The Balloon Banner Project

9 June 2008 at 7:02 pm 23 comments

Part 1

Doing the frightening . . .

is something I need to work on.  I overthink, and overplan, and fuss and put off beginning the project until I’ve procrastinated to deadline time and then I have to get sampleto work. I’m working on my first really large-scale project, a banner to hang in the International Balloon Museum in Albuquerque this fall. It’s part of a combined fundraiser for the Museum and for Silk Painters International. We submitted sample work last winter, and 25 of us were given the silk to make the banners, which will be auctioned off during the annual Balloon Fiesta in October.

the sample entry I submitted to Silk Painters International

I was much more careful than I usually am about planning composition, and took some books out the library to look at balloons, how they work, how they’re decorated. I really love the 18th- and 19th-century ones with all their tassels and gilt gingerbread, which is what I used for the sample I made, but thought that for a big project, less detail and more graphic impact would be called for. I did some drawings and painted a couple sample scarves, to try out shapes, perspective, colors, and composition. I ended up with a large chiffon scarf and a narrower crêpe version. (These are both listed in my shop at Etsy.)

blbal3 crepebal3 crepebal4

I took the things I liked about each, and drew a to-scale mock-up, or cartoon.

I took my cartoon to a local copy shop and had it blown up 200% and 400%.cartoon

Unfortunately, the dimensions of the silk piece I’d been sent were not the same as the size I’d planned for, but it was no problem to cut my cartoon into pieces to arrange the composition. I was able to take some pieces from the 200% enlargement and others from the 400% enlargement and piece them together (thereby justifying the fortune I spent having the enlargements made. Lesson here: always ask the cost-per-square-foot of enlargements before ordering!).


400% blow-up of cartoon,
cut to fit silk dimensions

Part II

Once I had the layout I wanted and got the proportions right, I taped the cartoon to my light table and then taped the silk light_tableover the cartoon. I made sure to grab the drafters’ tape rather than the stickier masking tape so it’s easier to remove the tape from the fabric.  (My friends Marcia and Martin gave me this incredible light table a few months ago, bless them!)  I traced the lines from my cartoon to the silk using clear, water-based gutta.

I bought my wonderful frame about 15 years ago, but it only stretches to 74″ long. I’ve done larger projects in the past by stretching half at a time and making sure to, 1. divide the composition so that there’s a hard resist line to mask the break and, 2. be sure to hold back enough of each color to complete the project.  stretcher

This is the biggest project I’ve ever worked on and it seemed essential to be able to see the whole of it. I wrastused up some spare parts and moved things around to give the frame the support necessary to keep it from sliding off the table.  I had to do some fancy footwork to maneuver around my little room so I’d be able to reach all parts of the banner.  After walking around the house with my hands in my pockets for a few hours, I started laying in the dyes.  balloon_state1

Perhaps I should’ve walked around the house with my hands in my pockets a while longer, ’cause I dripped a plop of green into the sky area almost immediately.

I blotted it with water, tried a little rubbing alcohol, and marched around the house with my hands in my pockets for a while.  Then I went off to lie on the sofa and read an entire Michael Gruber book, The Forgery of Venus.  It’s really good.  I recommend it.  balloon_mistake1


I always tell students that a good attitude in silk  painting is learning to reframe “mistakes” as “opportunities.”  Since the green plop was still there the next day, I decided to insert another balloon.  [If I had submerged the entire piece in water as soon as I plopped the mistake down, I may have been able to minimize the color more.  Since the rest of the color hadn’t yet been steamed to fix it, though, getting the other colors wet risked reducing their values, and I didn’t want pastel colors.  I would’ve also had to redraw all my resist lines, and I’m far too lazy for that .]  You can see the result in view three, above.

I’ve often found that I really love a piece I’m working on until I lay in the background, which ends up being the main color, after all.   I’ve tried painting the main color in first, but that doesn’t seem to please me either.  I ended up with four eight-ounce yoghurt containers full of unsatisfactory blues, so I went off to lay on the couch and read Ursula LeGuin’s new book, Lavinia.  It’s very good.  I recommend it highly.

Part III

balloon_state3Back to the background.  I turned my frame around, to make it easier for me to maneuver around my cramped space.  Too much leaning in is asking for trouble, I’ve learned, both for my back and for spills.

I gave up on the blues I started, which was difficult ’cause I really hate to waste color.  Blues can be insipid, I’ve found, and some of the shades are really “light-eating.”  I made that up.  I broke the rules of dye mixing, and added more powder to existindecantingg dyes in order to increase the intensity of the colors.  I had little particles floating around, so I banded some cheesecloth over the top of a clean container and poured my blues in to decant.

I dove in then and started in on my background.  This has to be done in one fell swoop if you intend to get solid color over a large area.  I usually prefer to see brushstrokes in large areas, but somehow the word “banner” kept bringing my thoughts to graphic mode, rather than painterly mode.

balloon_state4I really liked the paler, true blue in the chiffon scarf I did earlier as a sample.  This banner is going to live in the Southwest, though, so this is the blue of the wide open, dry skies of New Mexico.  See the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the left of the largest balloons?  I’ve been backpacking there a half-dozen times.

