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...


Alison said...

That is a fabulous piece of work. I am very glad you hung on to it--inspiration sometimes comes from ourselves as well as outside ourselves.

--AlisonH at

Knitman said...

How impressive! Excellent Paula.
I have changed to an iMac and no longer have your email.
apso at tantra-apso dot com