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Updated: May 18, 2022

Kalamkari is the art of painting on cloth with a ‘kalam’ or pen. This art form can be traced to the Middle Ages and flourished in Andhra Pradesh in Southern India with patronage from the royal courts. These paintings formed a vibrant backdrop in the sanctum of temples, behind the idols. Their themes are inspired by the epics, mythological legends and drawn from Nature.

There are two main styles of Kalamkari art, Srikalahasti and Machilipatnam.

The Srikalahasti style of Kalamkari is entirely hand-made, without the use of block prints, and uses a pen to draw and fill in the colours.

Here too, as in other styles of art, the artist laboriously prepares the cloth by priming it with milk and tree sap before drying it in the sun. The design is outlined with a bamboo kalam and then it is painstakingly filled in with colourful natural dyes. Once a pre-determined set of colours has been applied, the artist covers the fabric with wax except for the areas that need the next set of colours. It’s hard to imagine how intricate and painstaking the process must be to create these gorgeous trees that we so love!

Today, artists still use these traditional techniques, but are also innovating with different paints on canvas/ wood and to create their unique masterpieces.

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