Choosing a Photograph for a Fabric Portrait

When teaching a fabric portrait workshop, the question I get asked most often is “How can I know that I am choosing a good photograph to use for my portrait?” Choosing a photograph can be an easy process by paying attention to the following tips.

5 features to pay attention to when selecting a photo.  Use these tips for a stress-free experience!

1. Head and shoulders photo

For someone starting out doing fabric portraits, it is best to start with a photo that shows only the head and shoulders of a subject. This generally means that the photographer got closer to their subject and that you have a  clearer, larger image to use. This also means that it will be a manageable size for a first attempt. 

Head and shoulders photo

2. The lighting is balanced

You want a photo that shows good light and dark areas (contrast) like this one:

head and shoulders photo of a man.

My good looking husband!

Lighting Not Balanced

If the face of the person is too light, it will be hard to distinguish the planes of the face and will make it very difficult to create a pattern for the portrait. Here you can see that the detail on the light side of the face is lost. 

 

Photo overexposed

On the other hand, if the lighting is inadequate, the face will be all dark and it will again be hard to distinguish the correct values and the details of the features.

 

 

3. Copyright free

You want to be sure that you have the right to use the photograph that you choose. 

The person in the photo has some say in how the photo is used and the photographer may hold the copyright for the photo, particularly if it is one taken of a famous person.

It is always best to ask for permission to use a photo and to get that permission stated in writing (emails are OK).

There are a number of free image sites that provide copyright free photos. Just be sure to check their rules of use.

Some sites for free photos are: 

https://pixabay.com/ 

https://unsplash.com/

https://www.pexels.com/

 

4. Have a good quality photo – size and quality matter

Since you will be enlarging the photo for your fabric portrait. it is a good idea to choose a good quality photo in the beginning.

The best size to have is no smaller than 6″ x 8″ (15cm x 20cm), taking in to account tip #1 above. Small photos with a number of people in them generally do not enlarge well for a portrait.

As well, blurry photos make it difficult to accurately determine the outlines of the features and without this critical element, the resulting portrait will look distorted.

Woman holding a small child - too blurry for a good fabric portrait

 

5. Choose a photo for a fabric portrait that tells a story

Choose a photo that intrigues you. You will find it more interesting to work on the portrait if it tells a story.

I choose my photos because of the expression on a face, the clothes and or/the stance of the person. The combination of these elements adds to the portrait.

A lady wearing a lacy gown.

You may want to create a portrait of a grandchild. Do you have a photo that shows them doing something memorable?

If the photo is of a parent or spouse, is there one that shows them as you most like to think of them? 

Does it tell a story or create a mood?

 

To receive my complete guide and checklist with these and more tips for choosing a good photograph for your fabric portrait, sign up for my newsletter.


 

 

 

 

How to Create Facial Expressions in Portraits

How do you come up with the best facial expressions in a portrait?

Here is a new way of creating faces that will make it easier for you to get a good likeness in your portrait.

In the past, I traced the contours of the faces from the enlarged photos and then determined the values. I proceeded from there by creating the face out of fabric. I found that I wasn’t always totally happy with the results, particularly if I had too large a section of highlight.

Photo showing the tracing of a boy's facial expressions.

Tracing of boy’s face

New Method for Faces

So, what to do? I started in the same way by tracing the face, but then photocopied and printed the traced image, so that I had a copy that I could alter without changing the original.

 

Photo showing the photocopied tracing of a face (facial Expressions) that has been adjusted for the values.

Photocopied and adjusted.

I shaded in the face based on the values that I wanted and then checked to see whether I liked the result. You can see the numbers that I use for referencing the different values. The only problem with this method is that the photocopy doesn’t erase like a pencil drawing would. You can see the White Out that I used to remove some of the lines.

This is the second face that I did with this method:

A boy's face (facial expressions) showing the shading for a portrait.

Boy’s face 2

Once I have what I think is the best result, I lay the tracing, as seen above, back over the photocopy and adjust the lines on my original tracing. I use this traced image for the placement of the fabric pieces.

The Finished Face

And here is the result in fabric:

Boy's face recreated in fabric.

Boy’s face recreated in fabric.

