plein air at zoo atlanta

i was out walking the dogs with jim at the end of may, and ran into dawn kinney martin, an artist i knew from way back in the days of cafe tu tu tango.  she told me she would be up at the zoo the first week of june, doing a plein air paint out as a fund raiser for the zoo.  i got all excited, and got the name of the person to call at the zoo – the fabulous julia knox (we’re related by name, sort of).  so i ran home, and you know how it is when you’re trying to get hold of someone with an office – they’re never there, they never answer their phone, and they never get back to you.  but i had a weekend to make it happen, so i hounded her, and finally she gave me this nice polite email about how they were full up for this year, but i could apply for next year’s event starting in december.  i took it well.  i wrote back that there was sure to be at least one no-show, and i live in the neighborhood and could be down there in ten minutes.  well, an hour and a half to run off and get supplies.

so she called me on tuesday, and i scampered down there.  i knew before i even arrived that i wanted to paint the flamingos.  they’re so colorful.  they’re the first things you see when you get inside the zoo, and tho you never stop to look at them on the way out (because fatigue), it’s so nice to stop and contemplate the colors.  plus, they don’t move, so i could make my first painting a still life.

so to speak.

after putting all my stuff in the ‘green room’ (it’s kind of brownish gray), in the round education building up on the hill, the one with the living roof, i was driven down to the front gate by an intern – they’re so bright and chipper, and all of them are from way north fulton county, so this is a really special internship – they all complain of the traffic (welcome to adulthood in atlanta).

i sat in front of the flamingos for about two hours.  it was around 1 when i got there, i picked the deepest shade right next to the railing separating us from them, sat and watched them for awhile to find a grouping of them that didn’t seem likely to move for awhile, and then got out my canvas and my graphite stick and started sketching.  once i had the sketch in, i took a reference photo of what i was going to paint, because even tho they’re remarkably unlifelike creatures, they do move around because there’s a lot of them, and they are sociable.  they squabble some.  they preen, they flap their wings (not often), they poke at the water listlessly (as if there might be food there – the water smells like chlorine and bird poop).  mostly they sleep.

so in two hours i had my reintroduction to speed painting, which is what i did at tango.  and what’s more, speed painting in acrylic, which dries as soon as it comes out of the tube.  i mixed paint a lot.  can i please say how difficult it is to get that brownish green of the water in a beam of sunlight?


i took a new canvas out with me next morning.  i got there around 9, and wandered around the zoo all morning, looking at the animals, the landscape, the visitors, the light.  then i really wasn’t in the mood to paint after that, wanting lunch and a nap, but i forced myself to stay and start a painting.  i stopped back by the green room for a stash of water and snacks so i would have something to keep me going (i forgot to bring lunch), and then got another intern to take me up to the orangutan towers.

the orangutans were mainly sleeping in the afternoon shade, but the habitat was very nice and green, with the platform and cement tree, the woods behind, and the tourists in front.  i sat on the benches behind the viewing area, about 30 feet from the railing, and painting the habitat for a couple of hours, sitting in the shade, ignoring the hundreds of people who came by to see the orangutans.  i was struck by how many times the same conversations were repeated by different families or couples stopping by.  it was like in venice, when every single tourist would stop on a particular spot on a particular bridge, and swing their cameras up to take the same exact photo of the same place from the same angle and the same spot.  something compelling in the composition of that scene.  i too had stopped and take my picture, and so i did the same thing at the zoo, and painted as if i was a bump on a log, witnessing sort of half-abstractedly the buzzing of the constant stream of tourists in and out of the space.  like a time lapse photo.

please note that what you’re seeing here is the finished painting, in all cases.  when i took them home after the two hour session of painting on the scene, they were simple, roughed in, needing a lot of work, and lacking all sorts of details – like the orangutans, and the tourists.  all that got put in during the week that we had to finish our work before the auction.


so that was wednesday.  on thursday morning i got here right after the place opened, because they let the staff in at 8, but the tourists didn’t get let in until 9:30, so that was a whole bunch of time in which to paint absolutely unimpeded.  nobody looking, nobody asking, nobody talking, nobody taking selfies with you.

