workshop had no prior knowledge of art. 

She started with five people and took four sessions per week, charging between Rs 4,000-6,500 per person. Within a span of two months, she had a waiting list of 80 people.

“I started taking morning and evening sessions as the money was good. Introducing resin art and gouache art was a breakthrough as I started getting orders for smaller paintings and table tops. This helped me build up capital to pay rent, procure material, and sustain as an artist,” Sakshi says. 

Tapping social media

What started as a side gig to make rent was becoming a permanent thing. Sakshi’s studio has gained immense popularity across the region, with people of all ages coming together to have a cup of coffee, work on their paintings, socialise, and take home a self-made art piece. 

Sakshi’s decision to focus on social media started showing results as she posted regular pictures of her work and the studio.  

“Thanks to Instagram, I get two to three big orders per month with each painting taking an average 20 days for completion. This is apart from the smaller paintings that I sell offline and online,” she says. 

To date, Sakshi has sold over 10 big paintings (2x3 feet minimum) pan-India, priced Rs 20,000 to 2 lakh, over 100 smaller art works in the range of Rs 4,000 to Rs 6,000 per piece. 

“I recently sold 11 ‘mini Kashmir’ paintings to an NRI client from California. I cannot emphasise enough about the role social media has played in making me an artpreneur,” says Sakshi, who sold pages of her journal for Rs 3,000 per page, while casually flipping through it in one of her Instagram reels. 

Small-town struggle

Sakshi shares how she had to deal with negative talk from senior artists in the region. They refused to share stage with her during events or co-judge competitions, and often gave her the cold shoulder while filing tenders at government offices.  

“ I did not let my morale go down and kept my focus intact. I am proud of creating a market for myself with talent and smart work,” she says. 

The artist also faced challenges while convincing clients about pricing. “It takes a lot to justify the price of a painting, especially in smaller regions. I have to put my foot down sometimes on the final price,” she says. 

Future plans 

Sakshi is averse to the idea of online painting classes as they “do not capture the essence of a painting” and will continue to focus on her offline workshop post lockdowns. She was recently approached by Netflix to conduct an online workshop for their employees and families in India, and is contemplating the offer.

The artist plans to open the studio for public walk-ins soon and is also in talks with private galleries in Mumbai and Delhi to display her paintings. 

“I will also be selecting paintings of students trained at the studio to be displayed at private galleries. The paintings will go under the ‘Sakshi Khullar ArtWork' tag,” says Sakshi, who has refrained from collaborating with private galleries up till now due to the high commissions they charge. They will also be available online on her website. 

“My long-term vision also includes opening similar studios in Chandigarh and Delhi, if I find a like-minded artpreneur,” Sakshi says. 
Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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