Inspired Art and Living with Fiona Stolze

How to Stop Brick-Hard Gutta from Blocking Your Nibs and Keep Your Blood Pressure Down

Oh, yes. This is one that affects us all, regardless of how long we’ve been painting on silk. We take out the bottle of fresh gutta, give it a shake and then fill it into the smaller plastic bottle and fit it with a nib. And that’s us ready to go. The first lines come out beautifully smooth and easily. What a joy!

However, we get called away to tend to something and forget to put the gutta bottle away safely…….and the damage is done.

It might be the next day before we come back to pick up where we left off.….oh, dear. The gutta bottle. We forgot to put the lid on, or the long pin in the nib to seal it. And no matter how hard we try, we just can’t get the gutta to flow out of the bottle. It’s all jammed up.

So we take off the nib and start to poke around inside it with the metal pin to loosen up any solidified gutta. Some rubbery bits and pieces fall out. We scrape around further and think we’ve got it free. Quickly pop the nib on again and give it another go. Not the slightest bit of difference.  Okay, next step is to take the nib and put it in some very hot water and using the pin again, scrape around inside to loosen up the guilty bits of gutta. At this point I turn on the hot tap and work under the flow of water with the pin.

And it still doesn’t work. Nothing is coming out of the nib. Okay, I’ve had enough. This is where I cheat, unpack a new nib and get on with my work before I totally lose my nerve. The blocked nib gets put into a pot with boiling water and left to simmer for a while until everything really loosens up.

When I have completed my line work, I can then tend to the boiled nibs (sounds like some tasty dish I’m preparing). I remove them from the water and lay them on some kitchen roll to cool down slightly. But I still have to use the pin to remove the last, by now soggy, remains of gutta. Whew, what a job.

Despite my good intentions, this does keep happening every now and then. So I just make sure I have quite a few nibs on hand to grab when I need to keep going with my work. They’re really so cheap that you can afford to have a big supply of them.  One of my standard phrases is: “I don’t have any time for this nonsense!” There are certain things which just get silly and spending half an hour on cleaning a nib falls into that category. I’ve seen me saving them up and boiling as many as 8 or 10 of them at once. I dream of having an assistant who has nothing better to do than stand beside me, keeping my bottles filled and the nibs free for me to paint to my heart’s content.

One tip I would like to share is to only put small amounts of gutta into your bottle and to use them up as quickly as possible for ultimate freshness. I used to like working with very full bottles but constantly ran into difficulties with this. Now I try to estimate how much I will need and only work with that. It’s a fact that the room temperature has an effect on how quickly the gutta dries in the bottle.

If you are going to be leaving your work for whatever reason, always make sure you put the pin in the nib again or push the plastic stopper back down on the nib. That at least ensures you can work for another session without it all drying up.

And that brings me to one last point. The elusive pin.

Just be aware of one thing. No matter where you lay it down, it will not be there when you go to pick it up again.

It’s a shape shifter and that’s a fact. Every silk painter will testify to this.

So, how to ensure that you find it again? Here’s a golden tip. When you take the pin out of the nib, get a piece of masking tape and affix it to the corner of your frame. Brilliant! No more crawling around on the floor with your hands spread out, looking like you’d just lost your contact lenses.

I just love the hi-tech solutions in the world of silk painting. I could fill a book with them. They make it all so much more fun. Anyway, I hope that you have a bit more fun and manage to cut down on the gutta blocks. Happy painting.

August 5, 2010 Posted by | SILK PAINTING TECHNIQUES | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How to Paint One of Those Lovely Little Silk Window Pictures in a Flash

As many of you who have seen my work will know, I am rather fond of those lovely little round silk window pictures. They really are so handy as presents and relatively easy to work with.

I just wanted to share with you a few tips on creating your own beautiful works of art using one of these premade silk discs. Some of you have asked me how I manage to glue the silk onto the metal hoop. Truth is, I don’t make these myself at all. They are ready to buy in most craft and hobby stores that sell silk painting supplies. You can

Double happiness silk window picture by fiona stolze

Double happiness silk window picture

get them in different diameters but the size I prefer to work with is the 15cm (6″) one.

Okay, let’s look at the technicalities of painting one. First of all, I only use the silk paints on these, not the dyes. And that’s for one very important reason. You’re going to find it very difficult to roll one of these up in your professional steamer. In fact, it’s pretty impossible.

