The Silk Rout Continues…“Painted Silks!” For those of us who have a vivid imagination, these words evoke all the mystery and magic of the Orient. This precious fabric was the object of a luxury trade by the nomadic caravans that crisscrossed the arid regions of northern China, a then-unknown country at the other end of the world. Along with purple dye, spices, porcelain, glass and paper, silk fabrics were the first product traded between East and West. In our time, silk still comes from the Orient in various forms such as fine or heavy, smooth or textured, bright or matte. Indelible liquid colors allow us to recreate the warm, exotic, distant feel of the East. Silk Painting as an Art Form Silk painting is not a static art form. Quite the contrary! Like watercolor, the hallmark of silk painting is its movement and fluidity. While your hand delicately guides the movement of the liquid colors, they flow and glide through the silk. Silk painting can be done on different surfaces, with or without your control, in styles ranging from intricate to free form. The transparency of silk is so exquisite and delicate that you will soon discover colors you never imagined. The formula for enhancing your creativity is simple: EXPRESSION = DISCOVERY. The more you experiment, the more your artistic expression will allow you to stretch your imagination toward ever-new horizons. There is no limit to the search for new ideas. As you discover more and more things to try, you will be fascinated by the subtleties. Never be afraid to make mistakes. What some people may call a mistake, others might consider a happy accident. Mistakes can be your best teacher. Although silk painting is creating art on fabric, some people prefer to regard it as a craft. The History of Silk PaintingHistorically, fabric painting was very popular in the Far East. How can we forget kimono art in Japan over the centuries? And, of course, remember that silk originated in China. Then there is Indonesia, Which gave us batik with all its intricacies, beauty and challenge. Although the dyes were developed around 1850, it was not until approximately 1920 that silk painting started to develop, as we know in today, Russian émigrés fled to Paris and earned a living making exquisite men’s silk handkerchiefs. Experimenting, they started to paint on silk fabric and the art of silk painting was born. This soon evolved to painting on other items such as scarves and wall hangings and grew to such an extent that at one time there were twenty-six silk painting workshops in Paris. Artistic expression on fabric has traditionally played a major role in the French fashion industry where fabric designers often use silk painting techniques to animate their ideas for fashion designers. At the end of World War II designers and the women they designed for looked for ways to express their delight in achieving peace. They turned to decorative scarves to symbolize the times and “le carré” – the square – was born. Famous artists were commissioned to design silk squares for reprint, often in limited editions. Many an American tourist must have one of those delightful squares in a drawer! Interest in scarves as wearable art has never flagged. In fact, these days hand-painted scarves are making a big resurgence because the popularity of silk painting allows everyone to create their own “care”. In 1965, Litza Bain, a Parisian artist, came across some of the techniques of silk painting first used by the Russian émigrés to France, and those of the milliners and silk flower makers. Researching their techniques, she combined all these elements into a system for painting on silk as an art form and started to teach it, finding group teaching a wonderful way to share her enthusiasm for her discoveries. She also encouraged French art supply manufacturers to create the products she needed. Her clear, detailed records and photographs of the processes of painting on silk, coupled with her enthusiastic “why not try this” attitude soon created a good-sized following of students and colleagues who wanted to paint on silk – and silk painting became open to everyone to try and enjoy! Experiment to Learn There is something in silk painting for everyone, no matter what your level of experience. Children enjoy its immediacy and easy application. Art teachers and students are aware of its potential. Professionals appreciate the intricacies and sophistication of the medium, and artists and crafts persons are attracted by its challenge. There are two stressed things: 1) TEST, TEST, TEST, and 2) PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!
Setting Up The Work Space As with any hobby or interest, finding an adequate, comfortable and efficient work space is a challenge! You need to consider storage space as well. Here are few suggestions.• WORK AREA. If you are trying to find work space in your home, consider an area away from the center of daily activities – one that won’t require constant cleanup every time you stop painting. Then plan your environment, working surfaces, equipment location and storage space. Remember, organization is the key! Just as the size of the frame you’ll be stretching your fabric on determines the space you need. The larger the project, the more space you’ll need. Try to leave enough room to walk around the frame allowing you to view and reach your work from all directions. For small items, you can work on a table, turning the frame around as needed. It is preferable to work on a white surface. The white background will help you transfer the design easily and won’t affect your perception of the colors. Remember to protect your floor with plastic because these products will permanently stain some surfaces. If you spill anything, remove it immediately. Traditional silk painting dyes will come off with alcohol or a water/alcohol solution, and repeated applications help.• TABORET. A small rolling cart with shelves is also very practical. Before you start a project, particularly a large one, place all the items you will need on a car: the selected colors, resists in the applicators, brushes, paper towels, water/alcohol solution or diluents, pins, alcohol, cotton swabs, extra mixing cups, and two containers with clean water. Attach a strip of fabric to the side of the cart to allow you to sample the colors as you work. You can move the cart around the frame. You can move the cart around the frame. It helps minimize the chance of spilling because you will have a convenient surface close by, and if you start painting and decide to make a quick change, everything will be at your fingertips.• WEATHER CONDITIONS. Excessive heat and drafts will dry dyes and paints too quickly. Hot, dry conditions also promote the quick formation of dark edge lines, rings and halos. Avoid heavy air movement from fans, open windows and air-conditioning, which dries the air and promotes undesirable accelerated drying. Too much dampness and humidity, on the other hand, may force you to wait longer than usual for the resists to dry before you start to paint. But when your colors dry slower in the humidity, you’ll have more time to blend and avoid the formation of the dark edge line. Salt, which can be sprinkled on dyes and paints to produce beautiful effects, works best when the humidity is lower.• VENTILATION. Like other art materials, the pigments you’ll use for silk painting require good ventilation. Most authentic silk painting dyes contain alcohol, and if you paint for long periods of time, you need to eliminate the fumes. The dyes are nontoxic, but you’ll need to aerate the area. Use an exhaust fan; opening windows and arranging for cross ventilation helps.• ADDITIONAL HINTS. Store the silk painting dyes and the resists in a cool, dark place. Store all mixed colors you’ve finished working with in plastic bottles, one for each color family so you can see them quickly. Silk painting also requires a certain amount of concentration, so try to work in a quiet atmosphere, free of interruptions. You will get very engrossed in your painting and interruptions will tend to distract you. Take the phone off the hook when applying resist or painting large areas so you don’t have to decide to answer it or not. As a general rule, it’s best not to work outdoors when doing sulk painting, though some artists working with the free techniques prefer doing just that. The temperature affects the resists and they will become completely ineffective in the heat and sun. Also, painted colors dry too quickly in moving air, flying particles or insects can land on your fabric and mar your work. After you are set up, put on old clothes, comfortable shoes and music. You are ready to relax and enjoy silk painting!
References: Diane Tuckman & Jan Janas “The Complete Book of Silk Painting”