David R. Daniels: Watercolor Batik Technique

You may not yet have put the words “batik” and “watercolor” together, but I have-with great satisfaction. Batik is generally thought of a classic wax-resist Indonesian textile blending motifs of flowers, twining plants, leaves, birds, butterflies, fish and geometric forms rich in symbolic association. I recently discovered that the ancient art lent itself beautifully to my painting style.

In my “watercolor batik,” traditional cloth is replaced with watercolor paper, wax is replaced with a masking agent, and dyes are replaced with tube watercolors. Transparent washes of color, with additional layers of masking agent applied between washes, create vibrant batik effects. The finished pieces can be as varied as your imagination will allow, from stylized decorative motifs to complete paintings.

A pencil drawing “road map” helps me with proper placement of the first layer of frisket. I sketch the major components on different sheets of tracing paper, allowing me to play with the composition before committing it to watercolor paper. When satisfied with the arrangement, I use graphite paper to transfer the images to a sheet of watercolor paper. Although this process takes some time, it helps me consistently produce strong, interesting compositions.

step1Initial application of frisket and paint.
The first application of frisket on white paper is very important. Not only does it establish the whites and lights in the final painting, but it also sets the path for the viewer’s eye to follow. The human eye tends to connect the points of light in a painting. In this painting I applied frisket to the ripples in the water, the branch the egrets are perched on, and to some feathers. I also splattered random splashes to create a haphazard effect. Remember that the areas that later appear too white can be painted to tone them down.

After the frisket is dry I begin painting. I work in small areas, using a wet into wet application, mixing the color on the wet paper. In this illustration I have just begun to paint the blue egrets. Their bodies are flooded with water and a mixture of blue and purple paint. I continue to add plants and foliage that were established in the initial composition. I use great quantities of water so that the colors will mix and mingle on the page. Very conscious of the line created when two objects meet, I often use complementary colors or a value change at these lines to create variety and interest.

step2More paint, more frisket.
Color is flooded over the frisket that preserved the white of the paper in the initial stage. After this spontaneous application of color, I wait for the paint to dry before adding a second layer of frisket. The second application preserves areas of color rather than the white of the paper. I use sweeping gestural strokes in applying the frisket to mimic the surface of reflective water. This second application of frisket must have paint applied to the paper surrounding it before it has any effect on the finished painting.

The background is added.
I use the same spontaneous approach as I did painting the foreground water. Trees, branches, and other foliage-like marks have been “saved out” with the initial application of frisket. As with the water, I apply a second application of frisket, saving out areas of the backgrounds color. Remember that any application of frisket must be painted over before a batik-like effect is visible.

step3Frisket removal.
Using a rubber cement pick-up, I remove the frisket. Don’t be shocked by the stark white of the paper that is revealed. Remember you now have the option of filling in those white places with any appropriate color or leaving it white.

Fine tuning.
After all the frisket is removed, I carefully go about integrating the once-white areas into the painting. This part of the process is extremely important. Fine-tuning values and colors is critical, but be careful not to overwork the painting. The marks you are making should add to the overall aesthetic experience. It is often easy to keep poking at a painting until you have destroyed its spontaneity. Ask yourself, “Are the marks I am making giving the viewer any more critical information about the painting?” If not, “Stop!”

This technique achieves an unsurpassed richness and depth of color. My background in botany and biology often leads me to subjects of nature, however this technique works equally well with still lifes and landscapes. I am certain you will find experimenting with this new approach exciting and rewarding.