Sunday, December 17, 2017

Still Life in Needlepoint, Part IV

vase of roses needlepoint
Needlepoint  of a vase of roses
After the Reformation, artists in Northern Europe and the British Isles turned primarily to secular subjects. Paintings of everyday life, sunny interior settings, and still life paintings were prominent in their work. The Dutch and Flemish masters of this period did much to popularize still lifes. In fact, the term “still life” is derived from the Dutch word “stilleven”, coined around the year 1650. At this time, still life paintings of vases of flowers became quite popular. Even today, this is probably the most popular still life subject.

map of Netherlands & Flanders around 1650
Map of the Netherlands & Flanders around 1650
It was a time of exploration and discovery. Voyages to far-flung parts of the world were organized to study and collect plants, animals, and artifacts. Many of these expeditions employed artists to paint pictures of the discoveries. A little-known fact (certainly not taught to me in my art history classes!) was that it was not unusual for the artists to be young women. A number of them became well-known, their work sought-after and published in books. Two women of note were Anna Maria Sybilla Merian of Germany and Rachel Ruach of the Netherlands.

After returning home, Ruach turned to a style of still life painting that was to see her become one of the best-known and highest-paid artists of her time, in a career that spanned seventy years! She painted vases of flowers. She used her notes and sketchbooks for reference, so that many of her compositions featured flowers that would never have been blooming in any one place at the same time. These were customarily painted against a very dark background, so that the flowers seem to glow with an inner light. This is an effect that is relatively easy to create in needlepoint because you complete the colored design first in whatever canvas stitches you choose and then fill in the background with black tent stitches. You can see this effect in this “needle painting”.

Needlepoint, "Love is Like a Red,Red Rose"
Needlepoint, "Love is Like a Red,Red Rose"
Doing embroidery of other kinds on on black or very dark backgrounds., however, creates some additional problems. Embroidering on a very dark background can be a challenge. The first problem is to transfer your sketch or pattern to the fabric in such a way that it is plain enough for you to follow. I was taught to do this by placing dress-maker's carbon in white or yellow face down on the fabric and going over the lines from the back with a tracing wheel a device that looked somewhat like a cowboy's spur on a handle. There are two problems with that. First, both the carbon and the wheel are hard to find today. Second, the little dots made by the points of the wheel tend to smear or disappear from use before you finish the project. I recommend securing the fabric to a hard surface and tracing solid lines and shapes with a ball-point pen that has used all its ink. Substitutes for the carbon (although inferior to it) can be made by applying a heavy layer of chalk, white crayon, or white grease pencil to tracing paper after you have drawn the design on the other side of the paper.

Dressmaker's carbon, wheel, & ballpoint pen
Dressmaker's carbon, wheel, & ballpoint pen
If you are working on a light-colored fabric, you can use a commercial iron-on transfer (following the directions on the envelope) or make your own hot-iron transfer (see the post for May 12, 2016). For dark-colored fabrics, I usually draw my design on thin tissue paper and pin it to the back of the dark-colored fabric I plan to embroider. Then I back-stitch along the pattern lines with white thread, floss, or yarn, depending on which one I plan to use in the embroidery itself. This gives me an easy-to-follow outline on the right side of the fabric. I remove the tissue paper by pulling the tissue pieces away gently with tweezers and then discard the pieces. The white stitches can be removed from the finished embroidery later if you like; but I usually just work over them to hide them. These next photographs show steps in the process.

Steps in stitching outlines on dark fabric
Steps in stitching outlines on dark fabric
When I begin thinking about a design, I make several simple sketches to help me work out my ideas. This one was for a flowering plant in a terra cotta pot. (There are many plants some of them flowering in terra cotta pots in our greenhouse, but this one is purely imaginary.) I had decided that the light would be coming from slightly above and to the side of the arrangement, but I had not decided which side, so I left highlights on both sides of the pot and left the shadows cast by pot and flowers very vague. The shapes of flowers and leaves are very general; however, I have indicated interior shadows where leaves and flowers overlap. This particular project has never been made, but I kept the sketches in case they might be useful some day. Today is that day.

