The Balloon Banner Project
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 to 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.)
I took the things I liked about each, and drew a to-scale mock-up, or 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
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 over 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.
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.
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.
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.
Back 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 existing 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.
I 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 . . .
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.
Put 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 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.
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.
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. 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 staring 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 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.
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 tissue 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 were 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: Althea Peregrine, AltheaP, balloon banner, Balloon Fiesta, dyes, International Balloon Museum, Janine Maves, painting process, Silk Painters International, silk painting, SPIN.