When I set out to create one of my batiks, I start with sketches done in the conventional manner on paper. I spend a good deal of time at this stage because, in drawing the design, I must consider not only what I “see” in my head, but what will “work” on fabric. To elaborate, a design must remain relatively simple since the color will be applied in flat planes. That is, very little in the way of shading and dimension can be achieved with dyes. Keep in mind that each color applied will have to be dying over all previous color. An elementary knowledge of color will remind one that red can be applied over blue, but only if the third color desired is purple. This principle holds true for any of the numerous shades and tints in between. While I may be confident that I know which of the colors mixed with other colors will produce a given result, the intensity of the dye will often produce something other than what I had in mind.
Starting with a piece of clean, white, cotton fabric, I transfer the design from the paper sketches. I generally work on pure cotton. Batik is a wax resistant process. The wax is heated to a point that it can be painted on the fabric with a brush. There is no color in the wax other than the slight golden hue of the natural product. Any space on the fabric I wish to remain white is now covered with the hot wax. Where the wax has been applied, the fabric will look transparent. The amount of penetration will determine, to some extent, the texture of the finished piece. This is the only means of achieving a feeling of dimension and shading.
I now allow the wax to cool and dip the entire piece into the first color bath. This will always be the lightest color to be used. When the piece is dry, I again paint the heated wax onto the areas of the design that I want to remain this lightest color. Keep in mind that the piece now has wax on the white and the lightest color in the design. Again, it is dipped into a dye bath. Again, the next darkest color. This process is repeated until I have progressed to the last and darkest color to be used. This is usually dark, blue, very dark brown or black. The entire piece has now been waxed and dyed. At this stage, it looks like nothing more than a mass of congealed wax over muted and nondescript colors. At this point, I don’t have any idea whether the finished product will be anything remotely resembling what I envisioned in my head as I began.
Now I begin to remove the wax. This is done by placing the fabric between several layers of white paper towels and pressing with a warm iron. The paper absorbs the wax, and the design begins to appear. This is the magic moment. I never immerse my pieces in water as would be the case for fabric dyed for other purposes. At this stage, the fabric is again relatively soft and pliable. If all has gone well, the design will have the cracks and shadings that are characteristics associated with batik. This is not to say it is a piece of art. I look at each piece and decide whether it is worthy of further treatment. I am rarely satisfied with my first attempt. Some of my pieces I have reworked as many as a dozen times. This means that I repeat the entire process from the beginning. There is no “correcting” of mistakes in batik.
While a design may be pleasing in color and texture, it may lack in “feeling” which is mainly what I am striving to achieve. Since I deal with the human figure in most of my work, I try to impart or convey something that projects personality or, at least, mood. I have set out to create a “painting” that will communicate with someone. Perhaps a sense of joy, sorrow, exuberance or quietude. If and when this happens, when someone also looks at my work and sees or feels any of the communication, then I have created a piece of ART!