Natural Dye Paintings



Before the advent of science and the synthesis of chemical colors, Indian artists used materials available in nature, to color their paintings. The natural dye paintings of India used colors derived from roots and leaves, minerals and other materials readily obtainable.

Some of these dyes were used by themselves; others required a mordant to help them bind to the fabric.

Color Elements Used in Natural Dye Paintings of India

Some color sources with the mordant used to give that particular color:

Madder: brick red (alum), orange (tin), burgundy (chrome), off-black (iron)

Indigo: blue (no mordant required)

Cochineal: crimson (alum), scarlet (tin), lavender to violet (chrome), gray-violet-black (iron)

Brazilwood: red (alum), pink (tin), maroon (chrome), off-black (iron)

Logwood: blue-violet (alum), purple (tin), blue-black (chrome), silver gray black (iron), gray (copper)

Fustic: yellow (alum), aurora (tin), gold (chrome), soft green (iron), soft green (copper)

Weld: yellow (alum), lemon yellow (tin), rich yellow (chrome), sage (iron), soft green (copper)

Catechu: yellow-brown (alum), red-brown (chrome), brown-black (iron), medium brown (copper)

Types of Natural Dyes used in Natural Dye Paintings of India

Some of the types of dyes that are used:

Substantive: Dyes like turmeric, onion skins, walnut husks and tea are simmered for a long time along with the fabric that is to be dyed.

Vat: These dyes like indigo and Tyrian purple (which is got from the shell fish) are introduced into the fabric surface while in soluble form. They are then converted into insoluble form.

Rust Dye: Iron is allowed to rust using salt and/or vinegar, while in contact with the fabric to be dyed.

Earth oxides: Various earth soils are used to color the fabric. For instance, copper or chromium oxide gives a green color, cobalt oxide gives blue, cadmium oxide lends a yellow color, while iron oxide gives a reddish-brown color.

The Natural Dye Paintings of India

India has a rich tradition of painting. Painters of almost all styles of painting in India have used natural dyes or colors to decorate their paintings. Whether it be the folk paintings of India, such as Warli , Madhubani , Patachitra , Pithora, Phad , or those that enjoyed royal patronage such as the Ragamala , Miniatures , Tanjore , Pahari, or indigenous art forms like Batik , Tie-dye , Block Printing , Kalamkari , Pichwai , the use of natural dyes is ubiquitous.

Handicrafts Trade
Suggested Reading