To The Letter: Sanjana Chatlani's Journey As An Artistic Entrepreneur

Navigating a shift from luxury brand management to calligraphy, leveraging marketing skills for a 7-figure USD growth; here's how Sanjana carved a space for herself in the niche market

Published On Mar 01, 2024 | Updated On Mar 08, 2024


When it comes to careers that are built on an individual's impeccable skill set acquired after years of training, calligraphy is right up there with major sciences! It is the art of creating beautiful and expressive handwriting through letter forms, varied line thicknesses, and careful compositions. Pens and brushes are a calligrapher's tools of trade that adapts different styles and scripts to offer aesthetic arrangement of letters via an array of ink and paper. And for Sanjana Chatlani, who started out as a corporate girlie, this art form is what felt like home in the end. In a tête-à-tête with the entrepreneur, she revealed aspects of the industry that haven't really been explored. Here's her journey…

Born and raised in Bombay in a supportive family, Sanjana demonstrated early leadership qualities, serving as a house captain in J.B Petit and B.D. Somani schools. Despite pursuing undergraduate studies abroad, a different calling led her back to Mumbai for a media and communication. She decided to further spread her wings by engaging in diverse experiences, including volunteering and a career in luxury brand management with Moet Hennessy. "It was at the age of 25, three years into my professional journey, that I serendipitously discovered calligraphy at a retreat in Tuscany, a pivotal moment that transformed my life in ways I could never have anticipated,” reveals Sanjana. A story that seems like the stuff of biopics, she revealed that while still employed at LVMH, a chance event led her to a calligraphy artist, sparking a deep fascination withing herself. And despite initially regarding calligraphy as a mere admiration, she decided to explore further by participating in a 2017 workshop that set her on her journey of The Bombay Lettering Company.


Sanjana's career trajectory is proof that even if you make a big career change, your skills and learnings are always transferable. “Working closely with clients in the wine and spirits division exposed me to the intricacies of niche markets and brand management,” confesses Sanjana. The valuable insights she gained into client relations, marketing strategies, and the importance of brand differentiation, helped transform her business into a 7-figure USD business. A blend of passion and perseverance got her there because in 2017, calligraphy was relatively unknown as a profession in India, requiring years of dedicated efforts to educate the audience about its potential. And consistently showing up, for yourself and your team, was half the battle won. For Sanjana, the rest relied on professionalism, upskilling, community building, and a focused approach to boost the business's growth.

It didn't come without challenges though. “Early on, I had to tackle the misconception that calligraphy was just fancy handwriting or a hobby. I had to prove to people it’s a serious art form, needing skill and attention to detail. Convincing them of its commercial potential was key. Also, many doubted a calligraphy business could succeed, so I had to persist and prove them wrong,” confesses Sanjana. And looking ahead, she hopes to expand the brand's presence in the luxury stationery market, already being the bespoke solutions in wedding invitations, stationery, and paper goods. They're also focused on education and the company currently provides a specialised online course in copperplate calligraphy, with plans to diversify and enhance educational offerings, eyeing the hot spot of a comprehensive global platform for calligraphy design and illustration. Sanjana's drive and passion reminds us of the popular saying by Mario Quintana - “Don't waste your time chasing butterflies. Mend your garden, and the butterflies will come".


Given her corporate background, how does Sanjana find a balance between the artistic side of calligraphy and running a business? “A common struggle for small entrepreneurs is getting caught up in day-to-day operations, making it difficult to focus on business growth,” she opines. Realising the distinction between artistic and business disciplines, she's learned to manage both aspects, stressing on the need to consciously develop skills as both an artist and a business owner. But Sanjana's self-awareness and business acumen goes beyond that as she's accepted that fact that business growth often requires stepping back from artistic roles. While doing that she's operating as a leader and makes it a point to delegate tasks and prioritize team growth, inspiring  conscious effort and continuous learning within her team. 

An artist is constantly seeking their muses but for Sanjana, it's her love for travel that seems to get her creative juices flowing. She finds inspiration from her travels, diverse creative fields such as architecture and fashion, and interactions with renowned calligraphers in the artistic community. “When I travel, I often encounter unique cultural elements and artistic expressions that influence my work. For instance, during a trip to Nepal, I was inspired by traditional paintings, which influenced my approach to designing Mandala patterns for a recent project we worked on for the Mumbai Mint (a project led by the Indian Government) - a packaging design for its commemorative coin.”  The inspiration behind the Mandala design was rooted in the shared origins of Hinduism and Jainism, symbolising the cycle of life, death, and rebirth similar to Ashtamangal’s eight elements of auspiciousness. “We put a lot of thought into the aesthetic as well as functionality of the packaging for both the copper nickel as well as the silver coin. It resulted in final outcome that was visually stunning and culturally meaningful," she elaborates.


