Bali: Silk Painting

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Today the group split up – half taking a “walk” (more like a hike) through a rice paddy. The rest of us went to Sanggingan, not far from Ubud, to do silk painting with two wonderful silk painting artists: Aguso and Renee. We got to see a collection of their works – predominantly used for making silk garments and scarves as well as wall hangings.

The process begins with a drawing on parchment which gets transferred to a length of silk charmeuse. Next the silk is stretched and pinned to a frame so a fine line of beeswax can be applied. The process is the same as that used for doing pysanky – Ukrainian Easter eggs – applying a fine line of heated beeswax with a stylus. The wax protects the base colour of the fabric from the dyes that are applied, in this case, using a “brush” (a 8″ length of wood with a tip that looks like an overgrown Q-tip).

We were given silk squares which had already been waxed (although we did get to try our hand to applying it ourselves – it felt very like doing pysanky and my control of the stylus quickly improved as I used it). We were shown how to apply the dye, then turned lose on our prepared design.

I had selected an image of a Strelitzia (bird of paradise flower). The challenge when applying the dyes is to do it in such a way that you get subtle shadings – much more difficult than it at first appears. Dyes get shaded with the help of a bit of water carefully applied to move one dye into the next while both are still wet, not unlike the way colour is blended in a watercolour painting.

We had a limited number of brushes to work with, none really small enough to apply the dye in small spaces so it was inevitable that dye did occasionally end up outside the waxed outline. Nevertheless, in a couple of hours I had a finished flower. Applying the background colour also required learning about how the silk absorbed the dye when enough was applied – I didn’t need to bring the brush right up to the waxed line – if enough dye was applied it travelled to the wax line but no further.

We didn’t do this ourselves, but the pieces are finished by being dipped in some goop to fix the dye, rinsed thoroughly, placed in boiling water, swished around until the wax outline is completely melted, then hung to dry. Our pieces will be finished and delivered to us by the end of the week.

I still have all my supplies for doing pysanky. I must dig them out when I get home and see what I can create.

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