so i staked out the carousel.  i could always see it when i was sitting in the car taking a break from painting.  the lights moved around and around, and i knew what it was.  so i had the little intern drop me off in the kids’ playplace, where they have a wetland full of turtles, and wallabys, and a petting zoo, and a climbing wall.  i liked the carousel.  it was recently done, in 1999, i think, and it’s becoming a little worn, but it’s got old fashioned charm, and features a lot of the zoo animals.  so i walked all around, selected the view of willie b’s rump, and stood against the railing to draw and start to paint.

it’s a really challenging painting, because of all the angles and straight lines, which take a certain level of concentration – meditation – to be able to get it right.  so i struggled with it for my two hours, but in the end got all the white space of the canvas covered, which i consider to be the end of the first act.  and then it was 9:30, and the kids arrived, and ACK the carousel started moving, so i stopped painting, grabbed my camera and took some photos, mostly blurry, but i got these kids in these poses on some other animal entirely, and slapped them in when i was done messing around with the background.


then, after lunch, or instead of lunch, or something, i got a volunteer to drive me – they’re older, and sometimes they live around the neighborhood.  we went the back way, around the staff parking lots, and the backs of the buildings, including the restaurants and the reptile house.  we drove around the back of the new reptile house, which is truly spectacular from the outside – like a ufo landed in grant park, all steel and glass.  i felt so privileged to be behind the scenes in the zoo – like the time i got a private tour around the back bits of the aquarium.

i stopped at the alligator habitat.  i had been there the day before, scoping out things.  the inside of the new slimy scaly spectacular ( i think the intern insisted on calling it) is a masterwork of decoration.  the rock walls, the desert habitats, the cement tree limbs, everything was done with an artistry that made the exhibits look pale.  i even got to talk to one of the guys who worked on teh walls, imbedding cast fossils into the rock surface.  brilliant.

the reason i stopped at the alligator habitat was not the alligators.  it was the habitat.  a great swimming pool of an enclosure, a pair or three alligators wallowing on the shallow rock, and the tourists, each and every one of them, bending over double to look under the water level to see them lying there.  it was priceless.  i just had to paint a row of tourist butts.

but first i had to paint the habitat, so i sat on a cement bench with fossils in it, laid my paints and all around me, and painted for two hours, putting in the rocks and the water, leaving most of the other details later.  the sky didn’t get painted in until i saw a photograph jim took the following day, under different conditions.  it was only on reviewing the photos that i discovered that the sky was blue outside the building, so i painted it in much later.  the same thing for the people.


the next day, friday, i was totally undecided what to paint.  i found out talking to other painters that this was pretty much the case with most of them.  they wandered around until inspiration hit them.

there were 40 some painters there, doing all sorts of work, and they were spread around the zoo in the most unlikely places, as well as the places you’d imagine – in front of the pandas, the lions, the elephants, the giraffes.  they were doing all kinds of work, some working on panels they’d pretreated with a texture or a color or some embellishment.  some worked from photos, even tho they were working outside (a kind of stretch of the definition of plein air), some took photos and went away to paint in the studio.  whatever.  julia, who ran the event, said up front that she wasn’t there to police us as artists, and if we could produce it, we could call it art.  so we were free to let the place and the animals inspire us, and it was a really creative week, and lots of fun, and everybody met a bunch of other artists, not all of them local.

it’s a small world.

anyway, i ended up in the early morning shade in front of the elephant enclosure, and spent the morning painting it.  the elephants soon moved off, and were in fact not seen again, which concerned quite a few tourists, who told their kids that the elephants were probably still asleep.  i’d heard someone who sounded like they knew state that this was elephant spa day and they were having their toenails done.  i ventured this to several particularly worried tourists, and it seemed to help.


that afternoon, i had time to start one more painting, and unwisely, perhaps, picked the meerkat.  i thought they were so interesting, i wanted to have the experience of sitting in front of their habitat for a couple of hours, absorbing their activity.  that’s what was so interesting about doing all this live painting.  i got to sit and watch animals the way i don’t get to do in life.  i usually work from photos.  i don’t get a chance to experience the wandering and attentions of animals on their own.  the tourists came and went, and i sat and studied the various animals i painted (except for the alligators – i never saw them while i was sitting there).  it was very good to do that, and i’m looking forward to the privilege of time alone with wildlife, even tho of course i’m not alone and they’re not wild.  you know what i’m talking about.