Now must let it sit for a while and go find something to read . . .

Part IV

rolling Roll the silk up in clean newsprint.  The object is to not let one part of the fabric touch another part.

Continue rolling until you have one long tube.  Fold the tube up to fit the container you’re going to use and wrap the whole thing in foil.


Now it’s time to steam the dyes into the silk.  The difference between dye and paint is that paint sits on the surface of the fabric, which is why it can change the “hand” or the way the fabric feels.  Dyes incorporate into the fabric.  Some of the newer dyes can be heat-set using only a hot iron, but it’s difficult to get really solid color with them.  I used fiber-reactive procion dyes for this banner, and they need to be steamed.  A good steamer will run you between $800-1200, so I’ve opted to use Great Aunt Myrtle’s Magnalite Roaster.  If your Great Aunt Myrtle didn’t leave you any Magnalite, any large roaster or Dutch oven will do.

setupPut a couple inches of water into the pan, and put a couple cheap pie pans on the bottom.  Any heat-proof object will do, as long as it keeps the foil roll away from the water.  I put another pie pan rightsideup on top of the upsidedown ones, to further separate my foil roll from the water.  I then line the lid with a cotton towel, to ensure that no steam drips fall onto and enter the foil roll.   Bring the water to a  good simmer and setup2 let the fabric steam for 30 minutes to two hours.  I let this one steam quite a while, since it was so big and I wanted to ensure the steam reached through all the layers of newsprint.

While you’re waiting, you can take care of the crunchy kitchen floor, do the dishes you’ve been putting off for so long, and empty the compost bucket while you’re at it.  Or, it’s always nice to read a book.clean_up

After a couple hours of steaming, I took the whole roll outside to unroll it.  Turquoise, especially, seems to outgas obnoxiously and you don’t want your kitchen to smell like a chemistry lab.

Hang the piece up out of the way and let it sit for a couple of days to really cure the dyes.

Part V

The next step is to rinse the resist out of the fabric.  Every water-based resist I’ve ever used in the past rinses out with a little warm water soak.  Wouldn’t you know, this is the first time I used Sennelier water-based resist, and I could not get the stuff to come out.  soak So I read a book that wasn’t very memorable — in fact, I can’t remember either the title or the author at this point.

Then I emailed my friend Marcia-the-Silk-Painter-Who-Answers-All-Questions.   She told me to either have it dry cleaned or to rinse the piece in lantern fuel. Lantern fuel! I went and read another book and then pulled out the acrylics and did a little canvas painting.  That work is most definitely not memorable.

I thought I was scared at the beginning of this project, with that huge piece of silk gas_soakstaring at me . . . then I had to face the idea of soaking my finished banner in Coleman gas.  I’m too cheap and too eco-conscious to have anything dry cleaned.

This morning, I decided to bite the bullet and get it done.  It was 105 degrees in the shade, so I figured that the fuel would spontaneously combust anyway, and all my troubles would be over.  Of course, it worked outgassing beautifully, just as Marcia told me it would.  I should probably have left it in just a little longer, because once it dried and I rinsed and ironed it, I could feel a couple stiff lines were left.  That little stiffness won’t matter, since it’s a banner and not a garment. pocket_strip

I tore a couple five-inch-wide strips of silk and used the rest of my sky-colored paint to dye them to match the banner.   I then sewed the dyed piece across the top of the banner to make a rod pocket.  My sewing machine is a clunker and I’ve learned to cut strips of sewingtissue paper to sew through to keep the thread tensions even and the stitches from skipping.  I then tear away the tissue paper, iron the piece once more, hang it on the wall to take some pictures.

In 8th grade, our grammar school principal was a lovely cartoon of a matron who would deliver speeches from the doorway on “Being the Cream of the Crop,” and “Turning Over a New Leaf.”  Miss Miller hadn’t kept up with how the neighborhood had changed over the years.  She didn’t seem to realize that some of these 8th-graders finished4were 16-year-old boys named Vito and Vinnie who stood out on Hwy. 66 and smoked over lunch break.  Needless to say, Miss Miller’s speeches caused much eye-rolling and elbow jabbing (which she also never seemed to notice).  At any rate, I always think fondly of Miss Miller when I finish a project like this because it is just like Turning Over a New Leaf.

Here’s a view of the finished product.  I’m not going to get to go to Albuquerque to see it hanging in the museum, but hopefully some nice member of Silk Painters International will take a picture or two for me . . .


Entry filed under: All Posts, art and artists. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

Some vindication . . . There are prints and there are Prints

23 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Marcia and Martin  |  12 August 2008 at 4:17 pm

    You did it! The banner is the best.


  • 2. Barbara Norman  |  11 August 2008 at 3:23 pm

    You are so talented, not only an incredible artist but also a great writer. Thanks for sharing. the banner is beautiful

  • 3. Elaine  |  13 July 2008 at 11:15 pm

    16 June 2008 at 7:42 am
    The banner is wonderful, you are incredibly talented my dear!! Loved reading about the process.

