Art of Natural Colours
by Anindita Patra
Raghurajpur, a small village on the banks of the river Bhargabi near Puri, is a haven of Pattachitra painting and has attracted the attention of the world as a Heritage village. The economic, social and cultural life of this village revolves around arts and crafts with at least one member from almost every family being involved in some form of art. There is an informal division of work in the family and every member is engaged in doing something or the other related to paintings. While the men folk and the boys work on the paintings, the women are busy preparing the canvas, boiling the gum or preparing the colour. The colours that make the art form more vivid and appreciable are made by the painters from natural sources using ancient methods. Even the canvas or pattis are made by the painters at home. The preparation of the canvas for painting involves binding two layers of cotton fabric with a gum made from tamarind seeds and then coating it with a white paste made of a powdered limestone and tamarind seeds. Once this is dry, the cloth is polished to make it smooth and suitable for painting.
The color making process is very time-consuming process. Black is made from lampblack. To obtain the lampblack, a burning lamp is placed inside an empty tin box. The soot collected on the underside of the tin is then collected and mixed with gum derived from tamarind seed and wood apple and water. White is made from conch shells which are ground into a fine powder and mixed with gum to get a smooth colour. Red is obtained from hingula stone, yellow from harikala stone and blue from indigo. Green is obtained by boiling green leaves with gum and water. With these primary colours, the artists get secondary and tertiary colours to bring the pattachitra alive.
The finer brushes used by the chitrakars (painters) are made of mouse hair whereas buffalo hair is used for the thick lines, which have wooden handles. These are used for the finer work they do like ornamentation, face etc. Other plane brushes, which are not as fine as the mouse hair brushes, available normally in the market are also used by the chitrakars. All the brushes these chitrakars use lasts for 7-8 months, when they work daily
After interaction with the artists of Raghurajpur it was interesting to find out that the new generation artists are rarely using natural colours for their paintings. When asked why the artists had their own reason. Jeetendra an artist in his early 20s said that natural colours are expensive; hence paintings done with natural colours are also expensive. There are tourists coming to their village to buy Raghurajpir pattachitra as a souvenir but is not ready to shell out too much of money. So Jeetendra has switched to acrylic colours to meet the demand of the market. He paints with natural colour only on museum, gallery or customized orders. Abiram, another young artist who is also the village President had an interesting perspective on not using the natural colour, he said natural colour does not give a glossy finish to the painting and the general mass who does not have much knowledge about pattachitra prefers a glossy painting done by fabric colours.
Sridhar Maharana, an artist in his 70s has a different take on it. He said that making of natural colours is a tedious and time consuming task which the younger generation refuses to do. According to him, the "fast generation" wants quick result, money and fame and they prefer the shorter road to success. So it is quite interesting to see how views on the usage of natural colour varies among the artists.