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Virtù is a “quality of being rare, beautiful, or otherwise appealing to a connoisseur.”  As I prepare to create designs for silk scarves this year, in anticipation of the Holidays and the Season of gift giving, I thought about my own predilection towards textile designs.  I enjoy working with “Complex Cloth” as an art-form, especially silk painting.

In Art as Therapy, Alain de Botton and John Armstrong consider the attention that Hugo van der Goes devotes to the detail of the flowers of a large nativity triptych.  Van der Goes suffered from severe melancholia. With this knowledge, I feel even more strongly the beauty expressed by his creativity as he became attuned to a knowledge of the power of observation – it is, as the authors expound, a form of love.

We often say that a work of art was made ‘with love.’  Hugo van der Goes [in] “The Adoration of the Shepherdshas devoted immense care to the depiction of each flower and leaf; every petal has seemed to deserve an individual recognition…It is as though he has asked each flower, “What is your unique character? I want to know you as you really are, rather than as a passing impression.”   Van der Goes quite naturally [due to the prevailing culture] saw details as connected to grand and important themes.  Each detail was important [with] symbolic meaning…white irises…suggest purity, seven pairs of purple flowers…stand for [Jesus’s] seven last words. This offers us a valuable insight into the nature of love itself…We long to [have someone] be as attentive to the details of our characters, to the movements of our bodies and to the quirks of our [minds], as Van der Goes has to the shadows of his irises.

The Adoration of the Shepherds
Hugo Van der Goes, 1475


Detail of Iris and Flower Vases

This reflection reminded me of another observation I recently read by James Finley about meditation and awareness.  There is for an artist, through observation and painting, an inner yielding that allows for solace to be found in the quiet moment of creative attentiveness.

We might find ourselves being interiorly drawn to painting or to reading or writing poetry or listening to certain kinds of music.  We cannot explain it, but when we give ourselves over to these simple acts, we are taken to a deeper place. We become once again more grounded and settled in a meditative awareness of the depth of the life we are living.  The strategy is that of freely choosing to make ourselves as open and receptive as possible to the graced event of awakening to that meditative sense of oneness with God one with us in life itself.

Over several years, I studied and experimented with silk and dyes both through painting and printing techniques.

Printing Techniques

From a very modest entrepreneurial effort (several years back-prior to the birth of my son), I had arranged my studio to include an area dedicated to silk painting.  I have done my level best over the course of these last weeks to improve on what I had had prior to my move.  Still, it is very much a grass roots endeavour at this stage.

Here is the first step into this direction of silk painting once again:

Silk Painting System

Even thought I had thought to start this process much, much earlier, I am now getting back on the horse, while in tandem juggling my watercolor painting work.  Time has come and gone…  But I am excited by the prospect of working on silk with dyes once again! Silk painting can be enthralling.  The colors are breathtakingly vivid and once the steaming process is complete the scarves take on a life of their own.  The flow of dyes is unique to the medium and it is a truly lovely experience to work with these on silk.

Silk Painting

When I paint on silk, I experience the love of the craft alongside its meditative inner depths of stillness that this form of creative practice offers. An intently focused attention on the minute by minute unfolding of the design through the creative work process, allows an artist to become firmly rooted, and a connectedness can build with the present moment that nurtures a more expansive mindset.

Due to the delicate nature of the painting technique itself, with its strategic use of resists (thicker mediums that essentially block the dye) amidst the flow of dyes and their spread on the silk surface, it is critical for the design’s success to be a bit meticulous. Yet, one cannot become perfectionistic either.  An inner rhythm can be achieved within the work process that allows for flexibility – at times a preventative adjustment to avoid flaws from developing in the composition.  Still, mistakes do happen, most can be re-adapted and even considered to be a natural part of the unfolding of the design itself. Even so, the aim is to gain a degree of control over the medium and the process without straining or becoming too rigid.

As I mentioned, there is an actual flow to the painting technique on silk that becomes transformative: both with the creation of a new design, as it unfolds and takes form, and for the artist a growing receptivity to the nuances of the process is nurtured encouraging a more grounded attentiveness.