Tree of Life Finally in its New Home

It’s been a long process, and now we are reaping the rewards of patience, focused work and group process. The silk mural “Tree of Life” is now installed and doing its job at Faith Lutheran Church, Bellingham, WA

Faith Tree of Life

Kristen Gilje’s “Tree of Life,” hand painted silk dye on silk, 25 feet by 8 feet

From Revelation 22
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.


Faith Lutheran Church does a lot of work with those in need in the surrounding neighborhood. They have a beautiful and productive community vegetable garden, whose produce is served in meals to any who are hungry. They have several programs designed to serve people in pain and in need, and to welcome the outsider into the fold. In other words, they aspire to provide fruit that ripens twelve months of the year, and leaves for the healing of many in their midst. They are like a tree of life planted in the street of the city, and look to that image for inspiration and strength.

Last Sunday’s service included a dedication for these banners.  It was the first day on the job for this artwork. Colored light from the stained glass windows streaked across the banners illuminating the painting with a magical and ever-changing light. At times the light on the painting was almost overwhelming, then it changed in an instant to be more gentle, then the light fell on the wall a foot behind and between the two panels and onto the cross, and then raked across the space again in a new unpredictable way. The effect was one of impermanence and transparency, and of an external power influencing the piece. Theologically it was perfect, seen as the Light of God that illuminates and creates all.

What is not apparent from a frontal view as you enter the space is that the wooden cross actually hangs several feet in front of the silk, and the silk hangs about a foot from the wall. This allows for movement of the silk, and a three-dimentionality with the wall and the cross. When you approach the chancel from different directions you sense depth in what originally seems flat.

Faith Tree of Life

Here below is a picture from all the way back in the nave. I am pleased with how the painting fits in the the architectural space.

Faith Tree of Life

Thank you Pastor Sharon Swanson, assistant Jessie Twigg-Harris, and the congregation of Faith Lutheran Church for giving me the opportunity to do this work for you. My hope is that this artwork will do its job to acknowledge, uplift and inspire your already vibrant and growing mission to feed the hungry, to welcome the stranger, and to bring in the Reign of God here and now, right here in your Northwest Avenue neighborhood.

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Tree of Life Ready to Hang

The silk mural “Tree of Life,”  composed of two 25 foot by 4 foot fabric panels, is  ready to be hung in Faith Lutheran Church. Dedication will be Sunday July 19, 2015 at Faith, 2570 McLeod Rd, 10:00 AM,and promises to be quite nice. Please join us if you are in town!


Detail from lower right panel of “FaithTree of Life”, about 5 feet by 4 feet, silk dye on silk, ©2015 Kristen Gilje


If you recall from previous posts I used rollers on each end of a frame to paint 9 feet of fabric at a time. When the piece was finished I was able set only 10 feet of  each panel next to its partner, enough to tell that the sections match pretty well, but not enough to get a sense of how it will all look finally hanging in its new home. That will have to wait until the new pulley system for hanging this and other banners is completed, soon. I am anxious to see how it looks!

I’ve photographed this piece in my studio as best I can. Since it is so long I was only able to get about 10 feet at a time.  Below you will find 6 photos, 3 for each panel starting with the left panel, from top to bottom.

Left panel:

T of L foliage detail 1

Top of left panel, about 10 feet by 4 feet

Tree of Life trunk det 1

Middle of left panel, about 10 feet by 4 feet

Tree of Life Water det1

Bottom of left panel, about 10 feet by 4 feet

Below is the right panel:

Tree foliage detail 2

Top of right panel, about 10 feet by 4 feet

Tree trunk det. 2

Middle of right panel, about 10 feet by 4 feet



Bottom of right panel, about 10 feet by 4 feet

Stay tuned for the hanging!

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Tree of Life: Transfer Design to Silk and Lay In the First Colors

Tree of Life Faith

In the last post on this silk Tree of Life project for Faith Lutheran Church, Bellingham WA, I showed you how I transfer a 10″x10″ pen and ink design onto large paper to make a pattern 8 feet by 8 feet. This makes up only one third of our 24 foot long pattern. I transferred all the rest of the watercolor design to paper using a grid system since the pattern shapes are so large that they get distorted by the projector.

