Who paints all these things?
I do. Each piece is hand painted one at a time, in my studio in Hillsboro, Oregon.
How did you get started with silk painting?
I am a self-taught painter – I heard silk painting casually mentioned and was intrigued, got some silk and dyes and started playing. My first pieces looked awful, but the process felt amazing, so I trusted that feeling and kept at it. I did lots of research, and made every mistake possible, (including setting a scarf on fire), and learned from it all. And it evolved from there and took over my life – I have been painting full time since moving to Portland in 2011.
How does silk painting work?
Each piece is a one of a kind painting. It starts with plain white silk, which I stretch onto a frame. I use a water-based resist to draw the lines. This is not totally water-proof, so I can’t get too much moisture on it, but it creates a border and keeps the colors contained. Then I apply non-toxic silk dyes using a sumi (Asian calligraphy) brush. The colors saturate the silk and expand till they hit the resist lines that I drew. Sometimes I use extra details like blending multiple colors of dye and tossing salt crystals over the wet colors to create a raindrop texture.
Here’s a speedy video of me painting an altar cloth:
I do all of this freehand and I like to paint instinctively, making them up as I go along. For me it’s a more organic, freeing, meditative experience painting that way.
After all the painting is done and dry, I set the colors. This is done by rolling the silk with layers of plain newsprint in between, and putting it in a steamer on the stovetop, made for the purpose. It holds the bundle in a chamber with steam for an hour or two. Different silk dyes are set in different ways, but I prefer steaming because it creates a rich, bold color and doesn’t require the use of any chemicals. After that’s done I soak it for a bit to remove extra dye and resist, rinse and iron it, and it’s all done. This way the silks are all colorfast, hand-washable and easy to care for.
For the pieces with extra adornments, I hand-sew the chains or beads, using a sturdy upholstery thread with knots at each connection point, so they are good and solid.
That’s the summary. It’s not a common art form, but I love it. Feel free to ask any questions you may have.