Batiking in Bali

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May 26th 2010
Published: May 26th 2010
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Ubud in Bali is a center for the arts. Many of the artists and artisans are happy to have you visit them in their studios, and a number of them also hold classes.

One of these is the batik artist I Nyoman Suradnya. His Nirvana Batik studio is, by happy coincidence, located on Jalan Gautama. (Gautama being the name of the Buddha.) He runs classes that range from one to five days in length, and even the one day class will give you a great deal of experience.

A note about Balinese naming conventions: All Balinese, male and female, are given a birth order name. The first born is Wayan, the second child is Made, the third is named Nyoman, and the fourth is Ketut. If there is a fifth child, the names start over again with Wayan. Men get the prefix I, women the prefix Ni.

The morning that I showed up for my class Nyoman greeted me and said, “You are a very lucky lady. The other two who were supposed to be here this morning cancelled. That means you get a private lesson.”

He invited me to have coffee with him, and as we sat drinking thick, Balinese coffee, this large, calm man smoked cigarettes, talked about philosophy, and told me about some of the colleges and universities where he has taught. His time as artist-in-residence at UCLA was evident when he said, “Chill out, baby, we got time,” as he offering me another cup of coffee.

After giving me an overview of the process, I was sent off with a large piece of white cotton stretched over a frame and told to sketch anything I wanted. This filled me with a certain amount of panic, since I can barely draw a straight line with a ruler. Fortunately, he had many books and photos for inspiration. I found a photograph of two sea turtles that I liked - and thought I might be able to pull off.

After I sketched my turtles - and Nyoman had kindly refined my sketch, turning it into a far better drawing - it was time to start outlining the design with hot beeswax. Beeswax is used because it remains flexible throughout the process.

The outlining is done with an instrument called a tulis, which is a small copper cup with a small spout attached to the end of a short piece of bamboo. The tulis holds about half a tablespoon of hot wax. Work too slowly, and the wax hardens and won’t flow out of the spout. Turn your hand to look at the line you have just drawn, and the hot wax pours out of the cup and makes the blobby mess you see at the top of my turtles. Fortunately, when the wax cools, you can flick it off the cloth with no harm done.

After outlining, the design is painted with dyes, much like a water color painting. You can lighten the color by applying the dye on a wet surface, and you can blend colors. Outlining and painting is by no means a quick process. But you are concentrating so much on what you are doing that the time just flies. Nyoman calls it “meditation in action.”

After the painted dye is dry, it is time to decide which areas of the design you want to have a crackle finish, in which the background dye shows through, and which areas are to be left intact. Intact areas are coated with beeswax, crackle finish areas are coated with a mixture
Outlined in hot waxOutlined in hot waxOutlined in hot wax

Note wax blob at top where I dropped hot wax.
of beeswax and paraffin, which, being less flexible, will crack when crumpled.

After the wax has dried and the appropriate areas have been crumpled to crack the wax, it is off to the dip dye for the background. Then the whole thing goes into a pot of boiling water to remove the wax, dried between sheets of paper, and off you go with a brand new piece of batik. I was as pleased with myself as any kindergartener who comes running home shouting, “Look what I did!”

Possibly useful information:
• The one day class runs from 10:00 am to about 2:00 in the afternoon. You will use every bit of that time.
• Nyoman’s wife serves up a very tasty lunch that is included in the cost of the class. It is classic Balinese food and very good.
• It is most likely that you will be guided through the actual hands-on process by one of Nyoman’s sons or apprentices. They are helpful and patient people.
• Nirvana Batik does not take credit cards. This surprised me because Nyoman has a number of large canvases for sale in his studio, and he and his wife also run a small home stay. Rai, his wife owns several higher end shops in town.

Additional photos below
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27th May 2010

Hey Karen, it looks fantastic! I know you are filling your suitcase with miles of fabric to bring home!

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