While discussing her inspirations, Sanjana also happened to mention numerous artists and calligraphers who continue to inspire her work. “Achyut Palav stands out as one of the most renowned in India, constantly innovating and experimenting across various surfaces. Ewan Clayton, an educator and author, has been a significant mentor with his inspiring teaching style that sparks imagination. Barbara Calzori impresses me with her constant creativity and beautiful work. Additionally, Jake Weidmann, a master penman and painter, inspires me with his diverse skills and mastery of varied surfaces,” she reveals. 

“I’ve had the privilege of learning from various esteemed teachers, each with their unique teaching styles and approaches. From passionate and free-flowing instructors to precise and technical ones, each offers valuable insights. As a teacher myself, I strive to impart knowledge effectively by striking a balance between technical instruction and nurturing the intangible aspects of the art form,” reveals Sanjana. In the dual role of a calligraphy learner and teacher, she reiterates that absolutely essential nature of the principles for mastering the art form. Drawing from diverse teaching styles encountered during her learning journey, she instructs to strike a balance between technical instruction and nurturing the intangible aspects of calligraphy. Because teaching has significantly influenced her artistic journey; fostering virtues like patience and precision. Donning multiple hats can be challenging and balancing roles as an artist, instructor, and business owner, she seamlessly transitions between them, saying that they're all interconnected. 

A pro tip from the visionary herself? Sanjana recommends students of calligraphy to develop muscle memory, concentration, and a discerning eye for quality work. The learning process should then evolve into infusing personal flair into your work, achieving a balance between tangible elements like mastering letterforms and intangible aspects like personal expression. And if as an aspiring calligrapher, our readers want to learn the craft, there's a way to do that too!


Sanjana's love for teaching led her to put conscious efforts into training young minds and the future generation of calligraphers. “Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevailing sentiment among practitioners was that calligraphy could only be taught in person, in a traditional classroom setting. I, myself, traveled across the globe in pursuit of mastering this intricate art from various esteemed teachers. However, the onset of the pandemic changed the mindset of individuals within the calligraphy community to reassess their approach and try out the possibilities offered by online platforms,” she reveals. 

Adapting to the era of remote learning, calligraphy instructors embraced innovative virtual teaching methods, utilising tools like document and second cameras for a comprehensive view of the writing process. The shift to online education, despite undeniable advantages, faced challenges as some believe the true essence of calligraphy requires in-person interactions. However, pioneering a pre-recorded course named “The Copperplate Collective” on the American platform Kajabi, Sanjana has successfully managed to cater to diverse enthusiasts, affirming the growing interest in online calligraphy education. 

Community building is integral to The Bombay Lettering Company's business model, especially in today’s world where brands follow a more people-centric approach. Founder-led brands, in particular, thrive on building personal connections and sharing their stories. In the niche world of calligraphy, community building has been paramount. It’s a two-way street where they support each other. “During the lockdown, I went live almost every day on Instagram, providing tips and tricks, workshops and free downloadable to our community, and the response was so positive. Building genuine relationships is key. Today, when I launch a product, I don’t need to heavily advertise or market it. Instead, I rely on this community, which comprises 60k followers on Instagram and 4.5k subscribers via email,” she reveals. She notes that they are incredibly loyal, and this highlights the power of community, especially in an arts and crafts business where connection and sharing are cherished. 

What does she want to tell the community of existing calligraphers and aspirants? Building a business around your passion requires ongoing growth and improvement. So, prioritising continual learning and upskilling comes in handy. Curiosity and open-mindedness to new ideas and experiences helps and taking decisive action towards your goals helps you remain committed to your passion. “Be prepared for hard work and persistence. Success doesn’t come overnight, and it requires dedication and perseverance to overcome obstacles and achieve your objectives. Welcome discomfort and challenges as opportunities for growth and innovation. Stepping out of your comfort zone is often where the most significant progress occurs, both personally and professionally,” Sanjana concludes. 

Photo: /SanjanaChatlani