1. The visibility of the design on both sides of the cloth.
Quality batik tulis paintings have their designs clearly seen on both sides of the cloth and they are nearly indistinguishable from one another. An easy way to tell which side is the front is to look at the artist’s signature.
Lower quality batik will only have the designs visible on one side and the other side of the design will be half faded to slightly faded. Usually, cheaper batik will use either a specialized printer or a stamp (also known as batik cop). These two methods are rapid and the process is only done on one side of the cloth. Therefore, the colour will not permeate through both sides of the cloth.
2. The designs are not symmetrical.
The reason for this is that batik tulis is completely handmade and no human can draw 100% symmetrical drawings. If the design is completely symmetrical, it is not batik tulis. A good way to test this is to fold the cloth in half and see if the outlines mirror each other. If they do, it is not a genuine batik tulis.
3. No two motifs are the same size.
Though they may look the same and be similar in size, they will never be exactly alike. If the motifs are repeated look out for the “joining lines” which happens if the batik produced is using a stamp. This is a sign of batik cop and should be avoided as it is a flaw, even for batik cop.
There are minute errors.
Well, this proves that the artists are human and not machines. The mistakes will probably be very well concealed; to the point you would have thought it is just part of the design. Usually, the errors stem from some accidental drops or spills of wax from the canting. The waxing process is deceptively simple. It requires great skill and experience to know when the wax is ready for batik-ing, controlling the flow of the wax from the canting and knowing when to stop waxing because the wax has cooled in the canting.
If the wax is not properly melted when applied to the cloth, slight bleeding of colour will occur (though it rarely happens with batik masters). This happens because the wax line is too thin or is cracked and it is unable to resist the colour. Nevertheless the batik master will always be skilful enough to incorporate it into the design.
5. The smaller or more complicated the design, the more expertise needed to produce the painting. The details in the painting, no matter how small, will tell you just how much effort the artist has put into his or her work. It may be just a series of dots but each dot is painstakingly dotted by the artist’s hand. A dot out of place or a spill could destroy the piece and the artist will have to either discard the work or somehow creatively incorporate it into his or her work.
6. At first glance, the strength of the colours will call out to you.
As the paintings are symbols of the artists’ pride, the artist will ensure the intensity of the colours on the artwork. Another way to ascertain the handmade aspect is to look for shading. Shading needs to be done by hand.
For the stamped and printed batik, once they are done, they are done. They will not be retouched, thus rarely having any gradation in colour. On the other hand, handmade batiks may even need to be dipped in the dyebath many times to get the striking hues needed.
7. The quality of the cloth. The texture of the cloth is smooth and soft, never stiff. Usually cotton or silk is used for batik purposes. Some may prefer a mixture of fibres, but all quality batik cloth is never thin or see-through. If pure cotton is used, the fabric must have a high thread count. After all, it would not make any sense to do quality work on an inferior fabric. A high thread count is able to handle the repeated dyeing batiks require and shrinks less.
8. It is produced in small quantities. Batik is a time-consuming process. Therefore it is only logical that an artist can produce only a limited amount of batik tulis pieces at one time.
9. The time taken to produce a piece of batik. Making a masterpiece may take up to a year! It is a labour of love that not many have the patience for.
10. The price. Undeniably, due to the exclusivity of owning a batik tulis and its time-consuming process, it is quite expensive; but one cannot put a price to a labour of love for their cultural heritage.
11. The smell of the cloth. Traditional batik usually uses natural dyes, therefore the smell of the roots or leaves will infuse the painting. The smells are distinctive and will remind you of nature. However, due to our artists contemporary nature, synthetic dyes are used as well. In no way do the synthetic dyes destroy the beauty of the painting.
*Some may say that a crackle or marbling effect is the sign of a handmade batik tulis but nowadays, the industry puts a layer of wax over printed batik during the dye process to make it look handmade. Therefore, the crackle characteristic cannot be used to signify handmade batik.
Interested to know what a master’s batik painting looks like?