Rare medium

Julie Komenda recently rediscovered her passion for batik, in which the artist accepts that anything can happen.

Published May 4, 2007

Julie Komenda describes the batik process as the ultimate a leap of faith. Forget expectations, she says. The finished product a batik artist gets seldom arrives exactly as planned.

For Komenda, who has worked in the medium for more than 30 years, the joy of creating batiks comes from the uncertainty involved.

"There's a lot of serendipity to it, " said the Spring Hill artist, who will be among the exhibitors this weekend at the Hernando Fine Arts Council's Art, Craft and Music Festival in Brooksville.

"It's different from painting with oils or acrylics because of the different steps involved. It has its own challenges that can affect the outcome of the piece. So you keep working at it until it satisfies you."

Komenda enjoys taking the basic batik process to adventurous heights. Her meticulously crafted pieces have a vibrant - almost Impressionist - look to them and are characterized by an abundance of color and depth that give them a fluid quality.

The batik process, which dates to ancient Indonesia, is fairly simple. Using a tool called a tjanting, Komenda "paints" a design on a thick sheet of hand-laid rice paper using a mixture of paraffin and beeswax. Next, she adds layers of colored acrylic paint. Then, she manipulates the paper to create "crinkles" that allow darker colors to invade the lighter ones. Finally, the wax areas where the color is resisted are washed away using hot water or steam.

Komenda may repeat the process as many as a dozen times to get the hues and textures she's after. When mounted between plates of glass, the images, which are opaque, take on almost three-dimensional quality.

Komenda's first encounters with the process came when she was a teenager growing up in Miami in the late 1960s, when the burgeoning rock 'n' roll scene was giving birth to self-made fashions such as tie-dyeing, macrame and batik. A few simple projects eventually led her to create not only portraits but striking fabrics for clothing as well.

Though she flirted with the idea of studying art, Komenda decided instead to pursue an teaching degree in English at the University of South Florida. While in college, she met and married her husband Chris, a career military man who was stationed in the southwest. However, as the demands of career and family increased, Komenda grew farther from her artistic passion.

"I stayed away for 20 years because I just didn't feel inspired, " Komenda said. "One day I just woke up and said, 'It's time to get back to it.' "

Komenda's return to her art began in 2002 with a portrait of Colorado Avalanche hockey goaltender Patrick Roy, whom she had long admired. Team management so liked the work that it was chosen to adorn a game program that year.

With her creative spark once again lit, Komenda embarked on an ambitious effort to expand the horizons of her craft that continues today. In addition to experiments with different paints and dyes, she is exploring the use of a variety of multifiber papers.

"I've always felt that this was a medium that was wide open, " Komenda offered. "That's why I love it so much. Every day brings an opportunity to dig a little deeper."

Logan Neill can be reached at 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

If you go

The Hernando County Fine Arts Council's 23rd Annual Art, Craft and Music Festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Tom Varn Park in Brooksville. The event is free to the public. Call 797-7402 for information.