Saturday, March 22, 2014

Silk Painting Classes--a Heavenly Week

     Earlier this month, I took a whole week of silk painting instruction with Donna Kassab at the John C. Campbell Folk School near Murphy, North Carolina (yes, Rosemary guessed the location in her response to the previous post). It was glorious! Given my love of fabrics and color, silk painting is an art form that has intrigued me for some time. So it was a thrill to have an excellent instructor for a week of classes at this top-notch "art camp for grown-ups". Also a treat: my long-suffering husband, Mark, consented to go along and took a beginners class in throwing pots on a pottery wheel.
     We painted on 22" square plain white silk scarves and learned several different techniques for manipulating the dyes and creating designs. The photos here show my husband's favorite scarf--the purple, blue, and turquoise impression of the ocean--and the first scarf I made in the class--bright red-orange hibiscus (or whatever flower they turned out to be) with a soft sea green background. In a wonderful way, the dyes diffuse into the silk, only partially under the painter's control. For some designs, we used a resist called gutta to outline areas, which prevents the dye from crossing the line of gutta. Both of these scarves employed gutta in their creation, though in somewhat different ways. Even with gutta, results can be a delightful surprise; other results, of course, are less delightful, but take the piece in new directions if the painter remains open and flexible. As Donna often reminded us, "There are no mistakes in silk painting--only design changes." 

     Among the 12 or 13 varied classes offered during our week at the Folk School (from blacksmithing to pottery to quilting to mountain-style fiddle playing), our silk painting teacher and my husband's pottery teacher were two of just three instructors who were chosen to give open demonstrations during free time. The group photo shows our teacher, Donna Kassab, explaining the process of painting a silk scarf. Her husband, Magdi (in the cap), who helped Donna and our class members every step of the way, and my husband (in the charcoal grey fleece) are among those watching the demonstration. Note the frame Magdi made, on which the silk scarf is stretched and elevated for the painting process; the above photos of my scarves were taken while the pieces were still on the frame to dry. Once the scarves are dry, the dyes must be permanently set by a steaming process (a separate, chemical process removes the gutta, when used). For Donna's demonstration, all of the silk painting students had hung the pieces we had made to that point around the room, as you can see in the photo of a bulletin board.

     In future posts, I will tell you more about the equipment, dyes, and processes we learned and show you more of the scarves we made. There is also much more to tell you about the John C. Campbell Folk School.

Question of the day:  Let's dream a little: If you had the time, resources, and energy to go anywhere for a creative or other learning adventure, what would you do?


  1. Wow! The purple scarf is stunning. I like them both.
    Thank you for sharing your adventures. In answer to your question...I'd like to be in that classroom.
    Sounds like an lot of fun.

  2. I agree that the purple scarf is stunning. Nancy Goldman (my sidebar) does a lot of silk painting too. Gorgeous work! Love your question of the day too... I would love to throw pottery or take a workshop in sculpting. Or book binding... Or basic drawing (again).

  3. Thank you so much, Maywyn; your response is encouraging and fun to hear. Wish you could have been in that classroom with us; your unique artistic vision would have made for some gorgeous work.

    Hi Sherry--you have such a wide range of artistic interests; it would be heaven for you to just move in at the Folk School for a few months and explore, explore, explore the arts. (They do have work-study programs, where people work for 6 weeks in the kitchen, on the grounds, or whatever and get room and board, and then can take 3 free weeks of any classes available. Nice for someone with the freedom to do that, although they work hard.) Thank you for pointing me to Nancy Goldman; I'll definitely look her up.

  4. I like the purple scarf very much. I like purple very because it for lent. Because it is for easter time. Because you can your purple scarf at lent time. I love the purple scarf very much. I hope you have a great week the rest of the week. I pray for you and your husband and your family all the time. Because think of yall like my adopted family very much. Love anonymous.

  5. Thank you, Anon; most people like the purple scarf. I personally feel that it is just about the best one I made at camp.

  6. Hi Mary, I'm slow to arrive but enjoying catching up with your posts!! Oh My Goodness - that purple scarf!! Gorgeous!! I'm going on to the new post! I bet you were Donna Kassab's star pupil!

  7. Hi, Rosemary! I just now caught your comment; thank you very much for coming and for your compliments. Actually, one of the best features of Donna Kassab's class was the scope and variety of student work. Donna knows how to teach the basics well and then to turn students loose and to encourage them in developing their own style. Perhaps sometime I should post a couple of photos from the end-of-the-week show of all the Folk School classes to show the many delightful directions class members took with their silk painting.