I really like this method as I readily notice any odd lines, or shapes, and can double check the values that I have selected before I start cutting up the fabric.

These boy’s faces were difficult to create. The original photo had all the boys looking into the sun and their eyes were all squinty and the faces were somewhat overexposed. This is the time when a good book on sketching comes in handy. I am currently using “The Big Book of Realistic Drawing Secrets – Easy Techniques for Drawing People, Animals and More” by Carrie Stuart Parks & Rick Parks. It has really clear visuals for sketching and is a great reference for facial expressions.

Comments

What do you think of this method? Do you sketch your pictures first? What is your favorite reference book?

 

Solo Show Update

Read about the latest news on my art work, and an update on my solo show at the Portage & District Arts Centre in Portage la Prairie, MB held in April/May of this year.

Fred

The first portrait is a man standing in the doorway of an old building. Is it his home or is it his workshop? He is dressed in his finest clothes, which must have fit him well as a younger man, but now hang on his body. In spite of this, he displays a quiet pride and shows off his prized gold pocket watch.

Fred

Fred

I experimented with hand-dyed cheesecloth to give the effect of weedy ground, and strips of hand-dyed facial wipes for the weeds. Have you ever tried these type of materials in your work?

 

The Dandy

The next portrait was based on a picture of a young man who looked very much the dandy, so that became the name of this one. He looks very self assured and definitely has attitude. Don’t you just love the buttons on his shoes!?

The Dandy

The Dandy

It was interesting doing his face, as the shadow of the hat made everything black in the photo; with no detail. I needed to lighten the shadow and redraw the eye.

Then I ran in to another issue. I created one leg of his pants only to find that if I went with the dark shadow, as per the photo, it looked as though he was wearing a jacket and pants, not a suit, so the leg of his pants was redone.

 

Ed

The third portrait was a commission from a colleague. The photo chosen was a portrait of her husband to be completed for a birthday present. The photo she chose was one of her husband in the early 1940’s in his Air Force uniform. I sourced an original cap badge, the flash for his jacket and the uniform button to dimension to the portrait. Many thanks to Marway Militaria here in Winnipeg for their help finding these items! The hat was done with trapunto on one side to add the tilt to the hat.

Ed

Ed

 

My Solo Show

Here are some photos from the show. The first photo was taken just after the show was hung. The rest of the photos are from the Opening Night.

Pre-show

The show has been hung!

Opening-night---Ed_Willy-and-her-sister-(web)

Opening Night and the Show Banner

Wall of the gallery showing The Dandy.

Inspecting “The Dandy”

Opening-night5-(web)

Opening Night Crowd at my solo show

Opening-night6-(web)

Getting up close.

The gallery was great on PR so I had several interviews on local radio stations and a write up in two newspapers.  The evening started off with my talk about my journey as an artist, followd by a question and answer period. I invited friends and people interested in my work and we had a wonderful turnout with lots of great discussions.

Have you completed any new work recently? Do you show your work? Where do you show your work – group exhibits, quilt shows or ???

 

Snow Dyeing Fun

Snow dyeing is a very fun process. A friend and I decided to play with snow dyeing, while there was still some snow. We are having a very mild winter!

When you snow dye, you put your soda ash soaked fabric (wrung out) on a grate in a pan. We scrunched up our fabrics to get maximum mottling. The next step is to add a pile of snow on top, covering the fabric. Sprinkle dye powder over the top of the snow, and wait. Once the snow has all melted, usually overnight, you can rinse the pieces of the excess dye and see what patterns and colours will be revealed.

Here are some of the results of our snow dyeing:

val-hand-dye5

This one was twisted up and put in the bottom of the pan, under the grate. So it was dyed by the snow melting and the dye going in to the bottom of the pan. Wonderful!

snow dyed with Raspberry and Grape dyes

 

On this piece I used a combination of Raspberry and Grape dyes and not a lot of snow.

val-hand-dye3

These two pieces were from the same batch. I layered the pieces and instead of dye powder used dye solution on the snow. I used red, yellow and green dyes Resulting in a lovely peachy colour.

 

val-hand-dye4

This piece of fabric turned out to be a cotton/polyester blend. It created a delicate heathery texture to the colour, as the polyester fibres in the fabric didn’t take the dye.

val-hand-dye6

This blue got a few dark marks as it was left to get too dry and the dye concentrated at the top of the folds.  Interesting texture though.

