Silk Paintings

Silk Paintings

Painting done on white China silk cloth stretched on a wooden frame is called silk painting. Imported variety of French silk is also popular these days. A rubber cement called gutta is used to create borders or an outline so that the color dyes do not flow into another part of the cloth.

With a unique technique of steaming the cloth, the bright colors on the silk will be seen. As silk is a natural fibre, long exposure to sunlight will spoil the color dye on it. In short, silk painting is an art form to apply color dye on silk. The silk cloth then can be used as a wall hanging, table cloth or cover.

It is different from other types of painting as the brush strokes are less. Often colors are poured within the defined boundaries and outline of an image and the work of the artists are to control the flow of color. Textural effects are created by sprinkling some kitchen salt and then brushing off the excess.


History of Silk Painting

The early use of silk painting dates to at least the 2nd century when “wax resist” was in use. It was its best in popularity and demand during the Mughal era of the 17th and 18h century when all kinds of art, painting and sculpturing flourished in India. The main subjects were portraits or scenery by only skilled craftsmen knew how to hold the paint in place on the silk cloth. Silk was also a costly material then and not used in households for painting purpose. Only skilled work men could do the job.

The “gutta” technique for holding the color came in much later and became popular in the Indonesian islands. Later in Russia, the royal family patronized this art form. In United States, by 1970s, they were done on scarves, stoles and even tunics of silk.


Fabrics for Silk Painting

The most popular variety of silk linen used for this art form are:

  • Silk Habotai
  • Raw Silk
  • Silk Twill
  • Silk Velvet
  • Decore Satin
  • Silk Chiffon


Basic Silk Painting Technique

The two popular ways of silk painting are:

  • French Serti Technique: This is the most popular technique of silk painting and is decades old now. The distinct shapes and colors are kept in control over the Chinese white silk cloth. In this traditional approach, serti means to enclose the colors. It is simple and easy to make even at home. The only things you need are silk cloth, wooden frame to stretch it, colors, gutta (rubber cement) and brush. The main challenge is in creating shades in colors and holding the distinct shape.

  • Layering Dye Technique: Another technique popular among silk painters is of layering the dyes. In this method, the colors are not restricted with the outline and the lines made of it are hardly seen. There is a free paint in the background and the gutta lines are made with thin liquid. After steaming the silk cloth, the lines are removed, leaving the base design only. In layering dye techniques, the softer or lighter shades are applied first carefully and then the darker shades are done around them.


Silk Painting Dye Techniques

There are three main techniques for dyeing the colors on the canvas. Since you cannot leave it dry out in the sun, here are few things that you can do.

  • You can fix the colors on the silk cloth by hot iron if the paints are water-based colors.

  • The instant set paints in modern days has pigment dye and you can just leave the canvas in the air for around 24 hours.

  • Liquid fixtures help in color dye. You can paint the diluted fixture over the existing color, but this technique can often steal the bright look of the colors unless done in a professional way.

  • Steam is the easiest technique for silk painting dye. Alcohol based colors dry best with steam.


Types of Silk Painting

  • Chinese Silk Painting: In Chinese silk painting, the work is preserved on silk banners and is the oldest known hand embroidery on silk cloth. China has been harvesting silk from several centuries now. The country is a pioneer in silk paintings, the artistic tradition is evolving ever since, and they are beautiful works of art which are even preserved in the museums. The French Serti technique is used and Chinese calligraphy remains an important subject, followed by dragons. Silk painting banners are seen on the New Year’s eve in Chinese streets.

  • Japanese Silk Painting: These paintings mainly reflect the Japanese culture and traditions in their themes and subjects. Although there is an evolution in the art of silk painting, the practice of coloring over the silken cloth and creating borders remains the same. The Kimono silk cloth is mostly used in Japan for silk painting. The earliest paintings were done in black and white colors were used only by the end of 14th century. Buddhism was a major influencer in silk painting traditions when artists painted Lord Buddha, nature and historical events related to Buddhism. There was a touch of spirituality to this art.

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