Smooth as silk Artist Kristi Kranz uses color, shading and surface techniques to enhance her work
HAWI – Following her life’s passion to be an artist was always the end goal for Kristi Kranz.
In fact, she wrote a note to her grandparents more than 40 years ago — which she still has today — that reads, “I am probably going to be an artist when I grow up.”
Eventually, with hard work, faith and a little help from her friends, she achieved her lifelong dream of supporting herself, working as an artist full time.
The exclamation point on her successful career came last week when she moved into a new and spacious studio in Hawi. Filled with natural light, it is especially conducive to her favorite type of art — painting on silk.
Kranz has dabbled in many different types of art including watercolor, oils, charcoal drawing and ceramics. But when she was introduced to silk painting in 1993 by her friend and fellow artist, Barbara Jelks, she was hooked.
“I fell in love with it immediately,” Kranz said.
Silk painting involves applying a combination of resist and dye to silk. The process begins with a base of pure white silk stretched between two sawhorses. Kranz uses several different kinds of silk — charmeuse, crepe de chine and chiffon — which she buys from China. Using transparent dyes, she paints on the silk while it’s suspended.
Kranz draws the outline of her design on the silk using a Gutta “resist” or rubber-like liquid and a fine-tipped applicator. The resist stops the flow of dye and creates a barrier. Once the liquid has dried, she paints the silk dye within each segment of her design using a technique similar to watercolor.
Silk painters add dimension to their work using color, shading and various surface techniques. Because the dyes move so freely on silk, the painter must control the movement of the pigment on the silk rather than its placement. The magic comes from the subjective images and combinations that emerge within the liquid.
Each silk painting is one of a kind. People are drawn to them because of the vibrancy and luster, which adds a wonderful animation to a painting not achievable through any other art form.
What excites Kranz most about silk art is the luminosity of the silk and dye together, the unpredictability of the dye, and the softness and subtle blending of colors that can be achieved.
“It is an adventure every time I lay my brush to the silk … a combined voyage of painter and medium that blends to create a unison of intent, spontaneity, change of plan and submission to the ultimate creation,” she said. “It’s always a surprise.”
Once a silk painting is complete, it is rolled in paper and steamed at 300 degrees for three hours. Steaming molecularly binds the dye to the fabric, making it colorfast, permanent and durable. If the silk art is a piece of clothing, such as a scarf or sarong, it can be easily washed or dry cleaned.
However, the steaming process adds yet another dimension to the instability of a project. During the steaming process, Kranz says she loses about 25-30 percent of her paintings due to the molecular structure of the dyes. Some expand and cross over the resist lines, especially on humid days, making a mess of her hard work.
“I have a closet full of mishaps which I force unsuspecting victims to take home with them,” she said with a smile.
Kranz has experienced a number of starts and stops — otherwise known as “life” — in her quest to become an artist. In 1984, a tempting job offer lured her to Hawaii Island. She landed in Waimea where she learned to steer Hawaiian outrigger canoes, worked for restaurants and bars, played on the beach all day and worked all night.
Longing for more, she started traveling to Indonesia where she built a small business designing clothing. She had the clothing made while she was traveling through Bali, then sold it back home.
During those years, aside from a doodle now and then, she never picked up a pencil. One day in Bali, while gazing out across endless mountains tiered with sunlight and surrounded by water-filled rice paddy fields, Kranz was once again struck with an irresistible urge to describe the incredible beauty surrounding her. She did so in the best way she knew how: through art.
Kranz has explored different forms of art since 2005, when she met her soul mate and now husband, Jack Hutchings.
“When we met, he said, ‘Let’s go to France and take a watercolor class,’” she remembered. “He has encouraged me to educate myself in any and every way and has supported my art 100 percent.”
Kranz modestly credits her commercial success to the owners of the Harbor Gallery in Kawaihae.
“Gunner and Elli Mench are amazing partners in the sense they can sell and most artists can’t do that,” Kranz said. “Without their expertise and marketing abilities, I’d be nowhere.”
The three forged a partnership that began shortly after the couple bought the gallery. Early on, Gunner suggested to Kranz that she frame her silk paintings to present them better.
“I’ve been here for 21 years and if you look at the total since day one, Kristi has been our top selling artist,” Gunner said.
Her original work includes paintings of hula dancers, florals, ginger, hibiscus, banana flowers, koi fish, ponds with water lilies and local people. They grace the walls of homes in Kona, Hualalai, Mauna Lani, Mauna Kea and Waimea, as well as others around the globe.
Kranz has also applied her silk art to guitars, banjos, gourds, tabletops, giant bamboo and even canoe paddles. Her next project is a surfboard.
With silk art, Kranz has found the perfect medium to illuminate the pure beauty she experiences on a daily basis living in Hawaii — a beam of light on a hibiscus, the tilt of a woman’s head, the morning sun on a pond, the delicate ombré of color in a waterlily, a koi fish with an impudent smile and the color of the sea.
“I like to think that, when I am in my highest state of mind and being, my inspiration comes straight from the universe,” she said. “There are days when I am painting and feel I am just holding the brush. Hours go by and I look up and say, ‘Wow, who did that?’”