Thursday, June 3, 2010

Watch a Pattern Happen from Idea to Finished Piece

In the previous post, I told the story of my visit with my aunt Jean. We sat the entire week doing wool crafting, and it was glorious. No housework, no phone calls, nothing but fun. Aaaahhhhh! I can't wait to go back.

While there, my creative juices were flowing. We talked about doing small projects to get her going in the craft of wool applique. My idea for my own 'small' project was to create a coaster in applique, and then from this idea (since one always needs a set of coasters) came the idea to create a set, each with a different subject, for Christmas. From this came the notion of a series based on the 12 days of Christmas. Twelve coasters is nice, right? Well, if you have read about my preferences in motif, you know that trees, birds, fruits, antique motifs, etc. are what I like. Can you guess which image I picked out to start with? Verse one, naturally, a Partridge in a Pear Tree! No mystery there. So I created this coaster in a day or so while sitting and chatting with Auntie.


Along the way, I decided that I didn't want to make a whole series like this, but I really liked the partridge theme, so I decided to make another larger project with that motif, and perhaps one that could be enjoyed year-round--not too Christmas-y, just a bird in a tree, with a medieval flavor.

So that is the genesis of the project you will watch happen now. Nothing very complicated -- a popular idea, one often used, and in many art forms, certainly nothing new or unique, something I knew would work well in applique, with leaves, and animal and fruit -- all simple outlines -- and one that took into account my personal taste. I emphasize this, so that you can imagine allowing the same thought process to guide you in creating your own pattern ideas.

In the beginning, I didn't concern myself with all of the particulars, like size, what I would make, colors, shading, etc. I only thought about the basic idea, so as not to get ahead of myself and overwhelmed. I know from experience that the rest of the plan will come as I inch forward with the pattern, and begin work on the piece. And notice how I was willing to adjust my expectations as the idea evolved. Long ago, I would have stubbornly stuck to my first idea of a set of coasters, feeling that I should see it through. Now I am willing to discard ideas if I'm not 100% enthusiastic, and let my imagination go someplace new. I also used to form an idea immediately of what I wanted the piece to look like, but now I let the images I find guide me a lot more. And before, I would have started by sitting down to try to draw my pattern cold. But no more. I have learned the value of inspiration. Some may have the ability to draw completely out of their own imagination, and I wish I could do that. It's good that I can't though, because you will see that a nice piece can be produced by a person who cannot just sit down and draw something! Just remember, flexibility is key.

Here is what I have ended up with. The design is near completion, although I will undoubtedly tinker with it some more. Compare it to the 'inspirational' images below, and you can follow the evolution.


The very first thing I did when making the coaster was to get online and search images in Google, using 'partridge pear tree'. (Had I been home, I would also have consulted any art books that would help me.) I also tried using those terms along with 'antique' and 'traditional' to see if I got some more antique-looking images, which I prefer to modern style. I then tried to break away from the Christmas motif of many images I saw, by typing 'bird tree medieval' and 'bird woodcut', because I know that woodcuts were a common way of rendering images in medieval times. Here is an example:


Just in case you are not familiar with searching Google images, go to, and type search terms into the box, as you normally would to search the web. Up in the left-hand corner are other search options, and one of them is 'images'. If you click on that once your search terms are in the box, it will show you only images that it finds on the web, and not text websites. You may have to click 'search images' one more time next to the search box to get the full result. I was a long way into my internet career before I knew about this, so that's why I share it with you!

These searches produced a number of helpful images, which I dragged to my desktop to sort through later and pick the ones that would really help me. Here are some of them.


This first one gave me a good overall, medieval-style image to emulate, although my final rendition didn't really resemble it. It just set the mood for me.


After looking at the image above and others like it, I knew I wanted to make the partridge fill the piece, with leaves and pears all around, rather than make a larger piece with a smaller focal point, as in this image. It did give me the idea to make the piece as a medallion, however. I just used a compass to create the circle. I may put a band of wool around the outside edge. We'll see.


I liked the gracefulness of the turned head in the image above, so I borrowed that idea. I also borrowed the attitude (position) of the partridge from this picture. I debated about having him standing up, maybe with his tail in the air, or with his wings back, as in the woodcut, or roosting, as I finally drew him. I also played with putting feet in, but those seemed not quite right in the piece, maybe because it is stylized. In going for the stylized look, I have to discipline myself not to make it look too 'real', which is often my tendency. And as you can see, this stylized bird has no feet.

