Hi! I'm Bansini
, and I'm going to be introducing you to the Indian art style : Kalamkari.
Not many people know about this style of art, and this includes Indians. Kalamkari
, which literally means 'pen work', are paintings done on cotton textile with vegetable or natural dyes.
For information on the history of Kalamkari,
. For it's technical aspects, click here.
Okay! So before I jump in into how Kalamkari
is done here, I'll gloss over why you should try it out atleast once in your life.
- You'll start this piece from scratch. And by scratch, I don't just mean your own designs; the dyes and the pen are both made by the artist. You'll be hard pressed to find anything here ready-made! This has two benefits: you'll be practicing one of the harder, more intricate crafts, and you'll be able to learn the traditional ways in which crafts were made, allowing you to appreciate the skill it take.
- The dyes are vegan-friendly, non-chemical, and they last longer than any others. They also don't fade and leave blotchy marks when exposed to sunlight. Enough said.
- Completing one kalamkari piece will allow you to improve your artwork greatly. It helps you to learn how to stabalise your hand, and you'll see the difference when you draw again.
- It has great amounts of potential. You can draw traditional designs, but that isn't all! Try comic art styles like manga, or draw butterflies or realistic faces onto your cloth. The things you can do are infinite. I have examples below!
- Not very many people know about this art style. It hasn't been used to it's full potential, and Kalamkari motifs are very beautiful. Use them to inspire your own artisan crafts! Or use them to make clothes for your OCs! This art style can be used to make anything unique.
I'll jump right into the procedure
now! Cloth Preparation:
The cloth used is usually cotton. The kind I used wasn't whitened, but made to look glossy. This effect was acheived by soaking dried Myrobalam
seeds in water, then flitering the mixture and mixing it with milk. The cloth was soaked in this mixture for an hour, and then left in the sun to dry. Myrobalam
is the name given to fruits like Amla and Cherry Plum, you can get these at any supermarket or your nearest Indian food store. Bansini's super tip:
You won't need to follow these few steps unless you really want to do it the traditional way. Cotton cloth bought from stores will work fine without these steps, just make sure to wash them really well.
Kalam (pen) Preparation:
The kalam is made using bamboo sticks. They are sharpened and made thin using a cutter. The tip is made extremely thin and pointy. If required, a woolen cloth barrel is attached to the bamboo to act as a reservior, by using absorbent cloth and some string. It looks like this:Bansini's super tip:
If you don't want to be extremely traditional, but still want to improve your hand stability, fill the ink you've made into an ink pen. You can also use a toothpick for extremely detailed parts or smaller cloth pieces. A thin brush will work fine if you don't want to improve your hand stability, but it will require frequent refilling.
This part is easy. Just cut out a piece of paper the same size as your cloth and draw out your design!
You don't have to use traditional motifs. I went semi-realistic. My friend drew comic book characters. Do what you want to do!
Next, you'll have to poke holes over your important lines to transfer it over to the cloth.
Place this over your cloth, and rub a stick of charcoal over it to transfer the design, like so:
It'll look a bit like this when it's done!
Dyeing, (and dying):
You'll be doing the Lineart
before you start anything else. To make it, you boil together a mixture of Jaggery and Salt water
, and let it cool. It should yield a black color. It's raw ingredients can be found in most supermarkets.
It looks like this:
Dip your Kalam into it for an initial 10 minutes. After this you can start drawing immediately!
Here's one my friend made without an initial sketch on paper in comic book style:Red:
The mordant for this is called Alum.
You can find it online or in herbal stores. It's quite readily available. You'll be painting this on right after you're done with the black color lineart. Areas to be colored orange or purple should be dyed red too. The mordant needs to be applied, then left alone for a day. After this, you need to place your cloth in a vessel of boiling water for it's first wash. Here's my design below:Blue:
Now it's time for the application of the blue and purple colors! All the parts you wanted purple should have been colored red. All the parts you want green should be dyed blue in this step. The dye being used here is indigo. You literally just need to paint it blue using the Kalam. That's it! Let your cloth dry before you do the next step. Here's mine laying in the grass:
I'm not very fond of the last face, but otherwise I think it's pretty! As you can see, there are a few spots in the cloth. These can be removed by scrubbing as long as the cloth hasn't dried. Yellow:
The last dye color is yellow. It's made from those Myrobalam
fruits we talked about earlier. They're bought dried. They're then crushed and made into a poweder, which is then added to a hot water vessel for about 15-60 minutes. (depends on the size of the cloth.)
The cloth is then stirred and then left to dry on a clothesline.And that's it!
Your final piece should be brightly colored when you're done. I can't find pictures of mine, but here's one of my friend's without any adjustments:
Seeing as we're all 15-16 year old teens doing our first attempts at kalamkari, we'd say it was quite the learning experience! It really is interesting to do, and the amount we learnt about art from making these pieces was insane. It's great for any artist wishing to hone their skills, and it's also a very interesting artisan crafts/traditional art medium! If you ever have to write an assignment on an art medium, I'd reccommend this one. I hope you try out kalamkari, or atleast get inspired by it's motifs in your own artwork! It makes excellent, long-lasting prints and can be used to create water-color effects too. I hope you enjoyed learning about it!
1) Does Kalamkari feel like an attractive medium as opposed to other printing mediums to you?
2) Would you ever be tempted to use Kalamkari style motifs in your artwork, or even dye using this method?
3) Do Indian art styles strike your fancy?
It'd be great to know what you guys thought of this article. It's my first, and I really enjoyed writing it! Leave a comment or critique below!
History and Other Technical Information
The word 'kalamkari'
literally means 'pen art'. Kalam means pen, and kari means craftmanship in Hindi. It is pronounced Kuh-luhm-kah-ri, with not too much stress on the 'h' sound.
has two main strains. One is the Srikalahasti
style, which is narrative of Hindu mythology. The second is the Machilipatnam
style. (Long words, I know. They're pronounced 'Shri-kaa-laa-hus-ti' and 'Much-elee-put-num', both with a soft 't', like in 'Butterfly'.) Both these names are those of cities in the Indian state Andra Pradesh,
which contains many craftsmen specialising in this style of art. Some Indian women wear saris and other traditional dresses with kalamkari
style designs on them, as do men. It is often combined with contemporary fashion to provide new looks.
If you wish to find inspiration for your kalamkari
-inspired work, go here
for a collection of pictures.
To know more about these styles, click here. For more on the history, click here.
Send me your kalamkari artwork and I'll add it here!