Madhubani, the name itself establishes an authority over zillions of hearts throughout the world, so does ‘Block printing’. Block Printing, having its origins from China, even earlier than third century and later expanding its territory to the rest of East Asia, survives till date as the most beautiful form of art. In India, the Paithapur families from Gujarat practice and perpetuate Block Printings; they make designs and print their textiles using a special technique called ‘resist printing’. Consisting a huge history of its own, Block Printing differs with its techniques from artisan to artisan. However, the most followed technique is using a carved material dipped in dye to transfer a specific pattern or design onto a paper or fabric.
Normally, Aripana (paintings done on floors) and Kohabar (paintings done on walls) are the usual fashion of Madhubani but since it gained popularity among art lovers, different ways of its rendition came into being; one of which being Block Printing.
Block Printing also called Engraved Printing is the classic form of relief print making. A design can be traced or pasted on a piece of block (varies from wood, to linoleum, to rubber) as a cutting guide, or the design can be created extemporaneously as the cutting progresses. Mostly, wood is preferred as far the block material is concerned. Hardwoods serve better for intricate and delicate designs. For very large prints, veneer plywood panels can be used. Woodcut tools (see image 1.1) include skew knives (for lines), veiners or Vcutters (for gutters), gouges (for large areas) and square end chisels (for repairs to the block). The colour has to be carefully chosen, thick oil paints are usually preferred in comparison to common ink (see image 5.1). A bench hook can be of immense help as it stabilises the block during cutting. The block is prepared by sanding with fine sandpaper. A coat of white paint can be applied to dark woods to create a background for tracing the design.
Image 1.1. Image 5.1.
(Source – Pustak Mahal’s “A guide to beginner’s Art and Craft” book)
PROCESS (or Printing techniques) –
(Below is a link to – A tutorial for Hand Block Printing Using Wooden Blocks, by DesiCrafts)
Firstly, the process of Block Printing begins by drawing intricate dense designs, symmetrical shapes or any other type of art practiced by Madhubani artists on a sheet of paper, as shown in Image 1.
Source – www.touchtalent.com
Secondly, the artist then traces the exact design on a linoleum board or wood block, as in Image 2. The designs have to be drawn keeping this in mind that the imprint would be the reverse of what is drawn in the wooden block.
(Source – www.sculpt.com )
Thirdly, the artist carves the wooden block (or linoleum board) in shape of the design drawn upon it with the help of woodcut tools. Very finely though, one has to carefully carve away the parts beside the pencil markings such that the designed patterns remain raised, as shown in Image 3. Easier said, this happens to be the most difficult task in Block Printing. Anytime the hand slips off, the whole block has to be replaced with a new one. After the carving is done, the piece of block would look like Image 4.
Image 3. Image 4.
After carving is done be it in Kachni, Bharni, Geru, Godhana, Gobar or the Tantric style, important becomes the colouring of the blocks and printing. Unlike Mithila paintings, Block Printings wouldn’t use any colour that is traditionally derived from natural sources like plants, charcoal, soot, ochre etc. Instead ink, more specifically Printers’ ink is used for colouring.
Fourthly, the sticky thicker ink is poured upon the wooden block and rolled over the carved design using an ink roller. A thin layer of ink is coated upon the wooden surface deep enough to imprint the design on any canvas, as shown in Image 5.
(Source – www.medium.com/jakeereed/block-printing-tshirts )
Finally, the last and the most essential part of the process comes: Printing. The block has to be lifted carefully and pressed onto the paper or fabric gently. Applying pressure evenly is the most important task here, since the colour won’t be strong in areas having less pressure upon. After being done, the patterns would look like Image 6 and 7.
Image 6. Image 7.
Ultimately, the ink has to be left as such for a few days to let it dry, however it depends upon the type of ink; oil based inks would take a couple of days while water based inks would dry faster than the former.