Printmaking at Charukala – 1 – Lithography

Time is short and I should be packing but I’ve been sneaking across to the art college to take a few prints. After I was told that there will be a drought as far as printmaking is concerned in Colombo, I couldn’t stop myself.

Rokeya Sultana, a well known artist and a friend teaches at the Charukala Institute of Fine Arts and arranged for me to work there for a few days. The added excitement was that I had her for company as well as two talented and upcoming artists, Anis (woodcut) and Ujjol (lithography) for technical advice and help taking the prints. How could I resist an offer like that?Litho

The plan was to work through for 3 days, making two woodcuts and two lithos.  The woodcuts would be my first and the lithography process a special treat.  It is still done using limestone blocks brought from Germany a long time ago.  Charukala is one of the few colleges in the world that continues to use these blocks making it a rare opportunity.

I’ve now been there for 8 days with a few days off in between but still two more are needed to get somewhat done.  I’ve cut it very fine since the packers arrive tomorrow.  And if they take longer to pack than planned, I’ll have a few incomplete prints on hand.

Initially there were big plans to do something new and different from what I’d done earlier.    Designing a piece using photoshop to collage and compose, take a photocopy and then transfer that onto the stone.  In the end I just wanted to learn the process and began with a freehand drawing on the stones.  My friend Jayant had given me this beautiful reference of two monks sitting on the top of a hill talking and looking out into the distance.  I’m calling it “Old Friends”.  For the second stone I used a reference of Fatima that I was familiar with.  After the drawing I added a tusche wash to get tones.  What I learnt subsequently was that I should not have used both the litho crayon and tusche wash over the same area for shading as all those areas would lose the lines and the tones and turn into a flat colour.   I also learnt that it’s not WYSIWYG.  I wish I could do a couple more to put the learning into use.

Old friends - print

10 prints have been taken with variations of the first colour. I’m not sure how many will survive once the other two colours are added on. You always lose a few to registration problems etc.


While we were taking the prints we had a visitor. I recognized him as the model from one of Kuhu’s life drawing sessions and introduced myself. He was very interested in what we were doing, looked at the stone from various angles and then wandered off without saying a word.  Fatima is posing for the Sculpture students and she too dropped by to see what I was up to.

The last two times I did not record the process.  Even this time it’s been a bit spotty but I thought I’d share what I do have here.  I havent take shots of the cleaning, grinding process or the stone before working on it.  If I can remedy that I shall update it here.

There’s a very nice write-up on lithography on wikipedia.  For a better understanding do read that first and then have a look at the images below. I’ve put a small excerpt for the impatient folks : )

Lithography (from Greek λίθος – lithos, “stone” + γράφω – graphο, “to write”) is a method for printing using a stone (Lithographic Limestone) or a metal plate with a completely smooth surface. Lithography uses oil or fat and gum arabic to divide the smooth surface into hydrophobic regions which accept the ink, and hydrophilic regions which reject it and thus become the background.

First you prepare the stone by grinding it with a flat stone and lots of water.  Then you draw / paint on the stone with crayons and use tusche for the washes to create the oily areas which will accept ink .  You can vary the tones using lighter or darker washes – less or more fat in this case.

Litho Litho Litho

The first image is of the stone after the litho crayon drawing (glass marker can be used too) and tusche wash.  Then the stone was prepared with a thin layer of gum arabic and left to dry for 24hrs.  Oil repels the gum arabic and it gets onto only those areas which are not greasy.  The next day a mixture of gum arabic with a few drops of acid was applied to the stone to etch it.  The acid only eats into the area where the grease is and the other areas are protected by the layer of gum arabic.  The image on the right shows the etched stone after it was cleaned using turpentine.
Litho Litho Litho
And then the ink was prepared on a flat surface and rolled onto the stone.  The stone was sponged repeatedly almost alternately using gum arabic (wait for it to dry) and then plain water to ensure that the ink did not catch in areas it wasn’t meant to.  The first image shows Ujjol rolling the ink onto the stone on the press bed. The second is of the inked block ready for a print.   If you see the process of printing you’d never believe that you’d get a properly registered print!  The 3rd shows Ujjol pulling the print.
Litho Litho Litho
The first pic is of the first print and the last of the 7th or 8th print.  With each inking the block pulls in more ink and the print gets darker.  To reduce the speed of darkening, Ujjol used gum arabic several times before each print.  I’ve put the stone with the original image for you to compare.

