slow selfie: to answer some questions

I’ve answered some process questions down below.

So…this regular weekly pace of posting here has been great for reflection on how my “real life” and “creative life” fit together. Keeping them separate for years and actively hiding the artsy side has made the reintegration of myself a conscious and methodical process. It’s true: I’m no longer a closeted artist. Heh.

Anyway, today I am giddy and anxious and feeling really hopeful about lots of things. A year ago on V-Day, we lost my brother and it cast a deeply dark shadow over everything for me. Many many incredibly great things happened for me in 2013, but well… Feeling like there is an emergence from the darkness of sorts, into a lighter time and hoping everyone stays healthy for a while. I’d thought of designing a remembrance project in time for V-Day, but every time I sketch for it, it turns into an epic piece. The loss wasn’t just one thing, one event, one life. Someday it’ll all coalesce; it just takes time.

It will take more time.

Speaking of taking time…(there’s a clumsy transition for you)… I am deep into my new series of embroidered portraits. For now, the series lives on my laptop and there are far more ideas than I could execute in a lifetime. That feels pretty good. I’ve started four of them: one is done, two are halfway done, and the fourth feels like a disaster of gigantic proportions. Sounds like a decent record for just two months of work, right?

Here’s a view of the progress on the latest one.

It feels real now.

Some folks asked questions about my process. I am really not a tutorial kind of gal, but can speak in some broad strokes about how I approach these.

Overall, I’m looking to turn what have become quickie online self portraits (like you see on most social media sites) in the Zeitgeist into fine art (and performance art, but we’ll get to that later). Each project begins with a phone camera with the usual crappy filters available and my weird mug. After assembling a small collection of shots, I’ll sift through and choose one that’s compelling. It has to retain some of the cheezy feel of a quickie, while also pinging the sweet spot of expressive potential in my mind.

With a few at a time at hand, I then begin to figure out strategies for conversion to textiles. Either they become sewing or embroidery fodder or they get deleted entirely. When one seems stitchable, I break it into rectangles of digestible size and then manually re-pixelate into a spreadsheet. Each rectangle is just an abstract conglomeration that I, personally, can more nimbly consider than a full image. Some photos I just can’t get to work out in my mind through this method, and so they get tossed. Moreover, I like to work at 20 st/inch, without the total dimensions exceeding 10″ in either direction. This gives one quite a bit of room to maneuver, is realistic to stitch, but it can cut down on the level of detail of the original that is interpreted into the stitches. It’s both a good and bad constraint.

Yes, there is software that will convert photos into charts for you. I have tried them. They render colors poorly, generally speaking, and almost never reach my personal intended target for detail. They can be useful for building skeletal sketches in the spreadsheet sometimes, but I usually have to modify so much that it saves time to do it all by hand from the beginning instead.

Okay. Maybe now you see why I’m doing the chiaroscuro work first? It helps to have great swaths of darkness, so I can concentrate on getting more details of stuff right in smaller areas.

From there, I spend a few weeks revisiting the new digital pixelizations for two or three designs, futzing around with colors, scale, and umm, colors again. I’ve been known to toggle a single pixel a zillion times before cutting myself off. In then end, there’s room to breathe in a 40,400-stitch canvas. However, I can get attached to the idea of the mightiness of one pixel. [Even once I begin stitching, I've caught myself stitching and ripping a single x, changing the color until it looks just right. Oy.]

...

And the final step of the filter before starting to stitch is matching colors to threads available on the market. DMC, which I’ve used since I was 10, forms the basis of my palette just because I have so much on hand. I’ll add from any other brand just to find the right colors. This is not as agonizing as it could be. Color cards help quite a bit and I’m not afraid to get extras to experiment with later. It helps that threads are inexpensive and don’t degrade in a lifetime.

And that’s it. Oh, wait. Fabric? For these I am using 40ct white Newcastle linen. Been ordering fat quarters of it, but really should invest in a bolt eventually. [Now should I publicly admit how much I despise Aida? Oops. I just did.] And needles? Tapestry needles for this work to cut down on dangerous poking. (I still use thimbles and band-aids to do this work.) Size 28 ones bend like butter on a hot summer day in my hands so size 26 it is, and Bohin brand, if possible. And glasses? I am still proudly glasses-free at my age. But this super tiny stitchery requires some visual assistance. I use cheap +3.00 reading glasses from the drug store. This increases endurance by eliminating eye strain.

Any other questions?

blackification

Last week was wonderful and then awful and then great again. Mostly, I find that I love almost all of my RealJob, especially when I get the time to succeed at it.

And in the wee hours after enough work gets done each night, I can do something else that I seem to be improving at through diligent practice.

Progress

Seriously, I woke up with this stitchery in my hands more mornings last week than I’d like to admit. Let’s gloat about not getting stabbed by needles or scissors yet, though. Heh. Wait, no, knock on wood, spin around three times…gotta maintain this lucky streak. Who knew this would become my nightmare?

Anyway, this is another “slow selfie.” An exercise in mimicking painting and another design using extreme chiaroscuro, this has been a nice way to practice blending colors and making strategic shadows.

Stitch break!

The only painful part is that one can only see the desired glow in contrast with large areas of darkness. The blackification of the background will take a long long time and maybe even be worthwhile in the end. Once I get the hang of things, I’ll start doing less of this background stuff and focus more on the rest. Every stitch seems like a learning moment now, however. Believe it or not, I’m actually using black and a few dark browns to try to create more texture in the darkness. So far, I haven’t figured out how to do it without distracting from the focus region, but we’ll see…

Have a great week, friends!

after a long winter’s break…

I’m on my way back to working RealJob even more feverishly than ever. There’ll be more scenes like this.

Back to school.

And less of this.

getting a chin

And this.

Tiny improv.

I’ll pop in here from time to time—hopefully weekly—with small updates and I’ll visit your spaces to keep up with your doings.

Have a great week!

a week in a basement

Thanks again for your kind comments on that self portrait last week! I am still fretting about what to dive into next, but resting on those laurels could be okay for a week. Heh.

Well, RealJob takes me to many exotic locales like beautiful Baltimore. Wish I could say that I love the city of Baltimore, since I’ve been there several times, but I really only ever get to see a small radius around the convention center. The National Aquarium is pretty nice—cool seahorses—but otherwise, I know very little. And, well, that’s what I did last week: I spent long hours in the basement of the building, doing RealJob or stuff to support RealJob, spending my evenings doing work to prepare for the next day, and wishing for fresh air and sunlight.

Here’s a glimpse. Of course, most of what I did was 100% confidential, so I can only show the periphery.

scenes from last week

Can’t have a birthday without cake!

scenes from last week

Working on an origami quilt.

scenes from last week

The view from my hotel room was into Camden Yards.

scenes from last week

A hotel breakfast. Those potatoes were yummy.

scenes from last week

I stood in this long line a few times.

scenes from last week

A project hitched a ride with me, but there was no time to work on it.

scenes from last week

But we had a quilt on display in the art exhibition there. Yay!

Untitled

Glad to be home to slowly get back to the grind. This improv quilt project is getting going. As usual, I’ve made it far more fiddly and complicated than it needs to be, but it was the perfect bit of fun to get me over a case of the Yips yesterday. Oy.

Have a great week, friends!