project: milky way dancing veil

i just finalized a commission that was originally planned for last xmas.  but these things happen.  it’s really cute; a bunch of belly dancers around the world get together and play secret santa with each other.  and one of them selected me based on a belly dancing veil i did for my friend asha.  and asked specifically for a picture of the milky way.  and i can do that, because one of my favorite things is to paint nebulas and galaxies.

this is the reference photo.  it’s beautiful, and doesn’t it just look like a dragon?

my plan is to put in the starfield with resist, then pain in the light colors, then put in more stars over the colors, and paint in the dark stuff.  sounds confusing at this point, but i’ll be describing it step by step as we go along.

this veil is 45″x108″  that’s three yards of heavier silk.  it will make a nice substantial flow when it’s waved around.  and this is my stretching solution.  when you’re working with silk painting, it’s necessary to suspend the silk away from all other surfaces, because the dyes will run and bleed if given even half a chance.  so i got two stepladders out of the attic, and used two 48″ stretcher bars, bungee-corded them to the sides of the ladders, then  threaded spring clips onto rubber bands, and tied them evenly along the stretcher bars.  the veil is suspended from the spring clips.  but i soon found that i couldn’t apply the resist, or indeed draw in my sketch with charcoal, while it was suspended.  there’s way too much wobble.  so i got out my handy-dandy door panel, put it across the two tables underneath the veil, and took the veil off the stretchers to lay down on the door surface.

so much better.  you can see what’s left of the charcoal resting on the reference photo.  the lines are basic forms i can see in the photo, indicated only very generally with the charcoal.  it will wash out of the silk when i’m all finished messing with it.  it’s really hard for me to tell exactly what area of the reference photo i’m trying to transfer to the veil.  most likely it’s the mid-lower right.

this is most of the veil fitting over the door.  i had to smoosh out my lines and redo them several times, especially at the beginning when it went off at the way wrong angle.

i’ve mixed up some sodium alginate resist and put it into a squeeze bottle with a metal tip, and here is what happens when i go around using it to fill in the stars inside these forms i see in the reference photo.  these are the stars that will turn out white.  the colored stars will be when i come in with the resist over dyed areas, and then overdye the surrounding areas.  it all looks rather crude, but this is only the first stage.  it’ll turn out brilliant, mainly because it’s designed to be seen from far away, and in motion..

more stars, pouncing with the tip of the resist bottle while squeezing lightly.  it sounds like rapid fire flea scratching from the more highly wound of the small dogs.

doing a fresh area.  i had to keep filling in all i could and then letting it dry, peeling it up (the resist sticks to the table), repositioning it, and filling it in some more.  this is definitely the right hand side of the reference photo, because there’s the right seam of the veil.  the white stars are thickest in the lighter areas of the galaxy, near the horizontal midline, but they’re surprisingly thick toward the edges where the dark gunk clears out, and even there are stars peeking out of (in front of) the dark gunk.  so i didn’t feel too pressured to get the right density of stars in any particular place.  i just held the thing up to the light to find the bare spots until all parts of the veil were covered with stars.  this is partly insurance.  some of these little resist dots won’t end up resisting.  i’m going to be putting many layers of dye over these little dots of algae.  the dye is going to absorb in, or the resist is going to dissolve out, and loads of these little dots won’t end up visible in the final veil.  so it’s okay to put in too many at this point.  i can always scrub areas with dye to mostly dissolve the resist.  what i won’t be able to do is to bring back stars after i start dyeing.  and actually that’s not true, because i can always come back with thiox and bleach the stars back out.  but i won’t go to that length, so i’ll hedge another way.

tomorrow i will start dyeing.  i’m not sure if i’ll use a splatter, a sponge, or a brush to apply the color.  i’m going to start with the very lightest colors, as you would for a watercolor.  i’ve already reserved my whites using a mask, which is what resist is.  now i’m going to go in with light blues and light violet and light orange-yellow, and a nice light reddish brown.

i’ve got to say how happy i am to be turning my hand back to visual art using fabric.  for six months now my creative energies have been going to a completely intangible form of art – at this stage.  i’m writing a novel, and haven’t even begun the writing part of it because i’m still doing research and working on the plot structure and chapter outline.  but there’s nothing visible going on except whatever document i’m working on at the moment.  with this commission, i can tear myself away from my literary efforts, and concentrate on making deep meaningful statements with color and form, rather than words and mental images.


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