Annake's sketch of a pot of flowers
Annake's sketch of  flowers in a terra cotta pot
There will be interior and exterior shadows in your composition, too. Those shadows, while darker than the blossoms, will be lighter than the background. Nor will they be a colorless gray. Shadows have some color in them and that color is the complement of the color of the object that cast the shadow. For example, a blue vase will cast a shadow which contains a tinge of orange. (And a terra cotta pot is is a red-orange, so it will cast blue-green shadows, even on a blue tablecloth.) Using this fact will make your compositions livelier and more realistic. Common pairs of complementary colors are: red/green, red-orange/blue green, orange/blue, yellow-orange/ blue-violet, yellow/violet, and yellow-green/red-violet.

Now I'm going to give you an outline of a bouquet of flowers that you can download. You can experiment with it. The flower shapes and interior shadows are merely suggestions; you make your own choices. The flowers are simple enough that you can treat them all as the same kind of flower or as a mixed bouquet. They could all be done as shades of the same color or as many different colors. Remember that your background will be black or a very dark color, so that light or bright colors will show up best against it. Highlights are a little more subtle than shadows. They are easiest to show as light even white reflections on a shiny surface like a ceramic vase or highly polished wood. One on a small cluster of flowers in a group indicates where light strikes most directly.
This outline is based on an actual basket of silk flowers that J.D. picked up around the house. We are not going to show the “model” at this time, because we don't want it to influence your decisions or choices. We will show it at some future date, so you can compare it with your composition.

Play with your composition. What kind of texture does the basket have? Remember the texture that the basket of strawberries had in the post for August 31, 2017? Where on the basket will shadows appear? What kind of shadow will the basket itself cast on the table top or tablecloth? Would you prefer to have the flowers in a terra cotta pot instead of a basket? (Refer to the sketch above.) Would you prefer to change the basket to a vase? If so, what kind of shape and texture or pattern would it have? Do you want to add another object to the table (perhaps one of the kinds of fruit you experimented with in Part II)? Once you are happy with your composition, how will you construct it? Will you use counted cross-stitch or tapestry stitches? Will you use crewel embroidery? Will you cut the pieces from fabric and sew them or glue them to the background? Will you use a combination of these techniques? Will your picture be realistic, impressionistic, or abstract?

At one time, not too long ago, there were generally accepted rules for painting still life pictures. There were to be several objects on a table in front of a fairly dark background that wasn't very important to the picture. There was a very shallow depth of field. Textures were often more important than colors. The viewers eyes were supposed to be drawn upward and diagonally across the picture, usually to the right-hand side. It is easy to imagine just how dull and uninteresting many of the compositions painted according to the rules must have been. Aren't we lucky that artists and crafts-people today are not expected to follow those rules?

Learn from your experiments and produce a composition that makes you proud.






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Friday, November 10, 2017

A Six-way Bargello, Plus More Optical Illusions

8-way bargello pillow top
8-way Bargello Pillow Top
This post, I'm trying to make good on some projects I promised earlier this year. The first one was to give you a pattern for a 6-way bargello design. We have already done 4-way bargellos and an 8-way bargello (above), but a 6-way is different because the design is based on 60-degree angles, rather than the familiar 90-degree and 45-degree ones. I have designed several of these, but we will be starting with a very simple one. There will be others next year, but they will be a little more difficult. I suggest that you study the posts on 4-way (December 22, 2014) and 8-way bargello (April 22, 2016) before you begin a 6-way project. You may find that you want to try one of the others first, but I assure you this one is probably easier. I'm going to take you step-by-step through this project. Let's begin with the design, which you can download.

Pattern for six-way bargello project
Click here to download Pattern for 6-way Bargello
Since this is a 6-sided design, it makes sense to start with a 6-sided figure, the hexagon. I began by finding the center of my paper and marking it with a dot. Then I constructed a hexagon with the dot at its center. I then made 6 more hexagons, each starting from a point, not a side, of the original one. (If you are constructing a design like this, rather than using a pattern, you may want to make a cardboard template of the center hexagon to draw around as you progress.) You will notice that each of the spaces between the outer and inner hexagons as well as between each outer hexagon and its neighbor is a triangle. Where the bases of two triangles touch, they form a diamond-shape. Finally, I divided the central hexagon into 6 equal triangles. This gave me a choice of triangles or diamonds to stitch. I then made several copies of the design and began to work it out in various color combinations. You can see some of the results below.

