Silk Painting: Tracing a Design Onto Silk

It’s so much fun to teach silk painting to people who never thought they had a lick of artistic skill… and to see them light up like the sun when they create something beautiful!  Just hand them a drawing to trace, teach them the basics and watch them go.

The fact that you can see through silk makes it very user-friendly to artists and non-artists alike.  I like to create my drawings first and then trace them onto the silk with pencil.  That way, when it’s time to apply the gutta, I already know exactly what it will look like when it’s done.  Gutta itself is NOT forgiving; once it goes onto the silk, it’s there permanently.  That’s why I like to have the drawing planned out ahead of time.

Here are a few tips:

Using pencil, create the drawing for your silk painting on white paper.  Go over the pencil lines with black permanent marker.  Using permanent marker instead of water-based insures that the ink will not transfer onto your silk by accident (studio tables often have water on or around them), and that the drawing will last a long time in case you ever want to create that painting again.

Lay your silk, already stretched onto its frame, centered over the drawing.  You’ll be able to see the black lines through the silk.  Trace the drawing onto the silk lightly with pencil.

Make your pencil lines just dark enough to see.  Sometimes the pencil lines won’t wash out of the silk during the finishing process, so you’ll probably want to minimize them.

If you make a mistake, don’t try to erase it.  It won’t work very well, and you’ll leave eraser residue on your silk.  That could interfere with the dyeing process and leave a mark or a smudge on your silk.

  • Lyn Bristol

    I am an artist, and also hand paint using silks. I use fabric pens to either copy designs, or use stencils as well. I find this easier to work with. The fabric pen ink disappears within 10 – 15 minutes, but that is OK. I also sometimes, use tailor’s chalk/pencils to draw out or stencil my designs on the silk; washing or ironing makes the lines disappear. Just thought I would share this with some of the readers of your blog.

    • Thanks for your comment Lyn, readers are encouraged to try different techniques to see which works best for them. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, it’s always welcome!

    • pglose

      Thanks for your comment, Lyn. It’s good to hear about what other silk painters are doing. Readers are always encouraged to try different techniques to see which work best for them. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, it’s always welcome!

  • MixUnique Art

    I love your work. Awesome, and great tips too! I would love to be your student! :)

    • pglose

      Thank you! Glad the tips are helping you.

  • TechGenie

    Your videos and books are simply the greatest for a beginner!! Thank you so much. What kind of paper do you buy for the large sketches that you trace on to the silk?

    • pglose

      Thanks for the awesome feedback, and you’re very welcome! For my large sketches, I use the same white paper that I use for steaming. I tape pieces together to create whatever size is needed. It’s a light-weight paper that comes on a roll and is about 24 inches wide. You could also use white bulletin board paper; that would be even better since it’s wide enough that you probably wouldn’t have to piece it together.

  • TechGenie

    Wish I was still teaching elem school…all that wonderful paper. i would love to buy a whole roll! Where do you buy yours? Took Lesson 1 yesterday and my guttta is drying from Lesson 2. This is so much fun and your instructions are great! I ended up using newsprint and made dark lines. I simply traced them with the gutta instead of making pencil marks. I have a pencil that is supposed to wash out but it does not so I winged it. Only one blobby area!

    • pglose

      Fantastic! I am so glad you are enjoying the ebook and your silk paintings! Sounds like you did a great job on the gutta. I ordered my paper from (located in Illinois) back in 2007 (one roll will last you a long time). I still have my invoice, and on the order form it says, “35836 (code product) 24 x 1695’/9″ outer diameter/30# newsprint roll/$18.75 per roll”. Chances are the prices have gone up some since then, and shipping was also a bear because of the heavy weight of the rolls (about $33.00). In my opinion the paper they sent me is a little heavier weight than newsprint and is a clean white color. If you can find some locally, try that first. Maybe you could do a search for newsprint suppliers in your area. U-Haul also sells boxes of blank newsprint sheets for cheap, although I’ve found some of these sheets to have a sheen to them that may make it hard to use them for drawing. Have fun with your silk painting, and let me know how it goes. If you send some pics of your work to I’ll post them on our website!

  • Lynda Yoder

    I was able to purchase roll ends on news print from our local newspaper. They are 48 inches wide and have a lot of paper on them for only a couple of dollars.

    • pglose

      What a great idea! Thanks for sharing that one.