Silk Dreams

Paintings on Silk
by Ursula Schroter


Painting on silk is a very old technique of dying fabric that can be traced back until 1000 before Christi.

Silk was introduced in Europe by traders traveling the silk road. Silk painting developed way back in countries like China, Japan and Vietnam. During the second half of the 19th century traditional silk painting techniques started in France. However, for artworks silk was used relatively late although Gauguin and Picasso became enthusiastic about silk as a canvas.

Traditional silk painting techniques include techniques, such as resist (e. g. wax or gutta), effect (e. g. salt, alcohol, sugar, etc.) and watercolor (wet on wet, wet on dry). The established techniques were improved and extended by new techniques developed by several widely known silk painters, e. g. glass plate technique by U. Patel-Missfeldt; stop-flow primer (spray starch/magic sizing) by M. Muelhause-Schaeffer and K. Sistek, water technique by C. Rupp, just to name a few.

Historically, silk painting has been used mainly for clothes. However, today there exists a large variety of applications besides clothes, like pictures, pillowcases, jewelry, cards, etc.

Silk can be used as canvas. The brilliance of the color using silk dyes on luxurious silk is amazing. Every time a new painting is started it is breathtaking when the brush touches the silk and the dyes begin to flow. Typically one uses silk dyes or silk paints.

For this, the silk has to be tightened to a frame and is then painted using various techniques. Depending on the kind of technique just for the painting process it can take several hours for a bigger silk sheet.

When a painting created with steam-fixing dyes is finished the silk sheets are prepared for steam fixation by rolling them between two layers of paper. The silk is placed in a special steamer and “cooks” (stays in the steam) for about 3 to 8 hours depending on the amount of silk in the steamer. The steaming process not only sets the dye permanently and bonds it with the silk, but also develops the color to bring out all its brightness and intensity.

Then, the silk has to “breeze” for a couple of days. Subsequently, every piece is hand washed and rinsed under clear water to remove any excess dye. After ironing dry the silk has its natural softness and luster.

For my paintings I follow the procedure described above. Each single piece I create is hand painted on different kinds of silk, mostly with steam-fixing french dyes and sometimes with silk paints. Also, I like combining traditional techniques as well as extended new techniques and trying out new ideas, such as gold effect.

A silk painting can be displayed on the wall either as a loose wall hanging or as a framed painting that is stretched to a backing or can be mounted to a canvas.

After the long process of preparing, painting, steam setting and after-treatment a unique piece of art has been created.




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