Painting on silk usually requires some sort of resist, because otherwise the dyes will spread uncontrollably on the silk. Once a dye has been put on the silk it can not be easily or effectively removed so resists can play a major role in your painting.
The most popular resists are wax and gutta. Where these are placed onto the silk, that area will not be penetrated by dye. You can then paint other areas, knowing that the dye will only go where you want it to. However, silk can be very unpredictable which is both a blessing and a curse! With the best will in the world, things can (and often do) go, shall we say, unexpectedly, so you must not get too upset about it and try to see every accident as an opportunity. You will quickly learn your own tricks to hide any ‘mistakes’ and most paintings are not beyond redemption if the dye leaks out of the resist. This is why popular subjects are flowers, landscapes etc, which can easily have an ‘extra’ tree/leaf/petal added if the dye leaks!
Wax resist is also known as batik and is used throughout the world in fabric design. Batik wax is heated in a pot and dripped or painted onto silk to form a resist. In this way, several colours can be built up on the silk, with wax covering each layer. The main limitation of wax resist is the it is difficult to block out fine details this way.
Gutta is a rubber-based liquid which is available in a variety of colours as well as clear. You draw it onto your silk as an outline which can then be painted in using iron or steam-fix dyes. If you are thinking of using gutta, a tip: be sure to buy the sort in a small plastic bottle with a lid, NOT the type that comes in a tube. The tube stuff is an absolute nightmare to use!!! The bottle type can be very frustrating also, but with some practise you should be OK. You can trace a design onto your silk then go over it with gutta. It needs about half an hour to dry before you can paint. The main drawback with gutta is that it leaves that ‘stained-glass’ effect outline that many people associate with silk painting. If you like this effect, fine, if you don’t, you’ll have to find your own style!
It is possible to buy silk with the design already printed on. This is great if you are just starting silk painting because it allows you to forget about outlines and just get on with your painting. I would strongly recommend starting out with pre-printed gutta designs before trying to create your own. For a great silk painting kit for beginners, please see my website http://www.japancrafts.co.uk