If you have a river flowing by your home, a buffalo, bits of rusty iron and nine months of time, you are good to go, to becoming a kalamkari painter. Of course a bit of skill thrown in could helpJ
Kalamakari is the art of painting on cloth with a ‘kalam’ or pen. And ‘kari’ means ‘work’. So literally it means pen-work- simple, right? But simplicity of craft is not what kalamkari is all about. But before you get to know how it is
done, take a look at how a finished painting may look in some of the contemporary renditions of the classic art style in today’s dresses & sarees. Absolutely stunning, aren’t they?
Much of what you may see on fashion fabrics today may just be fabric painting that uses the kalamkari style of painting as the inspiration. But the classic, traditional method is said to be over 3000 years old and the place to go for the real authentic works of art is Sri Kalahasti, in Andhra Pradesh, India. There is another version of this painting done by block printing, but that, as the name suggests, is more printing than painting.
Originally, kalamkari works of art were created entirely by hand, predominantly for the temples as narrative murals. These murals tell the stories of the great Hindu epics in picture form. In addition to the epic murals, the Tree of Life theme is very popular and comes in many forms.
The art involves some 19 steps and can take up to nine months to complete, depending on the complexity. Dense cotton cloth is soaked in the river to remove the starch. The cloth is then steeped in buffalo milk and cow dung, mixed with a tree seed which dyes it a warm yellow. Marking out and producing a basic image is done with charcoal followed by detailed filling in of borders, shapes and story with a black dye made from rusty iron, soaked for 7 days with water and palm sugar, using the ‘kalam’ dipped in the black dye.
Then the process of adding colors starts- adding alum to get the red color in the spots required and boiling the cloth in the dye solution. Following this, the cloth is washed in the river water and bleached dry in the sun. This process is repeated for each color separately.
Take a look at a couple of shawls and throws sold [not in stock now] by Artikrti, that feature this art. And if you’d like to see pictures of the making of the world record for the single largest kalamkari work involving 150,00 drawings, click here.