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How I learned to batik…AKA Zen and the art of batik

One of the practical courses I signed up for at Art in Action was the how to batik course. Anything where I get to draw with a medium and use colour is of interest and so I very eagerly anticipated learning this ancient technique.

Unfortunately I ran into a small glitch. πŸ™

Have you ever had a teacher so bad, I mean SO BAD, that it turned you completely off the subject? I’m sorry to say that this was the case in this practical class. This particular teacher treated me as if I couldn’t draw a stick figure, took the brush out of my hand and started touching up my project and, at one point, smudged the wax with her hand to prove that my project wasn’t sufficiently dry, and then dismissed me as “a foreigner” as in “not British”. While the foreigner label is something which, unfortunately, sometimes I have to handle with a very small minority of the population, her terrible manner was a bit unforgivable. And, she seemed to behave like this to the other students at my work station.

So it has taken me this long to get over associating this teacher with my prayer flag, let my Zen training prevail, let it go and remember how much I enjoyed the process.

It’s really quite easy. Here’s what it looks like:

The process requires a piece of fabric, we used cotton. It was stressed that sizing in new fabric would resist the dye so a good wash beforehand is important.

A heating pad with a metal pot of wax was on the table and the wax was hot but not burning hot. Implements like sticks and funky metal cups with small dribbly nozzles were in the hot wax but so were brushes and I found I had the most manageability with the brushes.

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The students were told that for the purposes of this class everyone was supposed to draw a bunch of simple flowers because anything else would be too time consuming. I’d been carrying a small branch of beech from class to class, because it was easier for me to have a small botanical example with me for trying all the different art mediums, and that’s what I chose to draw. (OK, maybe that’s where I went wrong with this teacher)

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After sketching the design, a wooden frame was used to stretch the fabric for the dyeing. The fabric was held in place with a few push pins and then I drew the first resist pattern on my fabric with the hot wax.

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Each student was given a small palette of dye colours and a big brush. The trick was to paint a light colour on, dry the fabric, paint more resist wax onto the design, paint a second, slightly darker dye colour on, paint more resist wax onto the design, dry the fabric again, more wax, darker dye, and so on, each time covering more bits of dye and getting that multi-dimensional look.

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Here is my design after about three coats of wax/dye and drying in between.

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Now here’s something that the teacher did not mention till too late that you should know:

1. The students were told, in the interest of saving time, to use a hair dryer to dry the material. THIS IS A VERY DANGEROUS THING TO DO! The hot air melts the wax which then seeps and absorbs into the material where you had no intention for it to be. This is something plenty of students found out the hard way.

2. Start with very light colour washes first and try to imagine your design from lightest to darkest colours, just like a reverse painting on glass where you have to paint your lights first. Once you wash with a dark colour you will lose all the lights if they are not protected with wax.

3. When you complete your design, iron the fabric spreading the wax everywhere, use an old iron. Later, boil some water, pour the boiling water into a pot and quickly dip your fabric into it, immediately take it out and rinse in cold. Hang it to dry. This will remove most of the rest of the wax and make the dye colourfast.

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Well, that’s about what I learned. I’m sure there are other, maybe even better methods and very soon I’ll figure those out. I’m glad I have my little prayer flag though. It seems a just symbol for this little practical class which took so much of my Zen training to complete…lol.

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Comments: 12

  • Catherine Llewellyn

    August 9, 2013

    beautiful – magical use of colour – i could pray to that πŸ™‚

  • August 9, 2013

    I like your beech branch and your bravery!

  • August 9, 2013

    Hi Veronica: I am sorry about your teacher. Just keep doing your art. I love it! Blessings, Martha

  • August 9, 2013

    keep on truck’in; you do good stuff; nasty teacher!

  • August 12, 2013

    How funny that in a past comment I said I’d like to try batik!! So horribly sorry that you had such a horrid teacher–acting you can’t draw? PULEEZ!! Anywho, it came out lovely, vibrant and Zen! Thank you for showing us how to play some more πŸ™‚

  • August 12, 2013

    This is so beautiful. When I visited Malaysia, they sold a lot of batik–I really admire artists (like you) who can craft on a piece of fabric.

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