Another thing I’d like to mention is the use of gutta. I would strongly recommend using metallic or coloured gutta, as it’s easier to use one that stays on the silk. If you try using clear gutta, it could be very tricky to wash it out. Wetting the silk could cause the glue to dissolve and this would mean the silk detaching from the hoop which is something you really don’t want to happen.

You might now be asking yourself how on earth you fix the paints on the disc. I’ve just told you that you can’t steam the disc due to the shape, but isn’t it hard to iron the disc, too? Yes, that’s a difficult one as well. So we’re not going to bother with the iron. All you need to do it give the picture a blast for 2-3 minutes with the hairdryer. Keep rotating it as you go. This will fix both the gutta and the paint.

When you’ve finished, remember to attach a thin thread at the top so that you can hang the picture up. And there you are, ready to go.

The one you see here is a stylised Chinese symbol used in feng shui called Double Happiness. It’s one that is traditionally given to the bride and groom at weddings, or couples who are getting engaged to be married. It can also be hung in the relationship corner of your home to attract a new partner if you are solo or used to enhance any existing relationship you have.

I’ve just had a great thought. How about enhancing creating double happiness in your home by silk painting with your partner. Give it a try. It could be a lot of fun. 🙂

August 1, 2010 Posted by | SILK PAINTING TECHNIQUES | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s Better – Silk Paint or Silk Dye?

The bottom line here is that there is no right or wrong answer. It’s important for you to know the difference between the two and then be able to make your own decision on which to use.

I’m sure you’ve heard that only the professionals use the silk dyes and the beginners use the paints. Well, that’s no really true. There are many so-called professionals who heat-fix their paints on silk, just as there are many starting out who prefer to use the dyes and fix them in a steaming pot.

So let’s get right down to brass tacks and see what the difference between the two is.

The first ones are the paints. These are sold in bottles and have very matt looking colours. They are made from pigments and are applied to the silk using watercolour brushes. If you need to dilute them, they can be mixed with water to give lighter shades. If you don’t want them to run, then you can apply watercolour base to your silk before painting to give you more control over the process.

To make the colours permanent, you have to fix the paints into the silk using heat, normally applying an iron on the reverse for 3 minutes. Afterwards you are able to wash the silk without the paints washing out.  The paints ‘stick’ to the silk, forming a layer on top. This means that the silk loses a bit of its softness and original tetxture, resulting in the fabric being a bit stiffer.

The dyes, often called professional dyes, are acid-based and are very transluscent. It’s difficult to tell from looking at the bottle what colour the dye will be when painted on the silk. These dyes can also be diluted, either with water or with a special dilutant, which helps the dyes to flow better on the silk as well as allowing you to create any shades you choose.

These dyes have to be steam fixed so that they chemically bond with the silk. When the process is complete, the silk retains its original softness and takes on an incredibly beautiful sheen. The dyes are now light and water resistent.

Always check with the retailer that you have the correct type you are looking for. Iron fix paints cannot be steam fixed. If you try to do so, the colours will smear and mess the silk. Likewise you cannot ironfix the dyes. They will just wash out of the silk afterwards.

So why choose one over the other? If you want things to be quick and simple, go for the iron fix. You don’t need any special equipment and so it’s more cost-effective if you want to have some fun. However, if you make your own steaming device (and there are plenty of tutorials on the web), then by all means treat yourself to some dyes .

As I’ve mentioned before, don’t try to paint a picture mixing paints and dyes as you will only have a mess in the end. The one thing you can do, however, is to paint with dyes, steam fix them and then later add some details with paints which you then iron fix. If you have to. 🙂

The most important thing is to give it a go if you want to get started. Don’t worry about what’s better. If your local supplier only has paints, then paints it is.

Whatever you do, enjoy.

July 13, 2010 Posted by | SILK PAINTING TECHNIQUES | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making a Silk Cushion: experimenting with gutta

Just recently I played around with an idea and so I wanted to share it with you here in this article.

I had bought some off-cuts from a bridal shop a while back (which is an excellent tip by the way 🙂  and wasn’t quite sure what to make them all into. I don’t know about you, but I adore fabrics. Especially gorgeous, brightly coloured ones. Whenever I go into aBordeaux Silk Cushion shop where there are shelves of silks, cottons, etc. my heart lifts and I get a little flutter in my stomach. It’s so exciting. My mind gets flooded with countless things I could do with them all. And there just aren’t enough hours in the day for all of that. So a bit of focus is needed now and then.

