Loud, hot, crowded and set on being independent and experiencing something new – I arrived in Jaipur in the Indian state of Rajasthan. The haze and smell certainly caught my attention, but it was also exciting - full of the life and color of a completely new culture. This was my first time in India (even before my artist residency) and I had already spent some time on the well-traveled route referred to as “the golden triangle.”
Jaipur initially overwhelmed me with the multitudes of people and raucous sounds, but I managed to meet a new friend who worked in block printing. Every aspect of the printing process mesmerized me, including its long history and the sheer number of people and communities involved.
During this preliminary journey, I created some block printed samples but I had to fly home early after a motorcycle accident (a story for a future blog post). While recovering at home, I kept dreaming of the extraordinary craft of block printing. After a few months spent healing, I flew right back to India to get serious about creating custom block printed designs. The beginnings of Seek Collective manifested with these first block prints.
Before I started my career as a fashion designer, I loved to paint and create art. Now I paint designs that are hand carved into blocks and printed onto fabrics. I love bringing together my fine arts background with my love for apparel design. Each stamp of the block is slightly different, which brings an aliveness and uniqueness to every part of the cloth. The fabric becomes a living painting as it passes through the hands of the artisans. Each step of the way requires skilled workers who have fine-tuned their craft, passed down to them through the generations. Each artisan has a specialty that he or she focuses on: block carving, pigment printing, mud resist (dabu) printing, dying, or washing.
In these communities in India, block printing has a rich history, which spans over 400 years. It’s a history that continues to breathe and live on through the people and their beautiful work. Thankfully this craft that once looked like it was dying out merely ten years ago is seeing a renaissance due to popular demand.
I’ve spent countless hours with block printers, yet their skill still amazes me every time I see it. The speed and rhythm of the master printers work is truly hypnotic. The exactness they are able to place each block every single time so that everything lines up is astonishing. Oftentimes the home is where the printing table lives, so the craft is closely tied to the community itself. Some of my favorite moments are simply sitting in a block printers home, drinking chai and meeting their families.
It’s not always been an easy process. The road has been dotted with entire production orders going wrong due to miscommunication - or delays due to the monsoon season - or navigating the myriad unspoken cultural dynamics – but I still love process, the outcome and the people immensely. Seeing a piece of printed artwork become something one can wear and feeling the connection to the culture and history is not something I’d give up for anything.