Papier mache basically employs four different design patterns:
• Figurative depictions; based on themes of court scenes (Durbar); Jungle scene (Shikar gah); Polo field (Chogun); rubiyat; epics, battles etc.
• Floral depictions: The dominant motif employed in papier mache is based on various floral arrangements. The motifs are usually depicted in a stylized manner
• Geometrical depictions: Is mostly based on the motifs employed in the traditional shawl industry.
• Ladakhi or Chinese depiction: Is mostly replete with themes employing dragon as the dominant motif and is undoubtedly reflective of Chinese and Ladakhi influences.
Traditionally papier mache artists (naqash) would specialize in one of these designs though they knew and could work in all the four.
Within these designs there are said to be around hundred or more motifs also known as tarah that depict the entire canvas of the traditional Kashmiri Papier Mache Artist. Some of the more popular motifs are:
1- Hazara (the thousand flowers): A prevalent pattern traditionally evolved and most frequently featured is hazara (the thousand flowers) pattern. This flower attempts to display every conceivable flower that was a part of the local environment
2- Gul-i-Willayat:‘Gul-i-Wilayat’ (or the foreign flower) is similar to hazara except that it includes foliage and stems also. Most probably the term Willayat (foreign) is in reference to the European preference (or possible inspiration?) for this design rather then the motif itself, which is essentially based rendering of local flowers. Sometimes Gul-i-Wilayat also has birds in it, especially bulbul and kingfisher. Gul-i-Wilayat has limited flowers. Such as;
Gulab : rose
Bumtchunth : posh quince apple blossom (it is another variety of apple which is very
sour and used as vegetable)
tchunan posh : peach blossom
sosan : iris
sambul : hyacinth
virni kwatch : apple blossom
3- Gul-andar-Gul (flower within a flower): It is another version of pattern displaying flowers. Here flowers are shown in bunches in which flowers are displayed one behind the other.
4- Badam tarah (the Almond): The most popular design motif in Kashmir crafts is that of the mango shaped badam (almond) which is “the representative” motif of the famous Kani shawl industry as well as the sozani craft. It is also called ‘paisely’ or shawl tarah (shawl pattern), for its maximum occurrence in kani shawl. The badam symbol has to be associated with all Kashmiri craft where it occurs in a thousand depictions. This particular motif was mostly used in ceilings and walls of buildings.
5- Chinar: Chinar, the five pointed leaf from the majestic tree of same name predominant in Kashmir landscape, is another such motif which frequents in most Kashmiri current ornamentations. According to some researchers the use of chinar leaves is a “comparatively recent and deliberate innovation of souvenir value”. Chinar leaf is also a preferred motif in Kashmiri walnut wood carving and crewel industry.
6- Sarav (cypress): Sarav is also for likeness to that shrub in the later-evolved tapering shape, gradually drawn out into long delicate form of an independent tree filled in with details of leaf, bud, flower and fruit. The fantastic limits of stylization, which the motif has been subjected to into flowing curvilinear intertwining serpentine forms could only fit into characteristics of this sophisticated ornamentation.
7- Islim:This design is based on the arabesque and is mostly used in the hashia or the border of the object surface. Most probably the design was imported along with the art of papier mache into Kashmir valley from the wider Islamic world.