Four possible color schemes for 6-way bargello
Four alternative color schemes for 6-way bargello project
As I worked on the design, I told J.D. that I could see an optical illusion forming in one of the designs. He said he could see one, too, but that he would have to erase some of the lines in the design to make it. I suggested that we each draw the design we imagined to see if we had different illusions in mind. When we compared our results, we had indeed seen different illusions. (We were delighted, because another of my promises was to provide more optical illusion designs!) This “game” continued for some time. Below are two of the more interesting ones, for the benefit of those of you who have taken up this pursuit.

Annake's and JD's floating block illusions
Annake's (left) and J.D.'s floating block illusions derived from the 6-way bargello  pattern


In the meantime, I prepared my canvas for the demonstration I'm going to show you now. For more information about preparing a canvas, see the post for May 11, 2014. I began with the triangles in the central hexagon. There are several ways to approach these triangles. An obvious one is to do two sets of triangles in two colors. That is, alternate the two colors as you move around the hexagon. To use three colors, work two adjacent triangles in the first color, the next two in the second color and the last two in the third color. Finally, you can use a different color for each triangle 6 in all. I decided to do two shade of one color in the hexagon, two more in the ‘star’ and a final three in the hexagons. Since it is autumn, my favorite season, I chose yarn in autumn colors.

You are probably going to look at the triangles and think, “This is going to be hard:  the triangles point in different directions and I will have a lot of slanted stitches.” No, they are just triangles with equal sides. They don't point anywhere. They don't do anything but sit there and wait for you to fill them with stitches!

I began with the triangle in the bottom center of the hexagon with yellow yarn. I started at the base of the triangle and stitched from the base to the side line of the triangle, increasing the length of the stitch each time until I reached the triangle's upper point. From there I decreased each stitch until I reached the end of the base. My first and last stitch may go over only one thread of the canvas. The other two yellow triangles form a ‘Y’ with the first one. Then I reversed the canvas to work the gold stitches. The most important thing is to have each gold stitch begin on its base line, but end in the same hole as the yellow stitch it meets. Don't leave any bare canvas. Any bits of the pattern line that show through or any irregularities in stitches meeting will be covered later with top-stitching. Your stitches should cover both sides of the canvas. Don't pull them too tight or you will deform the shapes of the triangles.

6-way bargello, Step 1
6-way bargello, Step 1
I am working on #12 cotton needlepoint canvas with tapestry and crewel yarns. You will have more or fewer stitches than mine, depending on the type of material you are using for a background and the yarn you are using. If you have a stitch that looks thin and doesn't cover the canvas, put another stitch right over it and pull it down firmly. No one will ever know … and I won't tell.

Now that Step #1 was complete, I moved on to Step #2. Here I was concerned with the triangles outside the center hexagon the ones that form a 'star' shape when they are completed. “Okay,” you will say, “now the triangles are pointing in different directions!” No, they aren't. Hold the canvas in the same position that you used to begin the center hexagon. This time work the triangle at the top. Be sure the stitches start in the same holes as those of the ones they are touching in the hexagon. Work that triangle the same way, followed by its companions at bottom right and left. Reverse your canvas again and do the other three triangles. All of your stitches at this point will be straight up and down. Didn't I say it was easy? When I finished the ‘star’, I took the time to top-stitch the sections of the center hexagon with dark brown. Step #2 is complete.

6-way bargello, Step 2
6-way bargello, Step 2
By this time I really liked the triangles because they each took very little time. I decided to do the outer hexagons in the triangles, but I wanted each hexagon to be in a single color. I removed the canvas from the hoop and drew the triangles lightly in pencil. (I am using a hoop because the canvas is very flexible and needs to be stretched taut.) Then I worked all 6 triangles in each hexagon in a single color and top-stitched the junctions in the same color. If you are doing all the hexagons in a single color, or in 6 different colors, you are free to start with any hexagon you like. If you are using 2 colors, your hexagons will form a ‘Y’. If, like me, you are using 3 colors, you will have 2 hexagons in each color, and they will be directly opposite each other. With the hexagons complete, I top-stitched around the ‘star’ points and the edges of the hexagons. Step #3 is done.

