Why would you want to print on silk? Part 1

I’m waiting…I needed to order more linoleum for another large cloud linocut, and of course this is taking longer than expected.

So as I wait, I’m exploring more ideas to incorporate into my printmaking. I have several drawings of rice paddies, and thought how nice it would be if there could be a watercolor effect in the paddies that are flooded. This type of blending with relief printmaking is nearly impossible. As my mind turned toward all things originating in Asia, I thought “SILK!”

Painting on silk is harder than tie-dying

My daughter and I have painted silk scarves with Procion dyes, often used for tie-dying. A e-mail exchange with the folks at Dharma Trading Company prompted me to purchase Jacquard (Green Label) dyes because I wanted to make sure all the colors were going to be stable. Blues (again!) are often the problem.

Jacquard (Green Label) Silk Colors were recommended as more stable than the tie-dye Procion dyes I had used before.

I began with the three process colors and a few yards of traditional silk. Just figuring how to mix and dilute these colors without wasting them was a challenge. I finally raided my husband’s shop and found some blunt syringes. These helped dispense very small amounts of each color into plastic cups, which I could then dilute.

Blunt syringes were an effective way to control the dyes. You could even drop the dyes directly on the wet silk for interesting effects.

Accepting a lack of control

Most silk painting is done with either batik wax or gutta resist to control where the dye flows from brush. I used the no-control method, meaning that the colors just flowed together in interesting ways. This type of “fast art” is always a mix of exhilaration and stress for me, but some of the colors were just spectacular.

This was my most psychedelic creation, which is too busy for my purposes. But the process was very enjoyable.

One challenge arose because I was not stretching the silk, as is traditional. The thin fabric allowed the dyes to pool on my glass table in wild ripples. My ultimate goal was to have the colors follow the general areas of a linocut, in this case a 10-inch square linocut of topographical lines. I plan to put the printed key block under some acrylic to use as a guide.

Getting some more control

Freezer paper was just what was needed to tame the unpredictable silk.

Clearly I needed some way to stabilize the silk — both when I was painting, and also when I used glues to adhere it to my Rives BFK printmaking paper. I remembered the advice of a textile artist friend who recommended freezer paper.

I put the silk down onto newsprint and covered it shiny side down with the freezer paper. Using the silk setting — don’t get too hot! — and the freezer paper gently adhered to the silk but pulled up off the newsprint. Now the prospect of gluing seemed somewhat more possible. Silk is so slippery.

Painting on silk adhered to freezer paper kept the silk wet longer and allowed the colors to continue to move and merge.

I also experimented with painting on already stabilized silk. I had been washing the painted silk in a chemical solution to set the colors, but since I was not going to get the silk wet again, another textile artist friend said she thought this step was not necessary. On the freezer paper, the dyes seemed to migrate for some time, so I had to give up having strict control over the outcome. Which was the point.

Next week I’ll write more about this experiment, including glues to “chine colle” the silk onto the Rives BFK, and finally printing a linocut block on top of the silk.

Getting crazy…and glue-y…in the print studio.

3 Replies to “Why would you want to print on silk? Part 1”

  1. Elizabeth – this all seems quite exciting and of course I / we appreciate your sharing these experiments and tests and trials with us. Using Silk is also something that has occurred to me but I have never got round to it…………….. I also love experimenting to find out if this that or the other will work – although unlike you I am more ‘intaglio’ inclined. Look forward to hearing more about your exploits. Thanks for your great blog. I honestly find visual artists blogs to be the best thing there is on the web.

    1. Hi Aine,
      Thanks for reading! I agree that visual art blogs are one of the best things to read on-line, and I appreciate reading blogs that aren’t only about completed work. So I try to return the favor when I am experimenting. Next week I will talk about glues, and the printing itself. There is always this tension between discovering something new, and deciding if it moves your art in directions that you are happy with. Stay tuned, E

  2. So fascinating for the uninitiated! I love getting some insights into the totally unfamiliar world of your art and practices. Your clear and concise writing and well-chosen photos make it all intelligible. And make me appreciate your beloved works on my walls all the more.

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