Batik Artist Carol Higgs: Captured Colors [elan magazine]
by Hope Katz Gibbs
Carol Higgs has enough pieces of fabric in her studio to fill a swimming pool.
“I could jump in and not hurt myself because I’d never reach the bottom,” says the Reston artist, who will be showing off just what all that fabric can do during an upcoming exhibition of her unique batik artwork at the Vienna Arts Society gallery.
What is batik?
“It’s sort of like tie-dye, but a little more sophisticated,” says Carol, who has been practicing the ancient Indonesian wax-resist dyeing technique for the last three decades. Rather than create garments to display her artistic designs, she uses her batik creations as a canvas for captivating paintings she then turns into greeting cards and one-of-a-kind framed art.
“It’s easy to do great things with batik once you get the hang of the technique,” says the Ohio native. “The trick is to start with a plan.”
For Carol, that means seeing the finished product in her mind’s eye. Sometimes she uses photographs as reference-ones that she’s taken, or something might catch her eye in a magazine. Then, she grabs a piece of fabric, lights a colored candle and begins to drip the intended design onto the material.
“My friends and family have been so wonderful to donate their old sheets and worn clothes for me to use as a base,” she says. ‘And I’m always getting candies as holiday and birthday gifts because my loved ones know I’ll use them to batik. It’s really neat because I feel like those people a-re part of my art.”
The most exciting part of the process, though, comes when the wax is dry.
“Even though I have an idea about what kind of picture I’m going for, I’m always surprised to find what I’ve actually got to work with once the wax has hardened,” she explains. “Quite often, the design on the cloth takes my work in new and exciting directions.”
The next step is the dyeing process. Carol starts with lightest color dye and moves to darker shades to create a controlled fie-dye effect. She then puts on her fine art cap to take the piece to new heights.
A recent creation, entitled “Caf6 Multi,” is a 24-by~46-inch collage that draws the viewer inside an eclectic restaurant fresh from Carol’s imagination. Animals and people populate a montage of energy and romance where couples are seen chatting at tiny tables, dancing to a mariachi band and conversing with the waitress.
“What I love about batik is that I’m always surprised at the outcome,” says Carol. “It takes me on a journey, and I never quite know where I’m going to end up. This kind of art is my therapy, my outlet, my joy.”
Although she’s soft-spoken and demure by nature, Carol isn’t shy about sharing her passion for batik with students. Trained as an art teacher at Ohio State University, she taught in the public schools near Columbus for several years before moving to Northern Virginia when her husband accepted a job with The Mitre Corporation.
Since then, she’s given hundreds of classes to students of all ages at the McLean Art Society, the Vienna Arts Society and the Loudoun Academy of the Arts in Leesburg.
Loudoun Academy director Dana Thompson says she’s been thrilled with what Carol is able to get her students to accomplish.
“She brings in tons of materials for the students to get creative with, and the things I see coming out of her classes are just beautiful,” says Dana. “All I can say is that Carol is an amazing artist, and she is able to impart a lot of her skill and talent to the students. It is pretty awesome.”
Carol says she’s really a kid at heart.
“I like to stick my hands in the warm wax and pull out fingers full of the goo, just like a little child would. But then again, my philosophy of life is sort of like a child’s: I believe in always staying positive. I know life is not perfect, and I realize that if I make a mistake-in a painting or in my life-it is probably not going to kill me.”
Carol’s knows of what she speaks. On December 3, 2003, she was taking a car full of
neighbors to the airport early in the morning when a car came off a ramp and rode right into her car.
“No one got hurt, but I was so fuming mad that I got out of my car and stormed right up to his window,” she recalls. “He rolled down passenger-side window, just long enough for me to put my hands on it, then hit the gas.”
The driver dragged Carol’s body about 20 feet before she finally pulled free and rolled herself away from oncoming traffic.
Luckily, a Good Samaritan, who was also a paramedic, saw the horrible scene unfold. He pulled his car to the side of the road, called 911 and ran to help her until an ambulance arrived.
“It just goes to show that there are good people in the world and not such good people,” she shares, noting that her injuries included broken ribs, broken teeth and a fractured cheekbone. “I don’t know why that happened to me, but I do know that the only thing I can do is forgive and move on. They never caught the driver, but I have tried to let it go.”
Always looking on the positive side, though, Carol says a sweet thing did happen while she was recuperating at Fairfax Hospital.
“I was walking around the halls and there on the wall was a batik painting I had done. One of the doctors had bought it a few years before, and there it was—waiting for me.”
Carol attributes her full recovery to good friends, a loving husband and her artwork. She also has a bit of advice to share: “I want to tell people to follow their instincts. Even though I was furious at the man who hit us, a voice in my head was screaming to me that I shouldn’t go over to his car. I didn’t listen. I should have.”
Taking her own advice today, Carol says her current goal is to keep on creating quality art and finding fabulous spots to show it off like the Vienna Arts Society Gallery.
“Each of my batiks is unique,” she says, “and that’s how I like it. I like to keep things fresh, alive and original. After all, every day is special and unique. I try to celebrate that.”