6-way bargello, Step 3
6-way bargello, Step 3
If you want to expand the design, you might fill in the triangles between the hexagons or make them into diamonds. You might add another ring of hexagons to the outside of the existing ones and proceed from there. Since I am preparing my design to be a round pillow-top, I am simply going to fill in the background to the outer edge of the circle. A sample of the background stitch pattern I am going to use is shown below. The finished pillow will be shown on a future post.

background stitch for 6-way bargello pillow top
Background stitch  for 6-way bargello pillow top
Until next time, have fun with this six-way design.







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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Questions & Answers, Autumn 2017

autumn crocus
Autumn crocus in bloom
For those of you who expected this post to be another still life lesson, I want you to know that Part IV is under construction and will be posted later this fall. The final article in the still life series (Part V) should be available before the end of the year. For those of you who don't favor still lifes (or have grown tired of them), the next art form will be Landscapes. Like still lifes, they can't get up and walk away, but they change a great deal because of the seasons, weather, time of day, and the presence of animals, people, vehicles, etc. In the meantime, there are questions to be answered and promised projects to be presented step-by- step. Keep watching for them. Here are a few of the current questions:

Can you show me a picture of the four-leaf clover design and the shamrock you made from the corner heart pattern?

I would be happy to do that. These were also mentioned in the April 10, 2017 post. Actually, the idea for them was suggested by J.D., who observed a sketch I was doing of the corner heart as a four-way design and made the connections to four-leaf clovers and shamrocks. It is always valuable to get another person's point of view. Here are the charts for both:

clover & shamrock patterns
Four-leaf clover & shamrock patterns


These may be done in either floss or tapestry yarn, depending on the background fabric. The outlines are done in dark green back-stitch. The leaves are filled in with a lighter green cross-stitch. The blue dots on the four-leaf clover indicate spaces where the background fabric should show through. The stem of the shamrock is done in dark green satin stitch. The shamrock, which is not a clover (it belongs to the oxalis family), has leaves that are spaced a little further apart, so I gave it a slightly more open appearance. But it is easy to modify the clover pattern to be done in the shamrock style, or change the shamrock to be done in the clover style.

Hey, J.D., how about you slow down and stop grumbling for a minute and explain something to me. I still don't understand what is so great about dandelions! Aren't we supposed to kill them on sight?

Okay, I’m calm again – after writing and discarding about a thousand words of impassioned tirade, I really am calm again. . . So, why would you want to “kill them on sight”? On the pro side, they aren’t toxic: as I’ve written previously, they are eminently edible and useful. And while I’m certain there are folks around who are allergic to dandelions, they are rare enough that I’ve never met any. Second, the bees seem to like the flowers – and assuming that you want to continue to see vegetables in your local supermarket, you’d do well to keep the bees as healthy and happy as possible. Third, a lot of birds like them, too: we have little finches come through every spring that absolutely stuff themselves on dandelion seeds. I don’t know how I’d put a market value on those little birds, but I think they are worth having around.

On the con side, you really can’t win the battle with dandelions. I once read something to the effect that in any cubic yard of typical topsoil in the continental U.S., there are enough dandelion seeds to plant an acre as crops. And that nice green lawn you’re trying to chase the dandelions out of is likely made up of grass species (probably bluegrass, or maybe Bermuda grass) that are completely inappropriate for the area you are trying to grow them in, requiring inordinate amounts of water and fertilizer which the tougher, more adaptable dandelions are just going to make better use of than the grass.

Now if, in the face of these arguments, you still have an uncontrollable urge to destroy innocent little yellow flowers, or just a pathological need to look out over unbroken swaths of uniform green, please do us all a favor and consider artificial turf. Hey, I’m totally serious: there are some pretty environmentally friendly products available these days. They don’t require much maintenance – no electricity or gasoline to keep them mowed, nor chemical fertilizers to make them grow, nor herbicides to keep out the dandelions; they don’t use up precious water resources; and they’ll free up your time for other pursuits – maybe meditation, which is bound to be better for your blood pressure than trying to kill every dandelion you see.

