Adventures in Batik Painting

I never thought I would say this but I have grown to love a number of things about living in Kemaman. In fact, bustling Kuala Lumpur, which used to offer me tantalizing promises of saving me from dusty, backwards little Kemaman has lost its mighty appeal and I’ve deferred to enjoying the relaxed (albeit sometimes too relaxed) vibe about this place.  Being here has forced me to grow in ways I would otherwise never had to in a comfortable, close-to-home environment and what is life without growth anyway?! Stagnant. And boring.

However, as career options are null for me here in Kemaman, many people wonder what I do with my time and surprisingly, I hardly ever find myself wiling my hours away feeling bored, as most seem to imagine. I’m not sure exactly what I do with all of my hours but somehow, they pass without me staring at the clock on the wall, or watching marathons of Master Chef Australia – those days are soo over. Yes, I would rather be working as an active Art Therapist again but I’ve learned to accept where I am and the limitations that come with it, for now. As I said before, art has been something I’ve been wanting to reconnect with for a while now and although I’ve always gravitated towards my paintbrushes and canvases when I need to reignite that passion, I’ve been focusing on a new type of art-making lately: batik painting.

Especially popular on the east coast of Malaysia, batik is a form of textile painting that involves wax resistance dying on fabric. Originating in Indonesia, batik painting is common practice in many parts of Asia and is now becoming a very popular art form internationally as well. In Cherating Beach, which is a popular beachside village among backpackers and surfers, located in the neighbouring state of Pahang, there is a charming little batik centre run by a lovely husband and wife team that have become more like family to me. Umi, who is originally from Indonesia, is more than just my batik teacher – she is a dear friend, one that I regularly look forward to spending time with. Always with a positive attitude, a smile, and endless patience, Umi is an excellent teacher who has been incredibly helpful in learning the art of batik as both she and her husband, are talented and creative artists as well as just extremely warm hearted, down-to-earth individuals. Some days, I can’t figure out if I go there for the art or their awesome vibe.

photo 1 Limbong Art, Cherating Beach, Pahang

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During peak tourist seasons, Limbong Art is a great place to meet travellers from around the globe.

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The first step to starting a batik painting is to sketch out your idea on a piece white cotton stretched over a wood frame. Oh but first you have to think of something and it better be knock-your-socks-off amazing. The pressure is on.

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Perhaps the trickiest step for me was learning how to use the heated wax with the “canting” (hand wax applicator) and do this without a) burning layers of skin off my hands b) keeping my lines steady c) avoid spilling wax on my artwork. I failed all 3 goals, however the wax seems to accidentally drop on the fabric in perfectly round dots, leading to more dots – some accidental, some purposeful (which is to make the accidental seem purposeful). My high school art teacher used to refer to these mistakes as “happy accidents” and her voice still rings in my ears as I make many of these. Basically, wherever you apply the wax will end up being white as it creates a resistance for the dye to penetrate through.

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My favourite part: using the ink dyes.

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photo 7Let’s say I wanted to create line and design elements that aren’t white. After the colours have dried, I would simply wax on top of the dyed fabric, and then cover with a secondary, darker colour on top. The result after the wax has been boiled off is exposed colour underneath, instead of white fabric.  This is called “layering”, aka ‘magic’.

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My first batik is ready for the final boiling and fixing process in which the fabric is taken off the stretcher, the wax is boiled off, and the colours are “fixed” so that they don’t bleed. Notice that I sprinkled some salt in the middle of my peacock feathers, which gives it a cool sponge-like effect.

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And here is the final product. I wasn’t ecstatic over it, but I didn’t have high hopes for my first piece as it was more about learning the technique than anything else. I didn’t know this at the time but the fixing process can really take down the intensity of the colours many notches so if possible, go for darker colours when painting your batik.  This is assuming you’re trying to figure out how you can make you’re own as you read this – I hope I’ve tempted you to try!

Did I mention that I love this place?!

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