Kalamkari is a type of hand-painted cotton textile traditionally produced in Iran and India. The word is Persian, and translates into drawing with a pen—a simple-enough sounding technique, but one which is actually very time-intensive and requires a high level of artistic and technical skill.
India-based artist Thilak Reddy is a master of Kalamkari, applying it to a range of items, from fine art wall hangings to unique wearable items – including T-shirts. Working in a tradition that reaches back 2,500 years, Reddy begins the many-stepped art-making process of Kalamkari by selecting fabric. Depending on the intended use of the item, this could mean canvas for sturdier home-goods, or silk or cotton for garments. No matter the cloth used, the process takes a total of approximately 17 individual steps.
Traditionally, dyes used in Kalamkari are gathered from all-natural sources, ranging from crushed stones and mineral salts to pulverized flower petals, plant leaves, roots, and seeds. Popular design themes include all-over, hyper-detailed illustration, such as a many-branched, vibrantly colored depictions of the Tree of Life, or simple chains of flowers, alternating with embellished stripes or vines. Whatever the motif, a Kalamkari textile made by Thilak Reddy demonstrates fine traditional technique.