Olivia Batchelder Art Studio, Laguna Beach, California USA . . . call 949.280.9785



Hiking in the rainforest with international friends
Sacred Hornbills
by Narong Daun
Mixed media silk artist
Nelson Tan Gallery
Kuching, Malaysia
My batik teachers
I have friends in Malaysia, beginning when I did an artist residency there in 2003, studying traditional wax batik, one of the main artistic activities in this part of the world. I had wonderful batik teachers, including Winnie Wong, Narong Daun, Ramay Ong, and Michael Lim, all fabulous artists from Sarawak, Borneo Malaysia. Each of them has a very distinct style. This paragraph is surrounded by the excellent artwork of my batik teachers, who introduced me to the mysteries of Malaysia.
Indigo plant
Natural dyeing
is an ancient tried-and-true artform. In the last century, chemical dyes were invented, making the process of coloring fabrics much faster and easier, and a full palette of bright colors was immediately possible. The problem is, toxic effluents flow into our rivers and the sea from the use of these dyes. I have long had concerns about this.

I am interested in natural dyes, altho I do not use them in my current artwork. I use beautiful brilliant colors of liquid dyes, made by mixing dye pigments with water, and I create many wonderful paintings and textures on my fabrics from these. My dyes are made from petro chemicals, and I have been feeling for a long time that I need to change many of my ways, to do more things that have a positive effect on our environment. To make a smaller footprint. To live more in harmony with nature.

In keeping with this, I have attended the biannual conference - the World Eco-Fiber and Textiles Forum - 3 times, and have traveled extensively to discover how indigenous peoples prepare colorants from plants and minerals in their environments. My goal is to be able to use natural dyes for my art garments. The process is longer and has more steps than using chemical dyes, but my desire to step lightly on the planet has sparked me to see if I can incorporate natural dyes into my artwork here in California, to acquire land to grow dye plants and to learn how to harvest, store, and mordant the colorants for long-lasting color on cloth. If I am successful, I will create a palette of dye colors gleaned from totally local, totally natural, totally toxin-free sources with no harmful effluent in the process.

At the WEFT forum, papers on natural dying and natural fibers are presented by delegates from all over the world. Examples of cloth made from bamboo, pineapple, banana fiber, and others are exhibited. Presentations cover time-honored methods of preparing plant and mineral based dyes, use non-toxic mordants, alternative methods of fixing, such as ultra sound vats instead of heat for dyeing cloth, as well as primitive methods that heat dye baths over a wood fire, using no power at all. Alternatives to wax batik are being explored there, hence my 2009 paper on Seaweed Batik. The sago palm starch - a bi-product of sago oil production - are being explored as a screen-print medium for batik reproductions at the University of Malaysia. The technique shows great promise for extending one of the major art forms in the region and beyond. I continue to explore . . .
Sacred Hornbills
by Ramsay Ong
Pastel and fiber on bark paper
Nelson Tan Gallery
Kuching, Malaysia

Travel to the interior of Borneo on the river
The jungle canopy is mysterious, filled with big leaves, vines and mosses - the thickness pierced by unseen sounds. A small party of 23 traveled deep into the rainforest for a 4-day visit to a longhouse where natural dyeing and warp ikat weaving are being done in a centuries-old way. The imagery for these ceremonial textiles, called pua kumba (great blanket) comes from dreams. No written record is kept for creating the complex patterns. The intricate designs can take six months to complete, and are filled with poetic and symbolic meanings. Our travels up-river took us 2 days. For the return trip we left the longhouse at 4:00 am, traveling by longboat with 3 passengers each, thru the darkness. The head-lamped boatmen knew every river turn, and navigated with precision in the swift current. At dawn we reached the junction with the Renggai River, wide and long like the Amazon, stained ochre-red from stirring by trade ships and the logging industry. Thus we re-entered a more familiar world, embued with the deep respect of the rain forest.

Pitcher Plant
by Michael Lim
in collaboration with Winnie Wong Studio.
Wax batik on silk crepe de chine
Detail of larger painting
Kuching, Malaysia
Bangie Embol
The Ngar Ceremony - Mordanting the yarns
Bangie, the dye master (wearing turquoise shirt above), leads the mordant ceremony, which takes 5 days and contains more than a dozen natural ingredients. She is the only one who knows the exact ingredients and measurements for the mordant (pre-treatment of fibers in preparation for dyeing). The ceremony ends with all the women weavers running to the river for a ceremonial bath. As a novice weaver, I was invited to participate in this ritual, and joined in the women’s bath. The river was high following a night of hard tropical rain, and it took 3 tiny Iban ladies holding onto me in order to keep me from being swept away in the current.
All the ladies emerged from the river laughing, in great camaraderie. I am second from the left below, wearing a blue sarong. It was a wonderful experience.
Photographs on this page generously contributed by Asif Shaikh, Hazel Trebilco, and some are by me.

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Olivia Batchelder Art Studio