Silk painter shares her skill with others
Living in Egypt as a child during WWII, Diane Tuckman recalls, “they were shooting Jewish girls in the street…My family and I escaped [in 1949] and went to France.” Though less harrowing, even in France “it was a very difficult time after the war, with ration tickets and very little housing.”
But eventually, Paris became home and much more to Tuckman. For it was there that she learned the art of painting on silk — a traditionally Asian way of painting dye on silk fabric.
She describes the technique as similar to “watercolor for fabric.” Furthermore, the “great variety of silks — with different looks, textures, weaves and weight — contributes to the uniqueness of each piece of painted silk,” she said.
For all these reasons, the delicate skill has been a lifelong love of hers.
To master it, she took classes from the finest silk painting instructors in Europe. She especially appreciated the “endless possibilities” it offered, since the fabric can be used in both décor, such as framed art and panels, and for wearables, like scarves, clothing and shawls.
While she was fortunate to discover her love of silk painting in France, she was equally fortunate to have met her husband, an American, there. The two eventually married and moved to the United States, where she resolved to popularize the ancient technique.
While silk painting was a well recognized craft in Europe, she found it to be somewhat of a mystery to American artists, most of whom weren’t familiar with it. Furthermore, the materials were simply not available in America, such as the special dyes used like paint.
In 1977, Tuckman began to change that by setting up her own company, Ivy Imports, to bring over needed supplies from France.
Now 82 and living in Lanham, Md., Tuckman credits the art with keeping her busy and sharp. She thinks it’s important for older adults in general to practice some form of art. “It’s empowering, recreational, stimulating, and mentally active,” she noted from experience.
Many steps to the process
For those unfamiliar with the art form, the first step is to “stretch or stabilize the silk” to keep it in place, Tuckman explained.
For abstract-type art, you can simply apply the dye colors directly onto the stabilized silk. The dyes can be applied using one or more techniques, including “wet on wet, wet on dry, wet next to dry, etc.”
If you want to create a specific design, however, you need to create a “resist,” which exposes a limited amount of fabric at a time to a paint color.
Silk painting uses a variety of dyes and paints, and many different types of applicators — “from brushes to Q-tips,” she said.
“Once the fabric is painted with dyes, it needs to be set, so it’s washable and dry-cleanable. It can then be transformed into panels for home decor and/or wearables.”
Though she was busy raising a family when she first moved here, Tuckman always made time for her art, eventually realizing it was more than just a passion.
Alongside her friend and master silk artist Jan Janas, she started a silk painting teaching program for instructors. “We also both teach independently,” she said.
Tuckman recalls meeting Janas, now 77, at a tradeshow — a lucky coincidence, since their friendship has sparked many collaborations over the years.
“Someone was painting at my [tradeshow] space, and Jan made a quick U-turn and watched. I was teaching a hands-on class at that event; she took the class and was hooked,” Tuckman recalled.
Janas now lives in Lakewood, Colo., and has since become a master painter. “Her work belongs in museums! I am so proud to work with her,” boasted Tuckman. Together they’ve co-authored four books on the art of silk painting, with the most recent, The Fine Art of Painting on Silk, slated to come out this spring.
“All our books are excellent learning and teaching tools, because they describe the step-by-step process very clearly, so anyone will feel comfortable with trying any possible application,” she said.
They also launched Silk Painters International (SPIN), a nonprofit organization of silk artists, painters, practitioners and educators, to connect artists and share information. Every other year, the group holds an international silk painting festival, featuring a variety of workshops, art shows and a fashion show. Tuckman also spent many years at the helm of their group’s magazine, Silkworm.
Though most of her classes are taught in small groups of no more than ten people, Tuckman is willing to offer larger classes at other venues. In fact, she thinks the class is a good setting for a retreat or team building program, and she has held a few of these already.
Students are not required to have prior experience or artistic skills to learn. “Even if you have never picked up a brush, bring a friend and share in the joy of painting on silk as you watch the dyes or paints glide through the silk,” she said.
Her classes are offered in one- or two-day formats, with “liquid paints” on single-day sessions, and traditional dyes used for longer ones.
The traditional dyes she uses are imported from France, which require steam setting, so the fabric can be washable and/or dry cleaned. The steam also allows the colors to “bloom” so to speak, revealing a deeper, jewel-toned color.
The paints used on one-day workshops are something she actually “badgered the manufacturers for many years” to create. Though not as brilliant in color as the dyes, they don’t require steam setting, and work on other fabrics as well as silk.
One-day workshops are the best for beginners, according to Tuckman. “It will save a lot of time, materials, and will allow the participant to move on quickly to develop their own style once they learn the techniques. The artists can then decide what to use their silk art for,” she said.
In that class, which costs $100, students learn the basics of silk painting — including stretching, diluting, resisting, spotting, salting, double loading, wet-on-wet, fabric setting, and more — and will create five works of art.
The two-day $200 workshop offers a more in-depth approach, and students will create a total of seven works of art. Students are only required to bring lunch and latex gloves; all other materials are included.
Tuckman also offers classes for children, and customized programs for groups of four or more.
Even after all these years, Tuckman’s love for silk painting — like the steam-set dyes — has never faded.
“I have been painting on silk for over four decades, and I still get excited when I apply brush to silk,” she said. “As an instructor, seeing the reaction when someone paints on silk for the first time is always so rewarding for me.”
It also has a uniquely practical component, in that you can literally wear the designs you’ve created. “An added plus,” Tuckman said, “is that when receiving a compliment, the artist can say, ‘I painted this myself,’ and elicit a look of amazement!”
For more information, visit www.iteachsilkart.com, call (301) 474-7347 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.