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The Unconventional Tools of Indian Art 

As rightly said by Emmert Wolf, “A man is as good as his tools” explains the relationship between an artist and his tools. It emphasizes the idea that an artist’s work is highly influenced by how they use the tool. A skilled artist can create wonders with the tools and vision. Similarly, tools of Indian art highlight a great deal of creativity and versatility. A brush has been an ever-evolving object in the history of art. From animal hair to synthetic materials, the artists have tried and tested them to create different brush styles to create intricate art. But there are certain other traditional art forms which make use of unconventional tools. Let’s have a glimpse of them…

Tools of Indian Art – Kalamkari & the Kalam

As “kalam” means the pen and “kari” means craftsmanship we understand how the etymology underscores the importance of a balanced blend of skill and the tool. There are two distinctive styles of Kalamari, Machilipatnam involves dyed block-printing on fabric, whereas the Srikalahasti involves entirely hand-worked painting with the help of a pen. 

The “kalam” is made from a small bamboo reed. One end of the stick is sharpened as required to create thin, intricate patterns. Pure cotton is rolled on near the sharpened edge of the stick and is secured with a crisscross pattern. The cotton cloth locally is called Gaada. Cotton is used as an ink pillar as it absorbs the colour, and stores it entirely. After the preparation of it, the kalam is kept dipped in the paint. The sharpened thickness of the bamboo stick determines the fineness of the drawing.

Tools of Indian Art – Batik and Tjantings

This art form has traversed several continents and has also been largely practiced in India. Although its origin can be traced back to Indonesia, the art has flourished in several pockets of India giving it a touch Indian culture and influence. Gujarat is known for its rich textile heritage and therefore has become a hub for Batik. 

Batik is a wax-resist dyeing technique which involves using of a tool called Tjantings to apply the melted wax. It looks like a metal bowl attached to a stick with a tiny spout. The bigger the spout the faster the wax flows out of it. After creating intricate patterns with the help of a Tjanting, the cloth goes through several dyeing stages to achieve the desired colour for the cloth. The wax is peeled off which leaves a negative space around the dye, creating a beautiful design.

Tools of Indian Art – Madhubani and Kalam

Madhubani, the Indian folk art of Bihar is one of the long-established art form that has withstood the time and is practiced in the contemporary style as well. Earlier women created Madhubani paintings on freshly built floors and walls. They used bamboo sticks and natural colours to paint the walls. They were called as “kalam”. Subsequently, this method was passed down through centuries and the painting was created on fabric, canvas and handmade paper. 

Even today many Madhubani artists use a bamboo reed pen to achieve the finesse in Madhubani paintings. The fine lines and patterns filled in motifs is a signature style of Madhubani painting, which can be done with the help of very sharp and pointed nibs. The bamboo reed is shaved with the help of a knife in a diagonal way uptil the two-third of the bamboo reed’s size. A hole is created near the nib which acts a reservoir for paint. The sides of the reeds are cut in a shape of nib. These pens create finer lines and allows a good drip to do so as well.

Tools of Indian Art – Rogan art and Metal Stylus

Rogan is a popular Indian art form largely practiced in Kutch, Gujarat. It is a four century old method of painting on cloth. The process of making gel-like colours involves using of castor seed oil and colour pigment. 

The artists use a metal stylus to pick up some gel-like paint and rub off on their hand. While creating th piece, the paint is rolled up and lifted with the help of the metal stylus. 

Tools of Indian Art – Sand Mandala and Chak-pur

Mandala is spiritual symbol of Asian culture. Practiced by the monks who profess and follow Buddhism. As Buddhism being one of the core religions in India, Mandalas are also a part of Indian art as much as it is for the Tibetan culture. This intricate design can be interpreted in two ways; as a visual representation of the cosmic world or as a meditative practice that guides your inner self towards healing and introspection.

The Sand Mandala is an art form that speaks about impermenance in life. The monks spend several weeks creating the sand mandala. After the completion of it, the art is swiped off ceremoniously to preach the transitory nature of life. 

The monks use chak-pur, small tubes, funnels and scrappers to rub off sand granules to achieve the desired pattern. The sand colour is put in the copper funnel and another piece is used to rub the ridges of the funnel to create vibrations. The precision and controlled manner of the action causes the sand particles to fall out in a particular direction to fill the design.

In conclusion,

The unconventional art tools of Indian traditional art highlight the creativity and adaptability of artists who made use of the materials around them. From twigs and feathers to bamboo sticks and animal bones, these tools have played a crucial role in shaping the diverse and vibrant world of Indian art. They remind us that art is not just about the final product but also about the journey of creation, where every tool and material has its own story to tell.

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By Sayali Parkar

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