I’m still hoping to be able to go back for a few more variations to these prints.  Three with a pale, flat transparent colour on her body and then three with it over the whole stone.  I want to try and capture the colour of the stone.  Still considering other variations for the remaining few 😛

Update : July 26, 2009Found a link to a 1968 film on making woodcuts on the blog Woodblock Dreams and one on making Lithographs on Youtube.  Both very good and definitely worth a look.

After the prints with the first colour were taken the stone was washed with an alum mixture and prepared for the next colour. I painted out areas that were not to receive colour with a gum arabic liquid mixture. The areas without gum arabic were etched once more with a mild nitric acid mixture.


Then the stoned was wiped down with a bitumen mixture and then it was removed with turpentine.


A pale yellow colour was prepared and thinned down heavily with medium to give the colour transparency. The remnants of the bitumen mixed in to give a lovely brown colour which unlike the black colour lightened with every print taken.


A 3rd colour was put in to get the colour of the stone for the background.


Shaky : Illustration Friday

Shaky beginnings.   Test prints of my first two woodcuts.   I still haven’t been able to wrap my head around the fact that what is positive in drawing is negative in relief prints. I’ll get there someday 😛

For the first piece I’ve mostly followed the wood grain and I like the feel and flow.  Like a child I was happy to be able to incorporate the face that I could see in the grain.  The specs are of course an addition and so is the mouth but the rest of the profile was “found”.  I truly enjoy the freedom of doing as I please.

While working on the piece the title that came to mind is “Blind and drowning”    I sent it to a friend  to get some feedback and she saw something in it that I hadn’t but then it became crystal clear.  And then I looked and some more!!   The differences in what we saw reminded me of the TAT test that I had taken  in business school.

The TAT is popularly known as the picture interpretation technique because it uses a standard series of 30 provocative yet ambiguous pictures about which the subject must tell a story. In the case of adults and adolescents of average intelligence, a subject is asked to tell as dramatic a story as they can for each picture, including:

  • what has led up to the event shown
  • what is happening at the moment
  • what the characters are feeling and thinking, and
  • what the outcome of the story was

Source : Wikipedia

If you dare. let me know what you see 😀

Test Print - 1

Test Print - 2Test Print - 1


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I’m back & the Dhamrai Rath Yatra

It’s been a long break.  I have been around and looking in but things have been moving at a hectic pace.  Since the last post, I’ve had a solo exhibition, a holiday, a finished SoFoBoMo project, rounds of farewell parties for friends and for us as we move next month to Colombo. I’m back and will be posting regularly again.

Dhamrai Rath

Yesterday we went to Dhamrai to watch the Jaganath Rath Yatra.   It is 20km from Dhaka yet it took us two and half hours to get there.  Unfortunately, we were not able to stay to watch the event as I had a dinner engagement.  But we did get to see the Rath (chariot) and the crowds had started coming in and was building up as we were leaving.

Dhamrai Rath Yatra

I was told that eventually there were huge numbers and no place to move.  People after filling the street were lining  terraces, balconies and roofs of the buildings along the route too.  In a way it was better that we left when we did as else we’d never have made it back home in time.

Dhamrai Rath Yatra

There was what seemed like a lot of  police bandobast when we first got there but in all made sense when were heading back and after seeing the pics from last year here.

There are stories and stories built around this event and once such is that it rains on this day every year – tears shed by Madhavi returning to her in-laws home and it did this year too!  You wouldn’t have believed it if you’d felt the heat and seen the sunny skies in the morning.  It was nice and slushy when we got there but the puddles dried up quickly in the heat.

Dhamrai Rath Yatra

Dhamrai is famous for it’s temples, old houses and bronze sculptures, made using a rare process – the lost wax casting technique.  It also has an annual Rath Yatra, a procession in which a chariot takes Lord Jaganath (Krishna), his brother Balaram and his sister Shubhadra to visit his aunt who lived a distance of 2km away.

Dhamrai Rath Yatra

Dhamrai Rath Yatra

Dhamrai Rath Yatra

The chariot is pulled by devotees as it is considered to be very auspicious.   There are huge crowds and many brave these to get closer and at least touch one of the ropes that are pulling the chariot if not actually taking a turn at pulling it themselves. In earlier years, people would arrive a few days before and there would be a fair to keep them busy. This year there were just a few and they were waiting inside the temple for the event to start and some had knotted hair and dreadlocks!

