So, in addition to this high-profile day job i have as a professional costumer (ha), i am also a writer
--not only of labricoleuse
, but of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. (That's right, i even have a Goodreads Author Page
to prove it!) This project i'll be writing up in two parts is kind of a crossover of sorts; bear with me.
Most of what i have published so far has been short-form work--essays, short stories, short memoir--in journals, magazines, and anthologies. The obvious exception to this, especially for readers of this blog, is my parasol textbook
(which BTW remains on sale at 30% off throughout this month
, in observance of the blog's anniversary).
Upon finishing my masters in creative writing, i began to pursue traditional publication of long-form work, specifically a novel. And, that's moving along--i'm represented by the excellent literary agent Jonathan Lyons of Curtis Brown, Ltd.
, and my novel, The Decadence Papers
, is out on submission. Yay! And cross your fingers. And bear with me here, beause i swear this gets around to batik, and includes process pictures.
A writer spends a lot of time with the characters of a novel. I mean, a LOT. Honestly, when i was revising the manuscript of The Decadence Papers
before seeking an agent, i spent at least two hours a day and sometimes up to eight or ten on weekends for a six-month stretch with the manuscript--rewrites, revisions, reading, talking to my fellow writers and friends and family about it (those who'd read it). The characters became like coworkers in a second job, which i guess they kind of are, except, you know, they're fictional constructs. But, point being, you spend 20-30 hours a week thinking about something, and if you operate within an artistic brain, you extrapolate from the written word to visual art concepts.
So, this batik project began with a Pinterest board
, where i had begun to collect images that were somehow evocative of the mood of the novel (which--as is obvious if you click through--centers around an underground nightclub full of goths, drag queens, club kids, punks, artists, and other assorted flamboyant folk). It helped with getting into a mindset when revising since, though i did work in clubs just like the one in the novel back in the 90s, i don't now. ANYWAY.
On my Pinterest moodboard i had pinned (among 293874 other images) this one watercolor that i just loved, I Love You I Hate You by Alessandro Andreuccetti
. And the more i looked at that piece, the more i wanted to do my own reinterpretation of it, not in watercolor (which is a medium i don't enjoy working in and am not terribly skilled at) but as a batik.
Let me be clear here: I didn't want to make a copy of the original--if i wanted that, i could have bought a print of it from the artist for much less time and effort and i would have, because i believe that artists deserve to be paid for their work by people who want to own it, and he sells prints of that piece. I realize that i am preaching to the choir about that among regular readers here, but still, it bears saying. Art doesn't come easy and we shouldn't feel that it comes free.
But point being, i'm giving credit where it's due here--to the inspiration--but i am writing about making my batik, which in its finished form is very different from the watercolor which inspired it.
What i loved most about the Andreuccetti piece was the positioning/framing of the subjects and the way he allowed the paint to form its own blended colors in a way that appears serendipitous--but i wanted my batik to be of the faces of two of my novel's characters as i imagined them, and to explore the medium of batik in ways that batik works best. I wanted to layer dyes over one another to get unexpected colors, to wax out areas and dye back into the cracked wax, etc.
The first thing i did, i didn't photograph (because it was ugly, and because i forgot) and that was a sample batik to scale using the dyes we had left over from my dye class. This is all done with fiber reactive dyes on Kona cotton, and those things have a shelf life once mixed into solution. I figured, i always screw stuff up the first time i do something and so i might as well use those up on a test run, just to decide things like in what order i wanted to apply the wax to different sections, what colors i would use where, etc., because i did want to work with primaries--reds/yellows/blues--and let those create the secondaries. I learned a lot from that first test-run, used up my old dyes, made a truly ugly version of this, and hid it in a drawer. So what i'm about to show you is the second version. Just know that i did it once already, and that my best advice on this kind of thing is to plan to do it at least twice before you get something you're pleased with.
For that first one, i had drawn out my layout map with a sharpie on white paper and traced it into a square yard of cotton with a 6B pencil (because a 6B will launder out in the wash), so for the second one, i took that same template drawing and traced it onto a new piece of cotton. I don't have a photo of this--i assume you have traced something before. Then i stretched the fabric onto a wooden frame.
It looked like this, basically 3' square. Trust me, there's a pencil outline of my figures on there. At the top left, you can also see a strip of the cotton i prepped (laundered) along with the stretched stuff to do dye samples, because for the real one, i wanted to pick my own colors and not just use the rando dyes left over from my dye class students.
Dye tests: complete! I used this as a key to decide which colors to use where. I worked with skintones and primaries, mostly, as you can see here. So remember when you see the end result, all secondaries are created in the dye process with layering. This piece had also been stretched on a little frame when i did the tests BTW, and i'm not going to write up the process for mixing fiber reactive dyes since those are easily found on the websites of places that sell them, like Prochemical
Here's what you see: white streaks in the hair of the bottom figure have been painted with liquid soy wax. You always start with the lightest value in batik and work toward the darkest, so anything that stays white get waxed first, Then once that wax cooled, the entire surface was saturated with a soda ash solution ("chemical water" in some parlance). Then i used some of my dyes to paint in the lightest skintone values. The upper figure is darker-complected, but because those two faces don't touch or overlap, i was able to do both at once, knowing that there would be a lot more overdyeing there in the space between the faces. So, this is with one pass of wax, one pass of dyes in a couple different saturations/shades, painted kind of like watercolor, but not.
This shows the scale of this piece on my work table. Those jars in the back are my dye solutions, and you'll note that the frame is up on canister supports, because if it just sat right on the table, the fabric would sag down and touch it and the dyes would bleed around against the surface. Which could be cool in some cases (as we'll see in the second part of this series) but not this one. And, at this stage of the game, you can see that there ahve been a few more applications of wax, darker browns, and yellows.
It's sorta-kinda starting to look like something now. Here we have even more wax and dye layers, the addition of the first blue. I'll stop here with pix and come back to them in the second part.
Batik is a real zen exercise, in that i often waited for an application of dye to completely dry before moving on to the next wax application and the next dye. This means i would spend maybe 15-20 minutes applying wax, then some dye, and then have to come back to it the next day. If i were doing it for a show with a tighter deadline, i could have put a fan on it to dry each layer a bit faster, perhaps doing three or four a day, but still, it's a SLOW process with a lot of downtime. I think i wound up with something like 15 separate applications of dye/wax? And, you kind of have to trust the universe that it won't suck, because you don't see the true colors of how the dyes will turn out until after you remove the wax and wash the thing at the very end.
When i teach this technique, students who have their hearts set on exact color control find it maddening because yeah, you can spend a week working on something only to find out it came out totally different than you planned. I prefer to think of it as an opportunity for happy accidents, and after those initial dye test swatches and the design trace-out, abandon all expectation of control. Dye will always migrate or splash, wax will penetrate in ways you didn't expect, color will saturate or process oddly, and if you are lucky, you'll still get something awesome at the end.
Which i did, and we'll look at the rest of the stages in the next post, including a totally awesome happy accident that occured, which has turned into a technique i want to experiment with in future batiks.