"ART is a word which summarizes THE QUALITY OF COMMUNICATION. "
L. Ron Hubbard

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Batik - what is it?

Recently, I mentioned batik to a student and got a blank stare — or the equivalent. So I thought I'd blog about it.

Wikipedia defines batik as "a cloth that is traditionally made using a manual wax-resist dyeing technique." When I use the term, I am referring to the process, not the product. Cloth using this process is traditionally associated with Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, China, Azerbaijan, India, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Nigeria, Senegal, and Singapore, but I first encountered a "batik factory" in St. Kitts in the Caribbean.

The process consists usually of 2 or more applications of color to a piece of cloth with liquid wax applied in between to the dry fabric. That is, the artist applies a wax design to the fabric, lets the wax dry, then immerses the fabric in a vat of dye color. Then the fabric is totally dried and the next application of liquid wax is applied. This can go on to many colors, but usually I think the cloth is restricted to 2 or 3 colors.

Some artists have modified the process by using colored wax (like wax crayons) and/or painting on portions of the fabric.

Some years ago, I did a series of batik panels and found the process incredibly tedious. But the results were spectacular!

After you've completed all the color applications, you must remove the wax. In  batik "factory" I believe they use kerosene. An alternative for the home artist, and one that I used, is to place the completed piece between thick pads of paper towels and use a hot iron to liquify the wax. After this is complete, there is still some residue, so, if the art work is to be used as a wearable item, it would need further treatment. In my case, I simply mounted the batik on white backing and framed as I would a watercolor.

One thing that is interesting about the process is that you have to think backwards. For instance, if you want to have some white in the final piece, you have to apply wax to the areas that will be white first. Then, you need to chose your colors carefully, because any color that hasn't been waxed will combine with subsequent applications of color to make a combined color.

For example, here's a batik piece I made called "green-eyed woman."

And here's the "color design" that I worked out for this piece.

And here's a piece called "flutist," also done at this time.

I think the process produces spectacular results. It is very time consuming, however.