Batik painting

We travelled from Bali to Java’s cultural center, Jogjakarta.  This fascinating city has long been the stronghold for the artistic traditions of the world’s most populated island.  We spent ten days in the bustling, colourful city watching traditional performances, visiting temples and learning about the various art forms such as batik painting.  Batik is a unique kind of painting which involves covering parts of a cotton or silk fabric with wax before submerging it in dye.

Master batik paintings and batik artist

The process is very involved and begins by drawing an image onto the fabric then using a small precision tool to follow the lines with hot wax.

Drawing initial batik pattern

We were told that on better batik paintings the wax pattern is drawn on both sides of the fabric.  The fabric is then dipped in the first colour, usually yellow or the lightest colour to be used in the painting.  The wax prevents that part of the fabric from absorbing the dye and leaves the covered parts white.  After drying, the parts of the fabric that are to remain white or yellow are covered with more wax and the process is repeated in the next lightest colour, generally orange.  If at any point there is a white or yellow part that is to be dyed, the wax is scraped off to allow the fabric to take colour.

Women placing finishing touches by hand

Simpler batik paintings may only have two or three colours where the more complex paintings could have seven or eight.  There are many traditional designs used in batik such as dots, swirls and crosshatch.  There are also different type of wax that can be used in unique ways.  Beeswax is the most common but softer waxes will allow the artist to crack them when dried, giving a beautiful spiderweb or shattered look to that part of the painting.  An artist might also splash or drip wax for different effects.

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For simple patterns intended for use as clothing sometimes wax stamps are used, allowing for a much faster processing time.  When a work is finished, the fabric is boiled to remove all the wax.

Batik wax designs

Below are the many stages necessary to produce a batik painting with three colours; from drawing the initial picture to hand dyeing the finer details to submerging in dye to the boiling off of the wax.

The many stages of a three coloured batik painting