India and Printmaking - Guest blog by Jai ‘Zaiu’ Ranjit

I hope I find you well as you read this. I’m a young self-taught artist and printmaker from Mumbai, India. I love printmaking, and although I’ve only been on my journey in this art form for 4 tiny years, I feel like I should make the most of this opportunity to share as much as I can.

There will be many who have no idea of where to start when it comes to printmaking and even more who don’t even know it’s an actual thing. In 2011, I was lucky enough to be introduced to woodcut and linocut relief printmaking by the brilliant Indian artist T. Venkanna at his open studio show at the erstwhile Gallery Maskara.

Along with some quiet observation, I had the honor of being invited to sit with the artist while he worked, and he imparted some truly important information that I’ve found lacking in many courses and workshops in the years since then.

I’ve made it a point to share this information in workshops of my own on lino and woodcut printmaking regarding the safe use of tools to ensure that anyone who decides to begin a journey into this beautiful world can do so with a little less fear and a lot more confidence.

Printmaking in India

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Exposure to printmaking in India is a mixed bag. If you go to art school, you usually spend at least a couple of weeks learning it in one semester, and if it piques your interest, you end up studying it in detail.

That said, if you go to design school, it seems to be a rare bit of learning (something I was determined to change with my students at ISDI Parsons Mumbai this past year). If you’re not in the creative world, the only way you’re learning about printmaking is through seeing a piece in a collection at the museum or someone’s house.

With tools like Google and YouTube at our disposal, it’s easier now to learn more about anything you come across. This was true for me, and my biggest find was the YouTube channel of Canadian printmaker David Bull – a man of a quiet but excitable personality steeped in dedication.

Bull moved to Japan to learn the art of Ukiyo-e and ended up staying, finally opening his own shop – Mokuhankan – and started a channel to share his knowledge.

Opportunity Online

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A little browsing on the web and social media platforms like Instagram, which is how I’ve come to write this piece, will take you a long way in finding information and inspiration to learn more and more about printmaking and to get feedback on your own work.

Instagram has exposed me to the stunning works of artists like Lili Arnold (@liliarnoldstudios), Tugboat Print Shop (@tugboatprintshop), Samantha Hennessy (@samanthahennessydesign) and so many more. 

My own learning has skyrocketed, and the newer prints I’m making are crisper, simpler and yet more complex depending on the stories I’m telling.  They’ve made teaching workshops so much more fun, and provide huge amounts of inspiration to everyone who lays eyes on their work.

Tools and Materials

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Now, as a self-taught printmaker and artist, it’s always been a challenge to find the right materials and equipment, so you do the best you can with what you can find. What I’ve found is that you end up finding your own unique visual language based on the materials you use, and evolve from there.

I started out with doing woodcuts using plywood because it was the cheapest material I could get my hands on. The tools too were the absolute basic set of 6 carving tools I could find. To be honest, I haven’t stopped using them because they work just as well as anything else.

As I could afford to spend a little more over time, I bought linoleum sheets and began to be a little more discerning about the paper I was using. All the while though, I had been using Huber’s Turbo Chrom oil-based inks to print with, and Camlin Distilled Turpentine to clean up with. Ruined my skin, but gave me beautifully dark prints.

Art Lounge, an art supplies store in Mumbai, introduced me to FACTIS blocks, which are a great alternative to lino sheets for the same price. Just like Lino, though, FACTIS blocks have their own pros and cons.

While you can use only one side of a lino sheet, you can use both sides of the FACTIS block if you don’t carve too deep. The downside here is that FACTIS is a rubber block which once carved, loses strength and durability meaning they can bend and break easily.

For smaller, quicker prints, it’s a great bet, but for more complex prints on a larger size and production scale, lino or wood will do you much better a job and last longer too.

Inks

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When it comes to ink too, there are plenty of choices, but again each has its own pros and cons. Huber’s Turbo Chrom micro inks are oil-based and very cheap at Rs.350-370/kilogram ($5.46-$5.76/ kilogram) but take between 3 and 7 days to fully dry, and have a very strong smell.

Speedball and Daler-Rowney both offer water-soluble acrylic inks which dry really fast, but can rub off to the touch with even a little extra pressure. Not to mention that if you’re in India, you have to order them from Amazon and end up paying import duty which takes them to between Rs.850 ($13.25 for Daler-Rowney 250ml jar water-soluble block printing ink) & Rs.1,800 ($28 for a Speedball Fabric block printing ink 75ml tube).

The Huber oil-based ink has the advantage of letting you print on both paper and fabric without much stress and is laundry-fast with a quick heat setting using an iron after 3 days of air drying.

The fabric ink from Speedball needs a week of air-drying before it’s laundry-fast, so not much of an advantage there.

I have experimented with Plastisol screen-printing inks for block printing and can’t say it’s any good without having a proper heat setting unit.

Safety and Cleanliness

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Now that I’ve gone on a little too long with this over-enthusiastic monologue on printmaking, I can’t see anything more perfect than to talk about than safety and cleanliness. A lot of young printmakers don’t realize the importance of cleaning up and maintaining a clean workspace when carving and printing until it’s too late and your best print is ruined by a stray shaving of wood or linoleum that decided to sit between block and paper.

Ensure you’ve got a list of all your materials, tools and paper before you start working. Then arrange everything in order of requirement and reach.

Between carving stretches, clean regularly. Wipe your print surface down with a soft cloth or use a dusting brush to knock out any stray shavings and sand down edges if required to avoid splinters when working with wood.

Make sure you don’t have any food or drink on the same table as your carving or printmaking spaces to ensure spillage is avoided.

Finally, wear a glove on one hand or use a clean piece of folded paper to lift or control your sheet of paper or fabric when printing to avoid stray ink stains and fingerprints appearing on your finished print.

Regarding safety, I’d say ensure your tools are always sharp and regularly cleaned. If it’s rusting, it’s going to leave stains and not carve smoothly leading to more trouble than good prints.

While carving, please ensure that you’re aware at all times of where your support hand (the one not holding the tool) is so that you don’t end up cutting or poking yourself should the tool slip on the carving surface.

Keep your support hand parallel or behind your carving hand. Should you need to keep it in front, make a bridge with your fingers and thumb, and carve in small strokes under the bridge so that you keep clear of all fingers and stay safe.

I leave you with a line I keep telling myself, and with all the luck and inspiration in the world.

“The right mix of teacher, inspiration, love, cleanliness, focus, and confidence means a lifetime of good prints and happiness.”

Jai ‘Zaiu’ Ranjit
Artist, printmaker and educator
Mumbai, India


About the author :

Jai ‘Zaiu’ Ranjit is a self-taught artist and printmaker with a career now spanning 11 years and over 25 group and solo exhibitions. He teaches at ISDI Parsons Mumbai as Visiting Faculty, organizes his own workshops and enjoys doing live art to make art accessible to the public. Born and raised in Mumbai, India,  Zaiu has exhibited and performed across India and will be hosting his 10th solo exhibition this March in Mumbai. You can follow his work using the hashtags #ArtWithZaiu & #PrintsByZaiu on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.