The proof is in the batik

The first time I picked up the wooden-handled object and dipped it into hot wax, I was nervous.  Three other people were watching my first attempt to draw onto the stretched cloth below me.

I flubbed.

The wax dribbled through the metal piece through the tip too quickly, then too slowly.

It was an ugly blob.

“It’s, uh, a flower?” I made a face and quickly passed the tool to another girl so she could try her hand at making something a bit prettier for the onlookers.

Sein Sein Lin shows us how to scoop hot wax

Sein Sein Lin shows us how to scoop hot wax


Maybe just over year ago or so I would never have considered doing a batik class, firstly because no such thing existed in Surat Thani, and secondly because I still held on to this relatively irrational notion that art was an all-or-nothing sort of thing — either I’d be good at it or I wouldn’t.  I felt okay drawing privately for myself in a notebook or two, but mostly I’d figured it was pointless, a.k.a. not a career.

This year, however, one of my vague new year’s resolutions/bucket list ideas was “to create to create,” because January 2012 had marked my 4th week of doing the 12-step program of creative unblocking exercises in a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.  It’s essentially a commitment to creative recovery (yes, and 12-steps like Alcoholics Anonymous) using the staples of morning pages (writing 3 pages longhand every morning), weekly walks (20 minutes to clear the brain), and artist dates (2 hours a week of setting aside time to play and create for its own sake).

The book certainly isn’t for everyone — the 1-star criticisms on Amazon claim it’s a bit too new-agey, or repetitive, or overblown — but I’ve found myself a convert because I feel like the process ‘worked’ for me.  Maybe I would have started being more creative on my own, maybe not; but having a plan certainly jump-started the process.

I’ve been reading through some of my old morning pages lately, and it’s been surprising to see how far I’ve come from the initial “negative blurts” that I put down on paper.  Somewhere along the way, the thought ‘I’m afraid if I do art it won’t be any good’ got replaced with ‘I am willing to create and I am willing to make mistakes.’

Taking this batik class is good proof of that change.


Maybe a third reason I wouldn’t have done a batik class a year ago is because I would have thought it to be a bit frivolous and a waste of money to spend 1100 baht ($33) to make a scarf.  It doesn’t seem like that much in US dollars, but I have a habit of calculating things based off the cost of a meal here (30 baht/$1), so it ends up seeming like a bit…much.

But no more! Ugly blob of wax or not, I told myself that I had to take the opportunity because

  • there was only one spot left in the class the next day
  • I knew two other girls who were doing the class
  • the class was hosted by an awesome social enterprise that provides training, apprenticeships, and career services to young Burmese migrant students (Puzzlebox Art Studio via YouthConnect)
  • Burmese artist Sein Sein Lin was leading the course, and the work of hers that I’ve seen at Borderline Collective is absolutely gorgeous

Once I finally committed to the class, I was told to pick a design and be ready with it the next morning.

artist Sein Sein Lin preparing the cloth for us

artist Sein Sein Lin preparing the cloth for us

Thank goodness for pinterest and my morning pages!  With the help of these tools, I quickly picked a few designs/themes that I was interested in, and then narrowed down my options to either a dream catcher or a peacock.

When it came time to leave for the class, I made my decision – I would do both!  Choosing be damned; dream-catcher peacock it was.

At 9 am, I turned up to Puzzlebox with my design in hand.  First, Sein Sein Lin had us draw it again with colored pencils onto paper, and then once more onto the cloth.

applying hot wax to my pattern, with the help of a Youth Connect apprentice

applying hot wax to my pattern, with the help of a Youth Connect apprentice

She showed us how to quickly and carefully apply the wax over our patterns.  “Mistakes are okay,” she said.  “It’s like meditation!”

I tried my best to think of it this way, and it is like meditation…although I don’t recall ever cursing wax that much while seated in lotus posture…

Anyways, it turns out that it’s wayyyy easier to apply wax to the cloth when you’ve already put a pattern down instead of doing it freehand.  With the help of Sein Sein Lin and the Youth Connect apprentices, some beautiful colored dye was mixed and together we brushed it onto the wetted cloth, where it either spread freely or pooled into the boundaries created by the wax.

We applied the same colors over and over again, because Sein Sein Lin said that the color fades when the wax is washed off later in the batik process.  I brushed and I brushed until 1 pm until I could brush no more because it was time for lunch and someone else’s turn.

Here is my final work of the day:

finished batik peacock

finished batik peacock

I’m soooooo pleased that it turned out so well and that I got to use my favorite color of 2012: teal!

Later in the week, the Puzzlebox team washed the wax off, which removed the gold color you see above.  I returned to the studio on Saturday to pick up the finished product and though the color has faded to a light teal, it’s still one of the cooler things I’ve ever made.

Below is a gallery of the other girls’ work (click to enlarge) – beautiful, isn’t it?

Here’s to no more saying “I can’t” until I’ve actually tried it… better to say “I can’t ….yet” because everything takes practice.  Who’s with me?


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