• Mana Santhanam: One Woman, Many Hats

By Knowledge Tribe

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Mana Santhanam indulges passionately in custom art, singing and content management, among a bunch of other things. A go-getter and a creative mind, Mana has managed to carve a niche for herself in all these domains in a relatively short time span. Let’s get to know her.

Image:Mana Santhanam

Inspiration and beginnings

I have always loved art. As children, my sister and I used to paint on our old jeans, shoes and walls. I revisited this passion a few years ago when one of my favourite and most ancient pairs of shoes needed some desperate saving. I did some tweaking and brightening on them and didn’t think too much of it at the time. Soon, my fascination with customisation increased and I continued onto college notebooks as well. It was around this time that my friends started asking me to customise their stuff too. With those requests came the realisation that I could do this for more people. That's pretty much how it took off.

Getting the ball rolling

Well, for starters, I just went with the flow as custom art was something that I loved doing. I slowly branched out into musical instruments, t-shirts, bags and anything that could be painted on, really. I began building the actual business a little later, and it took me almost a year to put my work out there. Earlier, I was just working based on word-of-mouth promotion. Then, I decided to use Facebook and Instagram to get the word across to people who I didn’t know personally as well. I have been marketing my work on these two platforms ever since and the orders have been coming in.

Image:Black Panther themed shoes by Mana Custom Art

A day in her life

Well, my work day varies every day. Apart from custom art, I also make websites, manage content, do food photography for select clients and sing in a choir called ‘The Choral Riff’, which is associated with the duo Bryden-Parth (named after its co-founders, Bryden Lewis and Parth Chandiramani). So, my typical work day could either involve shoots and editing, or lots of writing and painting. Sometimes, I might be in a different part of the country or world, performing at a show.

On juggling multiple careers

Haha! I wish I could say that there is some supremely organised process in place. It’s just a little planning ahead and a whole lot of playing it by ear. Luckily for me, I’m my own boss and employee and everything in between. It also helps exponentially that none of my jobs require me to be physically present at a specific place all the time. So, it’s all a fun little juggling action.

Image:Baby shoes by Mana Custom Art


As with all things creative, the only challenge that one faces is coming up with new ways of presenting things. In the case of customised art, the challenge is to take a repetitive theme that various customers ask for and depicting it in different ways. Additionally for me, with the various jobs I do, another challenge is time management—a skill I am still working towards mastering.

Expanding her team

I plan on expanding the content side of things soon, so I’ll definitely be building a team for that. I’m still identifying the skills I’d want in someone working with content, but mastery of the English language (and knowledge of other local languages is a definite bonus); being in touch with things happening around them—news, trends, movements; being comfortable with different forms of writing, digital content know-how; familiarity with a few designing and photo editing software; video editing skills; imagination; finesse in presentation; ability to think on their toes; adherence to deadlines and a general love for learning definitely help!

(Read: write to manasanthanam5@gmail.com now!)

Memorable experiences

There are plenty. With regards to my custom art, the definite commercial highlights were Pearl Jam, the American rock band, retweeting my shoes; Lamb of God, the American metal band, liking my shoes; and Raftaar, the Indian rapper, noticing my work. Apart from these, the intended recipient loving what I’ve done for them is a highlight every single time.

Image:Dragon Ball Z shoes for Indian rapper, Raftaar

I have lots of memorable moments with regards to my music career. The shows I’ve done with Bryden-Parth have been beyond amazing. I mean, when 20 people tour together, it’s never boring. Moreover, our MTV Unplugged episode with Guru Randhawa kicked off the eighth season of the show recently, and that was very special for all of us. It’s amazing how music was something that started off as recreation for me and has now become a full-fledged job.

Words of wisdom

In any field, the first and most important thing is practice. Everything else is secondary.

Secondly, surround yourself with people who inspire you! This is the only true advice that I can give anyone. The impact of having people who are following their dreams, putting in the work that’s needed and generally making the most of their lives, is powerful.

Finally, put yourself and your work out there. Don’t overthink it. Do good work, and trust that the quality and effort of your work will take you where you want to go. Our generation has social media as a veritable marketing gift, so use it well. Lastly, don’t get too caught up with numbers—just keep putting good work out consistently.

Want to learn about more knowledge tribals like Mana? Keep watching this space!


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