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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.


 

 

 

 

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 ???

 

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?

 

 

 

 

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?

Snow fun!

“Fun in the Snow” has been completed! Thanks for all the suggestions for names!

Fun in the Snow

Fun in the Snow

I didn’t quite finish it, by my deadline of the 15th of June. However, I wasn’t far off, as I had it quilted and blocked by the 18th! The faces looked a bit too wrinkly, so when I blocked the quilt, I blocked the faces separately, along with the edges of the quilt. It worked great! The faces look much better now.

Just the sleeve, and the label, to add, which I will do when I take a break to watch TV.

I wish that you could see it up close. The sparkle on the snow fabrics is really great.

I quilted it on my HQ Sweet 16, and really found it much easier than using my regular sewing machine. All that throat space is quite wonderful!

Next Project

I am now on to the next project – a little girl in a sunsuit and sandals, holding a sand pail. Keep watch for updates coming soon!!

 

Exhibition Update

Well, I didn’t get them all sewn down, before I left for Quilt Canada, but I was happy with what I had done. I knew, that I only had a few more pieces of fabric to sew down, once I got back home. The plan is to get these guy done by mid- June, for my solo exhibition, so I have to concentrate and work hard!

4-Kids-done---no-background

The kids were cut out of the backing that I had used – in this case stabilizer. I will never use this again as it is too stiff, and wrinkles badly. Lesson learned! I was able to cut some of it away, but left the rest in place.

The kids were then placed on the background that I had started.

Kids-with-sleigh-and-trees-

I found a lovely fabric, at a local quilt shop, that looked to me a lot like falling snow. Wonderful for the sky! The trees were painted and appliqued on. Some time was spent determining their final positions. I wanted them to frame the kids on the sleigh.

Then on to sewing everything down. It always surprises me how long it takes. Why I don’t know, as I have done this many times. Maybe wishful thinking that it will be faster this time!

Here they are with more snow added and additional detail on the faces.

Kids-with-sleigh-and-snow

The next step is the quilting. First, detail quilting the boys, and then on to the background.

I always have a hard time coming up with names for my art. Is this a problem for you too?

I am trying to think of a name for this quilt. Perhaps the Four Musketeers. What do you think? What name would you give this piece? Can you help me out? I would love it if you would!

Last minute changes

Based on a comment by a reader – Thanks Marg – I added further detail to the eyes of the boy at the front of the sleigh. My husband says “he is now looking at you, rather than staring”. Check it out below:

Eyes on boy at front of sleigh have added detail.

Eyes on boy at front of sleigh have added detail.

I like the change!

Preparing for a New Exhibit

Exciting news! I will have an exhibit in the Portage & District Arts Centre Gallery, in Portage la Prairie, MB next year, from April 4 – May 14, 2016.

The exhibit will be called “Past Lives“, and it will feature my portraits created from vintage black and white photographs.

To celebrate, I am planning on featuring my progress here in my blog, as I work on various portraits for the show.

The fist one is four little boys on a sled.

Original photograph of four kids on a sleigh.

Original photograph of four kids on a sleigh.

I loved the four children piled on to the sleigh. They looked like they were having a lot of fun.

Note: In my research on this unusual design of this sleigh, I found out that this is considered a bob sled. The definition being a sled, or sleigh, with the front runners moving independently of the rear ones.  I found some pictures of log pulling sleighs with similar runners. The idea being that if the front runners move separately from the back, the sleigh will go around corners easily.

 

Enlarged photo and line drawing of 4 chidlren on bob sled

Enlarged photo and line drawing of 4 chidlren on bob sled

Having recently learned how to select part of a photo, through a Photoshop Elements class at Pixeladies  I removed the kids from their back ground – a rather boring part of a house and changed the direction they were heading. I plan on creating an outdoor setting for them.

I then enlarged the photo to the size that I wanted. I traced the main elements on to a plastic overlay this time. Usually I use tracing paper, but thought that I would give this method a try. It didn’t work that well for me, although I know of many artists who use the plastic all the time. First, I found the plastic much heavier to lift, and second, that somehow some of the fabric pieces ended up stuck to the plastic, when I raised it to add another piece. Very irritating! I think that I will probably go back to using tracing paper. Anyone else have a preference, or have any hints for using plastic as an overlay?

Once I got started on the kids, I really enjoyed putting the pieces together. I had discovered some cotton fabrics at a local quilt store, Quilt as Desired, that looked like various woven or linen fabrics, and came in 3 or 4 values of the same colour. A real bonus when doing portraits!

Here are two of the guys with all the fabrics in place:

Picture showing part of the enlaged photo of four small boys on a sleigh and the line tracing.

Picture showing tracing overlay on plastic and two children done in fabric

A lot of the fun of doing these vintage portraits is researching the elements in the photos. All the  kids had those old fashioned rubber boots with the metal closures, and big loose mitts. It was fun finding different fabrics for the mitts and socks. Did you know that in the 1930’s McCall’s patterns had patterns for these snowsuits complete with the helmet-like caps?

Now on to finishing these four guys before I go to Quilt Canada on June 2! I have two quilts, Stepping Out and The Bather, in the Juried show and am soooo excited about seeing them hanging in the show.

Keep posted for future developments in the work involved in getting ready for a solo show. To easily follow my blog, subscribe to my Studio Updates (the box on the lower left).

 

Let there be light! Adding an LED lighting strip to Your Sewing Machine.

The thing that I most wanted for a Christmas present this year was LED lighting for my sewing machine. And, oh joy!, I go it!  The LED light strip, with self adhesive backing, mounts under the throat of your sewing machine. Once switched on you have lots of light, exactly where you want it!

LED-lights-brightness

LED Brightness

This is the light that I get with the LED lighting! This picture looks dark, as my camera registered all that extra glow. A great improvement from the previous situation, see below:

 

Janome sewing machineThis was my sewing machine before, with just the usual sewing machine light turned on. A pool of light in the area of the needle.

LED-Lighting strip-on-sewing-machin

Here is how the LED strip looks on my machine. I have tape holding the connector in place, but will replace this with double sided tape, placed behind the connector.

I added a dimmer switch for those times when I don’t need as much light. You could add a regular switch, or eliminate the switch entirely, and just plug it in to a receptacle. The whole setup cost $44.50, before tax, at Lee Valley Tools .   The parts purchased were one foot of LEDS (minimum length you can buy), a wire lead to connect the LEDS strip to the switch, a dimmer switch and a power supply. Since I only used half of the light strip on this sewing machine, I have another 6″ to use elsewhere. The cost without the switch was $21.00.

The dimmer switch sits just behind my machine:

Dimmer-Switch-for-LEDS

 

And the power supply sits next to the sewing machine.

Power-supply-for-LED-lights

 

I am quite pleased with how these lights work! I can now easily see my stitching, but find it especially helpful when I do free motion quilting with light thread on a light background.