Apr 19, 2012

Lesson 2: Tools of the Trade

You may have read a book about batik that tells you about the Indian Javanese tjap (cap) and the tjanting (canting). Truly the most important tools of batik, but not by far the only ones for the painterly batiks my group has been doing. While we have only been using these tools thus far, some of us are beginning to experiment with new tools and techniques. But first, the basics.

Tjantings (A-C) are pen-like tools that have metal reservoirs, whose job is to hold and keep the melted wax hot. The wax flows through a tiny spout, some straight (A & C) and some curved (B). The wax flow depends on the angle you hold it and the shape and the size of the spout.

Tjanting A is an inexpensive commercial wax pen with a straight spout. The problem with this one is that the straight spout releases the wax too quickly with little control. I've tried flattening the spout with pliers to some benefit, but though it is usable, it is not one I recommend.

Tjantings B have copper reservoirs that retain the heat longer than other metals and curved spouts that allow for greater control of the wax flow. Spout size is measured in millimeters. The size our group uses most often is 1 to 1.5 millimeters and maybe 2 millimeters to fill in larger areas. These tjantings were purchased from Dharma Trading Company, a company who offers a large variety of high quality batik supplies.

Tjanting C is actually used for the process of waxing Ukrainian Easter eggs. While the wax cools very quickly compared to the others, the diameter of the spout is extremely tiny and produces very fine hairs of wax.

Tool D is a tjap, a copper stamp commonly used in the production of repeated patterns in Indian saris. Tjaps usually come in a negative and a positive form, one stamped on the front and the other stamped on the reverse of the fabric to reinforce the resist. Tjaps tend to be expensive and difficult to find as many of them are antiques. Although this tjap is old, it is new to me and as yet, still unused. It is too large for my wax pots, which means I will have to invest in a flat heated skillet.

Natural hair brushes (not synthetic, which melt) are used to fill in large areas of wax resist (while hot) or to add texture (while cooling). The brush does not keep the wax hot for long, so as it cools, the stroke of the brush becomes more apparent. It needs to be heated more frequently than the tjantings. One brush technique I hope to try soon is using the thicker brush shown and striking it against a hard object to create a spatter effect. Totally Jackson Pollack. You can even make forms from sticky frisket to block out shapes and let the spatter define the shape.

Brushes of various sizes are also important for the application of thickened dyes, either in large blocks of color or very painterly like Grasshopper Dana's truly realistic heart! Fantastically ghoulish!

Tools F through H are "freelance" tools, household metal items that retain the heat and create different effects. The pot scrubby (F) can be used for fur, the eye dropper (G) for rough pointillism, and cookie cutters (H) for whimsy.

I've have even carved stamps out of potatoes (which eventually cook) for the background of the Halby Hives logo to the left and floral foam, which is easy to carve but eventually breaks down. There are no limits to the tools you can use. Some work. Some fail. But all of them are a fun process of learning through trial and error.

I've tried many different wax pots with much frustration. Problems with consistency of temperature always seems to be the predominant issue. You do not want to experience change in wax flow when you are deep into a batik. The small wax tray to the left was sufficient for myself alone (another Dharma purchase), but I found that it had to be placed on the highest heat setting. Even better is a simple crock pot, 1 quart is best or 2 to 3 quarts for the many hands reaching into the same pot during batik Fridays.

Lastly is the all important frame that stretches the fabric taut and suspends the fabric above your work surface, preventing dye contamination or bleeding wax. I have used anything and everything for a frame, including paper boxes and egg cartons.

My first major frame purchase was Frame 1, a wooden frame with slots that made it adjustable to your fabric size. While good in theory, the frame agonizingly fell to pieces with consistent regularity.

A better option is to purchase different size stretcher bars for canvases. These can be assembled and disassembled to fit your project. The major problem with wood though is that it soaks up the dye and is a risk of contamination to your fabric.

Plastic options are available in Frames 3 & 4, though Frame 3 severely limits the size and shape of your batik. My favorite frame by far is Frame 4, purchased from ProChemical & Dye. The plastic frame is adjustable and has sharp claws that snag and hold the fabric. The only down side is its large, cumbersome size that dominates our Friday night table space.

Don't feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the quantity of tools. Simply start with a tjanting, a crockpot, and a box. That is all you need. The rest will come along when your skills and confidence emerge. Batik is only a game that you win with practice.

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