What the heck is “gutta” anyway? In short, it’s a resin-based product with a funny name that is used to create a barrier for dyes in silk painting. There are other types of products that are not resin-based, but those are not technically known as “gutta”. They’d be known as “resists”. But let’s not get confused… let’s talk about GUTTA.
If you’re not familiar with the basics of how to use gutta, you might want to take a look at my first ebook, “MySilkArt eBook 1: Silk Painting Basics for Beginners” (the link is on the “eBooks” page of this website). There you’ll see how to get gutta into an applicator bottle, how to make strong and graceful gutta lines, and how to properly clean up the supplies. This blog is designed specifically to give tips on gutta application.
The first thing I like to do is to make a gutta barrier around the border of the silk painting. Turn the frame over and use it as a guide to make straight lines all the way around the silk. This will help to keep dye from running onto the stretcher bars and staining them. Having stained stretcher bars isn’t so terrible in itself, but you don’t want dye stains transferring to the next piece of silk you put on that stretcher bar frame.
Let this gutta border line dry or be very careful not to smear it while you draw your other gutta lines. Prop your frame up onto some blocks to keep the silk from sagging onto your table top as you work; contact with the work surface will cause your gutta lines to smear (as always, I speak from experience!).
Here’s a tip: Silk can have different weights, so the thickness of your gutta lines may need to vary depending on the thickness of your fabric. If you’re not sure whether your gutta line penetrated the silk, just check the back. If the gutta line looks the same on the back of the silk as on the front, it’s a good one.
Right-handed people should work from left to right and from top to bottom across the silk. Left-handed people work from right to left and from top to bottom. That way, you can stay out of your own way and minimize possibly smearing one of your wet gutta lines while you work. Don’t be shy about walking around the painting or turning it so you can reach it more easily. Leave lines you can’t easily reach without smearing adjacent lines. You can always go back to them later after that section dries.
Keep your gutta lines as smooth as possible. Continue each line as far as you can before breaking it. Where possible, break your lines where they meet up with other lines. This will help disguise where you stopped and then continued your line.
Roll up long sleeves and tie back long hair when working with gutta. Keep kids, pets and clumsy spouses out of the room just then so they don’t accidentally bump your table.
Pull the bottle along rather than pushing it; you don’t want the tip dragging through the line you just made. Let the line follow the tip instead. This makes for a nicer line and a cleaner bottle tip (nib).
Wipe the nib periodically on a paper towel. This will keep gutta from accumulating there and blobbing up your lines.
If you make a mistake, don’t despair. Chances are when the entire painting is finished, a little snafu will hardly be noticeable. YOU may notice it since you were there up close & personal during the entire process, but others just coming on the scene probably won’t even see it in the final product. Trust me… try it out and see!
Sign your work with gutta. Use a light touch. If you make your lines too thick here, they could run together and your signature will be illegible. Unless your signature is part of a design element, you won’t need to worry about those gutta lines holding dye. I repeat: Use a light touch for your signature. Sign in a place that won’t interfere, detract or compete with your design. Keep it small and discreet.
Here’s another little tip for you: When I’m doing a silk painting that does not involve gutta, I sign with a fine-point permanent marker instead. That makes the signature less noticeable on the final product, and I don’t have to get out the gutta and do all the clean-up just for one little signature. You can use the marker before or after you steam your painting. Just don’t use water-based ink; you must use permanent marker. Try it out first on a scrap of silk or the un-used border of your painting to see the effect.
Use gutta solvent or odorless mineral spirits to clean up gutta and the application bottle. Mineral spirits accomplish the same thing as gutta solvent, and is much cheaper. Specific instructions are in eBook 1. Please properly dispose of used solvent according to your local regulations.
I buy my gutta from Dharma Trading Co. Here’s the link to that web page:
Please benefit from my experience and save yourself some money! When buying gutta, take off the lid and look at it. Tilt the bottle and see how the gutta moves. If it’s thin and runny, don’t buy it. If you shake the bottle and it sloshes around like a liquid, it’s no good. It should be thick like honey, or like Elmer’s white glue. You should really have to give it a good shake to hear it moving inside the jar. I use Jacquard brand gutta, and this applies to each color they sell. I like black the best because the clear must be dry-cleaned out of the silk, and the metallic gold and silver (although beautiful) don’t have as long of a shelf-life. Also, in the Florida heat, the black is more likely than the metallics to still be viable when it comes off the delivery truck all the way from CA to my front door. I try to order during the cooler (not cold) months. You don’t want your gutta to freeze on the truck either! Lessons learned. Make a note, all ye wise ones!