With batik, Maiyra Wasid says, you can always fix your mistakes.
But more than that, Wasid and other young Scarborough women, using water soluble dyes and hot wax liquified in rice cookers, are turning this art form into the beginnings of a business.
And others are welcome to join them, they say.
Two summers ago, David Kibuuka, a Ugandan-born artist from Oakville taught a dozen L’Amoreaux Collegiate girls “modern batik,” the ancient craft using some of his own artistic techniques.
When Kibuuka’s workshop was over, eight students wanted to keep working on batik.
“They all wanted to do something more, but they didn’t know what to do,” said Evan Muller-Cheng of Agincourt Community Services Association, the sponsoring agency.
What they did was create a “social enterprise,” the Modern Batik Movement, and several, after mastering Kibbuka’s techniques, went on to teach workshops on their own in the Scarborough neighbourhoods of Steeles-L’Amoreaux and Dorset Park.
Now that they’re starting to sell their batik paintings online, along with a 2013 Modern Batik Calendar to support the program, some are seeing batik as a way into the professional art world.
“It’s hard to grasp at the start, but once you get it, you like it,” Maiyra Wasid said some weeks ago at Chester Le Community Corner before demonstrating how the transparent wax is used to build layers on white cotton fabric that later are boiled away, leaving colours sealed behind.
The wax takes time to dry, but Wasid said the whole process of making a batik painting is fun and relaxing. “It takes away stress from school and all that stuff we have going on,” she said.
“We use the time when we’re ironing to talk to each other,” added Jenny Ng, a Ryerson University student who works alongside Muller-Cheng and co-ordinates the Modern Batik website (www.mbgallery.ca) they launched this fall.
Batik painting always seems like an experiment, because you never know exactly how it will come out, Ng said. “I find it very exciting when I do it, that I have control but not full control.”
In intermediate workshops students learn such things as how to fade the dyes from dark to light, and a technique called fragmentation that can create the outline of a face. The colours produced, Ng said, are sharper than in painting with acrylic or pastel.
The experienced batik artists work with several layers of dye and wax that have to be carefully planned. “As a beginner it’s hard to see past the first couple of layers,” said Ng, adding Kibuuka is “always looking or the fourth or fifth layer, or the sixth one.”
Movement members have taught workshops in schools and public libraries. This summer, Wasid led a class of local youths, seniors and middle-aged women that produced batik hijabs they could wear to school or parties.
“They really like the idea that it’s one of a kind and that they created it themselves,” Ng said.
A seamstress taught some of the movement’s artists how to produce handbags, and there is interest in putting batik patterns on T-shirts and dresses, said Muller-Cheng.
“The vision is to keep growing.”
About the only setback for the movement is that it hasn’t drawn much interest from men and boys. A couple of male students came to a beginner workshop but didn’t continue, said Muller-Cheng.
Kibuuka, who is building a school in Uganda for students who lost parents to HIV, wants to have some MBM graduates go to Africa to teach his techniques to children and single parents there to give them a future means of earning money.
“The potential for the youth in Modern Batik (in Toronto) is huge as you can see the kind of work they are putting out and they just began working on fabrics,” wrote Kibuuka, who recounts a history of Modern batik art on his website, www.modernbatikartworkshops.com
Modern batik continues to fascinate Stephanie Sing, an originalmovement member who co-wrote a business plan that got the group $500 in start-up money.
“It is a flexible medium that encourages creativity and an exploration of self. When I first started doing batik, I was really hesitant as an artist because I didn’t want to make a mistake, especially because it can’t be ‘undone’ - or so I thought,” Sing recalled this month.
She soon discovered, however, there is always a way to work around an error, and she “became more confident in my work and began to trust myself to try new things.”
This fall, Scarborough-Agincourt MPP Soo Wong bought two prints from Sing through the movement’s gallery site. The calendar sells through the site for $10, with proceeds going to the batik program.