so i painted the meerkats.  this one girl would climb up on a planter and look around, stock still except for her head, which turned here and there quickly, then froze up and stared until something else caught her attention.  i got her to look right at me for the reference photo, and then spent the rest of my time sketching in her surroundings, and drawing her basic body shape and attitude, because she stayed that way for five minutes at a time.

the only trouble with this was that i was sitting in full sun, in the early afternoon, without a hat, without any shade at all.  my paints dried the moment i squeezed them out, my metal butcher tray that i was using for a palette was too hot to touch (i had it resting on my knees anyway), i couldn’t see the colors properly because of the glare, and the meerkats had all gone into the other enclosure which was turned away from the sun.



so i went home with everything.  and spent the next week fixing them, finishing them, in some cases redrawing them according to the reference photo.  and on saturday they had a big party at the zoo, and a silent auction, and all that.  we went, but that’s another story.  one i probably won’t get around to telling…

watercolors in venice

i’ve been in venice, italy, for six weeks now, and have six more weeks here before going back.  i brought my watercolor paper (3 blocks of cold pressed arches) and most of my pigments (72 of them) plus the gum arabic to mix up watercolors with.  i also brought my old watercolor palette, from when i used to use tube paints, but i find most of them aren’t venetian colors, and i don’t want to use them.

for instance, i have tube blues (ultramarine, cerulean, indigo, idanthrone, prussian) but the water here is cobalt green and mayan blue.  (my friend marie matthews likes to mix up cerulean and yellow ochre.)

anyway, i have the old palette, and the new one, and i mix up what i need for the painting.

i’ve done five paintings so far, and am working on a sixth at the moment.  it’s not very fast work, but i have several excuses – a three year old grandson, and houseguests.   so i’m dancing as fast as i can…

here is what i have done to date.  i’m not very happy with them, because they’re far too tightly painted, and i was hoping for more looseness.  but i’m doing architectural paintings, and they are by nature pretty nit picky.  when i start in with the silk painting, it’ll loosen up.  it has to.  i can’t do tight with silk.  i had hoped to bring my encaustics, because they’re also by nature loose, but you can’t take orange oil on the plane, and i’m not into smuggling, so i just didn’t bother.


this one is of a building i saw on my first day here.  it’s at the the of a street that leads to via garibaldi, the main shopping street for this part of venice.  there’s a guy walking down it, away from my viewpoint.  the day i took the reference photo, there was a delivery boat.  it must be a quarter of a mile to via garibaldi, but they deliver from this point, at least some of the shops get their deliveries from here.  there is another canal that actually ends at via garibaldi, but it’s not convenient for this shop or delivery boat.  who can tell?  i liked it because the building is so ornate, with a garden on the veranda.  so i painted it.  it’s 11″x14″, and i used the tube colors of my old palette.


i did this one next.  it’s on a street leading to the island of san pietro,, and i’ve taken the view from campo ruga because i just loved the building on the corner.  it’s on the same sized paper as the last one, and uses the same old palette.


for a change, i decided to do one of the houses on the grand canal, at one of the extreme high tides we had during the last full moon.  for this one, i had to break out the pigments, because i just didn’t have the blues.


then i did one of another little alley off of via garibaldi (never straying far from home, so far).  i continue to be entranced by all the laundry people hang out.  in the courtyard of the apartment where we’re staying, the women put out laundry every day, and that seems to be all they do (which isn’t fair, because it’s just all i see…).  i can’t do the same, because i don’t have a clothesline.  i have a folding drying rack that i put next to the radiator, so it dries the clothes actually a bit better than they dry outside (in all kinds of weather), but they don’t smell as nice, and i can’t participate in the ritual.  oh well.  it’s also on the same sized paper, using the tube paints.


