Wednesday, 12 September 2012


Dee Valley looking towards Mar Lodge
I have been working on a commission recently. It's always gratifying when someone wants to buy work or asks for a commissioned piece. But while the former is pure pleasure, the latter brings with it particular restrictions and challenges to be overcome. There are two pairs of eyes and two sets of critical feelings to satisfy - may be coming from very different artistic perspectives....

There is the choice of subject, colour, style, and of overall design, all of which need to be agreed satisfactorily at the start if the person receiving the work is to be happy. That of course is the most important thing but I also need to have a sense of satisfaction and to feel that the finished piece is fully resolved and is something I am happy to put my name to.

The request was for a landscape in portrait format (always tricky) and with particular colours (reds and creams) to fit in with a room colour scheme. The dimensions were stipulated and the frame and mount to be used were supplied. The constraints were therefore many and I needed to think very hard about how to produce something unique and lively.

I decided on a piece to suggest the Scottish Highlands as both I and the recipient love Scotland and visit regularly. We particularly love the Dee valley to the west of Aberdeen so I searched through my photographs to find one to inspire me.

Dee Valley looking towards Glen Quoich
Although I couldn't find anything suitable in portrait format, I found two pictures of a favourite view towards Glen Quoich and the Cairngorm Mountains to the west of Braemar that I thought would help me put the composition together.

To help with proportion and colour selection, I cropped the best image in Adobe Photoshop, enhanced the brightness and contrast, played with the colour, and added the posterise option. I love Photoshop as a way of clarifying and limiting colour choices and particularly like the posterise option as it comes closest to the result I want to achieve in fabric.

I then found the room scheme samples I had been given and set to work choosing fabrics and threads in the right colours. This was really difficult. I wanted to use silk in a machine embroidered strip-appliqué technique that I often employ for landscapes and which I had used before in a piece much liked by the recipient. Until I began this piece, I hadn't appreciated just how many shades of red silk there were and how important it was to choose the right ones to give a cohesive whole. I wanted near clashes to give vibrancy as in the posterised photo - but not colours that would argue so violently with one another that this dominated the piece and I needed some colour contrast ... and a drop of complementary green.

Trying out the silk strips
To choose what I wanted, I dug around in my large stash of silk sari ribbons and yarns and bigger pieces of silk and riffled through my threads. I especially love the sari ribbons with their rough, fraying edges and wonderful range of colours and use them a great deal. There is a great freedom in choosing them as they can be bought so cheaply and easily over the internet from companies like Rainbow Silks and Ethnic Crafts.

Lightly quilted surface

Working on the hills
I decided that I would quilt the piece lightly and used some of the 100% cotton batting I'd bought from Dream Cotton at The Festival of Quilts recently. It's lovely stuff and produces a very subtle effect. 

I spent a great afternoon piecing and stitching - I always enjoy this part of the process.

The results can be seen below and the recipient was very happy - pleasure for us both so a happy outcome!

Dee Valley Above Braemar

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