Anyway, back to the bridal shop off-cuts. Normally the fabrics you buy from there are going to be much heavier than typical silks you would paint on for many reasons. And one of the drawbacks for me, since I mostly work with resist, is that once you go beyond a certain mommes value, the gutta cannot penetrate the silk and create a barrier for the silk.

Well, one of the pieces of silk was thicker than what I would normally work with Bordeaux Silk Cushion Coverusing resist. So I decided to experiment and use gutta anyway and work with the effect. I mixed up some very pale pink by combing a small amount of red with clear gutta. I then applied the pattern to the panel and let it dry. I then painted over it with bordeaux dye and waited to see how the gutta would react. It wasn’t properly in the fabric and so the dye bled through in many places and the gutta itself began to dissolve which is pretty much what I expected. I then left this thoroughly dry over night and steamed it the next day. Then I stretched the panel on the frame again and embellished it with gold gutta. I must say, I was rather pleased with the end result.

Now I’m going to sew the panel into a cushion cover with vibrant orange dupioni on the back. And my verdict: definitely something I will repeat. Why not have a go yourself and let me know how you get on.

February 25, 2010 Posted by | EXPERIMENTS IN SILK | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Resist Technique – How to Put Gutta on Silk Without it Flooding

Okay, once you’ve decided which type of gutta to buy,what on earth do you do with it? Knowing how to put gutta on silk is not as easy as it looks but with a bit of practice and some useful tips, it should all start to flow a bit better.

If you’ve had a look at my post on which type of gutta to choose, then hopefully you’ve invested in some gutta that you’re happy with.

Now you may have bought a tube of gutta. In which case, all you have to do is take off the cap and start to apply it to the silk . But in actual fact, you may well find that the hole is a bit big and the gutta comes out really fast and thick which makes it difficult to control. These tubes are intended for beginners who want to just get started on some very basic patterns without worrying about finer details.

What if you want thinner lines? Well, the solution is to buy bigger bottles of gutta, small plastic bottles to refill and a set of nozzles to apply to the plastic bottles. It can be a tricky business filling the little plastic bottles but once you know how, it becomes a piece of cake.

First of all you have to match the nozzle to the plastic bottle. And this is how you do it….

You have to get a sharp pair of scissors and cut the tip off the top of the bottle. Be really careful only to cut off a small piece to start with. Next, try to fit the metal nozzle on top of the plastic. If it is still too wide, cut off another small piece. Try on the nozzle again. Do this with a twisting motion until the nozzle hugs the plastic. If it is still not perfect, slice off yet another piece of the plastic and try the nozzle again.

It’s really important to make sure you don’t chop off too much at the start as you may find that the nozzle just falls off and then you have wasted your money! So do it bit by bit.

Okay, so now the nozzle fits. And why is it so important to make sure it fits snuggly? Because when you are applying the gutta, there may be moments when you press the plastic bottle a bit too hard. This is when any badly fitting nozzle is likely to come flying off leaving you with a big puddle of gutta on your silk. And that can be rather off-putting to say the least.

Now, I’ll be perfectly honest. Your nozzle can still come flying off even if it fits perfectly. I overcome this by checking the fit every few minutes. I gently press it into place, twisting it firmly onto the bottle. But yes, I have had a few crises which ended up with a gooey mess of gutta on my beautiful masterpiece. 🙂

Right, you’ve cut the top off the plastic bottle. Now we need to fill it with gutta. And this is how you do it. Press the plastic bottle until all the air goes out of it and then hold the nib down into the gutta. Let go of the bottle and you will hear the gutta being sucked up into the plastic bottle. Now take the plastic bottle and gently bang it on the table to let the gutta settle. Repeat this procedure a few times until the bottle is at least half to three quarters full of gutta. You don’t want it to be completely full as that increases the risk of everything bursting out onto your silk.

Now you’re reading to start applying the gutta to the silk. Okay, so you are holding your bottle with the fitted nozzle in your hand, giving gentle pressure. You’re making sure that you are keeping the nozzle in contact with the silk, much the same as if you were writing your name, but with a little less pressure. An important thing to note is that you are putting pressure on the bottle itself with your thumb and forefinger so that you have an even flow of gutta. You are not pressing on the silk itself. Just maintain very gentle contact.

There is a chance that the gutta can ‘bloop’ at this point. This is when an air bubble comes out and the gutta makes a mini explosion over your silk. It can make a bit of a mess of your artwork. But you know what? This happens to me at regular intervals, too. And what do I do about it? I just make a creative feature out of it.

