continuing with the silk scarf thing

i’ve been to a lot of blogs that start out well and then just trail off, because the writer got tired, or the essay was of the moment and they lost the trail, or they moved off to youtube to cruise for a couple hours after the dose kicked in.

i’m afraid some of my fabric posts are like that.  and that’s a shame because i’m trying to show how to do stuff, and if i don’t ever finish documenting it, then there’s some poor schmuck in the middle of trying to make whatever unique thing i’m trying to redesign my way, and what’re they going to do – improvise? – when i never come back to explain how i made it look that strange way that the photos don’t really show.

right now i’m thinking about the double-apron artist’s smock that i never posted another thing about after my computer crashed and i lost all the process photos.  thanks for helping, ex husband.  not.  stupid comment about never meeting your obligations mutter mutter.

i had this great idea for a smock.  i looked and looked for artist’s smocks that looked okay.  most looked like the xxxx shirts kids wear these days.  then there was gustav klimt’s smock.

but i didn’t want to be walking around in a sack.  i don’t look good in sacks.  to tell the truth, i only look good naked, and only if you like renaissance painting.

so i took a regular old restaurant apron, which i actually kind of like wearing, made it so there was one apron on my front, and one on my back, added sleeves, and i was off.

and then it sat there half finished for over a year.

so i still have to detail that.

but i can go forward with the scarves i’ve been making for gifts and to wear underneath my sweater to keep my neck warm.

i had four patterns that jim drew for me.  two were little wee fairies frolicking in the flowers.  you’d say too cute, except jim’s cute turns out very sinister and twisted.  the other two were puffins, who inhabit the islands where i’m going to be.

i started off with the puffins.  it had been about a year, maybe more, since i’d done any scarves, and boy what a learning curve there is.  it’s mainly simple, painting on silk, but things can go wrong, and you’ve got to prepare for it.

i forgot.  things like how easily the silk takes up the dye and why don”t i use a drop of alcohol in the damned mix instead of either not having enough dye or flooding the whole scarf with it.  things like the use of sugar syrup for interesting effects that can sometimes look lousy.

anyway, i hated the first two scarves.  they looked horrible right up to the end, when i was splashing dye on and violating all the lines.  somehow this helps my work to look better, to overpaint and then pretend it was my intention all along.

i really screwed up the first fairy scarf.  putting sugar syrup all over the fairies’ wings and clothes was a good idea, but the dye i painted over the sugar syrup was too strong.  plus, it was humid and i waited too long for the syrup to dr, which it won’t when it’s humid.  it just sort of melts and runs, and then it’s as if you used no-flow.

this is why i stopped posting the progress.  because to me it didn’t feel like progress.  it felt like a mistake.  the kind you hide in the corner.  but i only had the one scarf of the puffins, over colored, and i wasn’t happy with that.  the first fairy scarf was ruined, so i had to proceed.  so i whipped out jim’s template and inked it in using homemade water-based resist (alginate print paste), and started in on it using the lessons i’d just absorbed fucking up the first two scarves.

everything went in pastel at first.  a basic light green, a dilute magenta, yellow, a dirty orange.  then i developed the colors a bit, adding a tip of yellow to a magenta flower, etc.  then i deepened the greens with blue.  notice i avoided painting any fairies until i was happy enough with the half-way stage of the flowers.

the fairies got an underpainting of dirty yellow where their bodies are, leaving the drapery floating out away from them untouched – the white of the scarf.  then i went over their skin with dirty orange, and made sure to smear resist all over their faces so that later i could apply eyes and mouths with a fine brush, like makeup on a tiny doll.

i put sugar syrup over their clothes and wings, tho not their hair like i did last time.  i didn’t bother letting the syrup dry, which takes hours, because it’s been damp lately and i knew from recent experience that it would only get worse the longer i left it on there.  so i came in over the sticky wet syrup with a brush full of medium dark purple, and put it on the wings, with magenta on the clothes.  and then before it had a chance to do much, i flooded the whole area with water, so that the dye would hitchhike on the back of the syrup as it flowed and made cool patterns.  neat trick, and just the thing to make the fairies seem ethereal.

but it didn’t work with the flowers, which were pale and pastel.  i hated it, and put it over a door to dry out, moving on to the second puffin template.

this one went pretty smooth, because i didn’t take so many hesitant starts.  i just went ahead and put in a medium blue on the water, and diluted black in the clouds, coming in much earlier with the rich tones, being a lot more heavy handed with the blacks.  i like this result better.

