Each year when I ask my parents what they’d like for their birthdays, they simply ask for a handmade card. Touching as this might be, at the age of 28 I like to think I’m a bit beyond the small gift of homemade card, and so I always buy a present as well.
This year, for my mum’s birthday, I decided to do one better and instead of a card, I decided to make her a gift instead.
My mum really wanted to come and visit us while we were in Bali but unfortunately it didn’t work out. One of the things I’d planned for us to do was a batik making class. My mum is really into art and craft, and aside from being a computer programmer and business analyst (and therefore very good with numbers) she is one of those annoying people who are also very artistic. Brains and art skills – sheesh!
Dave’s parents and my mum became firm friends years ago after my mum joined their mosaic making adult classes, shortly after Dave and I had just moved to London. Our parents still have a strong friendship to this day and often joke that if Dave and I were ever to break up, they would remain friends!
Batik painting class in Ubud, Bali
But back to the batik painting…
Because mum couldn’t attend the batik painting class with me, Kristin came along and I decided to give my art to my mum for her birthday. I had a friend coming to visit us and I knew she could take the art home with her and give it to my mum as a gift.
I researched online and found Widya’s batik painting class to be highly rated, so we went with that. They didn’t disappoint. For a small fee, we were picked up from our accommodation and taken to their family compound for a full day’s worth of batik painting.
Check out my video of the batik painting class in Ubud below
This history of batik painting
I have always admired beautiful batik painting, but let me tell you, I have a lot more admiration for the art after doing it for a day. It is an intensely long process, and I will never scoff at the high price of this art when it’s on sale. The amount of work that goes into producing one piece is astounding.
Batik painting actually originates from Java, even though it can be found all over Bali. The family teaching us were originally from Java and the master of batik painting, Widya, has been fine-tuning his craft for decades.
Watching him at work, as Widya skilfully dripped the wax over his cotton canvas, I could soon see that we’d come to the right place to learn.
Creating the sketch
First up, we had to choose our designs. I went for a beautiful and intricate patterned design, chosen from the pile of carefully drawn out pictures. Kristin decided to draw her own and swiftly got to work at sketching out her piece.
Next, we had to trace our design on to the cotton. You could also choose silk as your material of choice, although this is understandably more expensive and also a more difficult canvas to work with.
Outlining the design with wax
Outlining the design with wax is the most difficult – and dangerous – part of the whole batik painting process. Dipping your pen-like instrument, called a canting, into the hot wax, you allow the substance to drip onto the cotton as you trace over your design.
The canting is a wooden handle with a copper reservoir attached to the end. The wax goes into this top part of the implement and runs out through a brass nip at the top.
If you don’t hold the canting correctly, you can accidently drip hot wax down your hand which is painful. I know first-hand because as the clumsy person I am, this is exactly what I did. I’m still baring the scar a month later!
Kristin and I practised drawing with the wax on a cotton surface, while our helpers sneakily took our art and outlined it for us. At first I was a little disappointed, as I would’ve liked to have done it ourselves. But after I saw how long it took and how messy my practise runs were, I was glad the teachers were there to help.
Stamping the border of our designs
Once the wax outlines had been completed, we could choose from a range of stamps to finish off the edge of our designs.
Batik tulis is the name given to these stamps, which were made by a local ironmonger although designed by Widya himself.
To stamp the border, we pushed our batik tulis on to a plate of wax which was covered in soft fabric. The wax latched on to the stamp and then we pushed the stamp on to our design’s border, creating a repeated print on the edge of our artwork.
Painting our designs
The next part of the batik painting process is the actual painting. There were a number of colours to choose from, and all the paints were made from natural products, Widya explained. All the dyes were organic, made from plants, flowers, vegetables and minerals. This is unlike many other batik painting studios, which use artificial colourings and chemically-based dyes.
Instead of using a paintbrush, we were given wooden sticks with tough cotton balls threaded on to the ends. This is the more traditional type of paintbrush used for batik painting.
We had to refer to a colour wheel because the paints look a completely different colour once they are dried. For example, the orange goes on almost transparent but then dries a bright colour.
It was hard to keep track of what colours we’d painted where and often it was a guessing game to get it right. We also had to be careful not to accidently dab some colours outside of the wax outline, as they would run. Being the novices we were, this couldn’t be helped at points, and some of the colours did end up outside of their borders.
Treating our designs in chemicals
In order for the painting to set, we had to wash the design in chemicals, before rinsing it in water, boiling it to remove the chemicals, and rinsing it once again in water.
As the chemicals hit the dyes, it was amazing to see the colours change and pop off the cotton fabric.
Then we stretched out of designs over a wooden holder and waited for them to dry in the sun. As the UV hit the fabrics, the colour of the dyes came out even more.
The final result – a pretty batik painting design!
We were happy to pose with our batik painting designs once they were completed. We’d obviously chosen colours we liked as our clothing matched our designs.
I sent the present home to my mum and she was thrilled. Next time I hope she can join me for the class.
Have you ever done a batik painting class?
What you need to know:
Cost: The class was an absolute bargain at IDR350,000 (AUS$35) for the whole day. We were there from 10am to 5pm. We gave them a good tip to counterbalance the ridiculously cheap price. They also serve a cheap Balinese lunch that you can buy while you’re there.
When to go: The studio is open daily. Simply email Widya through his website and book in your class. You can organise it as late as the day before.
How to get there: Widya will organise transport from your hotel and back, and this is included in the price. Widya’s family compound is located in a village called Tegallantang, one and a half kilometres north of the centre of Ubud.