TRADITIONAL MALAY BATIK ART WORKSHOP
By Kamila Delart
When I first arrived in Langkawi, among the first purchases I made was a batik painting with bright orange and yellow fish swimming among green watermelons. A focal point of my living room – the beautiful piece of art cheers me up every time I look at it, and is a sure conversation topic whenever friends visit my home.
Usually, we just admire the tropical theme and the vibrant colors, not really giving much thought to the batik art itself. But a few days ago, a visiting European artist came up with all these questions I was unable to answer… Feeling slightly inadequate, I went online the following day, doing a little research on the history and technique of batik. But me being me, that’s not where it ended. After all, the best way to wrap one’s head around a new topic is to try it out first-hand. And so I spontaneously picked up the phone, and booked a batik course at PISANG, Langkawi’s famous HANDICRAFT & ART VILLAGE.
Driving to the art workshop a few days later, I am suddenly not so sure that signing up was one of the brightest ideas I had lately. My last attempt at visual arts goes some 20 years back. And to be honest, having ‘earned’ an A in school arts had less to do with my actual skills and far more with my teacher not having had the heart to ruin my otherwise immaculate report-card.
But it’s too late to change my mind, and so I put on a brave face when entering PISANG: It’s all about the experience not about creating a wining piece of art, right?!
Greeted by Rumi Nakamura, who has founded the legendary Handicraft & Art Village 15 years ago, I am led into an airy art studio. There is a lovely green backyard, the walls are covered with enormous batik paintings, and in the middle of the room are two huge wooden frames fitted with white fabric.
My teacher, Azira, a batik artist of 12 years, hands me a pencil. With an encouraging smile, she points to the blank canvas, telling me to draw any design of my choice. Keeping it safe, I go for abstract. It’s hard to judge inaccuracies if nobody knows what my painting is SUPPOSED to look like? Sticking to wavy lines, the fabric is quickly filled with a pattern that does not look too bad. But now comes the actual batik art!
Azira leads me to a bowl filled with a blend of wax and a sap of a pine tree, heated to a melting point. She hands me ‘canting’ – a traditional batik tool that has on the top a small reservoir for the wax mixture and a pinpoint that allows for a slow and precise release of the golden liquid. Following with a steady hand one of the lines I previously sketched out, she demonstrates how to lead the canting, making it look pretty simple.
And so I give it a try. Well … The practical part proves slightly challenging. No matter how focused I am, my line is not half as smooth and flowing as Azira’s. And as I hesitate for a second, contemplating my second line, a dribble of wax lands on the fabric, creating a major blob. Hmmm… Not really a part of the design as I planned it. But then – don’t they say that some master pieces have been created by coincidence? I am not giving up! (Yet…:-) )
As I practice, my lines get steadier and on a rare occasion close to graceful. Although – if you look at the final piece, you will be able to tell that the right, obviously more beautiful part, was painted by Azira. So I insist on her co-signing our painting.
Now comes the fun part! Coloring 🙂 Azira brings special batik colors in roughly twenty different hues, and I pick my favorites: orange, red, ochre, gold and deep brown – an earthy and yet vibrant palette. Perfectly matching my mood.
With the wax-lines in place, there is a natural barrier preventing the colors from spilling, so I take a brush, go for the rich red, and apply it with a daring stroke to the very middle of the painting. From then on, I am on fire. Intuitively selecting different hues, playing with the ‘shading technique’ Azira showed me, occasionally stepping back to take in the entire composition, adding an accent here and there… It is sooo much fun! Who would have thought.
Not even two hours later, the entire painting is completed. And although I am not tempted to give up my Spa Consultancy career, nor am I ready to abandon my writing in order to become a batik artist :-), I actually like what I see.
And when Rumi mentions that against a small fee she can make out of my painting a table runner or sew a pillow case, I am over the moon! What a lovely idea to turn my very first batik art work into a daily reminder of this fun and creative afternoon. Pillow case it is!
2 hours session / 30×30 cm painting
– 90 RM.
For reservations, call PISANG Handicraft & Art Village:
Tel. 04-955 7730 or 012-332 6606
Should your holidays be too short to participate in the batik workshop, visit the adjacent art shop. Whether you like heliconia, hibiscus or lotus flower motives, or prefer images of exotic butterflies, birds or dragonflies, PISANG carries a wonderful selection of hand-painted batik products from tiny coin purses, through glass cases, handkerchiefs, bags, scarves and pareos to beautiful batik paintings either framed or ready to be rolled up for convenient travel.