And mine as well.

Did you ever get a title for the bear and bee needlepoint picture (May 21, 2017)?

Yes, we did. We chose a reader's suggestion and decided to call it “What Kind of Sunflower Are You?”



Why didn't you use the set of objects J.D. did in his article for your still life? And why didn't you copy the things in the picture you chose like they were in the photo?

J.D. made many more photographs than the ones he chose for his article on arranging still life pictures. I particularly liked the one shown at the top of Part III. I liked the linear arrangement, the fact that the end objects were facing in opposite directions, and the fact that some objects overlapped others to give a perception of distance. The arrangement allowed me to teach several principles in the same project. I never intended to copy the textures of the objects, but rather to show patterns that suggested textures. Each object gave me a chance to make one or more points about the stitching (as given in the tips that followed the pictures). The patterns allowed me to contrast the different shapes, as well as comparing horizontal, vertical, and diagonal stitching, and all-over designs versus an isolated motif. Finally, with a little photographic magic from J.D., I was able to contrast delicate and bold outlining. I think the total design did everything that I intended for it to do. I hope you readers think so, too.

photo & embroidery still life collage


I like the tiny embroidery patterns you show from time to time (March 10, 2017). I have three kids under school age and I like to embroider small designs on their clothes. Do you have some more of them that you can share? Thank you.

I love to hear about mother-child projects like that! And you are very welcome. Below are some more for you. Since at least one of your children is probably past the toddler stage, some of these are slightly larger patterns to fit on larger clothing. They can be done like blackwork, with each line representing a single short, straight stitch. The patterns can also be modified to do in tent stitch with back-stitched details (good on the kind of canvas you can pull out when you have finished stitching) or in counted cross-stitch also with back-stitching. (See also the post for February 14, 2017.) The size of your design will depend on the kind of canvas or cloth that you are using. The colors are only suggestions.

Thank you for asking for more designs. I imagine other mothers will thank you, too. I will try to remember to put new ones in more frequently from now on.






small needlework design samples
Some more small needlework design samples

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Monday, October 2, 2017

Still Life in Needlework, Part III

Still life shapes
In Part II, I promised to show you a technique in which you could do a still life in black and white only. This is one of several related embroidery techniques which spread across parts of Europe after the Renaissance and eventually found their way to the Americas. It is called Spanish blackwork. Its patterns can be used in other styles of single-color embroidery, such as Russian redwork and Scandinavian whitework, as well as a multicolor style like Holbein embroidery. My choice of objects to portray is shown above in a photo that J.D. took at the beginning of the project.

I'm going to take you step-by-step through a still life picture in blackwork. The original 16th century blackwork was done in black silk and gold thread on white linen. I urge beginners in any of these monochromatic stitch techniques to begin with black floss on quarter-inch checked gingham because it is so much like graph paper. It is easy to work out the individual patterns (called diaper patterns) on graph paper and then repeat each individual line with a single stitch.

"Cat Nap," blackwork embroidery on 1/4" checked gingham
"Cat Nap," blackwork embroidery on 1/4" checked gingham

If you have done counted cross-stitch, you may want to work on the smaller “baby check” gingham to get more complex-looking patterns. I prefer pastel checks so the blackwork design stands out dramatically. If you are working on “baby check”, you may want to divide your floss and use only three strands instead of six. The stitch used for the patterns is a simple back-stitch.

Hot iron transfer for still life
Hot iron transfer for still life
In order to have a truly black and white (and gray) design, I'm going to work on white monks' cloth, where the squares are indicated by tiny spaces in the weave at each square's corners. I begin with a piece of monks' cloth that I have backed with interfacing and basted around the edges. I find the vertical and horizontal center lines of the fabric and mark them with a running stitch in a color other than black. This is to center my design; the colored stitches are pulled out after the design is worked. I made a hot-iron transfer of my design outline and transferred it to the fabric. (The transfer will reverse the design, so I studied mine carefully from the back against a bright light to make sure it worked well in reverse.) I chose the area to begin and used an embroidery hoop.

