The small Island of Bali, a paradise in the Indian Ocean, is a haven of lush landscapes and unique architecture. Its steeped in Hindu beliefs and as such, has a rich tapestry of storytelling and iconography drawing you in. During my travels, I had been most looking forward to my time in Bali, my research had showed up that the island was a hotbed of creativity and I was not disappointed, my only regret was that I was not able to experience more! I knew that Indonesian batik differed greatly from the traditional batiks of northern Laos, Vietnam and Thailand that I had previously encountered and I was keen to get stuck in and experience a new, more colourful take on this traditional art practice.
Example of a more advanced Batik piece!
One rainy day I travelled the 20 minute journey on the back of a motorbike taxi through the green rice fields and puddle filled roads, the usual heavy hanging humidity had been replaced by a welcomed freshness. I arrived at a traditional Balinese home and made my way to the back, following signs for the batik workshop. I was greeted by the teacher; Widya Harsana, who invited me into the workshop area – a large open plan area attached to one of the home buildings where several other students were already setting up. He (and his team of helpers) showed me a pile of designs I could chose from or explained that I could draw up my own creation. As I was here, in Bali, I figured I’d take inspiration from one of their designs and chose an image of a bird (Garuda), which is a strong icon here in Bali, representing strength, power and travel.. Perfect!
The workshop/studio space
We began with a piece of stretched out cotton attached to the table and began sketching the image onto it using a pencil. Then it was over to the wax station to retrace all those lines with beeswax in a process called ‘batik tulis’ which is the traditional form of Indonesian batik. After a few practice lines I was set to go! The tool used is called a ‘chanting tool’ or copper bamboo pen. This holds the wax in a small pot, releasing it slowly as you draw. I had great fun drawing up my design on a rainy day in Bali!
Chanting tool and wax
After completing the ‘chanting’ we used copper patterned stamps to create the border, stamping and rotating the image to create the full design. This was achieved by dipping in the wax, before pressing onto the fabric which was on a raised bed, made from newspaper and blankets trapped under a plastic wrapping, enabling you to really press the stamp into the cloth to transfer the wax evenly and easily.
The printed wax border
After the waxing it was onto the painting or ‘dye bath’ using organic based dyes. Some of these are light activated, changing colour in the sunlight and drying process, so you literally see your work changing before your eyes! After painting up the fabric using blunted down brushes it was time to dry the piece out… As it was raining we had to use a hairdryer in place of sunlight.
The ‘high tech’ drying process 😉
Once the completed design was dry it was off to carry out the curing process. First the material is dipped in boiling water to remove the wax residue before the colours are set by a secondary dipping, in a solution of hydrochloric acid and zinc oxide. Finally the batik is submerged in clean cold water for a final rinse off, before being re-stretched and dried.
The finished result!
This process of waxing and dying can be carried out many times by the masters, to create truly intricate design. This workshop was a great introduction to the process and demonstrated just how much work goes into creating these works of wearable art!
They also make and sell a range of hand made Batiks on cotton and silk
Check them out and see what they do for yourself… and if you ever find yourself in Bali, look them up!