  • 4. Scooter  |  13 July 2008 at 11:14 pm

    10 June 2008 at 7:15 pm
    God Janine, you are soooooo F’ing talented. I am so glad to see you expressing you beautiful Soul. Love, Scotty

  • 5. zudagay  |  13 July 2008 at 11:13 pm

    10 June 2008 at 7:50 am
    Your banner turned out absolutely beautiful!! I loved reading your series! I hope you do this again. Miss Miller sounds delightful!

  • 6. Chauncey  |  13 July 2008 at 11:12 pm

    Chauncey | 10 June 2008 at 6:38 am
    Janine, what a great entry. Beautiful piece. Really beautiful!

  • 7. Joon  |  13 July 2008 at 11:12 pm

    10 June 2008 at 5:59 am
    Gorgeous … and your little blog too! (((hugs)))

  • 8. Joan  |  13 July 2008 at 11:11 pm

    10 June 2008 at 5:41 am
    Just lovely and glad it all worked out for you Janine.

  • 9. lizplummer  |  13 July 2008 at 11:10 pm

    10 June 2008 at 5:40 am
    Absolutely beautiful, Janine… and you seem to have got through LOTS of books during this project!!!

  • 10. Marion Barnett  |  13 July 2008 at 11:09 pm

    10 June 2008 at 5:36 am
    Yup, lantern oil works beautifully, ask me how I know !! But it is smelly…yuk…

  • 11. Dayna/Scottie Acres Boutique  |  13 July 2008 at 11:09 pm

    5 June 2008 at 12:58 pm
    Can’t wait to see the finished piece!

  • 12. jonistinson  |  13 July 2008 at 11:08 pm

    Althea, I have a pot just like that! Suppose that’s all I need to make these gorgeous silk pieces? LOL. Thanks for sharing the process and wonderful results with us.

  • 13. zudagay  |  13 July 2008 at 11:07 pm

    5 June 2008 at 9:37 am
    And now I have to wait…..sigh….. Thank you to Great Aunt Myrtle for her far thinking in purchasing such a sturdy roaster!

  • 14. Tori  |  13 July 2008 at 11:06 pm

    3 June 2008 at 11:31 am
    That banner looks awesome! And you’re right to add more pigment. I always try to get the highest pigment concentration I can from my art supplies.
    Next time try mixing a little of your pigment separately before adding it to the main batch. If you mix it on some glass or other non-porous surface and mull it (sort of like you would in a mortar and pestle) with something like a glass jar or paperweight, you can get rid of the lumps and undissolved bits.

  • 15. jonistinson  |  13 July 2008 at 11:05 pm

    3 June 2008 at 9:40 am
    It was so interesting to see this work in progress! The banner is really great. I have loved all of your balloon themed items! Thanks for sharing.

  • 16. lizplummer  |  13 July 2008 at 11:04 pm

    3 June 2008 at 8:06 am
    I’m really enjoying this series of posts, Janine. Love the blue too.

  • 17. zudagay  |  13 July 2008 at 11:03 pm

    3 June 2008 at 7:53 am
    Just lovely and coming together very nicely. I like the blue for the sky!

  • 18. ScottieAcresBoutique  |  13 July 2008 at 11:02 pm

    3 June 2008 at 7:26 am
    Looks beautiful from here.

  • 19. JillsTreasureChest  |  13 July 2008 at 11:01 pm

    2 June 2008 at 9:00 pm
    I get overwhelmed/intimidated by big projects sometimes too. Especially if I’ve already put a lot of work into reaching a certain point. Or if I have a lot of mone invested in the project. Your things always come out so lovely, I never would have guessed you have those feelings!!

  • 20. zudagay  |  13 July 2008 at 11:00 pm

    2 June 2008 at 2:02 pm
    I’m in total agreement with your philosophy, Janine…when things aren’t going exactly right, go read a book. I’m always telling people, it’s just clay-smoosh it and try again or it’s just paint -you can paint over it, but they aren’t painting on silk! I might get pretty nervous painting on something precious that holds the color. It is pretty much a one time chance, isn’t it? It is looking amazing and I love that you added the little balloon!!

  • 21. lizplummer  |  13 July 2008 at 11:00 pm

    2 June 2008 at 1:45 pm
    This is awesome, Janine! I love reading about the process! And your workroom looks like mine in the middle of a project… no room to move! Must read those books…

  • 22. zudagay  |  13 July 2008 at 10:59 pm

    2 June 2008 at 7:56 am
    Janine, this is so fascinating. And I love hot air balloons! We used to chase them years ago when a city not far away had an annual balloon rally. Wonderful fun! I’ll be watching for more installments!

  • 23. lizplummer  |  13 July 2008 at 10:58 pm

    2 June 2008 at 7:32 am
    Janine, I can’t wait to see the rest of this!!! And wait till DH hears there’s a Balloon Museum there…. AND a balloon fiesta! (He collects aeroplane numbers and balloons count because they have them… don’t ask…


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