this one is different.  it’s in the same area (when we first got here it was completely blocked by the caterpillar roller coaster ride of the luna park, but now that it’s gone…)  i took the reference shot from the vaporetto, at high tide, and put the painting on clayboard.  i love working with clayboard because it takes the watercolor so well, and you can lift the paint off again.  so the clouds, and the dripping water from the broken wave are all lifted, as is the really too intense yellow ochre i put on the walls of the house.  the clayboard measures 3″x4″, so this is a miniature, and i used my pigments for the first time with this painting.  they are much more true to life than the tube colors on the old palette, so i’m going to continue mixing my own colors while i paint.

that’s all i’ve done so far.  tonight i mixed up my silk dyes, and i’ll start on some lagoon views in a day or two.  i’m not sure if i’m going to attempt to set my paintings here (i had so much trouble getting the volcano paintings to set properly that i’m frankly nervous about doing anything here, so we’ll see.)

project – lava silk painting

holuhraun, or nornahar as they’re calling it in iceland, the new lava on top of holuhraun, which is actually old lava.  from bardarbunga, a volcano that erupted JUST AFTER i left iceland this summer.  waaah.  i’ve been watching it on the web, tracking its progress.  and one day i came upon this picture:


and couldn’t wait to put it down on silk.  it’s going to be one of my icelandic series of silk paintings, and by far the most difficult of them all.  i had to make three test scarves before i could be sure of the process.  and the next thing to do is make a production run of four.  but here is a sample of the irritations involved in creating a scarf way out of your own league.

the big technical deal about this scarf is that the warmest, most glowing and purest colors are right next to the most murky black, and the texture is something i can only consider sugar syrup for.  fine water-soluble resist on most of the other details, fine.  but for lava, only a smear of syrup over color is going to work.  but how?


the first thing is always a template, unless i’m feeling bold, and if it’s a successful first try i’ll still transfer it to paper for a proper template.  once a scarf design is down and proven to be good, i roll it up and use it over and over for as many scarves as i feel the need to make.  usually i go for multiples of two, because i steam them side by side in a tall steamer.  in this case i’m trying to make a bunch of scarves for the giftshop in olafsfjordur (ugla (owl) gallery), so i’ll try for 4 of them.  but first i have to get it right.


this is the first step of the first test scarf – put on the boldest orange where the lava will go.  and while i was at it, i put in the flames of the lava fountain above the growing cinder ridge of new lava.  the dark, gummy stuff on top is sugar syrup, squeezed from a bottle in rings, and then mushed and spread with my finger.  you can see a fingerprint in the middle.  i have already drawn in the resist lines – you can see this in the white of the bottom of the scarf.  and i have put syrup on top of the resist line for the lava, but i still drew it.


here’s a closeup.  the purple is one of the streams of water that the lava is encroaching upon, which accounts for much of the smoke.  you can see the lava’s upper resist line well in this photo, with the flames above.


this is how the first scarf turned out.  the good part is to find that the dye formula i’m using is washfast.  the bad thing is that i got the lava too black, and the black washed right into the lava color when it was wet, and ruined the effect.  because i made everything run after painting it all in, as i usually do.  the runs look cool everywhere else but the lava.  so i’m on the right track.


the second scarf should have turned out beautifully, except i was experimenting with the steaming method.  i want to switch to my little steamer for travelling, and i also want to use fabric to steam, rather than paper.  but fabric is way too absorbent, and paper is less so.  the fabric (an old sheet) got wet, the scarf got wet instead of steamed, and ran all over my fabric.  so very little of the dye was retained on the silk.  it’s cool looking, but not what i need.  but i can see i was on the right track with the lava.


so, third try is the charm.  this time i put in a bunch of colors before bothering with the sugar syrup.


then when i stuck the syrup on i used a palette knife to smear it, and put it on rather more thickly in spots where i wanted more lava to shine thru.


the black only went on where i didn’t want to have burning lava, and i had to make sure i was seeing the negative space when i put it on.  i will be careful not to let this part get wet so it doesn’t bleed.  usually when i use sugar syrup i want it to bleed later, for that ferny mixing effect of the colors.  but in this case, i’m using syrup because of its resistive properties, and don’t want to mess with it and dilute the color balance.


