Skip to main content


Insider Info

You don't have to have years of practice to create a work of art that is pleasing to the eye. True, art forms like oil painting and sculpting often require years of experience and plenty of talent. But there are many kinds of art that make creative self-expression easy for even the most artistically challenged.

One of these forms is batik, an old method of textile painting that uses wax and dye to make colorful pictures on fabric. If you want to get your hands messy and create a brightly hued image to share with the world, batik can be an exciting way to unlock your creativity.

The word "batik" comes from the Indonesian word "tik," which means to dot. Batik, or wax painting, is a form of fabric art that uses a technique known as negative dyeing.

To create batik, melted wax is first drawn on fabric in a design. The fabric is then dipped into a dye. The wax serves as a "resist," preventing the dye from coloring the fabric in those areas.

Hand-painted batiks are called tulis. They are considered to be the best quality. A six-foot length of tulis can take up to two months to complete.

In traditional batik, the artist first melts the wax in a small metal pot held over a flame. He or she draws a design on both sides of a piece of fabric with a pencil or charcoal, then tacks the fabric on to a wooden frame. A canting tool, which is like a wooden pen fitted with a reservoir for the hot liquid wax, is used to paint on the designs.

After the designs are outlined in wax, the cloth is dipped in dye. The dye is absorbed by the uncovered parts of the cloth, but is resisted by the waxed design, creating a light pattern on a dark background. Cracks in the wax create a spidery background on the cloth and add to the uniqueness of the designs.

The cloth is then dipped into cold water to harden the wax so it can be scraped off. More wax is applied to other areas of the cloth and the process is repeated until the pattern is complete. This gives the batik intricate designs and rich colors.

Dye can also be painted on to the cloth. This method is easier and faster and is especially good for beginners. It involves fewer steps, and lets you create many variations of color and shades without going through the involved process of repeat dyeing in baths.

With this method, wax is painted on to the portions of the design that are meant to remain white. Dyes of many colors are then painted on to the areas around the wax and allowed to set. The fabric is washed and dried, then the entire design is waxed over. Finally, the background is dyed by immersing the fabric in a dye solution.

People have practiced batik for centuries. The technique has been known in Egypt since the ffth or sixth centuries AD, and is also found in the traditions of China, Africa and Japan. It is usually associated with Indonesia, where wax painting is both an art form and a business.

In Indonesia, tulis are usually made by women. Their batiks often depict flowers, leaves and buds, butterflies, fish and insects. Motifs also show characters from Hindu stories. There are at least 3,000 recorded batik patterns in Indonesian tradition.

Batik is an art in Java (an area of Indonesia), but it's also part of everyday life. "I was born some 60 years ago in Indonesia," says artist Albert Buys. "My grandmother wore a batik sarong and so did the servants, so batik is not strange to me. But I did not pay much attention to the batik art until my later years."

It can be difficult to build a professional career as a batik artist in North America. "It's possible to create a career from batik, but it's not easier than any other visual art," says California artist and teacher Jim Barry. "In the beginning, be happy if sales pay for your expanding stock in fabric, dye and related art materials."

Though it takes time, it is possible to earn a living from textile art. Michigan artist Terri Haugen has worked with batik since she was a teenager. She taught herself how to do batik and now sells her work in galleries and on her Web site. Her batiks have won awards and have appeared on the covers of national and international magazines.

"Batik is the only job I have had," says Haugen. "I built my business and supported my family doing this work." Haugen's dedication has paid off, and she is now considered one of the leading batik artists in America.

Getting Started

Batik can be practiced by anyone who is comfortable using hot wax, is able to use the canting tool and isn't afraid of getting his or her hands messy. Beginners might want to take a class from a professional to acquire the basic techniques. Classes can sometimes be found at community centers or art schools, or through private individuals.

A lucky student might find a working batik artist who is willing to teach him or her. "I had the opportunity to take batik lessons from a Javanese batik painter," says Buys. "I developed my own style and colors using local objects like flowers, native geometric patterns, historical sights and dogs."

It's also possible to learn by buying supplies, getting an instructional book and simply diving into the wax and dye. Unlike oil painting and some other arts, batik is fairly inexpensive. A book for beginners will cost about $10 to $20.

It's best to get going with a starter kit. These usually include an instruction book and all the materials required to make a beginner's project. They cost about $45 and can be found at some art supply and craft stores. Once you have a starter kit, all you need is a double boiler or old electric frying pan to melt the wax, some salt for the vat dyeing, and something to batik.

Batik requires care and patience. If you don't feel safe using heat to melt the wax, batik may not be for you. "I use an electric frying pan to heat the wax, instead of a pot of wax in a pan of boiling water," says Barry. "The water method does not make the wax hot enough to penetrate cloth well. It can be very dangerous."


The Batik Guild


Dharma Trading Company
Introduction to batik

Information on batik and other parts of Indonesian culture

Batik as Art
Learn about this ancient craft

Back to Career Cluster


  • Email Support

  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900


Powered by XAP

OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.