What is Saltwater Batik?

February 6, 2018




People often ask me, “So, just what is saltwater batik??” To answer that question, let's start with an even more basic one, “What is batik?” Simply, it's an ancient Indonesian art form that uses vibrant dyes and a hot wax resist to create bright designs on fabric. It's also addictive!


Many of us got our first taste of batik in our college days. How could such a simple process, requiring no more than a candle, an old t-shirt, and a Crayola watercolor set, produce such splendid results? Once I became a mom years later and began setting up art projects for my kids, the memories of my fascination with batik resurfaced. Our simple experiments were great fun and would serve to tide me over throughout their childhood years.


However, I couldn’t have predicted that once I moved to Florida in 2016, my fascination for batik would flourish. Inspired by daily prayer walks along the shore, I began dreaming of painting at the beach. Wouldn't it be fun, I imagined, to try some inspired plein air painting? And what if I could absorb this divine inspiration into each artwork as a blessing for the person who would receive it? So, on the first attempt, not sure how all this was going to play out, I resolved to take only a few supplies with me. The smallest things I had on hand were the remnants of my girls' watercolor set, a scrap of an old cotton sheet, and the salt grinder. I raced off to the beach, eager to see what would happen.


First step was sketching the outline of a simple design on the fabric, then giving it a dip in the surf. Surprisingly, the fabric felt changed when it emerged--somehow with added texture, as an effect of the sea salt. As I began to apply strokes of paint to the fabric, the colors swirled and streaked with a mind of their own. I cranked a few twists from the sea salt grinder over the surface and watched the tiny pellets glisten in the sun before dissolving. How intriguing to watch the watercolors being changed by the salt.


All at once I fell in love with this new process! I raced home and spread my fabric scroll out to dry in the sun. Next came a layer of melted wax applied to areas where I wanted to preserve the color, followed by another round of paint, salt water and sea salt…then more time to dry in the sun …followed by another layer of wax…repeating these steps until the image was complete.


To finish the process, I removed the wax by ironing the painting several times between sheets of newspaper. And voila, the result was a beautiful saltwater batik!




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