okay, here i’m getting a little dark for my tastes with the surrounding night and reflections on the river.  to tell the truth, the dyes i mixed up were very strong, and didn’t flow the way i’m used to, so they streaked and i had to scrub the colors in while the surface was wet.


then lots of red and everything finished and ready for water.


and this is what heppened.  the blue bled the red and everything but those awful red lines in the foreground blended right down to atmospheric.


but, this is the finished test scarf, all washed out and ironed.  it turned out fine.  i want to make the lava more orange, rather than yellow, but the techniques are solid, and i can start into production with the assurance that i have a viable design.

i think it’s lovely.

scarves for sale

jim yarbrough
jim yarbrough

in order to help fund our upcoming trip to venice, and coincidently because i have come across a bunch of scarves i made and hadn’t sold, i’m going to put up about a dozen scarves for sale, here on this blog as well as in our new etsy shop.  both jim and i will be selling the things we make in venice.  in his case, he’ll be making a pastel painting a day, and in my case, i’ll be making watercolor paintings and silk scarves, all with venice as the theme.

so in order to tweak my settings, i’m trying to download a paypal thingie, and trying to mark all my scarves with their own paypal ID, and all that stuff.  i’m a newbie, so this is going to be ugly until i catch the hang of it.  so please pardon the rudeness of actually trying to make money off my art.  it’s crass, but i want to go to venice, so i’ll beg.  or something.


this is an abstract scarf. i did a whole series of them when i first discovered the use of sugar syrup.  i’m not sure, but i might well have soaked the scarf in sugar syrup and let it dry, then twisted it lengthwise and dashed yellow and red, and maybe a bit of black onto it, and let it sit forever until the dye finished spreading into the syrup.  it’s a wonderful way to put color on silk, and this is the only one i have left of a whole batch of scarves that have flown with the wind.


this is one of my nebula series.  this one’s the eye of god nebula.  you can see the stars of the galaxy in the darkness, and then a nebula, outshining all the suns in the sky.  the stars were made with dots of resist, and the features of the nebula were made with sugar syrup for the spots of white, painted around with blue, then bands of purple, black, and red.  the crenellations of black in these rings were probably made by running clear water along right beside the freshly laid black.  and the texture in the inky blackness was made by pitching salt onto the fresh black dye.


my dragon series.  actually, jim did the drawing for the dragons, as he does so much else of the scarf designs i use.  there are two or three dragon drawings that i base my scarves on, and i’m not sure which one this is.  i still have all the dragon design templates, and can pull them out and make another batch any time.  they’re very popular, and this is only one of two that i still have (the other one is in green).  for this one the outer lines of the dragon’s form are in water based resist (sodium alginate), while the crest and the scales are outlined in sugar syrup.  to color the scales i first take red, and put just a dab inside the round top of each scale.  then i put a dab of yellow inside each scale right in the middle.  finally, a drop of blue goes right at the sharp tip of each scale.  after i’ve laid in all the colors for the head, the tale, feet, and crest, i lay in the background, using salt for texture.  and then, with careful abandon, i run clear water over everything, one section at a time.  so the head becomes blended, also the feet.  and with clear water i violate all of the syrup lines, running water over each one of them and wetting the dye so it runs all over the place.  you can see this best along the crest, where it’s obvious where the sugar line was overwhelmed by water and dye, which emerged from the crest and turned the surrounding background red.


this is one of my most complicated scarves.  jim designed it of course.  i asked him to draw this scarf after going off to south carolina’s beaches one summer and just missing a nestfull of loggerhead turtles on their run down to the water.  my sister has several of these scarves.  the sand was done using a resist paste and a sponge, dabbing the pebbly design down on the white scarf and then coming back in with light blue or light brown.  the turtles and shells were outlined with sodium alginate resist, and the waves and tracks, as well as the details on the turtles, were put in with sugar syrup.  everywhere the syrup was put, water was put afterwards in order to make the colors bleed.  a really wonderful scarf, and the last one i have. iIt was a labor of love, and has more details than most of my scarves, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. you’ll want to frame it, but I hope you wear it.


