Blockprinting is an intricate art. After a while, you learn what factors make the difference – an experienced colour master, intuitive printers with an even hand, the skill of the master printer to forecast the weather. Yes, the artisanship of printing requires alignment with the skies.
After visiting more than ten different workshops in Rajasthan, we found the perfect partners in Sakshi, a four generation old printing unit based out of the blockprinting town of Sanganer, Jaipur.
Left to right: Chota, Haresh, Raoul, Manoj, Bajrang, Sunil ji, Jitendra, Lalit
Starting with blue pottery, Sakshi developed their blockprinting unit over the years, with the family also engaged in leather work, ceramics and lastly, printing. Hemant is one of four brothers who runs this business, and has experienced deeply the challenges of block printing in the face of intense competition from screen printing (faster and cheaper), a global financial crisis, and industry requirements for quantity and timeliness. Its difficult to replicate the supply standards of large, centralised factories when you have to depend on the weather for excellence.
Being a fourth generation printer means that Hemant knows the masters of the area. Naranji, pictured here, is 76 years old, and he came by for chai one morning. He starts his day with 8 glasses of water, one after the other. When that’s done, he walks 8 kilometres to work. He has had 50 years of experience as a Dye Master, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
There are several stages of blockprinting, with several parts of the artisan community working in unison to develop this supply chain. In one part of town lives the dyers, whose single expertise is achieving consistent colours in the fabric that they process through steam rolls and hand dip dying. Then there are the block carvers, who specialise only in the intricate carving of designs on blocks. Lastly, there are the printers, who spend their entire working day aligning colour, dye consistency, block design, fabric type and print pressure in order to achieve the desired outcome.
This is what we see as artisanship: the generationally transferred skills of craft, practised in communities.