Putting the silk and pattern both on the frames is the next step. My husband made two rectangular frames out of straight 1x lumber, both 4 feet by 9 feet interior dimensions, and added legs. Then he rigged up a roller system, very much like a loom, so I could load the extra silk onto each end.

Tree of Life Faith

In the picture above you can see the silk loaded on one of the rollers, and the paper pattern beneath it. Under both the silk and the paper are hung clear acrylic panels that allow me to raise the paper pattern to the right height below the silk. It helps very much to put a shop light underneath the frame, which shines through the clear acrylic to show my magic marker lines from the pattern through the silk. I use a resist called “gutta” to draw the lines, following the pattern, using clear gutta in some places and black gutta in others. I am using black gutta to help the piece echo leaded stained glass of the Chartre Cathedral North Window.

Tree of Life Faith

In the foreground of this picture you can see the black magic marker pattern underneath the silk. In the background you can see part of my studio. It is in a re-modeled attic of our 120 yr old house.

Here is a view  the other direction:

Tree of Life Faith

I have divided the work on this project into three separate parts. First I am developing the mandala-like stained glass window design, as that is the central focus area with a lot of detail. Almost every other part of the design supports this section. Second I will develop the background sky and waterfall, down to the horizontal pool of water. This second section is all connected by muted and more neutral colors with soft edges. The colors will gradually change down to the waterfall area behind the foliage. Lastly I’ll work on the waterfall, the bottom third of the piece. This area will repeat blues, purples, greens and whites in the areas above, but also contain some of the darkest colors in the rocks. This area will include gradual blending of colors along with some hard edges, and maybe splattering or other techniques to represent flowing, falling and splashing water.

Lots of work must be done before laying in the first colors. But now that the gutta for the round folliage area is ready, I will begin the most fun part!

Tree of Life Faith

I am happiest with a paintbrush full of color.

Tree of Life Faith

It takes a lot of time to fill in all of those spaces, and this part will be only half-done until the background gets filled in.

Below you can see the ghost images of the fruit yet to be, with the blackberries coming along nicely.

ITree of Life Faith


Now to develop all 12 of the fruits that ripen one a month, so that none may go hungry!

Tree of Life Faith





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New Tree of Life Silk Mural

Sketch Tree of Life

Spring brings new life, and with it an exciting new Tree of Life project for me. I’m happy to be working with a local church, Faith Lutheran Church in Bellingham WA.

Faith Sketch Tree of Life Here’s the full view of the design. The finished piece will be 24 feet long and eight feet wide, on two long silk panels 4 feet across each.

The cross will not be painted in, but in this sketch represents the church’s existing wooden cross (9 feet by 6 feet) that hangs the ceiling. The silk mural will be behind the wooden cross.

I will use colors on the tree that echo the wood colors of the existing cross to make a metaphor: The Cross is like a tree that is alive, blooming, and abundant with food in each season, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. (Rev. 22 vs 2)

Faith Church-interior-(1-of-1).jpg

Faith Lutheran Church has a big wall behind its alter that is blank except for the wooden cross and colored light coming from long thin windows at the side. Unfortunately I only have a black and white photo. The carpet is a muted purple, paraments at the time are olive green, the walls warm wood color. The wall looks like it needs a stained glass window behind its cross to me. So I designed the foliage of the tree with the underlying structure of the North Window of Chartres Cathedral in France. At times during the day light from the stained glass windows on the side will enliven the Tree of Life painting in a lovely way.

The collaborative process for designing this project was conducted  over a period of time, with input from a fairly large group of people from Faith Church. We met 3 or 4 times, and after each meeting I used their input to make changes in the design.

Below you can see the same sketch without the cross. This is the actual design that I will be painting on silk.

Faith Tree of LifeThings are going well. I just finished another couple projects and have cleared up my plate of tasks: so now it’s full steam ahead on this project. I’ve been anxious to get started and it’s really fun.

So far I’ve prepared the silk by hand-washing, line drying, ironing. Then cutting the width down to the right size and applying “fray-block” on all 50 feet of cut edge. The frames are all ready to receive both the pattern and the silk, and right now I’m finishing up drawing the pattern life-size on big paper after making a more careful drawing of the rose window/tree foliage.