because a friend of mine had a pair of russian blue cats, i made this design from a photo i shot at her place one afternoon.  they’re sleeping on top of a stuffed dog figure on my friend’s couch.  i made a run of these and this is the last one.


too bad i can’t show this right side up, but it would take up too much of the page.  when i designed a set of kimono for my sister’s wedding, i also made the designs into scarves that went along with the kimono.  this one was based on my sister’s kimono, and there’s a standing dragon for her husband’s, which i don’t have a sample of.  but for this one, taken from the idea of japanese scrollwork, cranes hang out along a meandering stream enjoying the irises and wiggly fish in the wiggly water.  this is one of the only scarves where i left a lot of white.  the water was done with sugar syrup, and some of the internal features of the birds.  everything else was put in with alginate resist, or painted on freehand.  you will notice some places where the water has escaped the banks of the river.  we call that a happy accident.  as with all these scarves, there aren’t any more left of this particular run of scarf designs.  but i still have the templates.


this cheshire cat is significantly altered from the disney version, while still resembling it.  it’s actually a color chart that i developed to use in my silk painting classes.  one version, which isn’t for sale, is all marked up with color directions in resist, and runs the gamut of colors.  this one plays with a gradation of blue from full strength at the head to very light at the tip of the tail, and goes from blue purple thru red and all the way to yellow on the body.  the background texture was done with salt.  i’ve never done a production run of these scarves, only the class examples, such as this one.


this is a fish scarf of my own design, based on the vast seaweed and kelp forests just offshore of most stretches of coast i’m familiar with.  the fish were outlined with water based resist, the seaweed was put in with sugar syrup, and after the background was put in (an ombre of blue and black fading to light blue at the top), the seaweed was washed over with clear water to make things run.  you can see how the blue shifted in the lower middle of the scarf.


this is my only planet scarf.  mainly, i’ve done planets in encaustic, and some of them quite big, showing the curvature of the planet as well as the gunge layer of atmosphere and space junk (in our case), and maybe a couple of stars beyond.  many of my planet encaustic paintings are 3 or 4 feet wide.  these scarves are tiny by comparison, and don’t lend themselves to roundness, so i decided to make one showing the planet all stretched out, the way you’d map a sphere.  it was done mostly with sugar syrup resist; no, i’ll say it was all sugar syrup, and parts of it were probably painted with syrup and let dry before using dye.  and then washed with clear water to make everything run.  i only did one or two of these scarves, because of the amount of work that went into them.  they’re really beautiful up close.


this fish painting was a mix of the sea turtle idea and the seaweed idea.  i made wavelike forms with sugar syrup and colored them with vegetable and ocean colors, and then soaked the background to make all the colors mix.  the fish were protected from this chaos by water based sodium alginate resist, and weren’t soaked, but gently blended inside the lines.  except one or two places where the resist line got wet and broke thru.


and this scarf, not the last one i have, but the last one i’ve photographed.  it’s a fall theme, with the outlines of a bunch of leaves i picked while on a dog walk, colored in maybe somewhat like the leaves were colored (i made a bunch of these scarves, and got all fanciful with the leaf colors, but it started out with portraits of the actual leaves in their fall colors.  i put in sugar syrup wind gusts, and then drew a plaid pattern in the background, with lines of red, yellow, and blue, running clear water over the whole background and making the sugar syrup lines run along with the lines of dyed plaid.


as for the buy it now idea, funnily enough, i’ve got the wrong kind of wordpress blog.  i should be paying for my blog, and then i can install paypal and other plugins.  all i can do is put up a contact form.  but i can refer you to the etsy site, and link to each item from here, so i guess that’s what i’ll do.  not quite as crass as big BUY NOW buttons, but i guess that’s okay too.

i hope you enjoy the scarf designs.  they are all 11×60 inches, made of 10mm habotai silk bought as blanks from dharma trading.  these are all old scarves at this point, and their templates are rolled up in a largish box, ready to use for another batch, if the whim takes me.  however, at the moment i am making icelandic themed scarves, and working up a production batch of the three – no, four – designs i came up with based on my travels this past summer.  and during the next few months, i will be working up a whole mess of venice themed scarves.  so this will likely be the last of these scarves for some time, and once they’re gone i will have to be very whimsical indeed to run another batch of them.  except for the dragon scarves.  i always make them.