Have you tried snow dyeing? What results did you get?

The Boys in Blue

Usually, the phrase “the boys in blue” makes you think of policemen. Not here! In this case, it is two men in vintage navy blue bathing suits enjoying the sunshine and the beach. I love the old style bathing suits!

Two men in vintage bathing costumes, standing on the beach. Commercial and hand-dyed cotton, paint. Valerie Wilson 2015

Men in vintage bathing suits. Commercial and hand-dyed cotton, paint. Valerie Wilson 2015

This quilt with the two men in vintage bathing suits, will make a great companion piece for “The Bather” that is currently being exhibited at the World Quilt Show.

The Bather

Can you imagine having had to wear one of these suits? And especially since they were usually made of wool! Wool makes me itch!

Anyway, back to the two guys.

What intrigued me about these guys was the differences between them. One fellow is tall and muscular looking, and has wonderful curly hair, while the other man is a little flabby looking with slicked back hair. They both looked as though they were having fun, however.

Here is the original photo:

Two men in vintage bathing suits standing on a beach.

 

I had a few problems with the one fellow’s hand, as he must have moved as the photo was taken, and it blurred that part of the photo. I referenced a number of drawing books and had my husband modeling that posture, so that I could see what the hand should look like and what size it should be. I think that it turned out well.

The other issue I had was that they are looking in to the sun, and squinting, and all you can see was black slits where the eyes should be. I thought initially that I would just use a dark fabric there, but found in the end that I really wanted to be able to see their eyes. So back to the drawing books, and many sketches later, they could see!

Detail of eyes

Detail of eyes

A further issue was that I wanted it to have it look as though they has sand on their feet. How to achieve this effect? I even considered gluing some real sand on! Beads I felt would be too much and take to long to attach. Finally, I decided to try paint. I used some fabric paint and tested first on a scrap of fabric. With much trepidation, I decided that I had the effect that I wanted and that I should now add the paint to the quilt. Very nervously, I carefully added the paint to their feet and it worked! I was so pleased!

Sand on feet

Sand on feet

Now I am having a problem naming this piece. Friends have helped with suggestions for names, but so far, nothing has felt right. What is the one man listening for? Did someone call their names, or say something humorous? What would you title this piece with these two men in vintage bathing suits? What do you think? Can you help with a name? Suggestions welcome!

 

Girl Sitting on the Step

I have completed the little girl sitting on the step!

Little girl on step - Valerie Wilson 2015.

Little girl on step – Valerie Wilson 2015.

I love the pink socks and the Mary Jane shoes. The colourful polka dot fabric for her dress was a great find. This piece came together well. I am very pleased with her hair, as I tried a different technique of layering small pieces of fabric to create it.

I wonder what her story is?

She looks a bit hesitant and somewhat sad, and is biting her lip

Did a best friend not come to play?

Is she all dressed up to go someplace special, and has been told to go outside, but to stay clean, until the family leaves for the event?

Is it her birthday, and she didn’t get the present that she most wanted?

I always wonder about the back story behind the photographs that I use. Do you see a story in this piece?

I think that she needs a name. One person suggested Violet.

Would you give her a name, or name the quilt? Such as “All Dressed Up and No Place to Go” or …………..

Let me know your ideas!

 

 

 

Little Girl on the Step

As promised, here is my latest piece in progress. The background is done. I had fun working on the door, to get the highlights and shadows in the panels. Having once owned an architectural antiques business helped here, as I have seen a lot of this type of panelled door.

A quilt in progress shwoing the side of a house and the doorstep with an outline of a little girl.

Little girl on step – in progress

Isn’t it neat the way that the bacground defines the space for the little girl? This demonstrates the importance of the negative space surrounding something.

I layered two colours of brown for the boards on the side of the house. I liked the effect, but  thought that it looked a bit plain, so added some slightly darker bits on top to give it some interest. I am almost out of this fabric, and will be sorry to use up the last of it. It has been most useful for portraying aged wood, or fence posts.

