How to Stop Brick-Hard Gutta from Blocking Your Nibs and Keep Your Blood Pressure Down

Oh, yes. This is one that affects us all, regardless of how long we’ve been painting on silk. We take out the bottle of fresh gutta, give it a shake and then fill it into the smaller plastic bottle and fit it with a nib. And that’s us ready to go. The first lines come out beautifully smooth and easily. What a joy!

However, we get called away to tend to something and forget to put the gutta bottle away safely…….and the damage is done.

It might be the next day before we come back to pick up where we left off.….oh, dear. The gutta bottle. We forgot to put the lid on, or the long pin in the nib to seal it. And no matter how hard we try, we just can’t get the gutta to flow out of the bottle. It’s all jammed up.

So we take off the nib and start to poke around inside it with the metal pin to loosen up any solidified gutta. Some rubbery bits and pieces fall out. We scrape around further and think we’ve got it free. Quickly pop the nib on again and give it another go. Not the slightest bit of difference.  Okay, next step is to take the nib and put it in some very hot water and using the pin again, scrape around inside to loosen up the guilty bits of gutta. At this point I turn on the hot tap and work under the flow of water with the pin.

And it still doesn’t work. Nothing is coming out of the nib. Okay, I’ve had enough. This is where I cheat, unpack a new nib and get on with my work before I totally lose my nerve. The blocked nib gets put into a pot with boiling water and left to simmer for a while until everything really loosens up.

When I have completed my line work, I can then tend to the boiled nibs (sounds like some tasty dish I’m preparing). I remove them from the water and lay them on some kitchen roll to cool down slightly. But I still have to use the pin to remove the last, by now soggy, remains of gutta. Whew, what a job.

Despite my good intentions, this does keep happening every now and then. So I just make sure I have quite a few nibs on hand to grab when I need to keep going with my work. They’re really so cheap that you can afford to have a big supply of them.  One of my standard phrases is: “I don’t have any time for this nonsense!” There are certain things which just get silly and spending half an hour on cleaning a nib falls into that category. I’ve seen me saving them up and boiling as many as 8 or 10 of them at once. I dream of having an assistant who has nothing better to do than stand beside me, keeping my bottles filled and the nibs free for me to paint to my heart’s content.

One tip I would like to share is to only put small amounts of gutta into your bottle and to use them up as quickly as possible for ultimate freshness. I used to like working with very full bottles but constantly ran into difficulties with this. Now I try to estimate how much I will need and only work with that. It’s a fact that the room temperature has an effect on how quickly the gutta dries in the bottle.

If you are going to be leaving your work for whatever reason, always make sure you put the pin in the nib again or push the plastic stopper back down on the nib. That at least ensures you can work for another session without it all drying up.

And that brings me to one last point. The elusive pin.

Just be aware of one thing. No matter where you lay it down, it will not be there when you go to pick it up again.

It’s a shape shifter and that’s a fact. Every silk painter will testify to this.

So, how to ensure that you find it again? Here’s a golden tip. When you take the pin out of the nib, get a piece of masking tape and affix it to the corner of your frame. Brilliant! No more crawling around on the floor with your hands spread out, looking like you’d just lost your contact lenses.

I just love the hi-tech solutions in the world of silk painting. I could fill a book with them. They make it all so much more fun. Anyway, I hope that you have a bit more fun and manage to cut down on the gutta blocks. Happy painting.

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4 Responses to How to Stop Brick-Hard Gutta from Blocking Your Nibs and Keep Your Blood Pressure Down

  1. Lauren says:

    Hi Fiona,
    How to clean the gutta plactic bottle? I have stupidly left some unused gutta in the bottle for some time. I don’t want to throw away the bottle?
    Thank you.

    • Fiona Stolze says:

      Hi Lauren

      You really only have two choices. Either treat yourself to a new plastic bottle which doesn’t cost a fortune. Or pop it into a pot with boiling water for a few minutes to loosen up the resist. You can then try to pull it out with the end of a wooden skewer. The result won’t be perfect but you can be sure that, afterwards, none of the old resist will melt so you can actually use the bottle again.

      It’s one of the downsides of using these bottles. If it’s any consolation, I have thrown countless bottles out.

      Good luck.


  2. Fiona says:

    Lovely. That’s definitely another one you can try.

  3. Ruth says:

    Just pitch the entire bottle, nib etc in a zip lock bag and when you come back to work – it is fine – without access to air – It will not dry up. Ruthie

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