Old News Made Useful
By Sanuj Hathurusinghe
Nishantha Thenuwara is from Panadura and he earns a living by balancing the books of a small company. However, his passion lies in something unique. His hobby – a form of quilling or paper filigree –requires much patience than his day job since it is time-consuming, intricate work but the end result is fascinating, a true treat for the eye and certainly much more satisfying than number crunching.
Nishantha takes old newspapers and rolls them into long thick strings. He then glues them together into shapes of his design, paints them using poster paint or fabric paint, adds the final touches by giving a nice coat of varnish and voila! The end result is something that looks all natural and woven like cane craft.
Through his unique method of crafting Nishantha makes vases in all sizes, wicker baskets, ornaments, pen holders, Christmas décor, and even cute little dolls. “The possibilities are endless if your imagination is vivid,” Nishantha says. However, it takes more than creative imagination to birth a unique piece of art. The surgical precision it requires at times makes this craft something that cannot be rushed. “This requires patience and it is time-consuming. Depending on the design and the details of it, the amount of time it takes varies. Sometimes I come home after work, sit down to work on a craft and find myself getting up again after midnight,” Nishantha says.
Although they are made out of old newspapers Nishantha guarantees the durability of his creations. “These products are surprisingly light but unbelievably sturdy. The varnish layer protects them from any outside effects like sun, rain, and wind. The only care you need to take is to wipe it once in a way with a damp cloth and they will last a lifetime. I still have my first creations I did about seven years ago with me in good condition,” Nishantha assures.
Rolled paper art is not entirely a novel concept. Quilling has been around for quite some time now but what keeps the craft exciting is the innovative and creative thinking of the likes of Nishantha who constantly discover new branches within the craft. His Christmas décor for example is a novel design unique to Nishantha and it was well received by admirers. In 2018 Nishantha did the biggest of his creations –a 7-feet-tall Christmas tree –and it was used as a part of the Christmas décor in a jewellery shop in Colombo. In the same year Hameedia used Nishantha’s décor to add flair and ingenuity to the shop’s Christmas décor.
Nishantha started his creative work back in 2013. He was inspired by an exhibition held in Colombo which showcased some unique rolled newspaper art. With his creativity piqued Nishantha came home and started doing rolled newspaper art on his own and with the help of his wife has never looked back ever since. He calls his humble creative venture ‘Eco Creations’ but in terms of social media presence Eco Creations is still in its infancy since Nishantha doesn’t have much time to spare to invest in social media after his day job, family responsibilities and quilling.
However, he is a firm believer of the saying, “Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life,” and would love to pursue his passion full-time if there is a market for it. He supplies flower baskets to a few shops in Colombo but faces constant competition by cheap, imported equivalents. To make matters worse the ongoing pandemic has made everything hard to come by. A few of his neighbours used to supply him with their old stacks of newspapers but now with socialising being severely limited Nishantha doesn’t completely rely on that. There are shops in Pettah from which he buys old newspapers in bulk but recently he was informed that the wholesale price has almost doubled.
Nishantha would love to improve his hobby into a fully functioning business one day but lack of exposure, material cost, and competition by plastic products in the market act as hurdles between Nishantha and his ultimate goal. His request from the general public is to give prominence to locally crafted, eco-friendly products like his in the market instead of going for unsustainable, cheap products.