As you can see I have started working on the little girl’s face. It looks really strange with only the face there! I may yet adjust the shading on her face, but will leave it for the moment, as this piece is still in the “ugly phase”. I also need to remember that I will be adding detail with the stitching, and quilting, later on. Do you find that your quilts go through an ugly phase before they are complete?

 

 

 

 

She’s a Cutie! My Latest Portrait Quilt Completed.

A little girl hoding a colourful sand pail stands on a beach.

Summer Fun Quilted

I have finished my latest portrait quilt, the little girl at the beach, and decided to call the quilt “Summer Fun”. She has turned out to be quite cute! I love her sparkly blue eyes and her sweet smile.

Close-up of girl's face

Detail of Summer Fun

Now I have to decide what the next one will be. I have two pictures that I am considering. One is a little girl sitting on a porch, and another is one of three boys in hockey uniforms, circa 1934. Subscribe to my blog, and find out what is next!

 

Gallery News

“Summer Fun” and a number of my other quilts are currently hanging in the Blankstein Gallery, on the second floor of the Millennium Library in downtown Winnipeg, MB. Here are a couple of photos of the preparations for hanging the show and a few of the quilts.

Laying out the quilts

Laying out the quilts

First we laid out the quilts on the floor, to decide the order in which they would hang. My husband was wonderful as a helper. Here he is putting a hanging rod in one of the quilts:

Getting the hangers ready

Getting the hangers ready

The next step was to actually get the quilts hung. It took us 2 1/2 hours to get it all done! It went faster after the first two, when we had figured out the easiest way to hang them. Here are some of the quilts on exhibit:

Vintage Portraits

Vintage Portraits

Nature's Glory

Nature’s Glory

And here is the view in to the gallery from the library:

 

View from the entrance of the Gallery

View from the entrance of the Gallery

It was wonderful to see them all hung. I hope that if you are in the area you can check it out! The gallery is open during library hours . The exhibit runs from August 3 – 30, 2015.

From Ugly Duckling to Swan

I decided, after I posted my progress on the little girl, that she was in fact rather an “ugly duckling”. I spent a couple of days, filled with angst, before I figured out what was wrong. I made a number of changes to her face, and hair (and straightened her eyes), and am much happier with the result. Part of the problem, with the look of the little girl, was the lack of eyebrows (see previous post). Also, I felt that her hair looked too orange, so out came the Tsukineko inks. I figured that if I hated the changes, I could always give her new hair. I am pleased to say that all worked out well! The new colour looks much nicer, and the highlights and shadows are in place. She also now has feet and shoes which helps. Don’t you just love her strappy sandals?!

A little standing on a beach, holding a sand pail.

Girl in sunsuit revisited

I am now creating a beach scene in the background, complete with sand castle! So far, I only have a piece of paper standing in for the sand castle, as a prop, to see how it will fit in to the scene. I didn’t have a fabric that I liked for the water, so I painted some white fabric with Setacolor transparent paint. I love the look of the rolling waves.  A small island in the distance helps with perspective and a piece of multicolour fabric is pinned in place, as a test, to see if I like it for the sand pail. If this piece is like any of my other works in progress, it will undergo several more changes before its final look. Do you go with the flow when you are working on a piece, or do you have a plan and stick to it? I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Sun and Sand

 

A little girl, dressed in a sunsui and carrying a sand pail, stans in front of some bushes.

I have been working on my latest vintage portrait of a little girl with a sand pail. I loved her smile, the funky sunsuit, pail and sandals. Don’t you just love the tan line on her legs? It looks as though she normally wears longer shorts.

Since so much of her face is in dark shadow, the trick was to create what I couldn’t see. I think that she is coming along fairly well. Her face will gain more definition after adding stitching. It is always hard to remember that the stitching adds so much life, and detail, to the portrait.

And now, I see below, that I need to move one of her irises, as she is looking a little cross-eyed.

 

Girl started

Girl started

I have changed her hair twice now, as I didn’t like the first set of highlights that I did, and originally I had given her a little flip of hair on the left, but decided it looked odd, so cut it off. I like the rounded look of the cap of hair better.

Do you make adjustments as you work, or do you keep to a set path in your work?

I find photos a great help for me to notice little things that need adjusting. It is so easy now with digital cameras!

Do you take photos of your work as you go?