Even though I wasn't going for realism, I felt I should consult a photo of a real partridge to help me. Good thing, because . . . .


I found that what I thought was a 'partridge' was actually a quail! The photo above shows a partridge, which isn't nearly as cute as a quail. I like the little bobbly thing on the head of a quail, but I tried putting one on my partridge, even though it didn't really belong, and I didn't like it in this piece. So I will save that for a little piece with quails in it -- maybe a mama quail and her babies marching along in a line. I knew that for a stylized piece I should keep some important elements of the partridge form. I noted how the tail tends to be pointy and turn down, and I reproduced this in the coaster and the medallion. His body is nice and fat, almost humped over on the top, with a smallish round head and fairly stout beak. But beyond this, I let my imagination take over more. Notice, for instance, that I don't have the black stripe going through the eye and down along the side of the head on either piece. I tried several ways to incorporate this on the coaster, but he kept looking like the Hamburglar, so I decided to take some artistic license and leave it out. I think the stripe doesn't translate well into wool -- it may be better for photo and paint, where the line can be softened. I also tried putting it in with embroidery, and I really didn't like that.

On the coaster, I limited the amount of feathers I put on the body, and I will limit the amount of wool feathers and markings I put on the body for the medallion, and rely more on embroidery. See also how I borrowed the bit of striped feathers on the neck of the real partridge and turned them into gold running stitch all the way down the breast of my partridge? I could have done many things there, but that is what I decided in the end. On the wings, I gave a tip of the hat to the real bird's striped feathers in the medallion, but abandoned them altogether on the smaller coaster -- it got too busy. I suggested his wing, and the transition from body color to breast color, using simple lines on the body. I will plan the ornamentation of the body with embroidery when I get there. This is the idea of stylizing something -- picking up a feature on the 'real' thing you are stylizing and play with it a little, keeping it recognizable for the viewer, but taking it someplace new.

For the pears, I had given myself a drawing lesson in pears and other fruit many years back, when painting a fruit garland on the floor at the top of the stairs in our house. So that is an easy thing for me to draw now. I like to make some squatter and some more long and slender. See how putting a little 'X' (as the blossom end of the fruit) near the bottom of the pear gives it more dimension, as if you are looking up at it in the tree? If I remove the 'X' it looks like we are looking at a straight profile of the fruit. I had researched pear leaves also for my previous project. These are somewhat long and tend to curl around a little, so I used that to gracefully frame the pears. Getting the leaves how I liked them was actually the hardest part of the drawing.

I played with two ideas for filling in the leaves and fruit -- I could make them more realistic, as in the image below, with leaves laying over the fruit, and fruit attached to branches, or I could make it more stylized, with less realism in the scene, and therefore less overlap in the leaves and fruit. At first I intended to make the elements more realistic, but as I sketched and worked with the drawing, in the end I picked a happy medium, I think, with just a little overlap to soften the stylized rendering.

This choice between 'realistic' and 'stylized' will often be part of your design process, and you may also want to give it consideration when adopting your 'style'. Do you want to specialize in realistic or stylized pieces? If drawing is not your forte, stylized images may be better, and as you can see they needn't look so stylized as to lose all realism. When drawing stylized images, you can often get away with less detail, mistakes in proportion may be less important, and color choices more flexible. Another option is to specialize in designs rather than images. I plan to do a fair amount of rustic design work as part of my own style, and it is often easier to draw designs. Architectural elements are an excellent source for inspiration.


This image also gave me some inspiration for color and shading, yet to be executed. I am thinking about trying shibori (resist) dyeing for the background, to suggest shadows and leaves, and I will use yellow wool for the pears, and dip-dye it with a whisper of orangey-red on the fat part for the blush on the fruit, and a hint of green elsewhere. I plan to embroider the partridge with gold thread to make him really stand out and look festive, and even more stylized -- maybe like a cloisonne bird. I will heavily embroider the suggested wing, at the top of his back. I also intend to do the leaves and background in several different motifs -- maybe summer and fall color combinations, with more greens in the summer one, and more burnished golds and russets in the fall one. So I'll be making more than one of these.

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