recipe for silk dyes

i’m tired of having to go thru my notes every time i get ready to mix up a batch of silk dyes. so i am going to write down the recipe here so i can just look it up when i need to.  this isn’t my own recipe, but is readily available somewhere on the internet, at dharma trading‘s information page, and paula burchs hand dyeing page, for instance.

first, i’m going to mix up a batch of what is called chemical water, and then i’m going to mix the individual dyes using this water.  i’m making magenta (fuscia), cyan (turquoise), lemon (i think) yellow, and better black.  these are the dharma names for the mx fiber reactive dyes i buy in one pound jars.

otoh, if you’re not into massive prepreparation, you can skip the chemical water step.  burch says “Instead of urea chemical water, I usually just use water with urea added (one tablespoon per cup, or 15 ml per 250 ml), or even just plain water, to dissolve the dye.”

burch: “In order to avoid problems with dissolving dye, first add just a small amount of water (or chemical water with urea etc.) to the dye, and stir it until it forms a smooth paste. Use lukewarm water to dissolve cool water dyes such as Procion MX, as hot water may encourage the dye to hydrolyze (go bad) more quickly than you want. You may add one drop of Synthrapol or hand dishwashing detergent for particularly difficult-to-dissolve colors.”

it should turn out to be a ph of 2.5 to 3.5 mx dyes on silk, just so you know.  you’ll want to test the chemical water, not the pots of dye.  i actually have ph test strips because of our family’s papermaking efforts.  i also have a food thermometer, but that doesn’t mean i use it.  which might be why my results always vary.

i’ve seen recipes for this water by the quart, using 3/4c of urea or 9 tbl (100 g), which i don’t know whether they’re equivalent or make a range, but here’s per cup, from prochem:
¾ cup (188 ml) warm 120 F (49 C) water
5 tsp (20 gm) Urea
1 tsp (6 gm) Citric Acid Crystals
¼ tsp (1.25ml) Synthrapol (detergent)
Water to equal one cup (250ml)

so that’s a quart of chemical water, or 4 cups. 20 txp urea, or 6 tbl, 4 tsp citric acid, or heaping tablespoon, tsp synthrapol, quart water.

i have 4 pint sized mason jars (actually 12 oz jars), and the mixed up silk dye corrodes the metal tops, so i have to keep replacing them.  can’t use them for food after using them for dyes, anyway.

i like my dyes as strong as possible, just because it’s easier to dilute them, and that means 2-4 tsp of dye per cup of chemical water.  i put the dye powder (measuring spoons i use only for dyeing) into a glass 2-cup measure (which you can use your glass utensils for food and dye, as long as the water runs clear and the glass isn’t nicked).  i add some salt, not necessarily because it helps make the colors brighter, but because it makes the dye easier to dissolve, as the salt rubs against it as i paste it up.  i add a little bit of lukewarm water and make a paste out of it, trying not to breathe in the dust.  a little more water prevents this.  when there are no lumps, which takes a bit, i add more water, and more, until i have a cup of chemical water and salty dye. (tho burch says salt makes the dye harder to dissolve in water…note:  word.)

based on my experience, i’ll use a full tablespoon of yellow and red, 2 full tablespoons (by full i mean heaping) of blue, and 3 or 4 tablespoons full of black, which i don’t use a lot of, and am sort of terrified of making too strong, even tho the dye sites all insist that you need twice as much blue as the other colors, and twice as much black as blue.  i lack the strength of will, and i can’t stand wasting thing,s or running out and having to buy more, or spending money.

so, that’s the recipe.  paula burch puts a tablespoon of urea into the cup of dye and never minds the chemical water, and otherwise it’s a quart of chemical stuff to a tablespoon or so of dye powder.  why do i have to keep looking it up?