so then i went  back to the fairy painting, and went ahead and got bold on the plants, putting in black for shadows and strength.  normally you wouldn’t use black, silk is one of the few mediums where black is necessary to get any kind of dark at all.  it’s more like light than pigment.  it’s like printing when you use the four colors and everything in the range is represented with those four colors, white being the paper, the substrate.  that’s why i have so much trouble using white paint, because i expect the substrate to supply the lightest values, and in silk painting, the white silk blank does just that.

so i got bold, deliberately going outside the resist lines, flooding the area around the plants with clear water every time so that the overs would fan out and spread.  and slowly the whole thing got richer without looking like a disney poster.

and the whole thing looks much better.  and even if the intended recipient thinks my scarves are touristy as hell, she might like the colors, and she might deign to take one from me as thanks for all she’s done.  or else i’ll just wear them myself to ward off the cold.

a couple of silk scarves

i need to make a present for the woman who administers the residency.  she’s been so kind to me, and put up with all my fool questions, and she deserves something for herself.  and since i have no money – duh – i must make her some art.

jim designed me a couple of scarf patterns with puffins, and a couple with fairies, and they’re so complex that i’ve never made scarves of them.  the puffin scarf is simpler than the fairies, so i started on it first.

you can’t see much in the photo above, but it shows the setup.  80″ stretchers and 18″ stretchers, fabric clips and rubber bands.  i’ve already inked in the lines with the resist.  this was difficult because jim’s lines are delicate, and you’ve got to have very dark lines to see thru the silk.  in fact, i couldn’t see thru the silk, and had to keep lifting the scarf off the pattern in order to see it.  consequently my drawing isn’t the best.  i’ll use a different technique with the fairies.

here’s a closeup.  you can see two birds, with an island behind their heads, and the top of a rocky hill at their feet.  there’s the line of the ocean, an another line for the cloud base.

since i’m practicing for my art residency in cill rialaig, i’m using all the same materials i’ll be using out in the back of beyond, so the resist is made of sodium alginate, mixed up by hand and squeezed out thru a plastic bottle.

the moment i started on this scarf i decided to take all my silk supplies.  i had decided against it because silk is kind of equipment-heavy.  namely, you need a steamer pot at the very least.  but if i keep my silks dry and wrapped in paper i should be able to keep them until i bring them home at the end of my residency and steam them once i’m back.  i can do it.

so that’s more i have to pack into an already stuffed bag.  not the steamer, fine, but 4 little bottles of fabric dye, and i’d sure as shit better wrap them up tightly in case they burst in the luggage.

here’s the first stage.  i’ve taken three shots of the scarf at each stage, and overlapped them to make a single image.  you can see the acid green base i put down over all the land features, the first of many applications of black on the birds, a blue-black on the sea and in the clouds, and a nice sunset orange for the bit of sky you can see in the distance.  the same red adds texture in the hillside.  it looks pretty bad at this stage.  unfortunately, it continued to look bad all the way up to the end.

altho it doesn’t look like i did much, i worked on the landscape a bit, indicating the landforms.  and deepened the ocean and sky colors some, too.

here’s where you can see some changes.  i haven’t been happy with the dirt/rock part of the landscape yet.  it’s too unformed, too stiff.  the birds suck, too, because of the awkwardness drawing them in.  the island in the background isn’t looking too bad, but that green is really awful.  american tourist green.  this is the place where i complained to jim that i was struggling constantly with it, and his recommendation was that i start on the fairy scarf instead.

which whipped up my desire to finish it.  so i darkened everything even more.  blue went over the green until it stopped glowing.  black went over the sea until it had some movement.  black and more blue went over the clouds, and i muddied the area above and below the sunset band of light.

this is the place, where if it were a watercolor, i would start splashing paint everywhere in an attempt to hit the end point by an overwhelming margin.  it works much the same way in silk, except that you can’t make mud.  if you add too much color, it simply gets richer.

so this is where i took it off the stretchers and let it hang over the back of a door to cure for a day or two while i start on the fairy scarf.  we’ll see which of the two of them i’m not ashamed of.  because it’s really difficult to know what to give an irish arts professional.  the subjects i’ve chosen – puffins, fairies – are cliches, irish tourist themes, and it could be considered insulting to try to make a picture of something thousands of miles away and then pass it off as serious art and not just a kitchy picture postcard ripoff.