Ammu Knew is Cathy's tale of a beautifully decorated and wonderfully wise temple elephant, and through a very sequiturs route the creation of the book led to the development of this unique printing process and the production of this range of kitchenware.
For those that are interested here is a little of the back story -
I'd bought a bar of soap while travelling in Southern India, and looking over the packaging I realised they'd managed to print with near 100% opacity - they were printing pale colours on dark backgrounds and the coverage was perfect.
As an illustrator and colour-obsessive I knew that was really hard to achieve. I was idly envying their abilities when I realised that the soap company was in a nearby district and the idea dawned that I might be able to learn from them and that mastering such print skills would open up new creative possibilities for my own illustrations.
I plucked up a whole pile of courage, found the factory, walked in and explained myself.
Many phone calls, days, dead ends, abandoned travel-companions, rescheduled plans, anxious waits and tuk tuk rides later I was sat across the desk from the imposing woman who employed the printer in question.
I feared I was asking for something entirely unreasonable, and culturally I had no idea how it would be perceived. Fortunately they seemed intrigued enough that a 'nice English lady' was asking to work in their factory and they agreed I could study with them.
I was introduced to Jerome, The Master Printer. The physicality of the process was evident in his huge muscles and the fact his family appeared every few hours with more supplies of food to keep him going. I was pretty daunted and he, let’s say, was graciously skeptical.
With pigeon English Jerome introduced the equipment and materials, explained the various processes and over a few days tweaked and improved my technique.
I knew English printers used micro scales to weigh out pigments when mixing colours, so watching Jerome dip a filthy palette knife into a series of pots and match colours as accurately as any Pantone machine was total artistic delight.
And the respect was mutual – when I checked why he’d done something that seemed to contradict some previous teaching he laughed - the master had made a mistake and the apprentice had learnt enough to spot it!
It was time for me to move on to printing something real.
I felt compelled to write and illustrate a short story, though I had little more than a weekend to complete it. I was lent the keys to the factory so I had access to a light box and scanner, but with just me in the building the neighbourhood monkeys, snakes, bats and rats were rather bolder than they had been, and I resorted to dancing while I painted to try and out-maneuver the mosquitoes. The conditions brought a great fluidity to my style and the story took shape.
It became the tale of Ammu, a beautifully decorated and wonderfully wise temple elephant and over the following days, as we printed the pages, it seemed the whole factory became enchanted.
Everyone was used to printing functional items, and being around the creation of 'art' brought such sparkle to their eyes. Jerome moved on from pigeon English and told great tales of his marriage, his childhood and the history of the print works. He explained that the experience of someone coming from England and showing such appreciation for his work had changed how his family viewed him and that he’d been granted a newfound respect.
It was wonderful to see such results from our creativity together.
And, as I had sensed in those first moments with the soap wrapper, the skills I gained did change my life.
I became determined to print on wood, and although Jerome's process was not effective on timber I used the principles he had taught me to develop a process of my own. Technically it's quite a feat, and it enables me to produce unique work.
I founded a company hand printing my illustrations on to wooden kitchen products. I'm winning awards and delighting in spending my days combining the beauty of wood with harmonious colours and elegant illustrations.
It’s a rather wonderful way to spend a life.