Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pushkar and A Piece of the Pattern

I visited Pushkar with its blue Brahma Temple and its crumbling painted havelis. Despite its dust-covered dissolution, this colourful and richly-patterned world remains visually compelling.

I am interested both in the geometric regularity of repeated pattern and in its disruption. I have been block-printing on papers that I have first painted with acrylic. The painted paper surfaces don't take the printing inks cleanly as would pristine cotton or silk fabrics. Instead, the overlaid printed patterns interact with my irregular grounds to create a more weathered space.

I have painted and printed on heavy Khadi papers, on the last of my fragile cilantro paper, on rice paper and on indigo and betel-nut burnished papers with their lovely dark grounds and smooth surfaces. I have been printing on both sides of the papers, leaving open the possibility of later using them as elements of an installation that could be viewed from multiple locations.

I have run out of time in Jaipur just as the printing was getting really interesting! 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Block-printing at ArtInnJaipur

Devena Singh runs ArtInnJaipur a guest-house that offers block-printing workshops on the premises. 

The day after I arrived, I began printing blocks on the 
fabric-covered printing table, with the expert guidance of printer Gopalji, who also prints fabrics for Devena.

The wet inks are mixed from dry pigments, sieved through fabric and placed in wooden trays with metal screening and a few layers of fabric mesh of varying degrees of coarseness. You select the coarseness of the top layer of fabric to suit the block you are printing. For a more detailed block, you put the finest mesh on top. For a broader, bolder block a coarser fabric is used.

We had the chance to play with whichever blocks we chose. Here are some stages from my maiden voyage on cotton. 

 We visited the wood-block carver in Sangenar. 

Hartash commissioned a beautiful block which she received before returning to Delhi.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tourist Attractions in Jaipur

Decades ago I saw photos of Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, a royal observatory built in the first half of the 1700's by Jai Singh II. The instruments were built for naked-eye observations of the celestial bodies and precision was achieved through their monumental scale. The remarkably contemporary looking structures and the geometry they embody has always appealed to me. Finally seeing the real thing did not disappoint. I especially loved the gridded concave spherical structures set into the ground.


Amber Fort, built by Maan Singh I in the 16th century, scales the hills just outside Jaipur.


 The City Palace Complex in Jaipur is still a royal residence.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


We visited a traditional Chhipa block-print and dyeing family business in Bagru outside Jaipur, that uses natural dyes. Chemistry, botany, geometry, skilled craftsmanship and hard labor underly traditional block-printing and dyeing. 

I learned that indigo is a substantive dye from a shrub and does not require a mordant to bind to cotton cloth. Some substantive dyes come from plants and others, like ochres, come from minerals. Adjective dyes require a mordant to permanently fix and bind to cotton fiber. Mordants include metallic salts of alum, chrome, iron, tin, and/or salt, vinegar, lime, urine, plant compounds and wood ash.

The fabric on the right is coated with a mordant that changes the printed pigment to black.

Traditional dyeing methods often use a mud resist – dabu -- made from mud and gum (gum arabic from the babul tree.) The pattern is block-printed on the cloth with the mud paste to preserve the base colour of the fabric and then sprinkled with sawdust to dry it.


The indigo vat or pit can be up to 15 feet deep. 

After the cloth is dyed and dried, the mud resist is washed out in water.

I also visited a paper business that makes paper from shredded jute. The paper is then coated with betel nut juice or indigo and burnished by hand to a smooth high sheen. Below is a piece of burnished indigo paper to which I have applied an acrylic wash and block- printed with gold ink.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Khadi Paper!

After our visit to the Kalpana paper factory, Hartash, Adria and I began to explore the physical properties of Indian handmade rag papers. Some of these Khadi papers seem quite indestructible.

I have been making painted and folded forms with the paper. I am trying to think of the two-dimensional paper as a three-dimensional object like cloth and am painting both sides of the paper. I also am incorporating crayon rubbings from tiles, walls and floor-mats as a tactile reference to vernacular architecture.

Instead of measuring out a grid with pencil and ruler, I am making the grid by folding the paper. The folds catch and absorb the acrylic differently than the rest of the sheet does. When the paper is folded into volumetric forms, the grid becomes fully three-dimensional.

 Adria has been mounting her shadow-puppet influenced Mylar cut-outs on Khadi paper.

Hartash has been making clay prints on the paper. She has been printing from large rubber doormats and applying pressure to make the print by stomping on the paper. She also placed papers outside to catch a rare downpour.