what is batik?
Batik is a wax-resist technique of painting on fabric that was first used in Indonesia many centuries ago.
Buffy Robinson, one of Britain’s major Batik artists, uses this traditional and ancient technique in her own recognisable style, capturing many aspects of English country life, architecture, wildlife and her other great passion – Venice.
These stages are in themselves quite simple, but the skill comes not only in the intricate waxing, but in the complicated colour work. Each successive colour is placed on top of, and thus is altered by, the one before.
First Buffy draws the outline of the picture on a piece of fine Egyptian cotton cloth, usually white. The areas of the design that are intended to remain white are covered with a thin layer of hot wax, either with a tjanting – a traditional Batik wax pen – or a brush.
The fabric is then dyed a different colour. The areas that are covered with wax naturally resist the dye, retaining the colour underneath.
This process is repeated as many as eight times in a single picture – waxing then dyeing using different, and progressively darker, colours.
Buffy has a collection of well over 50 hand-mixed dyes to pick from.
The picture is gradually built up colour by colour, protected under the wax. Throughout the process, Buffy carefully cracks the wax in some areas to allow subsequent colours to seep through to create the delicate tracery of fine lines that is so characteristic of Batik.
When all the colours have been applied, most of the wax is removed by scraping and ironing, but a certain amount remains in the fibres of the fabric, giving Buffy’s Batik paintings their translucence and richness of colour when back-lit.
How to do Batik
Buffy’s step-by-step guide
STEP ONE First I make a simple line drawing from a photo I took of my beautiful border collie, Charlie and I transfer it in pencil to a piece of white cotton cloth (I use fine Egyptian cotton).
STEP TWO Using hot wax, I protect the parts of the design that I want to keep white and dye the whole cloth grey. The wax acts as a resist to the dyes.
STEP THREE Now I wax in all the stones of the drystone wall to protect them from the subsequent dye.
STEP FOUR I then dye the whole cloth green, for the grass. In Batik, each colour goes on top of the one before and so is altered by the colour underneath. At this stage even the dog is green.
Working out your colour sequence is the tricky bit but for this example I have purposely chosen to use a simple sequence of only three colours – grey, green and black.
With the grass waxed, the cloth is now almost entirely covered. Only the dog and the gaps between the stones remain unwaxed.
STEP FIVE The last dye colour, black, can only take to the parts of the cloth without wax. I crack the wax on the grass area to let the black dye go into the fine cracks, creating a marbling effect which is so characteristic of Batik.
Later, I crack the wax of the sky and work blue dye into the fine cracks for added texture.
STEP SIX Most of the wax is now scraped off and the rest is ironed between sheets of absorbent paper. The heat of the iron ‘fixes’ the dyes and the wax which has penetrated the cloth makes the finished painting translucent, like stained glass.
Back-lighting the finished work brings out the vibrancy and depth of colour enhanced by the wax.
This simple one of Charlie has only three colours but some of the work I do can have up to eight, each one affecting the next. The colours must graduate from light to dark evenly, although sometimes I change the hue but not darkness in a ‘sideways’ move. It’s the colour work in Batik that is the clever bit. The waxing just requires a lot of concentration (if you miss a bit, you can’t go back) and an understanding of the medium.