How to paint on silk — a crash course

15 December 2008 at 12:53 am Leave a comment

I promised my students I would post this in case they’d like to go on with the work they started in my silk painting class at Pullen Arts Center in Raleigh.  So, in a few easy steps:

1.  Prewash your fabric in Synthrapol.  You can use other detergents, such as dish soap or Woolite, but Synthrapol is the one that’s designed to remove any gums or finishes left on by the fabric manufacturer.  Soak in warm water 10 minutes or more, rinse, then hang to drip dry.  It’s a good idea to iron the silk while it’s still a little damp:  you’ll get out more wrinkles that way.

2.  There are many, many ways to work on silk — leave it flat for a watercolor technique, submerge it in dye for a solid color or marbled pattern or stretch it on a frame.  For our first project, we just let our sample silks flat on the table to see how the colors would flow and react to each other.  For subsequent projects, we used stretcher frames we built in class, which I wrote about earlier.enlarge_pattern

3.    Plan your design.  It’s quite easy to draw on the smooth side of freezer paper, using a grid method to enlarge your cartoon to the size of your fabric/scarf.  (See, all that math you fought taking in school does come in handy one day!)  Use a Sharpie to ensure there isn’t any bleed-through when you iron your freezer paper to your fabric.

draw_on_freezer_paperWe learned the hard way not to use too hot an iron when fusing the new plastic-coated freezer paper to our silk.  Use an iron just warm enough to adhere the fabric and keep it from sliding around on you.

4.  Apply your resist.  If you’re using freezer paper, just flip your paper over and you’ll be able to see your drawing through the silk.  If you’re lucky enough to have access to a light table, you can use drafting tape to hold your fabric in place over your drawing to apply your resist.  If you’re feeling confident and want to work more freely, you can stretch your fabric and draw directly on it with your resist.  Placing a piece of dark paper under the fabric will help you to see what you’re doing.light_table

5.  Give the resist an hour or more to dry.  If you want to make solid areas of color, be sure to check that all your resist lines meet, so you won’t get bleed through.  If you’re working with a pre-hemmed scarf, be sure to take your resist line all the way around the underside of the hem.

6. When your resist resist1is dry, the fun part starts!   You can pre-plan your color by using colored pencils on your drawing, or test your paint colors on a paper towel.  Remember, it takes only the tiniest amount of color to paint on silk, so mix enough color for your project, but try not to mix too much — it won’t keep unless you put it in a well-sealed glass or plastic jar.  And think about your paint hygiene:  you don’t want to pour mixed color back into the pure color jar, or dip your brush into the jar.  Use eyedroppers to transfer colors! balloon_mistake2

7.  You’ll be a happier silk painter if you give up any type-A personality tendencies you have.  If you drip color where you don’t want it, go with the flow and use it!  Incorporate that blob into your design and decide you meant to do that all along!


salt18.  If you want to use salt to add pattern your color, remember to put it on while your fabric is still wet.  Different colors react differently to different salts.  And try not to get salt on other parts of the fabric.  Let the salt stay on the fabric an hour or two, until it’s completely dry, then just brush it off.    

9. Once your paint is good and dry, remove the piece from the frame and iron it well on both sides to set the color.  Then soak it in warm water to remove the resist, hang it to drop dry, and iron it again. 

Voila!  You’re a silk painter! Stay tuned this week for pictures of students’ work!

1 comment 15 December 2008


Entry filed under: All Posts, art and artists, processes in silk painting / surface design. Tags: , , , , , , .

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