Realism is the quest in my current studies. I decided to work a self-portrait close to life size using #3 strips (3/32″ wide) for detail. A group in Harrisonburg, VA brought instructor Donna Hrkman in for three days and I took advantage of her expertise to start the project. The lesson which stayed with me was to use line of pronounced value to infer shape, attitude, texture, form. Our brain will finish the picture based on its knowledge.
Lesson 1: PREPARE I sent this photo to Donna who created a pattern using a grid to enlarge the details. I also ran the photo through an app for iPad called uSketch and selected a washed out version with strong main lines.
This image was enlarged to fit a 12 x 16 format and directly sketched using a lightbox. I then drew the portrait by eye (ending up with softer features than the direct sketch.) By drawing the pattern myself several times I was prepared to notice nuances and hook the shapes and lines.
Lesson 2: If the subject is close to you, draw the design yourself. I used Donna’s pattern and my guides trying to replicate what I was seeing not my mind’s interpretation of the subject. You will see the first image (worked on for two days) needs severe sculpting to become recognizable to my friends as me.
Lesson 3: Color can draw attention and lead the viewer to a conclusion. Glasses, hair, and background elements are in strong recognizable colors depicting me in 2014. I had brought along the actual drapery fabric from the photo as background but Donna suggested I use symbols to highlight my rughooking journey.
I selected two award winning designs My Mountain State and Mountain Treeline. The abstract hooked blue/purple skyline reproduces the first and the appliquéd colored tree shapes infer the latter and my favorite season. One more element that describes me is living in a log home here in West Virginia. I decided to take the right third behind the face to show that structure. Simple horizontal lines of dark texture and natural linen became the logs.
Lesson 4: Simplify but complete the story. I almost forgot a major element in Ruckman Mill Farm’s pattern line is FRAKTUR designs. What motifs could I insert into this natural setting that would read PA German folk art? Of course! The circle from Baptism Certificate which has my birth date, parents and my name was printed and laminated to become a pin on the shirt. I signed the piece and added one more symbol all in one.
Lesson 5: If it is not right, fix it. All along you will notice I got closer to a recognizable rendition of Susan Feller except for the LIPS. Donna said the lower lip usually is lighter because it protrudes slightly. She suggested using one size larger cut for the lower lip and both larger than the #3 cuts for the face. I looked at the photo and convinced myself the reverse would be true in my case. Extreme light and dark values were chosen, wide cuts, narrower, slightly up turned, straight across all not quite right. I pulled out Anne-Marie Littenberg’s book Hooked Rug Portraits by Stackpole Books and read through it. There was one image similar to mine that used several different values to portray the light on lips. Posted that version on Facebook and received accolades. But it was not until I asked Roslyn Logsdon to critique the lips that I heard the answer: AGAIN—“the lower lip needs to be lighter!!!!!!”
Lesson 6: Use the right tools from your tool box. My life has involved textiles since childhood. Hand sewing, embroidery, dying fabric and using found objects often shows up in the wall art I create. No reason to restrict this historical portrait to just rughooking. I added my favorite linen shirt, sea glass jewelry, embroidery and appliqué to enhance the hooked features and intend to finish the piece with a tramp art frame. What fun!