Waxing Lyrical about New Tricks


Sometimes I surprise myself.

Sometimes others surprise me more.

My mother has been an artist for over 25 years and gets much joy from her watercolours, pastels and oils. She makes notelets of scenes from places she loves like Norfolk and her home town of Stamford and sells them too. She also adores nature. I knew she’d want to paint when she came to KL for a visit as rightly as I knew my father would not. As far as I know he has never painted a thing in his life. Like me, he does words, not pictures, though his photographs appear again in the Stamford calendar.

After the obligatory open top bus tour two days into their visit and armed with a guide book, I got them to list the places they most wanted to see during their three week trip. After all they expected this would be their one and only trip here. I wanted to give them the best time ever.

“What about the Islamic museum?” I suggested. “Or the national museum? Fancy a gallery, China Town?”

Their response was lacklustre.

“I want to go to the craft centre,” my mother said. “More than anything. And the botanical garden.” I’d like to say that she stamped her foot, but that would be artistic licence.

Pa was more interested in going out for a curry and sitting by the pool, so they were easy to please, living as we do in a condo with its own pool and Little India a stone’s throw away.

I planned and planned but it was no use, the Kompleks Kraf on Jalan Conlay was all she wanted to do. I scheduled it on the penultimate day of their stay.

My friend Melinda told me you could try batik painting and that she had been five times with her girls. Emma loves it too and advised that we go early as classes are outside in sheds at the back of the complex. I wasn’t confident it would be much good.

We found a batik workshop easily and discovered there were several to choose from but Ma was too excited and so we picked the first one and sat down. A trophy of a gold hibiscus was on display and we soon learned that our teacher had  been the Malay batik  hibiscus painting champ. We were in for a treat.

First we chose a picture from those on offer. They looked boring to me, like the kind of outlines four-year-olds would love to paint in primary colours in a colouring book. Pa picked a squid, not that he had a clue what it was! I went for a rafflesia flower, knowing they were local and so hard to see it was probably the closest I get to one. Ma picked a heliconia, having fallen in love with them in the Botanical Garden the previous week.

First we traced the stencil onto cotton.

Then the teacher went over our outlines with gold wax.

waxing the rafflesia
waxing the rafflesia

 “Can I watch?” asked Mother, giddy with excitement. As she watched him, she waved her arms about just like a baby delighted with a new toy.

“I can’t wait to try it!” she continued, almost bursting with joy.

And soon we were colouring in the spaces between the wax lines, using water to make the colours run. Mother was in heaven, but then I saw my father ­– he was grinning from ear to ear.

Pa grins at his achievement
Pa grins at his achievement

As the experienced artist picked and blended colours expertly, my novice father went mad with the sort of jewel colours I adore and have nothing to do with a squid whatsoever – magenta, teal and aqua blue. It looked marvellous. He surprised himself as much as he surprised us.

My rafflesia was way too difficult I realized but I also realized that, like painting by numbers, those wax lines are really useful.

An hour and a half later and it wasn’t only my mother who was gleeful. Pa was too and I was pretty chuffed too.

“Now I boil and dry and you collect tomorrow,” announced our teacher. I’d got a full diary and fitting in a trip back to collect the artwork would be a stretch. But my parents were hooked. They wanted to go back the next day and do more painting! And so, despite their reluctance to travel alone in KL they took a taxi there all on their own. That shows how much they loved it.

“We’ll have to come back next year, now!” said Pa. “I have to do that again!”

All this fun was available for just 15 ringgit a head. Now that, at about three quid is what I call bargain entertainment.

Who would have thought that this would be the highlight of their trip.

I hope they will be back too.

Three artists with their work!
Three artists with their work!


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