Pattachitra painting is an ancient tradition still in practice in Eastern India, particularly Odisha and Bengal. Pattachitra literally translates to “canvas picture”. The art can trace its roots back over a thousand years with murals from the 5th century BCE still seen near Puri. Typically depicting religious themes and stories of the gods, pattachitra can be done on walls or as palm leaf engravings, but is still primarily painted on handmade canvas.
The canvas is made from old cotton, often worn out saris or other clothing. The cotton is washed, dried, and laid flat. A paste made from chalk, tamarind paste is brushed onto the fabric. The fabric is folded over, stretched again, and let to dry. these layers of cotton and whitewash create the canvas. Creating the canvas can take upwards of a week as the layers need to dry completely between steps. The canvas is polished with rocks in order to create a smooth painting surface. Once complete, the canvas is cut to the desired size.
Once the canvas is prepared, usually by an apprentice or the artist’s wife or children, the artist prepares their paints. The paints are also made from organic materials – including shells, clay, and plant matter. There are six base colors – blue, yellow, red, brown, white, and black. And by mixing these colors, the artist is able to create over a hundred different colors and shades. The art is known for its bold, bright colors. While synthetic colors are available, they aren’t favored as the colors do not last as long as the naturally created paints. The only exception is for painting on silk – due to the fragile nature of the weave, a mix of natural and synthetic colors are used.
Paintings can take anywhere from a few hours to years to complete depending on the number of colors used, the size, and the complexity of the design. It can also depend on the artist’s inspiration. The work of master artisans is in high demand – an artist can have a commission schedule booked out for years to come! While we did not want to wait for years to bring you some of the masterpieces we saw in process on our tour through the Puri region of Odisha, we did bring back a selection of tree of life paintings, handcrafted canvas boxes, and painted vases to the shop. And for the month of January, all pattachitra paintings are 10% off!
Photos in Odisha by Urban Utopia Photography. Would you like to meet our artisans? See how the handicrafts are made? Join us on our next tour! find out more details here!