So, the journey has begun! I'm working on my first fine art piece in 2 years, and I'm not only adjusting to the materials, but also to the sometimes very annoying process. I had forgotten how when in the middle of a piece you can feel so lost and confounded, stuck in a corner you don't know how to get out of. I forgot how the thought of working on the piece can almost be nauseating due to it's riddles which can't be solved any time soon.
I decided to ease myself into this new body of work by choosing a piece that was on the small side and which I thought would be relatively simple. I'm not sure why I thought that, because as soon as I began I was already saddled with questions and experiments. Had I been quilting, I would have put aside my cloth before even starting and saved it for another time or another piece. But the nature of using felt as a backdrop is that I must make it at a specific dimension for a specific piece, without adjustments, as I will not cut it. The size it is is the size it will always be, in other words. So even though I felt the desire to stop before I started, I was stuck. So I plowed forward through the first few obstacles and decisions.
(cutting out a shape in the felt for a silk organza reverse applique)
But then the difficulties really began, starting with these new materials. The silk was way too thin and I quickly realized that my initial plan needed to be reworked to reinforce the artwork. The small pieces of felt which I had cut out also needed protection to keep them intact. This set up an unexpected challenge. I realized that I would need to cover the piece with another layer of translucent silk. With this decision in mind, I began the detailed hand stitching which I figured would ultimately become a faded background underneath another set of stitched designs.
(phase one - background stitching)
But when I ultimately put a piece of grey silk organza over all of this work, and spent days stitching it down and adding more designs, I just couldn't be satisfied with it. I couldn't make it work no matter how hard I tried. It was just too faded and whatever I put on top was also faded and seemed to conflict with what was underneath.
Therefore, after days of working, I decided to change the direction and undo nearly all of the work and start from scratch. That meant taking out most of the thread I had already stitched. I was not super happy about this but knew it was the right decision.
That left me with other questions with no answers and in general the whole sense of this piece is that I was wondering around in the woods from one small trail to another, never knowing where it was going to lead. And hand stitching is slow. It takes time to find out where your going and if it's the right direction. It's sometimes exhausting and frustrating because it's easy to lose confidence in yourself and make yourself go through the motions of trying out yet another idea. There were days when I took the piece out of eye sight because I just couldn't stand to look at it. I needed to clear my head. I know it sounds a bit dramatic, but when one is trapped in the middle of a process they can't get out of, it's frustrating. I can't toss work away, ignore it while it sits somewhere indefinitely unfinished. I must finish all of my pieces, to some level of satisfaction. It just sometimes comes with great difficulty, though most cases are relatively smooth going. I think I've just been pampered for so many months with my hand puppets which are fairly predictable and easy start/finish projects. Now I've been faced with a much more complex activity and with new materials and techniques. But I'm nearly out of the woods, and within a few days I expect to be finished and ready to call the piece complete.
(This image shows the piece back to being mostly felt but with the grey silk appliqued over the flower and root system. I restitched the green lines and cubes and at this stage was testing out different ways of completing the flower petals - a very frustrating task which required days of rest in between to settle down and regroup)
Ultimately I went with the pink petals, but the dense stitching was strikingly different than the feel of the rest of the piece, and it was distractingly bright. So I added a layer of the grey silk on top to tone it down. It made a big difference! But ultimately I wish the flower could be more complete, however in my initial planning I thought I would need a felt border to provide stability to the top where it will hang. I'm not sure if it looks like there's a border or if I simply didn't finish the flower on a whim! While it's not my favorite work, I'm content enough to be done with it and chalk it up to experimentation. I have to say that I did learn things which will help me with the next work, and that's not nothing!
Finished work. 17 x 14.5 inches
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This piece is a departure from my usual work. I only really feel comfortable with my work when I know that it is sturdy and nearly unbreakable - hence the reason I like quilts. You can throw them around, fold them up, be generally quite aggressive with them and they'll recover with just a few simple tricks. And not only do I like quilts, but well-stitched quilts, where all the elements are securely fastened, and if they are fragile elements, I really prefer putting them safely under silk organza, like putting a fragile specimen under a glass dome. I've never been comfortable with those few pieces which seem vulnerable to my typical style of working.
But then we have this piece, which, while not really fragile at all, gives the impression of fragility.
I actually don't remember making this piece very well, but I can puzzle the steps back together using the pictures and making educated guesses.
I began with a background of soluble fiber sheets which I stitched together. I then stitched a portion of the swooping lines. In this picture below, I've cut out my human forms and have them in the position I want them.
Next, I've added the wall which will go between them. This wall was created by stitching on thin silk organza with the aid of a soluble sheet so that it would be more manageable. Of course, at some point I cleaned up those loose threads. I detest loose threads in my work.
I don't have a picture in between these two steps, but basically I layered silk fibers over these elements, sandwiched it all with another layer of soluble fiber and stitched some more with black thread, and then stitched even more with transparent thread. Here you can see that I've already washed away the soluble sheets and am left with a web-like structure that was a bit of a mess at first. But, all fibers can be organized with pins! So I laid it out, stretched it where it needed to be stretched to maintain it's proportions, and pinned everything until it dried. I was a little nervous about getting the paper people wet, but mostly just because I wasn't used to dealing with more vulnerable materials.
This piece includes multiple elements and unusual materials for me. I incorporated hemp fibers and paper, along with my usual assortment of materials, silk fabric, thread and fibers, and my trusty polyester thread. This combination of course and fine, dense and transparent really attracts me to this piece, and the silk fibers beneath the organza really do appear to be a glow from a lantern.
Below is the sketch which represents this piece's humble beginnings! As you can see, most of the detail is still in my head, with the sketch mostly serving as a reminder of where things should be. Most details get worked out in the process of making.
In the image below, I have laid out the essential parts: There are silk fibers in gradient shades on the left side of the piece to give the impression of strong to fading light. In the middle I have embroidered the staff in the man's hand, cut out the man from paper, and cut out the sheet of hemp fibers I had made in advance. When needing hard, straight lines, I first laid out fibers and saturated them with sizing (a stiffener) and let them dry. Then you can treat it as you would paper. On the bottom right, I laid out fibers for a shadow. At some point, I enhanced the staff's light with metallic threads in a free-form manner.
Here we see everything stitched underneath a hand-dyed piece of grey silk organza. It softens everything and really finishes off the piece, making it seem as if there is a person trapped within the crystal.
All that's left is to enhance some features with hand embroidery. The lines got finished off so that the "front" of the crystal stands out, and the light got some brighter color. Finally, the edges were trimmed, folded back and machine and hand stitched.
All in all, it turned out quite well, I think.