John Robshaw, an American textile designer involved in a serious love affair with the Orient shares his travel wisdom with L-atitude. As a globetrotter who works alongside artisans in villages of Gujarat and Rajasthan, he has made court batiks in Yogyakarta, and vegetable-dyed ikats in Thailand. Traveling several months each year to oversee production and experiment, John gives us his tips on how to incorporate an international travel schedule into your life?s work.
What drew you to Indonesia?
I had read about the old Indian trading routes for textiles throughout Indonesia and I was hoping to find old Indian textiles, as well as visit the towns that printed batiks for centuries for trade and the royal courts of Java and Sumatra.
You work with block printing. Did you know when you graduated from Pratt that this medium would be central to your work?
I studied print making in Rome and woodblock printing in China during school and always had a love of all styles of print making so I guess I assumed I would always be hovering over printing tables.
What barriers have you encountered working with artisans in small villages?
It takes time to sort out how different people work and what they are capable of. Language is an issue, but usually someone can speak some English and I have gotten much better explaining and actually showing what I am looking for. It takes tremendous patience and time to really understand the processes and techniques of artisans but that?s the exciting part for me as I discover and invent new ways of printing by hanging out with the artisans.
As a seasoned traveler, what can you advise for those who dream of an international lifestyle?
International lifestyle is possible. I think the balance between time abroad and time at home is key. It is not easy to stay away for too long or things start to get a bit dodgy with your crew at home, so I try to be away for longest 3 weeks at a time for development of new seasons. Also, now there are so many direct flights you can really get to many places in the world quicker with less painful layovers, therefore you can get into the action quicker, get designing quicker, and get back home before they realize you are gone.
What are you favorite travel destinations for pleasure?
I have a soft spot for Bangkok. I worked there for a year ages ago and know a lot of the local restaurants and when I go there I plan everything around meals since I never have enough time to eat all that I want to eat. In Bangkok there is a simple modern hotel called The Metropolitan hotel I love. It has a great spa and a healthy restaurant when you need a break.
What are the three things you always take with you when you travel?
I take tons of coloring pens and a sturdy journal, a set of mini speakers to make my rooms lively and sometimes I take sheet sets especially in India, where one of my hotels used to sew in the year the sheets were bought!
If you had to pick one item, what is your favorite possession you have acquired while traveling?
I have a group of Naga spears that I found in Nagaland when I was working on a weaving project up there. I figure I am ready if someone breaks into my apartment.
How can the average person get involved with your community "Aid to Artisans"?
Aid to Artisans is an amazing organization and they always need help. Give them a call ?..1800.756.5550? they would be happy to have you.