Monday, 11 June 2012

Elephant No. 253: Marker Bleeds on Silk

While researching fabric crayons for yesterday's post, I came across this technique for drawing on silk. I thought the effect looked rather interesting, so I decided to try it for today's elephant.

The method is relatively simple: draw on silk with permanent markers. Paint, mist or drizzle alcohol on top. Watch the colours spread. Let dry. For a good basic video on this technique, click here.

The reason the colours spread is that permanent markers are generally alcohol-based. This means that, when you put alcohol on or near the colours, the alcohol in the markers reactivates and is attracted to the fresh alcohol, causing the colours to bleed.

The materials I used for this project were relatively inexpensive: two sets of permanent colour markers for a total of about three or four dollars, a silk scarf for just under ten dollars, and a bottle of rubbing alcohol—also known as isopropyl alcohol—which I got for a dollar.

The main thing I thought I'd have to watch out for was the tendency of ink colours to separate into their components when they bleed. For example, black is rarely black in a marker; it's usually a blend of dark blue, red and who knows what. When it bleeds, it generally bleeds blue and red around the edges. This made me think that, because my markers were cheapos, I should test them to see what colours they'd give me.

These were the packages of markers I bought.

And these were my test samples of colour bleeds. I produced these by drawing lines and dots, then painting over them with a generous amount of rubbing alcohol. The lines are from the markers with black tubes; the dots are from the markers with grey tubes. I could already see that the black-tubed markers were going to bleed more.

For the scarf design, I began by sketching an elephant on paper. I didn't want to make a mistake on the silk itself, so this seemed like a sensible idea.

I folded the scarf in half so that I'd have mirror elephant images on each end. I placed the sketch underneath and drew through both layers of the scarf. The silk is thin enough that the design was easy to see.

After this, I added more colours to the elephant, then drew flowers throughout the rest of the scarf. I unfolded the scarf and drew the flowers freehand so that they'd be less uniform. After I'd finished the flowers, I scattered multicoloured dots everywhere to fill out the blanks areas and pull the design together.

When I was happy with the design, I poured some rubbing alcohol into a small glass jar and painted it on generously. In fact, I glopped it on. I started by painting along the lines, but it really isn't necessary. The ink in the markers is going to spread either way, and isn't going to follow a brush line.

The ink didn't spread as much as I'd hoped. I'd actually expected it to bleed so much that it would blend a lot more. On the other hand, this was pretty enough, so I wasn't utterly dejected.

I set it aside to dry, then decided that it looked a bit amorphous. So I added a few strategic black lines and dots to give it some definition.

I let this dry briefly while I heated the iron to the silk setting. I'm not sure if it needs to be heat-set, but I figured it couldn't hurt.

I like the final piece well enough, but if I were to do this again, I would put a lot more ink wherever I wanted a significant bleed. I'd probably also place the lines much closer together.

Elephant Lore of the Day
During the early nineteenth century, a British officer stationed in India decided to test whether it was actually true that an elephant never forgets.

The story goes that Lieutenant John Shipp fed an elephant a large amount of cayenne pepper, sandwiched between two slices of bread. Because elephants have highly sensitive trunks and tastebuds, the poor elephant was highly irritated by this rather cruel trick.

Some weeks later, Shipp walked up to the elephant, confident that the elephant would have forgotten the incident. He patted the elephant's side and stroked its trunk. The elephant accepted Shipp's attentions calmly, then filled its trunk with muddy water and drenched Shipp from head to toe.

Elephant spraying muddy water.
Photo: 2008—PrimalOrB

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Wildlife Trust of India


  1. Oh wow I just discovered your blog and I love everything I have seen - this scarf is beautiful ♥.

  2. Thanks so much! You should definitely try this one, if you haven't before; it's easy to get some really pretty effects.