silk painting workshop, day 1

i had five students for the silk class i’m teaching in olafsfjordur, iceland this weekend.  three of them have come out as artists, two are still hiding under a veneer of respectability, but i proved them wrong.  and it was very international, with one participant from china, one from the phillipines, one from denmark, two icelanders, and me, a yank.

based on the work i’d done preparing for this workshop, which involved taking notes (oh no) and experimenting with dye concentrations and methods of fixing the dye (see earlier posts), i had come up with this simple (hahaha) color chart idea involving 12 circles.  the idea was to mix up a range of colors using red, yellow, and blue, put the 12 colors into an egg carton, transfer the colors to the scarf in order, and painting something contrasting or whatever on the margins, meaning the top and bottom widths of the scarf you can see below, if that makes sense.

teaching a course in iceland is super easy because everybody speaks english except to themselves, and some of what they say i can understand.  “this is going to be a long day” sounds the same in danish as it does in english, funnily enough.

what distinguishes artists from, say, bored housewives that i sometimes teach, is that real artists never pay attention to the rules.  i set out to have them all do the same scarf, and made them distinguish one from the other right at the beginning by putting their names or some other identifying mark on the scarf.  but i needn’t have bothered, because every single one of them deviated from the sample scarf my studio assistant (thanks fran) and i had worked on the previous week as a trial run.

even tho i had done a dry run, mixing up the dyes and chemicals, making a scarf, steaming it, finding out that the blue washed mostly out and correcting it with another application and steaming with an iron, i was kind of unprepared for even more to go wrong.  first off, i hadn’t made up enough sodium alginate resist, so we had to switch to sugar syrup right in the middle of one of the scarves.  and the resist i had made up was just that much too thick to actually apply without making several people’s hands cramp with the pressure of forcing it out of its squeeze bottle.  also, i used up all my dye powder making up enough dye for the class, and i’m really glad we didn’t get to the end of the actual mixed dye, tho we ran really close to out with the yellow.  i’m fearful for how well the scarves will set now.


so this is alice’s scarf.  she mixed up the proper range of colors and then put them on the scarf the way she wanted, and shook off my offers of advice.  she wasn’t happy with a neat order of colors, either, and did her best to alter it using water and finally sprinkled-on dye.  anything to disrupt a neat, careful ordering of colors.  color charts are so boring.


fran, who had to suffer thru the scarf we did together as a dry run, decided she wanted psychedelic, or stained glass, and went nuts with her scarf.  she had to stop herself in the end, as it was getting too blended.


mette was the one who insisted she wasn’t an artist, but who then refused to go along with even the scheme for color mixing that i had worked out.  i don’t like that yellow, she insisted, and then used black, and made earth tones, and then made her scarf run, and then quickly did another scarf.  she worked quickly but carefully, and really knew what she wanted.  i was in awe of her ability to just take it and run like that.  turns out her dad is an artist, so it’s in her genes.  hah.


and here’s ida’s scarf.  she too declared she wasn’t an artist, and of all of them she was the one who followed the plan i had laid out.  unfortunately i saddled her with the range of colors i had mixed up as a demo, so i’m not surprised.  she was terribly unhappy with the resultant color chart, and was encouraged to go over the colors she didn’t like (those horribly acid yellows and greens) with colors she liked better, and tomorrow she will be making a scarf all on her own with no help from me.  those who know her insisted that the scarf she did today was nothing like she is capable of, so i’ll be really excited to see what she does in teh morning.


then there was lara, who also took no mind of the way i was planning to go.  she even voiced her dislike of the pattern i made them all draw, and after a very few minutes gave up on the colors she had mixed into her egg carton.  which is great.  and when it was still wet, she took it off the stretchers and hung it, so that it dripped and ran all over the place.  in the end she was very happy with it.


here is lara’s second scarf.  she took the sugar syrup resist and made her usual doodles, then slapped all sorts of blue and black dye on it, was surprised when the sugar syrup ran, which it’s supposed to do, ruining her design but giving her another design that she was just as happy with.  i like it when students are happy with their work.  it’s a good sign of a well adjusted personality.  me, i’m never happy with my work, but that’s something else again.

i’m afraid i don’t have a picture of my sample scarf.  but we’ll be steaming these scarves tomorrow, and depending on the results, we plan to exhibit them at the group show we’re having next week.  i’ll put up another post tomorrow about how it all came out.

in the end, the students ran right thru the scarves i had intended to take a full day to make, and half of them did two scarves.  the other half, ida i’m talking about you, need to make their second one tomorrow, and then i’ll do a demo of the advanced techniques, simply because we’ve run out of scarves.  they all left after a long morning session, and will be back tomorrow for the steaming, which i’m praying goes right for once.  often the colors wash right out, and i really don’t want that to happen because these scarves turned out so nice.

when the rest of them had gone and i’d had a little lunch and a wee short nap, i went back with my soda ash, and lara and i dyed a bunch of cotton fabric using as many techniques as i could figure out.  there’s the soda soak method, there’s the low-water immersion method, there’s the fold and dip method, there’s tie-dye, there’s adding the soda ash to the dye mix, and direct painting onto soda-soaked fabric.  when we’d done, we had one jar and 4 plastic bags to go downstairs and sit next to the hot water pipes all night, and one rolled up into plastic that we forgot to take downstairs and will therefore batch at room temperature all night.  we will unwrap and wash them tomorrow after everyone else is gone, jsut so they have a chance to batch (cure and set) the longest so the colors have the best chance to develop.


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