My major advisor suggested me to take fabric surface technique class at fine art department. It seemd interesting. I did like to manipulate fabric in more ways than one.
Class started in the next semester. The classroom was a fabric design studio at Lamar Dodd school of art at University of Georgia. Being a theatre student till then, having a class in an art studio setup was new and exciting.
The place had few tables to make your art. There was a kitchen with a counter top and sink, stand mixers, stove, pots etc. Only none of the things that were cooked there were edible. Another section in the place had steamer, many water taps, dye drums and so on. It has been 16-17 years since I learnt fabric surface techniques there but the impressions of that place are still fresh in my mind.
I learnt ABCs of dye and fabric paint techniques. It was then when I discovered that working on an art piece in a studio setup can be so relaxing. I have been yearning for a fabric studio of my own since then. That is one of many things… oh well!
I learnt many different techniques in this and another advance class I took at the same department. Block printing, tie and dye, basics of Shibori, tape resist, design fabric using discharge paste, painting with dye on fabric and lastly my favourite gutta resist to name a few.
Dye unlike colours, keeps spreading on the fabric until it is dry or until the spreading is stopped someway. This is what resist is. It means literally resisting dye or paint to go beyond certain limits or on parts of fabric surface. Beautiful designs are made by restricting dye at certain places with different resist methods. Shibori, and our own Bandhani/ Bandhej are also resist techniques where dye is resisted with the help of a thread, hand sewing, folds etc.
Gutta resist is a technique used for silks mainly. The dye is restricted with the help of a thick, sticky and rubbery substance called Gutta. You draw all the lines on fabric with gutta. Let it dry for a while and then use dye as per your design. steam set the dye and follow the usual dye process. Once the fabric is dyed properly, if you are using it for garments, take it to the dry cleaners to get the gutta out. If it is an art piece, you may leave the gutta in the fabric.
This gutta is filled in plastic bottles with nozzles. You are supposed to draw on fabric with these bottles. American students in the class found it similar to icing the cake from a cone but only smaller, more intricate etc. I obviously found similarities with my favourite and cliché hobby, Mehendi. Someday I will tell you my Mehendi story but let’s get back to Gutta. Gutta paste was easier to manage than mehendi.
Like every ‘Desi’/ Indian student in USA, I also felt the need to be close to my own culture while I was in another country. Being a student of a completely non-desi department, I was surrounded by Americans mostly. Which almost made me believe that I am the representative of my country and my culture. Funny that I don’t relate to many of those things now that I am settled in India. It was obvious that I chose Indian motifs for my first gutta resist.
We were to do the first project in single hue to understand the technique better. To understand how gutta works, we were advised to use less intricate, simpler designs. I chose beautiful Warli motifs. Warli paintings are tribal wall paintings. The walls are brown to burnt sienna and the drawings are done in white. That way warli style motifs were perfect for gutta resist beginner.
In actual warli paintings, walls are prepared for drawings. After that motifs are drawn with white colour paste. Here the process was other way round. White areas of the silk was to be untouched in the drawings. So those motifs were drawn first with gutta.
The second project was a bit advanced. We were free to use as many colours as we wanted and designs could be intricate, complicated etc. I went to Indian motifs, drawings, traditional art. I decided to make a Nataraja (The deity of performing arts) with lines from Natya-shstra praising and praying Nataraja.
When you draw and paint on a paper or canvas, you can keep a certain shape open. Since this is a resist technique every colour patch needs to have a border, every shape needs to be closed. You can not have really thin lines because they will not be able to restrict the dye enough and the dye will bleed through the shape changing the design or colour of the next area. Of course I learnt this lesson after the dye was messed up at certain places.
I wanted the background of Nataraja to be alive. Alive with Dance of Shiva in Nataraja form. This could happen only if I could create a shaded effect at certain places in the background. Just before the dye is dried, salt is put at places where you want to dye to be less saturated. This is because salt catches moisture from the air and dilutes the dye pushing the pigments away. This was a brilliant idea told by our course instructor. I used salt and I did get good results as you can see in the photo below.
Looking at these silk paintings today, I sometimes wonder if I can just get a studio space and keep doing this all the time. How cool would that be! dreams dreams!! Well I have many more so I will get back to my dreams.
I hope you all are enjoying reading these stories. Let me know if you do or even if you don’t.. let me know! 🙂