Our Master craftsman of Dhokra, Prashant ji create using Bell Metal which is an alloy of Brass, Nickel and Zinc oxide. Even though the artifacts have their humble beginnings in clay core, they have gained immense popularity globally over the last few decades. Let us explore the thirteen steps involved in the creation of Dhokra Art.
Step 1 - The first step in the creation of Dhokra metal art is the powdering and sieving of Black mud, or Kaali mitti, which is later on used for creating the core clay model. This process is usually performed by the female section of the household.
Step 2 - A coarse clay mixture is created as it is mixed and kneaded with rice husk.
Step 3 - Once the soil dough is ready it is molded into a model which is kept in the sun and dried out completely. This step is crucial to ensure that the composite mould model is devoid of any excess water and can retain its shape throughout the process. The model can also be dried by gently firing in the oven.
Step 4 - This clay-mud model is in shape of the final cast.
Step 5 - The artist then creates a sticky solution and the mould is covered with it.
This layer ensures that no leakage occurs when the molten metal is poured inside the mould.
Step 6 - It is passed through a cotton cloth, which helps in keeping the tar away from any impurities like sand particles or stones.
Step 7 - Additional designs, patterns and ornaments are separately made using the wax bundle and then attached to the mould. The final design can be seen as taking shape in this stage. Tools like wooden spatula are used to smoothen out any rough surfaces of the mould.
Step 8 - The mould is dried out in the sun once again and another layer of clay is applied. When this layer is dry a final covering of rice husk and dengur is given to the mould.
Step 9 - The mould is now ready for baking. The artist bakes the mould at high temperatures rising up to nearly 1100 degrees Celsius. This process melts aways the wax leaving a fine cavity between the two layers of the clay mixtures.
Step 10 - Pieces of brass metal are melted and this molten metal is poured into the cavity through the ducts. As the melted metal hardens, it takes over and adorns the shape and design of the mould.
Step 11 - The mould is then left to cool down for at least two to three hours. Regular spraying of water helps hasten the cooling process. It also makes the mould softer and easier to break open.
Step 12 - The mould is broken with a hammer and the final product is ready to add a finishing touch to. The artist uses various tools to brush, file and buff the finished product enhancing its beauty.
This Bell Metal art technique requires expertise and talent to make sure that all the 13 steps are carried out skillfully. The artist has to ensure that the mould retains its shape until the final step of the process. As detailed above, the process is extremely elaborate and time-consuming and requires years and years of practice to master. Further, each mould can be used only once, therefore, each finished product is different and unique. The final artifact can be created perfectly only when the artist has mastered the skill of working with clay as well as metal.
Step 13 - The last step of dhokra production process is the finishing process. The metal casted items are subjected to a manual grinding process which ensures that there is no trace of mud or tar left. This is done manually by the artisans.
This metallurgical form of creating art is not just one of the oldest but is also considered as the most advanced in its field. No wonder we are still mesmerized by the quaint beauty of these handicrafts.