UPDATE: April 8, The silk is now on the frames and I have been transferring the design to the silk with a resist from the rubber plant, called “gutta.” I will show pictures of this in the next post.

Following are some pictures of how I make this 30″ x 10″ watercolor sketch into a life-sized pattern for an eight-foot by 24-foot silk painting.






The first step was to refine the round Chartres foliage portion of the piece on another smaller drawing. I like this pen and ink version. It is 10″x10″.

Det Sketch Tree of Life

The second step is to enlarge the whole sketch onto paper the same size as the silk would be. I use big roles of newsprint cut to the right size. Most often I use a projector to throw the image onto the paper, but with a round and highly geometrical pattern like this I had to transfer it the old fashion way. I made a big compass out of trammel points and measured carefully to get all the geometrical forms just right.

Drawing Chartre Window Geometry

After this geometrical pattern is finished I can project the details from the pen and ink drawing onto the pattern, knowing that there is no distortion if I adjust the projector to fill the shapes on the carefully made pattern. It’s lots easier to work upright on a  wall than bending over on the floor of my studio.

Drawing detail on pattern

I found it easier to transfer the large tree trunk and background imagery using a grid instead of the projector since they are such large shapes and easily distorted. So the only practical way to use the time-saving projector as a guide was doing all these leaves and the fruit inside the circles. LOTS of detail here.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress during the weeks ahead. I’ll show you the silk on the wonderful frames my husband makes for me, and what it all looks like with each step. Maybe you can come and see everything in person if you live nearby. Stay tuned!







Posted in How-to, Silk Banners, Silk Paintings, Silk Work, Uncategorized, Work for Churches | Tagged | 5 Comments

Deacon’s Stole for Janet

© Kristen Gilje 2015 St. Marks Red Deacon's Stole

St. Marks Red Deacon’s Stole
© Kristen Gilje 2015


St. Mark’s Lutheran Church by the Narrows (Tacoma, WA) has lots of beautiful art in its sanctuary, including some great stained glass windows. My friend Janet pointed out her favorite part of the glass, a symbol of a dove. She asked me if I could make her a Deacon’s stole with this design on it, transposing the blues to red instead.








Stained glass at St. Marks by the Narrows, Tacoma, WA Det.

Stained glass at St. Marks by the Narrows, Tacoma, WA Det.


Transposing the colors from blue to red, in watercolor

Transposing the colors from blue to red, in watercolor

To the left is a photo of the stained glass, which is about 12 feet high, and on the right is my watercolor rendition of the design in reds. I chose to add some purples and spring greens for spark.












Janet's St. Mark's Deacon Stole

Janet’s St. Mark’s Deacon Stole


Janet's St. Mark's Dove stole modeled by a Bellingham friend.

Janet’s St. Mark’s Dove stole modeled by a Bellingham friend.



The next step was to use my red interpretation on a deacon’s stole pattern that I designed several years ago. I found two  asymmetrical black buttons in a fancy knitting store to help strengthen the joint between the two sides.   Can you see them?


I like how the blues and greens and dark black-reds add just enough contrast to the overall red.










Janet’s stole modeled by a friend here in Bellingham, showing the side view. Thanks Sharry!

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Rooted and Grounded in Love

A Meditation on Ephesians 3

©2014 Kristen Gilje

©2014 Kristen Gilje, commissioned by St. Marks by the Narrows, Tacoma, WA

The Ephesian 3 text was chosen by St. Marks Lutheran Church by the Narrows, Tacoma WA for their 60th anniversary. This letter from Paul talks in part about the cosmic nature of God and paradoxically how God is also present with us in our earth-bound existence.

I chose a tree to represent the union of the vast, cosmic nature of God and the earthly nature of our local lives in community.   This tree is a version of the tree of life, an archetype that spreads throughout human culture. A tree reaches towards the sky and onwards towards the planets, while being rooted firmly in the ground. It is a reminder that we are indeed connected to the world and universe outside our daily and earthly routines, even though we often forget. Here it represents both the wood of the cross alive, and Christ as connecter of heaven to earth.

In my first sketch for  this design I made the tree stretch tall and strong, up to the planets. And I made a tap root that stretched down, down, deep within the earth and anchored by subterranean rocks. I sent this design off to the commissioning pastor, who wrote back asking me to please put a few more trees in the composition.