You will need a sharp-pointed crewel needle with an eye large enough to accommodate the floss and several skeins of black six-strand embroidery floss. I like to have several needles so I don't have to stop as often to thread my needle. I was working on monks' cloth, which is comparable to “baby check” gingham, I divided the floss to use three strands. Here is a picture of the first completed section, and close-up of the pattern used for it. Each line on the pattern is a single stitch. Stitches begin and end in the same spaces at the corners of squares.

Blackwork embroidery, Step 1: the Vase
Blackwork embroidery, Step 1: the Vase

Stitch pattern for the Vase
Stitch pattern for the Vase
Tip #1: The Vase. When you are stitching a pattern over an object with a complicated shape, begin at the widest part of the object. Start at one side and work the pattern line to the other side. Then stitch the pattern lines in order both to the top and the bottom of the object.

The next series of pictures show each of the other sections as they were completed, accompanied by a close-up of the graph-paper pattern for each. The lighter I wanted the section to be, the simpler the pattern I used; the darker I wanted it to be, the more complex the pattern.

Blackwork embroidery, Step 2: the Pitcher
Blackwork embroidery, Step 2: the Pitcher

Stitches for the pitcher
Stitches for the pitcher



TIP #2: The Pitcher. When you are stitching a radiating pattern like this one, find the exact center of the place you want it to be and mark it lightly with a pencil. Begin there at the center of the design; work outward, one step at a time.


Blackwork embroidery, Step 3: the Cup
Blackwork embroidery, Step 3: the Cup

Stitch for the Cup
Stitch for the Cup
Tip #3: The Cup. As you reach the border lines of the section, make as much of the pattern stitches in each square as you can without crossing the border-line. When your outline of the shape is completed, there may be small gaps where the pattern doesn't quite reach the outline. Fill these in with tiny stitches.



In this project, I concentrated on shape, pattern, and perspective only. If objects of the same size are placed side by side, the one with the faintest outline will seem the furthest away. If you make the objects overlap, so that the more faintly drawn objects are partly covered, you have started the illusion that they are behind the darker figures and are farther away from the viewer. This is called “recession in space”. This illusion can be considerably increased by combining it with lighter outlines. Because I wanted to draw your attention to this visual device, I used gray floss for the two objects “behind” the front three. You will also notice that their bases appear to be on a higher plane. You can use all these devices in your own still life projects.

Blackwork embroidery, Step 4: the Birch Bark Box
Blackwork embroidery, Step 4: the Birch Bark Box

Stitch for the Birch Bark Box
Stitch for the Birch Bark Box
Tip #4: The Birch Bark Box. Instead of back-stitch for this pattern, I used a simple running stitch. The marks on the birch bark appear in clusters on the box, but I didn't think that would show up sufficiently so I used the stitches for the entire pattern. I left an empty space for the line indicating the bottom of the box lid.



Blackwork embroidery, Step 5: the Candle
Blackwork embroidery, Step 5: the Candle
Stitch for the Candle
Stitch for the Candle


Tip #5: The Candle. Here the back-stitch is used vertically. Be sure that your stitches are as straight as possible. To make the wick more visible, I stitched it in black instead of gray.




Finally, I covered the outlines with solid lines of stitching. I wanted a bold, modern feeling to the picture, along with many contrasts, so I used the full six strands of floss for the outlines. I chose chain stitch, but I could have used back-stitch, outline stitch, stem stitch or any of several other stitches. I outlined the gray objects with the same number of strands of floss that I had used for the black ones. You might prefer a more delicate treatment. J. D. has shown here how it would look outlined in three strands of floss in a back-stitch or outline stitch. I then removed the colored centering stitches. A quick hand-washing in the sink with dish-washing liquid removes the remnants of the iron-on pattern. Follow this by a rinse and pressing with an iron set on 'cotton', and it's done.

How the still life might look with narrow outline stitching
How the still life might look with narrow outline stitching

To make your own blackwork still life, start with a simple outline pattern. Follow the directions for preparing the material. Use the patterns I used, see additional patterns on the posts for October 6, 2013, October 18, 2013, February 21, 2014, and January 15, 2017 or make up your own.

