A Wish to Live With Block Printing

Traveling as diplomat children, we’ve been brought up in various cultures, always fascinated by the people, food, and crafts. My sister and I have always had a strong pull towards crafts, especially Indian textiles.  We’d always look to bring Indian textiles, jewelry, and crafts into our home. However, the truth is that it was hard to find the true treasures amongst the mass-market goods. Indian craft market was hidden in the villages with very few outlets in the mainstream market except for a few stores.

At the same time, my sister was working to finish her Masters in Textiles, specializing in the ancient technique of Block Printing with natural dyes.  The timing was right and with the passion for crafts and a desire to scour and promote craftsmanship. I quit my 11-year software engineering job to set off with my sister on a craft tour of India.

We met many artisans and their families and saw that most of them were connected with their art as a tradition passed down from their ancestors that they also wish to pass down to their children. We also visited a few NGOs that are supporting farmers, artisans, and women. And we loved it all!  With such history and tradition in making of a product, it was just not possible for us not to be part of it. And thus came about ichcha, or ‘a wish’, to live and encourage conscious living; conscious of the environment and of the value and life of the products created and sought.  indigo-curtains-drying-ichcha

Ichcha – A Wish to Live

While Ichcha is also about expressing our artistic side, it’s also about encouraging the artisans to find dignity in their art. “Ichcha for Artisans” is an endeavor to encourage the artist within the artisan, giving back 100% profits to the whole community that makes the product possible.  All hands are awarded the credit of being part of the end product; the treasure that makes it’s way into the customer’s home.

How we got started…

Back in the days, India, specifically the region of Rajasthan, was filled with multiple tribes who were known by the work they did. One of those groups was the Chhipas or Printers. They used to create the printed clothing for the various tribes in the region. Each design, with various motifs, specified your job or the tribe you belonged to. You could tell whether a person was a farmer or Metal smith by the printed shirt or turban worn.

The strict separation of the tribes has slowly dissipated but what remains are a few stories by the elder generation still keeping alive the secrets of the motif and the craft of block printing.

To the artisans we work with, the art of block printing has been their tradition and their way of life, for the past four generations. It continues now to the latest generation that strives to keep the family craft alive by finding new markets and ways to keep up with fashion. The only thing that remains true is the beat of the wooden block on the table, the 20 year old and 10 ft deep indigo dye vat, and the passion to continue.

What is Hand Block Printing?  

Hand Block Printing with natural or vegetable dyes is an ancient print technique. This art form has been around for years in India, and saw its most glorious years around the 12th century. Today, it is competing against the fast world, but surviving only because to the people who still value them.

how-to-block-print-wasing-ichcha

Step 1 – BLOCKING. Block means a wooden square piece with an engraved pattern on it.  This block is used to print on fabric – and this art is called block printing. The fabric is then commonly called block print fabric.

Step 2 – CARVING. Master block carvers, who have been doing this for many years, carve these blocks. These blocks are carved by a chisel and wooden hammer to form a design pattern.

how-to-block-print-carving-wood-ichcha

Step 3 – PRINTING. There are a couple of block printing techniques but the one that we work with is called Dabu.  Dabu is a mud resist made by mixing together fuller’s earth, gum and few other natural ingredients.  It is mixed into a paste not by hand nor by machine, but by foot, just like grapes were crushed to make wine in the yesteryears!

Once this paste is ready, the fabric is printed with a block using that resist.  The areas that are stamped resist any dye that the fabric is dipped in.

Step 4 – DRYING. Sun is crucial to this process.  At every step the fabrics have to dry in the open fields under the sun.

Step 5 – DYEING. After the fabric has been printed, it gets dyed. We work with dyes that are made with natural materials found in our surroundings, such as flowers, leaves, spices and various other natural metals.  Below is an indigo vat that has been going on for several years.

Step 6 – WASHING & DRYING. After dyeing, the fabrics get washed by hand. More so than not, block printing is a multiple step process where the fabric gets re-printed, re-dyed to bring out the designs we want.

Use Coupon code “goeatgive” to receive 20% off any purchase at   www.ichcha.com. Offer expires May 30, 2016.

