Tools of the Trade
I paint on silk, which is an ancient Asian art. I order my supplies from Dharma Trading Co. The dye used is very vibrant and liquid, somewhat like easter egg dye. Depending on the amount of water, this dye spreads quickly, allowing for the blending of colors directly on the silk. Value is controlled with water, and white areas need to be left. All marks are permanent. When painting, the silk must be suspended some how. I use frames, vices, or looms - depending on the size of the piece. Gutta is a liquid resist that comes in a tube with a tip that comes in various sizes. The artist learns to draw with this. Learning to apply the right amount of pressure with an even flow and control can be a daunting task. The blow dryer is used to dry the gutta and wet material. The gutta must be ironed after it is dry so that there is a chemical reaction to create a resist for the dye. Regular paint brushes can be used. If the piece needs to be touchable or washable, then I chemically treat it. An older method is steaming, which I do not use. I also use a clothes line to dry items.
Here is the gutta, which comes in several colors like black, gold, clear, and white.
This is the progression of "Montana Wolf." Here my pattern was minimal. I mostly drew directly on the silk from my reference photo with the gutta. The effect is much like a pen and ink. Once dry, the gutta is ironed, and the piece is stretched. I must make sure all lines are enclosed so the dye does not escape and bleed. Next I work back to front, so I paint the background, moving to large sections of light and dark. I can use a "No Flow" product to slow the spread in delicate areas like the eye, but it does not stop the spread completely. The process can be very unforgiving.
This is the beginning of "Undaunted by Hail." This is a 10 foot silk kite for the Lewis and Clark traveling kite exhibit. First, I draw a preliminary sketch, which I can trace or project for larger projects. I need to use care since no marks are erasable. Here I have started to draw with the gutta. Traditionally, the piece would be suspended at this point, but through trail and error I have discovered I can draw with the gutta on a flat surface with white paper behind it. I need to take care that the gutta goes through the material and does not smudge or move until dry. Every area that will hold dye must be enclosed completely, or the dye will escape into unwanted areas.
I have learned to draw with the gutta much like pen and ink. At times with grass I do not have an enclosed area. Later I will use a retardant, which will slow the flow of the dye. However, it will not stop it completely.
Here I have finished the gutta process and have ironed it and have painted the sky. The sky can be difficult because I need to plan white areas. Dye will continue to spread for several minutes, depending on the amount of water on the silk. Also, I need to work very quickly, for once the dye dries on the silk, trying to go over an area again will only create water marks. Sometimes the artist may want water spots. Salt can also be used for interesting texturing.
I always like to work back to front, cool to warm. Here I have layered the dye to create the foreground. I need to be extremely careful not to drop water on what is completed, or I will have to re work the entire area and risk losing highlighted areas.
Here I am finishing the grass in the foreground and moving to the butte. I try to use purples, blues, and burgundies within the shadows, and silk dyes allow for a very vibrant effect.
Now I have moved on to the antelope. I stressed over keeping the whites white. An artist can use white gutta for small repairs, but it will absorb some tint of the dye and the piece can lose some of its transparency or luminescence, which is part of the magic of silk painting.
After many hours of stress, the painting is done. Next, I allowed it to dry and cure for several days. Since this piece would not be behind glass and needed to be touchable, I treated it. This can be frightening because if the dye has not cured for a bit, it can move slightly. Also, some vibrancy can be lost in the treatment, although generally not much. Generally I mix the chemical in a bucket and soak scarves and other items, but since this was so large, I just used a large foam brush to saturate it as fast as possible. Then I allowed it to dry well. The final step is to wash it with clear water. Then the dye should be set.
Normally, I just paint on a scarf or a piece of silk. However, for this project I was given the kite pre made. No mistake could be made since I would not have another kite to use. I collaborated with Drake pictured here with his wife. He is an amazing artist who sews and designs all the kites for the Lewis and Clark kite exhibit. He travelled to Great Falls for the reveal and kite flying celebration.
At the celebration many of my students came to fly the kite, which would travel the country for the year representing Montana. Here is Jacob and his little brother Jared. Jean Price is also pictured here. She is the one who introduced me to my silk painting addiction. I took a fabrics class from her at the University of Great Falls. She also organizes the Urban Art Project for downtown Great Falls.
We were blessed with a beautiful day to fly the kites.
On this larger piece, "Montana Vista," I used vices to stretch it, but a loom would work too.
I have worked on the sky, water, and foreground. I used the retardant on the pine trees to control the green dye from going into the blue. Even with this, my brush can have only minute amounts of dye on it when it touches the silk in these areas.
The work on the rocks and foreground is nearly done.
Here is the finished product. I framed this behind glass without treating it, much like a regular watercolor piece.
This is "Montana Elk" with only the gutta completed. Next would come the dying process.
This is "Montana Elk" after the dying process with the photograph changed to black and white. I do this to check my values. When working with the vivid colors, I need to remember that yellows transfer to lighter values, purples to darker, etc.
Here is the final piece with dye.
I am in the process of applying gutta to "Oso." One can see the gridded pattern I have drawn beneath the silk.
"Oso" has all of the gutta completed and looks much like a pen and ink drawing.
Here is the final piece.