I don’t know what I expected – and that is probably a good thing. I came to the silk painting class eager to try something new but found the experience involved more than just doing something new, it also involved thinking, responding, acting in ways that are atypical for me.
I’ve been dabbling in painting on silk for the past year ever since my school participated in a silk banner project last year. Painting on silk is somewhat unpredictable. The liquid paint interacts on the fabric in interesting ways and even though the artist can use techniques for a certain effect, one never really knows what the final result will be. That is what is challenging and fun about it. I apply paint never knowing whether I’ll love it or hate it at the end of the day.
The goal of the class on Saturday was to paint something on silk in the morning leaving enough open space for painting Chinese calligraphy in the afternoon. The silk painting teacher works with a Chinese friend of hers who teaches the calligraphy portion of the class.
So in the morning I was busy tracing on silk, choosing color and using motion and the magic of a wet brush on the absorbent silk. I felt myself let go of expectations and a desire for control and just experimented.
Then we had lunch and totally cleaned up the studio.
The tables were transformed with yards of thick felt and the calligrapher passed out her precious brushes of bamboo and rabbit hair and shallow dishes of creamy black ink. She put on a CD of Chinese music and in halting English asked us to sit and be quiet for 3 minutes. Church came over me and I closed my eyes and focused on breathing quietly.
Then she passed out rice paper and for the next hour she led us through each of the 8 strokes: first talking us through the stroke as she demonstrated and then tracing her strokes with our brushes before repeating them several times on our own.
I had no idea that this form of calligraphy required such discipline with attendance to execution as well as form. What I love is the metaphor of each stroke – starting to one side, then up, to the middle, slowly, slowly painting to the edge of the stroke and then back to the middle. Excepting the hook of course which requires a significant pause at the base before the flip of the hook.
Would that I could live with such precision – confident execution – coordinating body and soul! And that is exactly the point of the calligraphy!
I ended up scrapping one of my pieces because of the paint job. But I like this butterfly flag. I dutifully traced the large symbol for harmony as I was instructed to and then our Chinese teacher gifted me by writing a poem about butterflies dancing. It is a piece I will treasure for all that it symbolizes.