The China Silk Challenge.

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Guest Author Mikah Berky



As the Assistant Scenic Charge at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival,  We recently needed to paint some large backdrop panels out of china silk for our production of “The Wiz.”  I needed to find a paint that would allow us to paint in the same way we were used to painting as scenic artists, while still providing art that would survive in the elements and maintain the “flowy-ness” of the delicate fabric. Watch the video and read-on below to find out  how we  met this challenge!

When we received the paint elevation for what seemed like a fairly straightforward backdrop for Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production of The Wiz designed by Christopher Acebo. At least, it seemed straight forward until I learned that the backdrop was made up of four panels of thirty-foot china silk that needed to overlap to form one image. The image was a somewhat stylized postcard that said “Greetings from Kansas,” but inside each letter of Kansas was a nearly photo realistic image. That, my friends, is the:

China Silk Challenge

How to paint realistic scenery on a silk drop, that would live outdoors, and still keep it flowy.



Needless to say, our shop started doing lots of samples. We tried lots of different products in many different combinations. Since The Wiz was playing in our outdoor theater, we needed a product that would withstand exposure to rain. From the outset, I was really hopeful that Rosco’s Supersaturated Paint would give us the best result by allowing for layering while maintaining the flowing texture of the silk. But, before we settled on a choice, I wanted to make sure we explored all of our options.

We considered dye because it would have the softest finish, but I didn’t think we could achieve the level of detail that the drop required using only dye. We sampled Dye-Na-Flow, a product made by Jacquard, but it did not layer the way we needed. We tried Liquitex and Montana Acrylic Paint Markers, thinking that maybe we could use them in combination with dye on the smaller more detailed areas, but they washed out too easily.


Ultimately, after all the sampling, Rosco’s Supersats were the best option. They allowed us to paint the way that we were used to painting as scenic artists, with the ability to layer colors to achieve detail. The silk stayed flexible and flowing with very little stiffness, and the paint held up to our water test – with nothing washing out. The only problem we encountered was that the paint had a tendency to bleed a little if applied too heavily. After doing a few more samples, we discovered that laying the silk over bogus paper seemed to help wick the excess paint and prevent some of the bleeding.

To lay out the project, we decided to staple the silk panels to the paint deck. Stapling it directly to the deck was important so the silk would lay directly on top of the bogus paper. It also was the fastest method and allowed us to easily match up the overlapping image on the edges of each panel. To begin, we printed out a full size black and white image for each panel, placed it under the silk and traced the image with pencil. We removed the paper printout, masked off everything that was not part of the sky, and painted the sky using a combination of HVLP sprayers, Hudson sprayers, and some brush work. Once the sky was finished, we masked it off to paint the wheat field using HVLP and Hudson sprayers with some brush work. The image of the men on the tractor was done almost entirely with sharpies. With the two large areas done, we moved on to the interior detail of the letters and the small details at the horizon, using brushes and sharpies. Finally, we filled in the black and red outline of each letter and called it done.


Photo taken from video, showing a great close up

This was one of those projects that the planning and sampling were crucial and took almost as much time as actually painting it. Due to the nature of the silk and the nature of the paint we used, it would have been really difficult to paint over mistakes. I held my breath a bit through the process, knowing how easy it would be to mess up the drop, but in the end, the preparation paid off and helped us finish the project without any major problems. A big thanks to the other scenic artists who worked on this project: Gabriel Barerra, Amanda Haverick, and Sandy Phillips.

Finished Drop in all its glory!

To see more of Mikah Berky’s scenic art, be sure to visit her website.

Have you worked on a great china silk project your self?

Please tell us your story by submitting a blog article!



Q Powers

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