In my mission to try as many forms of visual art I can, the more refined skills were not top of my list. I want to do all the hip, edgy practices, like performance. But I’ve had no instruction in technique, and so when I was offered the chance of a free class in silk painting, I accepted. I was supposed to paint pretty pictures of flowers and ferns, but here’s how it all went if not wrong, then certainly different.
I am already dangerously close to working in the dreaded field known as ‘craft’ simply by the act of sewing, and so painting cloth with pretty paints is another step down the path towards craft fairs with cross-stitched kits of pretty cats. Silk painting is delicate. It is dainty. It is everything I am not.
The instruction session was held in the classroom of
’s Winter Gardens. We were all given a square white scarf, and taught the basics. I loved this bit: I felt like a Victorian girl being given instruction on an improving pastimes suitable for a young lady, perfectly upright in a crinoline. Glasgow
Stoking the fire of inspiration smouldering within my bosom to an inferno, we wandered around the massive greenhouse sketching plants. I did my best, and I will say that at least, the colours were lovely – albeit in February, mostly green.
Next came the tricky part. When we returned, we learned how to stretch the silk hankie on a frame, and drew an outline with a thin line of wax from a tube. Already it started to go haywire, as while everyone else was rigidly drawing a defined plant, tongues out in concentration, I thought – ooh, bright colours and lovely patterns. Penny, she like colours!
Again, my instinct for abstraction kicked in. Accurate plants are nice and everything, but when you step outside the line, the beautiful clear primary colours splurged and splodged all over the material, running into each other and making new colours. I was entranced. The lady next to me overflowed with pity.
But I was on a roll! I began to peel off the barriers (is this symbolic – a landmark moment do you think?) and went wild with colour. It’s funny: some artists have an innate skill for replication and accuracy, but as I discovered with watercolours, I love making bold statements of shape. And so the (to me at least) beautiful oozing, creeping splodges grew. And grew. The woman sitting beside me gave a look that indicated she thought I was ‘special’ then backed away to paint more ferns and branches.
I couldn’t stop. I was happy, dabbing and daubing. The teacher stood beside and stared for some time, before offering, tolerantly and as if she didn’t want to make any sudden movements: ‘Yes. It’s pretty when that happens isn’t it?’
If I really was a young Victorian lady, I would have been given laudanum, committed to an asylum for moral insanity, or forced to scrub the poor by my weeping mama who swooned when shown my work.
Not all experiments are successful. This one? Epic fail. (Watercolour above, silk has been 'filed.')