Now, you are ready to transfer those outlined areas of your design to your fabric. You can place your outline on a light-box or tape it to a sunny window-pane and trace it directly on your fabric., or you may want to use a hot-iron transfer. For directions to make one, go to the post for October 6, 2013. For more on monks' cloth, see see the post for April 30, 2014.

Go make something black, white, and beautiful!




Finished Blackwork Embroidery Still Life
Finished Blackwork Embroidery Still Life

Updated October 10, 2017, to replace all the illustrations Google Photo somehow lost :-p


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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Going a Step Farther with Still Life

A Simple Still Life Composition
A Simple Still Life Composition
I'm happy to see that there is so much interest in translating still life from painting into needlework. It is evident that some of you are eager to learn how to set up your own still lifes and work from them. To help you with that, I'm going to turn the instruction over to our editor/photographer, J.D., to help you make and choose a pleasing still life arrangement.

 
[Gnome, grumbling] Okay, so here’s the story: Annake tells me, “I need you to take a series of shots for some points I’m trying to make on the next blog post about still life in needlework. Just find some interesting objects, make an attractive arrangement, and then shoot it from several angles. Here’s what I’ve written for the blog. Oh, and J.D. – keep it simple, please.”

Make an arrangement of 4 or 5 objects on a table or other flat surface. Move the objects into a grouping that pleases you. Try to use a variety of shapes –- some linear, some angular, some curved. Look at it from different angles: above, different sides, eye level, etc. If possible, take a few photographs from these angles with a camera or your cell phone. Here is a montage of photos J.D. took before choosing the one above. Notice how he has used light to emphasize reflections and shadows.

Montage of still life photos
Montage of still life photos, taken from different viewpoints
[Gnome] First part of the assignment completed: I shot these four pieces of pottery of different sizes and shapes, all with matte finishes in a limited range of colors against a plain off-white background so that you can concentrate on the shapes, placement, and point of view without any extra distraction. However, since I was not sure what Annake had in mind for the final product here, I was a concerned about the distortion of the colors under the artificial lights. (Those of you who seldom photograph under artificial lights may be unaware of how much different light sources can affect the color of your photos, but when you live in a hole in the ground you get used to compensating.) So, I used a variety of portable lighting to try to true up the colors. The photo on the right below, taken under a fluorescent grow light plus flash is the most accurate color representation.

original composition next to corrected colors
Still life composition (left), with adjusted lighting (right)
[Gnome] And, while I had all my portable lighting out, I decided to take some shots with unusual light directions, just in case Annake wanted to do something different with the composition before I cleared it away. Not exactly in keeping with Annake’s dictum to keep things simple, but I already had everything in place...

Montage of special lighting effects
Composition photographed with various light placements
Then I trekked up to Annake to show her the results, and find out what the next step was. She said, “Turn it into something that can be put on canvas or fabric for a needlework project. Here’s what I’ve written for our readers: ”

Make a sketch of your favorite view. If drawing is difficult for you, have a print made, enlarged if necessary, of your favorite photograph. Outline the most important features in a dark, bold marker.

TIP: Take this opportunity to simplify your design. Don't try to include every detail. Remember you are going to have to “translate” these lines and shapes into some kind of needlework. What you leave out is just as important to your final picture as what you leave in.

[Gnome] I do a lot of different things here in the Garden, which call for a lot of different skills; however, drawing isn’t one of those – that I leave to the boss lady. Tracing – now, that I can handle. Here’s a trace of the photo at the top of this post, ready to be transferred to whatever sort of material you want by one of the methods Annake has shown over the course of this blog.
Tracing of still life composition photo
Tracing of still life composition photo
Need anything else, boss?

At this point, I like to look at my design through frames or mats of different shapes: horizontal rectangle, vertical rectangle, square, oval and round. (Embroidery hoops are helpful for the ovals and circular views.) This helps me to decide whether to crop the background, how much to crop it, and what shape I want the final picture to be.

Still life tracing under a frame
Still life tracing under a frame
[Gnome] No sooner said than done...now I’m going to go play with some of these shots I’ve taken (not all of which have been shown in this post!) to see what I come up with. This still life stuff is kind of fun!

You ought to try it.

J.D., Annake’s Garden Gnome (filling in for)





Updated October 10, 2017 to replace the mysteriously disappearing photos.

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