Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hot Wax!

After one failed attempt a week-and-a-half ago, today I had a small success! This is the first batik I have done in 30 years.
I thought, originally, that I might like to do batiks of constellations, and my first was going to be Orion. But woe to the artist who sets out to do such work as this with only half the proper tools, and a couple of kids breathing down her neck while she tries to get down to business! Poor Orion was such an epic fail, I decided against wasting good dye on the less-than-stellar results and put the piece away.
In the interim, I ordered a hot plate and a Bunsen burner. In order to get the best results, the wax has to be really hot. Once it's removed from the pot, it begins to cool down, and there's nothing like the intense open flame of a Bunsen burner to keep the wax at the best possible consistency. And all these things must be in close proximity the the piece being worked on.
I found a French tjanting on eBay, just like the ones I used in high school when working on my Perseus and Medusa piece, and with the proper heating sources at hand, it works like a dream, just like I remember from 30 years ago.
I didn't want to waste a fresh piece of fabric on an experiment, and figured that if today's piece came out as blobby and gross as Orion did I wouldn't have lost much. I just needed to practice and get a feel for the technique again. So, I took Orion and ironed the wax out of the fabric as best I could and started drawing freehand on the less-than-perfect piece of cloth with my tjanting. I'm pleased with the result.
I've just boiled the wax out, did a final wash/rinse, and pressed the piece. (Pics of this piece, sans wax, will be posted when it's dry. For something that began with a "ruined" piece of fabric, this came out really well!)

And despite the fact that this was supposed to be a totally random, abstract piece, I seem to have depicted a face! I have no idea how this happened, but -- can you see it?

Another inspiration subconsciously given by Grant, I think, though it didn't occur to me until well after the fact. "Hot Wax" planted a seed and got me considering batik again, in a roundabout sort of way.

A great deal of "hot wax" gets used in the creation of batiks. It is applied to the fabric, hot and liquid, and permeates the fibers, cools and solidifies, and "resists" the dye when it goes into the vat. All the white areas were painted with hot wax, and stayed white while the dye settled on the unwaxed places. But wax being wax, it cracks when you stuff the piece into the dye bucket, and a little bit gets through, and creates fine lines of color in the white areas. Just enough to enhance the look of the finished piece, and give it that characteristic "crackled" look.

I'm looking forward to doing more of these, and think, quite by accident, that I have hit upon a style that suits me better than trying to depict constellations! Happy, happy, joy, joy!!!!!!

Saturday, July 03, 2010


I made this thirty years ago, in my high school crafts class. It's a batik, and it took months of my life to do. The picture I copied, Perseus with Medusa's head, is an obscure Aubrey Beardsley drawing I found in a volume of his works I had taken out from the local library. It was a rough sketch he never completed, if I recall correctly, so reproducing it in clear black and white was a challenge, to say the least. I spent several days just inking in the outline I had traced, using a projection from an opaque projector. I taped a large piece of white paper on a wall and traced the whole thing, every single detail, with a pencil. Then, over the course of a very long week, I traced the outline again, with a pen and India Ink, and then I filled in the shapes. Only then was I ready to lay the muslin fabric down and begin waxing. The first waxing took weeks. Everything that was not supposed to be red had to be waxed very carefully, by hand, with a quirky little tool called a tjanting. It had a brass bowl which I filled with liquid wax, and a narrow tube through which the wax flowed. There was one with a somewhat wider tube for less fussy areas, and one with a narrow tube for the detailed areas. And of course, the wax in the bowl would begin to solidify as I worked, so I had a bunsen burner handy at all times, to reheat what wax was already in the tool as I went along. Big pots of wax were always hot and ready on electric burner units, so I could just refill the tool as often as I needed to. It took an awful lot of wax.
Once I completed the first waxing, I put the whole thing in a cold dyebath. We didn't have a real lot of colors to choose from, and I don't remember exactly why I chose this vivid red, but I still really like it a lot. Once the piece was done, I didn't like it being just red and white, so the teacher and I discussed it, and since there was still time to do it, I opted for a second waxing, and a second dyeing. The waxing went faster this time around, because I was covering larger areas and not much in the way of fussy detail. The faded-denim blue I chose for the background was really the only suitable color option I had. I wasn't sure how well I would like it at the time, but it worked, much to my relief.
I always thought it was nice and creepy, the way Medusa's eye is totally blank.

I'm still really pleased, thirty years later, with the attention I paid to every detail. It was not an easy thing to do. Needless to say, I did get an A for the piece, and it was on display in a glass case outside the school cafeteria for a few weeks. A friend offered me fifty bucks for it -- a staggering amount to an 18-year-old back in 1980 -- but I declined the offer. I had put too much time into it. Too much of myself. Fifty dollars, as princely a sum as that was at the time, seemed too little for all the work I had done. And I really wanted to keep the piece. So, I did.

All these years, it has been folded up and stored in a drawer, because no one but me liked it. Too grisly and morbid for everyone's taste.

Now, I have a room of my own, were I like to hang out and work. Sometimes, it's knitting and spinning. Sometimes, it's writing. Sometimes, it's playing my guitar and singing. Sometimes, it's drumming. But it's my room, and the color of the walls comes very close to the red I chose for the batik all those years ago. It works in this space, the way it never worked in any other space. It feels very good indeed to see it again, and know I'll be seeing it for a long time to come.

And who knows? I enjoyed the process so much when I did this piece. Maybe someday I will do another...