Sunday, September 9, 2012

Silk!



Once I got back from Peace Corps, I was shocked to find that shipping prices had tripled when it came to boxing and sending large canvases.  If people were willing to pay the exorbitant shipping costs, I was happy to give bargains on the pieces themselves, but it was frustrating to know that the buyer would have to spend so much on just shipping.  Once I found out we were moving overseas, I knew that shipping giant paintings was going to be a thing of the past unless my market all of a sudden became very wealthy.  As I racked my brain for shipping alternatives and finding nothing, I realized that if I wanted to have a marketable and successful product that people could afford, I was going to have to expand beyond massive stretched canvases. 

Enter: my interest in painting on silk.  There had been some build-up to this as I had come across a few of these types of works while living in Arizona.  I was fascinated with the way it held color, the way it allowed the color to move through its fibers, the vibrance and the element of surprise and experimentation that came with painting on a surface so much harder to control than canvas.  So I hunted for a silk painting class so I could get the scoop on the basics, different tools and dyes.  Serendipitously, there was a 2-day workshop our last weekend in Phoenix so I jumped on it. What a process! I had no idea.  Being used to squeezing tubes of paint on a palette and applying them to a prepared surface to just let dry, this was a lesson in patience and process for sure.  When choosing silk, there are many different weights and textures.  Some pull color more intensely, some are softer than others, some have a sheen, the list goes on.  When choosing dye, some need to steam set, some just need heat. Resists, waxes, gutta, dilutant, blah blah... once you make all those decisions, you have to first wash the silk, rinse it, stretch it on a frame with super-sharp-stab-your-bloody-fingers silk hooks, allow it to dry, draw your image on if necessary, apply resist as needed, allow THAT to dry, apply dye ever-so-carefully (if you eff up there is no going back), wait for THAT to dry, remove the stabbing hooks, wrap the silk between two layers of either blank newsprint or plain fabric, roll tightly, tape, roll the roll into a coil, tape some more, put in tin foil pan, cover with tin foil, set in steamer basket and steam for 2.5 to 3+ hours, let cool, unwrap, PRAY that none of the dyes bleed (another potential eff-up of no return), rinse in special detergent, rinse some more, and probably some more, until the water runs clear and all the color is permanently set. Then hang dry, iron, and it is finally complete. Phew!


After going through this process with my first commissioned project, I decided to switch to the types of dyes that only have to be heat set.  That steaming process is very lengthy, and very...steamy.  Especially when 2-3 scarves max fit in the steamer. Seeing the finished product is a wonderful thing in this medium.  When painting canvas, there is no surprise - you are with it and seeing it develop the whole way through until you reach a point of satisfaction.  With silk, you apply, wait, watch, dry, wait, watch, steam, wait, unwrap, pray, and are presented with this fantastically vibrant product that usually looks even cooler than it did when you wrapped it up. The anticipation is killer.  The versatility of this medium is also quite the bonus.  It can be put on a mat or backing, framed and hung, it can be worn in the form of scarves, sarongs, dresses, etc.  And the absolute best part is that it can be shipped anywhere in the world for under $5 because it is basically weightless.  Magical.  Here are a couple that I worked on today!

Cheers!
Emily