Fish Tree of Life 魚命樹

This past August I had an especially nice group of people assembled in my studio to learn katazome. As a demonstration piece, I dyed the panel below and surprised myself with how well it turned out!

I was asked to draw a design to be used in a stencil using the theme of “fish”. Being asked spur of the moment to design an image can be fun – mainly because if it doesn’t turn out, who cares? As a result I allow myself to try things I might not try in a more deliberate setting.

FISH by John Marshall

FISH by John Marshall, Stencil Carved from Hand-Made Mulberry Paper

Here I have chosen to depict a tree consisting of  fish leaves and the bark textured with the repeated word “fish”.

A huge advantage to working with stencils is the fact that once you have put all that energy into creating the design, it can be used over and over again in a range of settings. For my class demonstration piece, I have decided to combine the image above with another stencil carved years earlier.

But first I must prepare my fabric. I selected a pure silk weave, shot with flecks of 24k gold, and laminated to hand-made mulberry paper. I rolled it out on my carpet-covered table and took a moment to contemplate my next step…

Got it!

I’ve always liked arches, so I cut out a piece of newsprint and used a small bit of blue tape (painters tape) to hold it in position.

preparing newspaper mask

A mask of plain newspaper has been prepared to protect a portion of the silk from the rice-paste resist.

I’m going to apply paste through my stencil – the newspapered area will prevent the paste from sticking to the silk in the arched area.

Rice-paste resist, consisting of mochiko (powdered sweet rice) and komon nuka (rice bran), has been glopped to the left of the stencil.

Next I laid out my secondary stencil, a design made up of undulating lines and rabbits frolicking within leaping waves, and glopped a healthy dollop of rice-paste resist near the left edge.

Using a wooden spatula to push the paste through the stencil.

A wooden spatula, called a debabera, was used to carry the paste across the entire surface of the stencil, applying even pressure to force the paste through to the surface of the silk.

Repositioning the stencil for the next application.

The stencil was sprayed, and pulled away from the silk leaving a highly detailed design in paste on the exposed silk. The repeat of the design must match up perfectly, so a great deal of care must be taken in repositioning the stencil.

Correcting any flaws in the paste.

The stencil was once again pulled away from the surface and repositioned. This process was repeated until all of the designated area was covered with pasted pattern.

The newspaper is removed to expose an arch-shaped area of silk.

The spent newspaper was pulled away and discarded, exposing the clean image of our blank arch.

Applying rice paste through the fish stencil.

After carefully positioning the fish stencil, paste was again applied with a spatula and the stencil removed.

Removing the fish stencil from the pasted silk.

Taping the silk to the table top while the paste is still moist.

The silk with the still-moist paste was taped to the table with painters blue tape to prevent excess wrinkling as the paste dried.

Applying azurite (gunjou) as a pigment to the pasted silk.

The fun part had at last arrived – applying the colors! I selected a range of primary colors to use. All were pigments, all were applied with soymilk. My first color is gunjou (azurite), and from there I go on to indigo, ocher, and many other dyes.

Smearing neighboring pigments into one another using just soymilk.

Each color was built up layer upon layer to yield deep, rich shades.

Applying a shibuki rinse to the surface of the pigment dyes.

The pigments turned out to be a bit brighter than the look I had in mind, so I applied a wash of shibuki (barberry) to tone everything down a bit.

Kumadori highlights added as accents.

With the paste still in position the image can look a bit muddy and ill-defined. It was my job to discern the original pattern and add a few accent marks, kumadori, here and there with indigo and chochineal pigments. These highlights will help the viewer make out the pattern once the image is completed.

The dyed fabric is hung out in a dry area with good air circulation to speed along the curing of the soymilk.

Colors all in place, it was now time to practice patience and allow the textile plenty of time to cure in a warm, dry area with good air circulation. Many people seem to think that steaming soymilk will speed the curing. While steaming doesn’t do any real harm, it certainly doesn’t do any good. Warm, dry air and a little patience will be amply rewarded.

Fabric soaking in bathtub to loosen paste.

Fabric soaking in bathtub to loosen paste.

Now it is time to remove the paste. Since the rice-paste resist is water soluble, all I had to do was soak the piece in tepid, clean water until the paste softens and dissolves away.

Finished piece. FISH by John Marshall. Natural dye on silk, paper, and gold.


This piece is available for sale as a framed or unframed piece.
Unframed: $650
Framed as above: $1200

Actuall shipping cost may vary depending on your location and whether or not you choose framed or unframed. Any overpayments will be promptly refunded.

framed or unframed