Bali: The Art Of Batik

Lauren Razavi learns the Indonesian craft of batik with local artists in Ubud, Bali.

The WS Art Studio, situated just over a mile outside the village of Ubud, is a modest-looking structure from the outside. My perceptions change as I step through the archway entrance and wander down a narrow garden path towards a gift shop full of colorful batik linens, handcrafted silverware and wooden sculptures.

Owned and run by Ayu, an accomplished craftswoman, the studio has earned itself a solid reputation over the past few years and is commended for its workshops taught by local artists. While I wait for Ayu to arrive, I lounge on an enormous cushion and feast on a platter of hot tea, deep-fried banana chunks and palm sugar. Sitting just a few feet from the palm-lined rice fields, I watch children in the distance flying kites — observing them is a relaxing way to pass the time.

I’ve traveled to Ubud to learn about the ancient Indonesian folk art of batik — a process of dyeing patterns and colors onto fabric, using a mix of natural ingredients. In 2009, Indonesian batik was awarded the UNESCO title of “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”. Although the practice is common across the globe today, batik is said to have originated from the Indonesian island of Java.

It doesn’t take long for Ayu, a smiley woman in her thirties, to arrive. After exchanging pleasantries, we get started. Our tools are laid out before us: a simple piece of cloth, a pen-like instrument known as a canting, two pots of beeswax set over a flame and six jars of colored dyes. With a steady hand, Ayu uses the canting to paint wax onto the fabric, tracing over the penciled outline of a flower petal. It seems she’s had some practice over the years.

She hands the canting to me, offering a quick explanation of how to refill its wax reservoir. My own attempt at drawing isn’t quite so successful; I dribble a shaky line down the flower’s stem and watch a few drops run outside of the sketched design.

“Don’t worry!” Ayu says cheerfully. “All better later on!” I can’t help but admire her optimism.

After coating every pencil line, I’m instructed to switch to second pot of wax for covering the background of the image. This one is of poorer quality, Ayu tells me, and will react differently with the water and dye to achieve the desired effect.

Now it’s time to apply color — the part I’ve been looking forward to the most. I dab at the material with various shades of purple, yellow and green, and the flower soon begins to take on a livelier form.

Having colored the image, the next step is to wash the fabric in buckets — first in cold water, then in dye to imprint the background color (I choose dark pink) and finally in hot water to remove the dried wax. The fabric is left to dry in the sun and, 30 minutes later, my batik is complete. It looks a little shabby-chic but the flower’s detail has come out well. It’ll make for a fabulous memento of an afternoon spent in the serenity of rural Bali.

Originally published by Worldwide Destination Guide. Image above by Tun (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

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