Thinking in reverse.
Years ago, when I did Chinese brush painting, the process was straight forward. I applied ink and color directly to rice paper. Anything I didn’t touch just stayed white.
Then I took up batik painting, and I had to start thinking in reverse. Batik is a resist process in which anything the artist paints, stays the same. Everything else changes color in a dye bath.
There must be a variety of ways to do batik, but I’ll briefly explain my process.
The basic process for making batik.
First, I did a pencil drawing of the design I wanted on a piece of white cotton or silk. Then I stretched the fabric over a wooden frame and attached it with thumb tacks. I melted a mixture of paraffin and beeswax in a pot, and when the wax was hot enough, I painted it onto the fabric with a brush or tjanting.
Anything I painted with wax remained white when I bathed the cloth in the first dye bath. After the fabric dried, I could wax and save that first color and dye what remained another color. Then I could apply more wax and dye it again with a third color. Choosing appropriate colors, the process could be repeated several times.
Finally, I boiled the fabric or ironed it between sheets of paper to remove all the wax.
Before melting the wax, I had to determine what kind of mixture of waxes I wanted. If I wanted more of the crackle or veins characteristic of batik, I would increase the percentage of paraffin wax. For a smoother effect, I would use more beeswax. The beeswax would bend but not break when I wrinkled or squeezed the cloth. The paraffin wax would crack and thus allow a little dye to enter into the cracks.
The traditional method of applying wax is with the tjanting, a simple tool composed of a small copper cup attached to a wooden handle. The artist fills the cup with hot wax and drips wax through a spout onto the cloth to make the design.
I did use the tjanting in some of my paintings, but I never became an expert. Whether using a tjanting or a brush, the artist has to get the heat and speed just right. If the wax isn’t hot enough, it won’t fully penetrate the fabric. If it’s too hot or the artist’s hand is too slow, the wax spreads and the line becomes a blob. I primarily used brushes to achieve the effect I wanted.
Choosing colors for batiks.
In its most basic form, the batik artist uses colors from one side of the color wheel and moves from lighter, primary colors to darker secondary or mixed colors. For example, after “saving” the white fabric with wax, I might choose yellow for my first dye. After waxing the yellow portions I wanted to save, I might dye the cloth light blue to make yellow green, and then dark blue for the final dye to make dark green.
More complex color combinations could be achieved through advanced techniques. In every case, the artist paints the portion of the cloth she wants to remain untouched by the dye, thus saving what already exists.
A British teacher; an outdoor classroom.
My batik teacher, John Heap, was a tall thin Brit who wore sandals and did yoga before yoga was popular in the West. He studied batik in Indonesia. Then he moved to the Philippines, rented a small house with a spacious patio and carport, and advertised for students. We were glad to work outside so the fumes from the molten wax had someplace to go.
Dozens of batik wall hangings and a four-panel screen.
I made dozens of batik wall hangings. Some I sold; others I gave away or stored in trunks. A few are now hanging on my walls.
I did have a four-panel batik screen made from a sketch I did in the mountains of Baguio. Now I have a three-panel screen. I’m not complaining. The screen had many years of use before the visiting cat galloped across the dining table, slid on the tablecloth, leap into the first panel of the screen with his claws out, and found that the silk was not as solid as he’d hoped.
He was an exuberant teenage cat. What did I expect?