so, here i am mixing up the dyes.  the big bowl in the middle has got a quart (well, maybe more) of water, urea, citric acid, and salt in it.  only the tiniest bit didn’t dissolve, so i was careful not to pour it into the dye bottles.

i have mixed up the yellow (2 heaping tbs) and the red (2 heaping tbs), and now i’ve got the blue (4 heaping tablespoons) pasting up in the 2-cup measure.  i’m adding urea water from the 1/4 cup measure, a little at a time, and smoothing all the lumps out with the back of the spoon.  then i’ll add 2 more quarter cups, mix them in and pour the lot into an empty jar.  and the last quarter cup will rinse the 2-cup measure, and i’ll pour that into the jar as well.

of course everything gets rinsed until it comes clear between colors.  except that when i cleaned out the jars from the last batch of dyes, i didn’t quite scrub them, and there was a residue of blue left inside the yellow dye jar.  oops.  that will gradually taint the color, so i’m going to be working with blue green eventually.  grrr.  note to self…


here’s the completed batch of dyes.  you’ll notice that the three primary colors have a lot less liquid in them than the black does.  because i measured a cup of chemical water as i mixed each color, but when it came to black, i emptied the dish into the jar.  and it turned out to be a lot more than a cup, so i was forced to mix up two more heaping tablespoons of black into a small amount of the already-mixed dye, and pour it back into the black jar.  ooops.  always measure; note to self.


another good pointer is to have a proper surface to do this on.  a towel you don’t care about.  wax paper, plastic sheeting.  altho the tile itself seems to be impervious to the black dye, the grout is a bit more dramatic looking after i got thru cleaning up after myself.  note to self:  idiot.


my hands are a different story.  some people wear gloves, but i wear dye stains like a badge of honor.  it’ll wear off by tomorrow if i do the dishes after dinner.  but tomorrow i will be starting the third test scarf of the lava in bardabunga volcano, in iceland.  i’ll have a post about that too.

new scarf designs

i’m designing a batch of scarves to send to the folks in olafsfjordur.  i’ve got three ideas.

one is the northern lights scarf i already do.


the others are from photos i took while i was there this summer.  one up on the eastern valley where there’s still lots of snow and plenty of rocks,


and the other of the vatn of olafsfjordur and its ring of mountains, taken from the bridge over the river (on the very day i saw a hidden folk jogging toward me on the bridge, and then he wasn’t there).


here are the first tries at these designs (except for the northern lights one).  i am also testing my formula for making silk paints from mx dyes when i’m doing this.  and when i am done, i have three presents to send off to people.

now i have to refine them or reject them, and then do a production run of about a dozen or 1.5 dozen in all.  and preferably before xmas.

please let me know what you think of this latest batch.

troll sweater design

i’m probably not doing it right.  i’m using graph paper, and filling in a little square for every stitch.  and now i’ve found a website that works with my computer, and i’m designing a generic knit pattern, and will leave the lopapeysa complexities alone for awhile.  i’m not even there yet.

i’m working on designing a little gryla figure, holding a wooden spoon and a bag full of naughty kids.  she’s in profile, stalking around on her mission.  it’s one figure, repeated over and over around the yoke of the sweater.  but i’m not sure how big to make it, or how many stitches to use, or any of those final details.  i’m just trying to make an icon at the moment,

it’s a pixel thing.  it’s like creating a new font.  you have to get into character map and draw the thing one pixel at a time.  and it only looks like a thing when you back away from it.  and every pixel alters its shape, its gesture, its attitude.

so i’m only starting.

first i drew a bunch of figures, and then jim did his version, and i drew all over his and then he drew another one, and then i spent a lot of time making them smaller, all on a piece of notebook paper.


then i got out the graph paper, and then i got online and found a pattern generator that you can trace imported pictures on.  so then i took a photo of my drawings, got rid of the lines, and transferred to the online pattern workgrid.


here’s how it looks filled in.


i worked up a few of them, filled them in with color, and saved them to show jim and discuss where to go from there.



you can perhaps see subtle differences between the versions.  i’m messing with the tail and the arm holding the bag.

grylafilled 1

tailarm 2



i’m not sure what i’m doing, so if you have a clue, please let me know.