Story by Sarah Gonzales
Gina Murrow's silk paintings of brightly colored flowers, quasi-abstract waterfalls and joyfully soaring cranes are so creative, one would never guess that she initially struggled to consider herself an artist. "I was letting doubt keep me from painting," she explains. "I quit telling myself that I couldn't do it, started calling myself an 'artist' and it made all the difference in the world," she says.
As a young girl traveling the world with her missionary parents, Murrow knew that she "wanted to do something new, creative and non-traditional" when she grew up. She pursued a journalism degree at Baylor University in Texas where she also met her husband. They married, moved to Alaska and she did a little writing, but it was always the arts that she turned to for inspiration.
When pregnant with her youngest child, now 15, she took art classes at the Alaska Watercolor Society. Every chance she could Murrow would seek her muse. "I quilted, crocheted and pursued every creative outlet I could find. I'd even serve the kids meals with fancy edges on the sandwiches and arrange the fruit in a starburst!"
But it wasn't until recently that she came into her own creatively. "About three years ago a neighbor needed help exercising her horses and we'd ride together two to three times a week," she recalls. "She did silks and I'd bug her to teach me and finally she gave in and said yes." Through those lessons, Murrow knew immediately that she had found her way.
"When I put my watercolor technique on silk it was like magic happened!" She describes. "It was so-so on paper, but on silk it looked incredible!"
Murrow now works at her home in Eagle River in a loft studio that she shares with her teenage daughter, Victoria, who is also a silk painter. In the backyard she points to a grassy spot near a creek where she will paint when the weather cooperates.
"That's actually Little Peters Creek, but I renamed it Silk Creek," she says with a smile. Murrow uses silk satin for her wearable scarves that double as wall hangings, crepe de Chine for larger paintings, and she sometimes will use silk chiffon or habutai.
While the paintings resemble watercolors, the paint she uses "is not actual watercolor paint, it's a dye. You mix it with water to get lights and darks," she explains. "It's a lot like Easter egg dye."
Her process begins with a full-scale drawing on paper that will then be traced onto stretched silk with a rubber cement-type product called Gutta that helps to corral the dyes when applied. Each piece can take anywhere from hours to weeks to complete depending upon the intricacy of the design or how many colors it involves.
The painting process is an exercise in precision and patience, Murrow says. "It's like painting with an invisible artist – the water being the other artist – it does its own thing." She explains that her job is to guide the colors and keep them from bleeding into one another. "I liken it to herding cats – the dye will go where it wants to go," she says. "The talent comes in by controlling the paint."
The piece then undergoes a process of steaming and rinsing and the final product emerges with "a depth of color to the paint that is just gorgeous," she says, showing how the design takes on a deeply gradient, nearly three-dimensional background.
She is now working on a series of "giant flowers" to premiere at Sevigny Studio on December's First Friday, and with plenty of private commissions her creativity shows no sign of slowing down. Which is a good thing for Murrow who says: "I'd like to do this until I die; I'd like to be the Grandma Moses of silk painting."