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Batik – the beauty of serendipity

Posted on 23rd March 2020 by David under Craft, Creativity, Learning, Textiles

I’ve long admired Batik art, probably because of the vivid colours and simple designs in the examples I’ve seen. So I was keen to try Batik for myself on one of the workshops run by Barbara at Feltworld Creative Art Courses.

“Bring along a favourite picture”, she said.

So I turned up, with a favourite picture, a photograph I’d taken in Venice a few years ago, and listened as Barbara explained the process of Batik work.

Tools for batik art
Batik tools

In Batik, you draw outlines in molten beeswax using a tool called a tjanting. A tjanting is a kind of pen that allows you to control where the wax goes. It is also possible to stamp outlines onto the fabric by dipping them into the molten wax. Once the wax has cooled, you can start applying liquid fabric dye using a paintbrush or a variety of stamping tools. The dye cannot seep past the wax outline if it’s done correctly. After the dye has dried, you remove the wax by melting it with a hot iron over some absorbent paper to leave your design on the material.

Batik tools
Types of tjanting tool

It all sounds so simple really, and after watching Barbara demonstrate the technique, I was ready to start.

Ready to practice with wax melted ready to go
Molten wax ready for use

I somehow expected my Batik masterpiece to recreate the view of the Venetian street photo I’d brought with me. The photo appeals to my love of the abstract in everyday life, and I’d brought a print of it to the Batik workshop as my favourite picture. As it turned out, the resulting Batik is also one of my favourites for the very same reason, but it certainly isn’t an exact replica of the photograph.

The photo that inspired the piece
The Venice photo that was the inspiration

The first thing you discover about drawing with hot beeswax is that it isn’t as easy as it looks. Fortunately, Barbara provides some practice pieces and lots of encouragement so you can get the hang of it before launching into your masterpiece.

A practice piece
A practice piece – the colours have run!

This is where I discovered that photorealism and Batik are poles apart. Yet if you embrace the process, you can turn any uneven lines to your advantage. Accidents that would have you reaching for an eraser or some paint to mask the mistake in any other medium are part of the charm in Batik. This serendipity is part of its beauty. Besides, with Batik, there is no easy way to erase anything. Hot wax and dye on cotton fabric both seep into the fibres of your material – that’s the whole point of using wax.

My masterpiece, loosely based on those buildings in Venice, has more than its fair share of stray marks where the beeswax didn’t go on as planned. And there are places where the dye ran because I didn’t quite get the lines right. But I like it so much it hangs on the wall of my lounge.

The finished piece of batik art
The finished piece

So would I recommend trying Batik? Yes, definitely. It’s a delightful and relaxing way to spend a day, Barbara is a very patient and helpful instructor. You also get to practice a looser form of art. And even if you don’t take Batik up as a regular art medium, it could influence the way you work in other art media.

OK, so my ‘masterpiece’ isn’t going to win many (any!!!) prizes, but then I didn’t do it to win prizes. I did it for the pleasure of discovering something new and in that respect, it ticked all the boxes, as they say. The bonus is that I have a colourful piece of art that hangs on my wall and brings me pleasure.

If you’d like to see how Barbara does batik click the link below to watch a video I made of her creating a beautiful batik picture. You’ll also find the video on my website under the Video section of the Gallery.

Here’s the link to the video – enjoy!

If you’d like to do a batik course, visit the Feltworld.co.uk web site and book yourself on. You can also read about the felt making courses that are available here.

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