This pastor grew up on the coast. He knew that trees growing on the western coast of North America don’t have deep roots; they have shallow roots. And they grow in groves. The shallow roots of the trees intertwine with one another to support each other. A shallow-rooted tree growing alone would get toppled by coastal winter storms, but a grove of trees with an intertwining root mass can withstand all nature can throw at them.

So I put some more trees in, made the roots more horizontal and intertwining.

The houses under the central tree represent our human community, specifically the community of this particular congregation. Our relationships are like roots that reach out to one another in community, and hopefully out even further  to support those considered outside of our community, to support them too.

Kristen Gilje, Rooted and Grounded in Love Det.

And finally, the vast quantities of water that make the Northwest so great in this piece also represent the water of life in Rev. 22, flowing from the throne of God,  nurturing the tree of life which bears good fruit for all. My prayer is that this same Spirit of God, present in, with and through all things will nurture our communities with all its relationships, humankind and other, so that we bear good fruit for the sake of all humanity and all the earth.



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Breaking Wave as Baptismal Image

Commission for a Seaside Church

©2014 Kristen Gilje Breaking Wave

©2014 Kristen Gilje Breaking Wave, 8 feet by 55 inches, silk dye on silk.

I painted this 8 foot by 54 inch banner, for a church in Manasquan NJ,  immediately after finishing “Zion’s Waterfall.” I had enjoyed being very loose with the dyes, letting them mix and make textures without much control at all, using hardly any resist. In “Breaking Wave” I wanted to preserve the free and uncontrolled feeling with a different technique: painting with wax. This involved using the resist, which usually I use to control the dye, in a free and easy way. I bought 5 different sizes and shapes of brushes to make varying textures and painterly wax marks on the silk.

The process was similar to making a layered print. The very first wax marks preserved the white of the silk, only where I wanted highlights. Next I put a light layer of blues over the whole piece. After that dried, I put another layer of wax only where I wanted this light blue preserved….then a darker blue, and more wax, until I had all the color values I wanted on the finished piece, from lightest to darkest.

The original idea for this piece came from the pastor who commissioned it. Her congregation had been devastated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and her idea was to  make a Hurricane Sandy Baptismal Banner. The idea was an intriguing challenge. I love to connect natural images with sacred rite and ritual. After researching photos of the devastation on the web, I came up with the following image. However, I could not find any hope in the subject at all, no sense of the holy.

©2014 Kristen GiljeHurricane Sandy

©2014 Kristen Gilje Sketch for Hurricane Sandy Baptismal Banner

Even though this piece was more about the destructive forces of nature than the transforming sacred power of baptism, the commissioning pastor liked it.  I also had gotten quite attached to the idea of making this piece, not because it represented baptism, but instead the awesome and fierce power of nature, and the challenge of making it. NOT the intended goal…

The idea was to somehow lift the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy into the hands of God, recognizing the sacred water of baptism even in the terrifying walls of water in the storm. This was definitely too fresh a catastrophe for the idea to work. And the image represents “My God, why have you forsaken us?” better than baptism.  We realized that this image was not what her people needed, and changed course.

 Challenging art needs to be appropriate for the congregation it serves, and needs especially a person to facilitate discussion around the art, to lead people into challenging ideas with purpose. The purpose is not the art, but the idea.  And the idea must be carefully chosen. The art is a tool for thinking about the challenging idea.

The pastor knows their congregation and what they need the most, and how great or small a challenge they need, and most importantly what they need challenging on.

 We turned instead to an image more familiar and less challenging but still powerful: A wave breaking over rocks. I could indeed find the Holy here in the awesome power of water to transform even a rock, but also to nurture life and bring joy. It is a good image of the transforming power of baptism.

Here are pictures of my own exploration of a wave….first on newsprint 9 feet by 55 inches just learning shapes and values.

2014 Kristen Gilje

next a “map” simplified version, Still got carried away by the detail. I put this one under the silk to help me place the dye and wax.

2014 Kristen Gilje

This wax process was new for me…it was fun to have the WAX make the mark, rather than the dye.

My driving emotion for this piece is awe of the sacred in nature, despair in its failure, and hope/faith for change.This is now in a New Jersey church, as a symbol of the transformative power of the waters of baptism.



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