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Learn to Draw > Batik designs

So far our cartoons have been made from a sketch, either in black or colors, using pencil or brush. For batik it is worth trying the method used by professional workers in many branches of applied art and one very suitable for sgraffito as well: the lines and surfaces of the design are cut out of colored paper and assembled. Whether this is first done directly full scale or smaller is a matter of patience. It should be remembered that small drafts are the best way of learning to make broad effects.

For the sake of simplicity we will assume here that we are working straight away with a full size cartoon. For simple batik the design is drawn against a single background color. Even if this is not what we have in mind we start by covering a sheet of drawing paper, rather larger than the format of the batik, with opaque color corresponding to the dominant color of the design. It would, of course, be more convenient to use ready-colored paper, but it can be bought only in a few primitive colors which hardly ever coincide with textile dyes, and furthermore the always rather irregular application of color by hand gives the work more character and personality. This sheet of paper is fixed to the drawing board to dry flat, and the same thing is done with other pieces of paper which we color according to the dyes to be used.

The background paper is cut to exactly the size of the batik and stuck onto a firm underlay. The design is sketched on it in white chalk, which can be easily wiped off, and the larger areas of the design are rapidly sketched onto the appropriately colored paper and cut out and laid on the background. The pieces can be cut out very roughly to begin with, as it is quite unnecessary to go into detail at this stage, and it will be easy to trim the pieces or replace them later.

The more freely the work is done at this stage the more spontaneous will be the final effect of the design when it is carried out. It may make the arrangement of the pieces easier if they are colored on both sides; they will not curl up, and the scraps can be more easily used. Once the general arrangement of the primary shapes and colors is roughly what is wanted, they can be lightly pasted on the background so that they can be quite easily taken off but do not move at every touch.

Design prepared with colored adhesive paper. Intended for four tones, or for only three if the shadows on the red background are obtained by superimposing blue. Some imprecision arises from the wax stopping-out process

If the student finds it disturbing that the edges of his cutouts do not lie flat he can cover the whole composition with a sheet of glass. This gives the design finality and makes it possible to consider it from a critical distance. Then the composition can be improved by trimming the shapes and moving them about, and we can try cutting out thin lines, not necessarily all in one piece. This is better than painting the lines in. The cutout edges are needed to give their stark quality to the whole design, and should not be diluted with drawn-in elements, whose softening effect might be unconsciously transferred to the final execution.

Once the design is to our liking, we stick the different pieces down firmly and decide on the best sequence for the dyeing; light and pale colors are done first. For each dip we make a separate drawing on' tracing paper. This is much simpler than trying to trace the outlines from a single drawing onto the cloth before each dip. The tracing is done with the blue used for embroidery transfers, which washes out very easily. If we have to trace onto dark patches, we can spread chalk powder over the back of the tracing paper.

A design coming right to the edge of the cloth produces an unfinished look, as if the piece had been cut out of a larger work. A frame around the edges looks better, made either by leaving a strip uncovered all around at each dip so that it is colored with every dye, or else letting the design run away unmistakably at the edge into the background color. A batik of any pretensions can hardly have any other purpose than a wall hanging, and the theme and style should be appropriate.

Applying batik wax

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