~ By Rachna Kumar, co-founder of Ichcha, for Go Eat Give. 

Impressions of Cuban Artists

My mother visited Cuba as a teenager with her family before the 1959 Cuban Revolution. I had dreamed of visiting the island. For many years, I had heard her stories and seen the black and white photos of her trip. It was forbidden or difficult to travel to the island as a US citizen ever since then. Sucheta, the director of Go Eat Give approached me about going to Cuba around Halloween 2013. We collaborated on the Art Tour of Cuba long before the historic December announcement of the Cuban thaw and in March 2015, we flew to Cuba via Cancun, Mexico. I was immediately enchanted by the vivid color and warmth of the island, both in the artwork and the people. Along the journey, we stopped to paint in our watercolor journals. While in Havana, we visited several art studios and Fototeca.

Artists Painting at Plaza Revolution

Early in the week, we met Jose Fuster, the renowned ceramic muralist who has created his own world called, “Fusterlandia” in his home and surrounding neighborhood. He had a vision to bring beauty to his home using repurposed materials. He takes broken ceramics and places them into wet cement to create a sparkling 3-D world from his imagination. When a neighbor asked for his assistance with a leaking roof, he expanded his fantasy world into the community. It continues to grow as people request his services. Fuster now creates all the designs and others complete the work under the supervision of his trusted artists.

Along with the other Go Eat Give travelers, I had a lot of fun completing the mural that was started last year on a wall two blocks from his home. We broke up recycled ceramic tiles and then positioned the colors into the wet cement. It was hot in the sun but we all enjoyed the experience immensely. We were both, elated to complete it, and sad that we didn’t have more to create. Afterwards, we reconvened at Fuster’s house to tour his ceramic studio and view his colorful tile work and paintings. His childhood friend and his son led us on the tour before Jose joined us, answered a few questions and posed for photos. Jose now requires the use of a cane, but was very active and happy to host American artists. Several of us purchased his works at great prices before retreating to a mosaic-tiled alcove to feast on a delicious lunch prepared by his staff.

Kathy in Cuba

We also saw the intriguing “black and white” photos of Reinaldo Echemendia, a college photography professor. His large images of bells from around Cuba resonated with all of us at Fototeca in Havana. We were not able to meet him as he was traveling out of thecountry for an art show.

Artists are given greater freedom to travel than the average Cuban citizens. They are ambassadors for the country. Interestingly and grotesquely, Echemendia developed the film using both standard film chemicals and pigs blood to give it a slightly reddish tint. Few were able to watch the detailed video of the film developing process. I wondered if it was also a statement about the blood that was shed on the island during and after the Revolution.

Kathy in Cuba

One of the highlights of our trip was down a sunlit alley where we were welcomed into the spacious studio of Eduardo Roco “Choco”. Born in 1949, Choco looks younger than most Cubans we met. This may be because he earned more in our one-hour visit in art sales than most Cubans earn in a year. Artists have no restrictions on what they can earn, unlike other professions including doctors and lawyers whose salaries are capped at 30-40 pesos per year.

Choco was both extremely talented in multiple mediums from printmaking to painting, sculpture and decorated ceramics. He employed 5 assistants to help create, ship and track his art plus a cook to make sure they were all well fed. A shipment of newly completed bronze statues arrived while we were on our tour. It was thrilling to watch his reaction and ours to the unveiling of the bronzes – all were very pleased! Choco was both talented and magnanimous with his time and hospitality. Like Fuster, Choco used recycled materials to create his printing plates and in his paintings and sculptures. During the “Special Time” when resources were in short supply in Cuba and continue to be even today, artists learned to use any and all materials available to them. They are very creative and resourceful. Choco is known around the world and will continue to be remembered for his visionary artwork.Kathy in Cuba

~ By Kathy Rennell Forbes, an International Artist based in Atlanta, GA. She teaches art classes in the Atlanta area (Chastain Arts Center, Kennesaw State University, Studio Z) and conducts art workshops around the U.S. (Georgia, Florida, Maine, Tennessee) and Internationally (Cuba, France, Italy). Read her blog and follow her on Facebook. Join Kathy on her next Go Eat Give Art tour of Italy in October 2015.