Saturday, August 8, 2015

How to Watercolor Batik - Step-by-Step

This is the step-by-step process I use when doing a batik.  If you have some painting experience, you will understand this post.  If not, you might have a little trouble with it, but I hope you look at the pictures and get inspired to do something artsy.

Colors /values on batiks are preserved by painting melted paraffin wax (canning wax) onto rice paper with old watercolor brushes.  Once the brushes are used for wax, you will not be using them again for regular watercolor paintings.

To melt wax, I place chunks of paraffin into a clean tuna can and then place the can into a mini electric skillet (from a garage sale).  Make sure your skillet has a thermostat.  Place clean water into the skillet. Turn the thermostat to about 210 degrees.   The wax will melt when this optimal temperature is reached.   If the wax gets too cool, it will not spread easily.  If it gets too hot, it will begin to smoke and could create a fire hazard.

Batik in a well-ventilated area and cover your work area with some kind of a tarp, plastic garbage bag  or a Dollar Store tablecloth.

I have used both Japanese Kinwashi and Ginwashi papers (short fibers) and Unryu (longer fibers). Unryu comes in different colors which is fun to try.   Remember, though, that no matter what paper you choose, make sure the weight of the paper is at least 24 grams; anything less will be too thin.  It will shred when it is wet and you may get discouraged.

I begin by doing a drawing with big thick lines similar to a coloring book drawing.  You can do the drawing on copy paper or newsprint.  The main thing to figure out is the number of values (lights and darks) you're going to have in your batik.   If you want it to look kind of edgy or contemporary, limit the number of values.  If you want it more realistic, use as many as your patience will allow.

For new batikers, you can even draw the individual values onto your paper and number them to guide you during the process sort of like a "paint by numbers" painting.  All lightest values are assigned a #1.  All second lightest values are assigned a #2, and so on.

The drawing is placed on a rigid support.  I use plexiglass from the local hardware store.  Plexiglass doesn't break, doesn't warp, and is washable and re-usable.  The drawing is covered with a piece of wax paper to keep it dry.  Use masking tape to keep the drawing and the wax paper stationary.  In this case, Japanese Kinwashi rice paper is then placed on top of the wax paper and taped at the corners.   Place the rice paper smooth side up - always paint on the smooth side.

To begin, I usually drip a little wax on the dry white rice paper in strategic spots for added interest.  Then I spray the rice paper with clear water, and wash a diluted value of color (one that will be your lightest light) over the rice paper.  Colors / values are preserved from light to dark as with most watercolor paintings.

The rice paper is allowed to dry completely. You may use a hair dryer to help it along, but be careful or you will melt and spread the existing wax.  After the rice paper is dry, wax out the areas of the image you want to preserve as your lightest light.

Wet the rice paper and add another layer of color that is darker than the first for your next value.  Wait for the rice paper to dry.

Wax over the area where you want to preserve this new darker color.

Wet the paper, add a darker value, and repeat.  The number of values at four for this particular piece.

Allow the rice paper to dry.  I finally wax over the darkest value and any areas where I think I might have skipped wax.  Let the wax cool.

At this point, many batikers squeeze the rice paper into a ball (over a garbage can), and then apply a dark or middle neutral color on top of the batik and allowing it to settle into the cracks.  Then another thin layer of wax is applied.  I don't do this anymore because I can't tell you how many batiks I have ruined because big puddles of dark paint (sometimes ink) were allowed to creep through the cracked wax.    

When the wax has cooled, you must separate the rice paper batik from the wax paper (no photo).   To do this, place the waxed batik face side down and gently pull up the wax paper.  Doing it this way will prevent tears in the rice paper and will prevent the wax from cracking.

The waxed piece is placed between sheets of newsprint (the kind you buy at the art supply/craft store).  With a relatively hot dry iron that is reserved for batik (bought mine at a garage sale),  run the iron over the newsprint.  This will lift the wax.  Remove the wax soaked newsprint and place the batik between fresh newsprint, and repeat.  Keep repeating until the newsprint does not pick up anymore wax.  And remember that the wax on the newsprint must be liquid-y (don't burn yourself) when peeling off the rice paper.  Trying to peel rice paper away from hardened wax will result in tears to the rice paper.

As you can see, color seeped through onto the nose of the image.  This was supposed to be reserved as the lightest light.  

Mistakes can be corrected and batiks can be enhanced with great results or you can just leave the "mistake" and pretend like you planned it that way.

. . . . .

Different artists create watercolor batiks in different ways.  Some, for example, draw their patterns directly onto the rice paper.  I've used this method for certain types of batiks and it really simplifies the process.  If you do try it, be sure to use a WATERPROOF marker.   Also remember to place some wax paper between your support and the rice paper.  This will keep the support dry and will prevent the wax from seeping through to the support. 

Another alternative is to draw onto the shiny side of freezer paper with a WATERPROOF marker, attach it to a support and then lay your rice paper over it and proceed.

This was a relatively subdued batik.  Many paintings are done by throwing wax and color all over the place - just depends on your vision and your mood.  When batiking, you are not stuck in a box.  Relax and have fun.  Just start with something simple like a piece of fruit of a flower (not a face).