What do I mean by creative feature? Well, just pretend that it was meant to be that way. Turn the bloop into something that makes your design look really cool. Repeat it a few more times. Really, there are no mistakes in silk painting. Have fun and get creative.

I remember a few years ago when I was holding a workshop in Glastonbury. One very lovely participant suddenly lost her nozzle in the midst of a very creative phase. So I came over to the rescue. We made a golden butterfly out of it and added a few more for good measure. You would never have been able to tell from the result. And she was very pleased with it.

Now there is something I want to mention about resist technique. When you are drawing your lines, you want to make really sure that they stop the dye from ‘escaping’, so to speak. Hold your frame up to the light and you will be able to see easily where the weaknesses are and where the dye might be able to flow through when you begin to paint. Make sure all areas are properly closed and touch up any lines that seem a bit thin. It will be worth it when you come to apply your dyes as they will remain intact and keep the dye within its boundaries.

Have fun, then. And do let me know if you have any further questions or need any guidance on anything relating to this.

February 17, 2009 Posted by | SILK PAINTING TECHNIQUES | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gutta For Silk Painting – What’s the Best Kind to Use?

When you’re starting out with silk painting it’s hard to know which materials to go for. Yes, there are many books and sites out there telling you which brands to go for but often they have a vested interest in promoting one over the other. So this post is just going to take a look at the pro’s and con’s of gutta for silk painting and leave the choice up to you.

I was just wondering how many of you actually know where the word gutta comes from. Well, it’s from the gutta percha tree which grows in Indonesia. The latex-like gutta from this tree was used in all sorts of industrial and medical applications

Gold gutta in plastic bottle with nib

Gold gutta in plastic bottle with nib

including the lining of golf balls. One of the types of gutta available to silk painters is solvent based and seemingly contains this gutta, which has a rubbery feel to it.

Serti or resist technique is a method used in silk painting to create boundaries which limit the free flow of silk. Gutta is applied in small bottles with nozzles on them to the silk so that it pentrates the fabric. As it dries, it hardens to form a barrier which gives form to your painting. This is my preferred method of silk painting and indeed, I wouldn’t be able to create these detailed mandalas without the resist technique.

So back to the different types of gutta for silk painting. Basically you can choose between solvent-based gutta and water-based resist. And what is the difference? Okay, let’s start with the solvent-based type. You always have to remember that when working with solvent, it’s really important to keep your working space well-ventilated. This type of gutta needs to be removed after your artwork is complete and the only way to do it is by dry-cleaning which some of you might find impractical. One big advantage is that you can paint your dyes on very quickly after applying this gutta.

The other type is water-based and technically isn’t called gutta, but resist. However, I still refer to it as gutta. What you need to watch out for is that it needs a bit longer to dry because the dyes can dissolve it a little if it is still too wet. One great way to speed up this process is to give your painting a blast with the hairdryer. I do that in my workshops so that we can get on with the colours. As to the question of dry-cleaning, this doesn’t apply to the water-based version.After you’ve fixed the dyes into your silk either by steaming or heat treatment (ironing), your can wash any clear gutta out by hand. One of the big advantages of the water-based version is that there are no fumes to contend with.

Now my preference is to use gold metallic gutta. The bad news is that you can’t dry-clean the solvent-based version. But I choose the water-based type because I want the lines to be a major feature of my finished work anyway.

However, I have had situations where I have tried to wash out gutta after I have changed my mind about the composition of my artwork. If you leave it too long, you might have a pretty hard job on your hands.

Now I wanted to address one particular point here. It is one which crops up again and again and I must admit that I have never had any difficulties with it. Many artists maintain that when they have completed their silk painting and then subsequently steam it, they never know how the finished work is going to end up because the lines tend to move and smear, letting the dyes blur at the edges.

I have never experienced this, either with iron-fixing or with steam-fixing but this appears to depend on the chosen brand.

In case you are interested in which brand I use, it is by Marabu Silk. I have used gold and silver gutta, as well as the clear version. All of these are the water-soluble types as I’m not keen on fumes and dry-cleaning.

I hope this helps. I am intending to post something on the art of resist technique itself so watch out for that soon. If you have any questions, please post them here and I’ll do my best to help out. Enjoy.

February 7, 2009 Posted by | SILK PAINTING TECHNIQUES | , , , , , , | 15 Comments