Beautiful Batik Wax-Resist Dyeing of Indonesia

Patchwork Batik

Me sporting a patchwork Indonesian batik shirt in Maui, while showing off groovy facial hair.

Batik is an ancient technique of textile dying whereby wax is used to create a “mask” preventing the dye from penetrating the cloth. This method is used to create patterns of varying complexity, and known more universally as wax-resist dyeing. A batik artist applies color selectively by soaking the cloth in dye, removing the wax with boiling water and repeating the process as much as necessary to achieve the desired result. While found in many countries, it is the batik of Indonesia that’s the most widely known and developed. In 2009 UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) designated Indonesian Batik as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

I visited Indonesia in 1993 and fell in love with the myriad of beautiful batik garments for sale. My wife and I bought so many shirts, sundresses and sari’s during that trip that we needed to purchase a large duffel as well to transport our booty home. When home we realized we had what we now refer to as “vacationhead.” If we weren’t beach lovers, most of these garments would likely have ended up in goodwill by the end of that same year. However our vacationhead didn’t go to waste and we got quite a bit of use out of this clothing. The colorful image at the top of this post features the only of my batik shirts from that very trip that have survived to this day.

Batik artist Henderson Reece signs the "Flying Fish" piece I purchased.

Batik artist Henderson Reece signs the “Flying Fish” piece I purchased.

Batik is also very popular in the Caribbean. Caribelle Batik is the most well-advertised gallery and outfitter with locations in St. Lucia and St. Kitts. They offer artisan tours so you can see beautiful batiks being created. When vacationing in Barbados, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting the studio and workshop of Henderson Reece, an internationally known Batik artist. Once again vacationhead kicked in and we bought one of his pieces. It now resides in our little Mexican vacation getaway. We actually decorated the condo around the vibrant colors of Reece’s batik. So next time you venture to a foreign local keep your eye out for batik (or whatever the local artistic flavor may be), and have yourself a little vacationhead!

Here are two videos documenting the process of making batik artwork. The first shows the traditional Javanese method from Indonesia, and the second is a peek inside Henderson Reece’s studio as he shows the method in detail.

About The Author

Graphic Design & Artist

I’m Ed Ward of Mental Ward Design, and I’m a graphic designer, art director, and production artist. I specialize in image manipulation and graphic design using Photoshop, but I don't stop there. I hold a BFA degree from Rutgers University and have years of experience as a Graphic Designer, Marketing Manager, Art Director and Director of Advertising for companies in the Entertainment, Motorcycle, and Wholesale Travel industries. Since 1998 I’ve devoted my professional efforts to full-time independent graphic design.