If you are able, take a class or a workshop from a batik artist. You're gonna have a million questions - Can I repair a hole in the batik? (yes).  What do I do if the value is too light / too dark?   I've got too much splatter on the rice paper.  What now?, ...  

Check out YouTube for batik demonstrations.  All of your questions may not be answered, but the videos will give you great ideas for projects and will get you going.

And, of course, if you have any questions,  ask in the comment section of the blog on any post that is made.   You can also feel free to e-mail me with questions at  " "  I've only taken (2)  one day watercolor batik workshops, but they were taken in 2003, so I've got a few miles of rice paper between then and now.  I can help you.

If you would like to batik and have absolutely no experience painting, it would be helpful to enroll in a beginner watercolor class where you will learn about color and value.  If you need help with drawing, there are also books and classes offered.  Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards was an immense help to me.  YouTube also offers free tutorials on drawing and painting.

Please don't be intimidated. Don't say you can't draw a stick figure.  Drawing is LEARNED.  Painting is LEARNED.  It's never too late. 

We're all creative whether we're cooking, decorating, loving fashion, gardening, ...  If you have always wanted to do artwork, there's a myriad of options out there - some where you don't even have to learn to draw or paint (as in some alcohol ink creations).  Just have fun!


  1. I really would love to try this one day. Thank you so much for the step by step explanation, Chris!

  2. Bonsoir chère amie,

    Merci de partager avec nous cette explication pleine d'intérêt ! Quel travail fantastique.

    Gros bisous

  3. You're welcome, Judy. It's lots of fun.

  4. Thank you, Martine! And thank you for sharing your lovely, lovely artwork!

  5. This is so cool, Chris! Thanks for sharing and I love how you showed the various stages! Very well done!


  6. I found this fascinating - clear and concise. I agree with Judy above...I would love to try it one day, meanwhile I have a couple of friends I am going to direct to this post. It will help them so much. Thanks for taking the time Chris and I am off to check the link.

  7. Really interesting technique, nice of you to share!

  8. very helpful, I honestly never thought of doing a batik on paper, never thought it would hold up to the heat and wax :) not suree if you mentioned the brand of paint that you use? (might have missed it)

    I've broken a few plexiglass plates, hard to do but I've dropped a few on the corners and they split/shatter depending on thickness of the plexi :/ can make a big mess :(

  9. Thanks, Julie. And appreciate you sharing it with your friends.

  10. Thanks, Jennifer.

    I use any and every brand of watercolor paint. I don't have a favorite.

  11. That was fascinating!! Thank you, thank you for sharing, Chris! What a beautiful process.

  12. What an outstanding of these days I will have to try it! Thanks so much for this!

  13. Wow! So interesting! You explained The process I definitely see how talented you are Chris!

  14. I'm down as anonymous again Chris. I don't understand what I do Hilda

  15. You're welcome, Kali. I enjoyed it.

  16. Thanks so much, Kaethe. I hope you do try it!

  17. Aw, thanks, Hilda. This is a technique anyone can learn and I hope you try it someday. I can't figure out why you're popping up as anonymous either. Computers...

  18. Wonderfull, greeting from Belgium

  19. Thanks Chris, for that clear and well-written explanation of how you do your batiks on rice paper. I will definitely try it when I get out of the woods and back to an art store to buy some rice paper. I really liked the demo piece too.

  20. What a great post, Chris! I hope to try this myself one of these days (I don't have all the necessary supplies on hand). And as to the bleed through on the nose? I rather like it! It lends to a sense of age on the statute itself. It works beautifully!

  21. Wonderful post Chris....lots of information! It reminded me of my silk painting days. You are a master of it! I would like to try this on rice paper one day if I ever get time, it's quite a process, but I absolutely love the effect!!! Thanks for sharing:)

  22. Thank you, Louisette. Great meeting you!

  23. Thanks, Sherry. Hope you try it.

  24. Thanks, Karen. This is easy compared to silk painting! Hope you give it a go sometime.

  25. Chris- what a great post. This is an amazing process. Just beautiful results too. Thank you dear for sharing this lovely form of art.

  26. Incredibly interesting and informative post Chris! thank you so much for sharing. the end result is really amazing!!!

    and thank you so much for stopping by and your kind words! very much appreciated.

  27. Thanks, Debbie. It was my pleasure.

  28. Thank you, Suzanne. (I love your blog!)

  29. Thank you Chris for this super post. Now I know what is Watercolor Batik !
    You must be very patient to go trough so many steps ... and with so great results !
    "Chapeau" like we say in French !

  30. Such a great tutorial Chris, thank you!

  31. Thank your for this great tutorial, Chris!!
    Now my question I did in the other post is answered: Miles of rice paper... :)
    I think I mentioned in the other post what I think of this lady.
    Cio Beo

  32. this is really helpful! thnaks! :)

  33. Thank you, everyone, for your warm comments!

  34. I'm going to try this. I just love your blog too-I've had so much fun here!

    1. Have a great time with it. If you have any problems, shoot me an e-mail.
      Love your blog, too - lots!!