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The Art of Batik Printing

Batik - The Art

Originated in India, the art of batik has come a long way from a mere handicraft. The word batik actually means 'wax writing'. It is a way of decorating cloth by covering a part of it with a coat of wax and then dyeing the cloth. The waxed areas keep their original color and when the wax is removed the contrast between the dyed and undyed areas makes the pattern.

In the past, batik was considered as a fitting occupation for aristocratic ladies whose delicately painted designs based on bird and flower motifs were a sign of cultivation and refinement just as fine needlework was for European ladies of similar position.

The beauty of batik lies in its simplicity and the fact that one need not be an artist to achieve results. Some of the best effects in batik are often achieved by chance.

History of Batik

Batik is very often considered a craft like ceramic, pottery or even needlework. Although it is a household word all over the world, batik is still overlooked by art critics who do not consider it an art form. There are several countries known for their batik creations, starting with India where it originated. After that it moved to Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the West.

The history of Indian batik can be traced as far back as 2000 years. Indians were conversant with the resist method of printing designs on cotton fabrics long before any other nation had even tried it. Rice starch, and wax were initially used for printing on fabrics.

India has always been noted for its cotton and dyes. The indigo blue, which is the basic color for batik, is one of the earliest dyes. It is believed that after its initial popularity in the past, the tedious process of dyeing and waxing caused the decline of batik in India till recent times.

Major Centers of Batik

Indonesia apparently took over from India and encouraged the art of batik. With its popularity and success in the western markets, batik became a part of Indonesia.

The revival of batik in India began in the 20th century when it was introduced as a subject at the famous university of Shantiniketan in Calcutta. In the South near Madras, the well-known artist's village of Chola-Mandal is where batik gets an artistic touch. Batik that is produced in Madras is known for its original and vibrant designs.

Indonesia however is considered the cradle of batik with its many designs, which are restricted for different wearers and occasions. Indonesian batik has characters of mystic and ritualistic connection. Objects like flowers, trees, birds have a significant meaning. The Sawat in Javanese batik has its origins in Hindu mythology, as it is the decorative form of Garuda, Lord Vishnu's bird. 'Sidomukti' is another Hindu influence in batik. 'Mukti' means happiness and prosperity in the Hindu mythology. While Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand are known for their block printing (tjab) method to create batik on a large scale, in Sri Lanka batik is still made by hand. Sri Lankan batik is less intricate and more suited to modern times.

Batik in Malaysia is a recent entrant as late as 1913. It has now become a prime economic earner for the country. Kelantan in western Malaysia is the home of Malaysian batik. Since it is a recently acquired art, it has no tradition to fall back on.

In the western countries batik was introduced by the Dutch travelers from Indonesia. Batik is also practiced by some of the African countries like Nigeria.

Process of Batik

The creation of batik is a three stage process of waxing, dyeing and dewaxing (removing the wax). There are also several sub-processes like preparing the cloth, tracing the designs, stretching the cloth on the frame, waxing the area of the cloth that does not need dyeing, preparing the dye, dipping the cloth in dye, boiling the cloth to remove wax and washing the cloth in soap.
The characteristic effects of the batik are the fine cracks that appears in the wax, which allow small amounts of the dye to seep in. It is a feature not possible in any other form of printing. It is very important to achieve the right type of cracks or hairline detail for which the cloth must be crumpled correctly. This requires a lot of practice and patience.

Knowing how to use the wax is of prime importance. The ideal mixture for batik wax is 30 per cent beeswax and 70 per cent paraffin wax. For first timers even the melted wax of a candle is adequate. It is the skillful cracking that is important. While applying, the wax should not be overheated or it will catch fire. Correct knowledge of colors is also important. Practicing on small pieces of cloth helps in the beginning. Patience is of course a very important factor too.

The cloth used should be strong enough to bear the heat and wax. Cambric, poplin and voiles are used besides pure silk. Synthetic fabrics should be avoided. Since ancient times Indians have been known to wear vibrant colors and dyes which were made from barks of trees, leaves, flowers and minerals. Blue was obtained from indigo, while orange and red were from henna. Yellow was from turmeric and lilac and mauve from logwood. Black was created by burning iron in molasses and cochineal from insects.

Since handmade batik is unable to meet with the consumer demands very often the answer is tjaping with a copper block. A tjap is a metal block made of copper strips into the required design after which it is stamped quickly and with great force.

Types and Forms of Batik

Batik is created in several ways. In splash method the wax is splashed or poured onto the cloth. The screen-printing method involves a stencil. The hand painting one is by a Kalamkari pen. The scratch and starch resist are the other methods.

From a handicraft, batik has acquired the status of an art. Batik is a versatile medium that can become an ideal hobby for an amateur or a medium of expression for an artist. Batik as an art form is quite spontaneous and one can open up new vistas of creative form. Until recently batik was made for dresses and tailored garments only but modern batik is livelier and brighter in the form of murals, wall hangings, paintings, household linen, and scarves.

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