What we learned about relationships through the art of batik

We learned a lot about relationships while making batik in Ubud.

“It’s the kind of activity that requires mental endurance,” said Gabi to our guide as we gave him a review of the activity he had arranged.

Gabi had a difficult time concentrating for the four hours it took her to create her batik at Widya’s Batik Class in Tagalalang village, Ubud.

Widya is a master batik painter, first practising his art in his home in Java 25 years ago before moving to Bali. He has lived here since, with his extended family and apprentices his nephew in the patient art of batik making.

We wanted to do something together, and making batik in Bali seemed a great choice.

The design is created on paper, which is placed under a thin cotton sheet and traced with a pencil. The cloth is stretched over a wooden frame and traced over with hot wax.

A batik maker tracing over a design with hot wax.

It’s about patience

The hot wax is melted over a fire and a bamboo implement with a spout made of brass at the end to deliver the hot wax onto the cloth. It was slow work. First, you had to hold the bamboo applicator at 45 degrees to regulate the wax  evenly as you traced your design. Too low an angle and the wax would run out and clot, ruining lines. Too steep an angle and the wax jumps out of the applicator and burns your hand.

We got ‘practice designs’ so we could learn how to apply both wax and paint.

It requires focus and you learn as you go

When the practice design was finished, we were ready to paint our designs. The painting also required focus and patience. The batik paints are watery, applied with a stick of bamboo or a sponge brush. The paints tended to spread on the fabric, so if you applied too much and did not account for the spread, the paint would bleed over outside of the lines. Batik is a painting process that requires you’d have had to learn how to color within the lines in kindergarten.

Also, the colors in the green and blue spectrum don’t show up as green or blue. Green shows up as a kind of maroon, and blue shows up as very light gray. The real colors in this part of the color spectrum of batik paint only show up when it is fixed in a hydro-chloric and water mixture. So you have to imagine the combination as it would be in the finished product.

Gabi's work
Gabi’s practice batik.

Mistakes add to the learning

Gabi was frustrated that she became impatient in the middle of painting, and in a moment of rushing, applied too much paint to one of the petals of her mandala. The color bled over the wax lines and spread into an area that wasn’t supposed to be that color. She was initially upset, and the apprentice helped her correct the error. She later told me, “This is an interdependent thing, I couldn’t have endured it without help.”

When I painted over the large surface that was to be water surrounding a lotus, I applied the blue in a back-and-forth motion. That was a mistake. I was supposed to paint in one direction. The result of my mistake is that the water part of the design looks like it has swirls and eddies. The apprentice said to me, “That’s like water, it fits.” I accepted that as a diplomatic comment, which made the mistakes some kind of serendipitous artistry. (A great phrase for art by accident.)

Later, when the paint was dry, we went to the fixing area. The apprentice soaked the cloth first in the water with hydrochloric acid to fix it, for about a minute. This is the moment when the colors that were ‘hiding’ show up authentically. Greens become brilliant, and the blues appear.

Fixing takes a minute.

After fixing, the cloth is dipped in boiling water to remove the wax. The lines drawn with wax become white outlines in the design.

Then, the cloth is rinsed in water.

Final prodict
Greens and blues hide until the whole process is finished.


Slow down and pay attention to every moment

Batik was a very zen-like activity for us. Being a long process taking over four hours, we had to consciously slow down our movements and pay attention to each moment.

What we learned about relationships while we created our batik is that the art of creating something beautiful asks for patience, endurance, tolerance for mistakes, perseverance, and complete attentions. The creation of something creative, like the building of relationships, requires a union of hands, heart and mind. As in relationships, when your intentions align with how you act, feel and think, your choices create a harmony that shows up in the results.

Widya’s Batik Class
Location: Tagalantang Village, Ubud
Recommendation: for couples who want to refresh patience, together



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