“Gently dab the block with paint. Don’t put pressure on it, just a soft dab,” her hands gesture the dabbing action, her fingers forming the exact shape of the block I’m holding, probably from memory, or maybe just out of habit.
Shyamala’s sari pallu is tucked in at her side, held firmly in place, its solid block print similar to the pattern I’ve chosen. As I bend forward to print she starts to move too before checking herself. She is used to working alone, printing for over a decade now. These days she also conducts day workshops, hoping to spread the traditional art form.
Block printing involves hand printing fabric with etched wooden blocks dipped in paints (traditionally natural dyes, commercially synthetic). It seems easy. Of course it isn’t.
I follow her instructions slowly, very slowly. If my hands shake, it’ll ruin the print. They shake just a little bit as I place (and pound) the block on the fabric – thwack, thwack, thwack.
After the last thwack, I pause, before lifting the block off, slowly.
“Yes!” she shouts – there’s a little surprise there. I smile too – there’s not a line or leaf out of place. I could get used to this block printing thing.