Dhamrai Rath Yatra
Dhamrai Rath Yatra Dhamrai Rath Yatra

Originally there was a 6 storied wooden chariot to take the deities on this journey but this was burnt down in 1971.  It was replaced by another smaller two storied chariot soon after.  While this one is not as elaborate the crowds still gather in unbelievable numbers to be a part of this occasion.

And if you didn’t know, the word juggernaut is derived from the name of this event. In the past, the crowds pulling the chariot and the devotees trying to reach out and volunteer to pull the chariot led to some accidentally falling under the wheels and being crushed to death. Once the wheels were in motion and these 6 storied high heavy wooden chariots pulled by hundreds of people it was difficult to stop them in time. Sometimes these events resulted in stampedes which again were difficult to stop or control. This led the British to coin the word juggernaut, an unstoppable force.

More from wikipedia about the Rath Yatra and on the word juggernaut.   And you can read more about the Dhamrai event and see the pictures of the huge crowds here.    And you can see a selection of about 30 from the 400(!) I clicked on flickr.

Detach : Illustration Friday

Dignity of Labour

Sometimes you have to detach yourself to be able to get on with dealing with the hand that life has dealt you. This is a daily cart puller who stopped along the way for a breather.

Dignity of Labour, 8″ X 10″ acrylic on canvas roll.

Photo ref copyright Anil Advani.  Used with permission.


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Wanting to be painterly

The Chanachur Man - wip

Thinking and trying not to get caught up in trying to get all the details.  Trying to be free and painterly and even if I’m not there yet it’s been fun.

I know I’ve given the men in the background oversized heads but didnt feel like correcting it. Marked as wip as it doesnt feel done yet. I’m going to sleep on it and look at it with fresh eyes tomorrow.  Do you see anything that needs changing?

Here’s a sepia version put up because it looked nice. Maybe I’ll do one in brown tones 😀

The Chanachur man - wip - sepia

Colourful Bangladesh


I take reference pictures of scenes and subjects that I would like to paint. My focus, in the past, had been on friends and family. It’s only after arriving in Dhaka that I’ve started taking photographs of the daily activity around me in the streets. I prefer to take photographs during the golden hour in the afternoon. Usually the snaps are taken while whizzing past in a car. Here’s one which I’ve saved inspite of the blur. Something in it appeals to me.

One more week of Nablopomo


Today I need to update the Portrait Swap post with a wip. But doing that will not help me fulfill the Nablopomo requirement of a post a day. This photograph was taken late afternoon for this post. There was a much richer, warmer sunlight on view but my camera seems to have missed it completely. There are some views of the lake that I hope to try painting sometime soon.

How to take a candid photograph with a point and shoot?

Art morning at Susannah's

Recently there was an interesting post on Photodoto about Photographing people in public places by Elizabeth West. I had left a comment asking how I could go about getting candid photographs. Most of the ones that I’ve taken on the streets of Dhaka look posed. Mainly because the folks in our part of the world are very friendly and the minute they see you taking photographs they’ll come up and ask you to take one of theirs. Like this one on top.

Elizabeth replied to my comment saying that I should try and be inconspicuous and take photographs before people noticed you. I found that I had been doing this already. The problem with this approach was that I needed to be in a car and usually zipping by, shooting whenever I got the opportunity. A lot of moments get missed, some turn out out of focus but you do get an occasional gem. The one below doesn’t fall into the gem category but is one where i haven’t been noticed.


Another way of taking sort of candid photographs was to be part of a group of photographers and then look around for subjects who are not looking at you. I discovered this a few months ago. I’m usually on my own when I take photographs and so have been able to try this method out just twice. The photograph of the two children below is one such example.


One other method suggested by Alexander, in the same thread and one followed by professionals, was to stay in one location for a while till people had lost interest in you and then take the kind of photographs you need. These would make for some truly candid photographs and it is something I plan to try.

On the 5th day of ….. Nablopomo :D


This quick sketch has been based on a photograph, taken by Zahedul I Khan, that appeared on the cover of last weeks Daily Star weekend magazine.

Pen & ink wash in my 8″X 12″ sketchbook.

I know it is a bit early for Christmas songs but this (sent to me a few weeks ago by a friend on Facebook) reminded me of 30 days of Nablopomo and I thought that I’d share it with you here.