Artist Notes: Designing and Producing The Tapestries

Posted on December 17, 2011


 The Artistic Process – First Steps

It all began, when Hollis (the Project’s Technical Advisor) first approached me about the Annapolis  Tapestries Project.  I was thrilled, but concerned about the magnitude of such an undertaking. The three main focal pieces were to be 3′ high x 6.5′ wide each.  That seemed overwhelming and challenging at the same time.  Although I had worked for several years for Hollis and her needlepoint production company, I felt flattered she had enough confidence in my work to suggest I would be a good candidate for this job.

Several months after I had accepted the commission, a sizable package full of reference materials arrived for the 18th century tapestry.  Again, I wondered how I was going to make it all come together into this magnificent piece that I had envisioned in my head.

 The package included lots of reference material and a base map of sorts drawn in the late 19th century and depicted as a bird’s eye view of the Annapolis Harbor. (This was the Sachse print.) I needed a rendition from the 18th century which didn’t exist. Greg Stiverson, one of the Project’s Historians, had included two versions of the black and white base print, each meticulously marked in red with notes which identified mostly buildings. The first mark-up was to be used as a loose guide for the 18th century piece, while the other was for the 19th century one.

The first base print had many historical buildings crossed out that didn’t exist at that time, along with other elements. I fretted when I saw those red ‘x’s, as this meant I would need to come up with something to paint in these voids of space. I poured through the contents of the package; read the notes; and looked at photos.  I even perused the internet searching for any bird’s eye views of Annapolis that could be helpful. Later, the map was deemed inaccurate in some areas per the historians’ comments.  For me, however, it was a godsend as it showed the harbor shoreline that I needed to get started.


The first step in this process is to create a same size drawing of the piece which will serve as the painting guide. The base map required a 450% enlargement to reach the 3′ height that I needed for the finished piece.  That meant I was left with many pieces which had to be put back together much like a puzzle.

With such magnification, some of the pieces only had one house or a small portion of a house on it,  so this process of splicing the pieces back together proved to be quite laborious. Once the splicing was complete, I taped the 6 ½ ‘ piece to a wall, placing a long sheet of tracing paper over it.

This tracing would serve as my new base map. The fine lines of the original drawing were now the size of a fat marker.  So as I traced, I had to decide either to trace inside or outside that fat marker line for my drawing to remain proportionate. The proportions were important, especially when painting the many historic buildings of Annapolis.  For example, the Chase-Lloyd House needed to be larger than the Peggy Stewart House, not vice-versa.

The magnification also created a lot of white space at the top of my drawing, which I had expected, but not to the extent that existed. Since the reference base map only included the land in and about Reynold’s Tavern, I needed to draw an expanse of barren land on the top one-fourth of the drawing to show the inland of Annapolis. The rolling hills that co-mingled with flatter areas would be painted in muted tones to show land that blended into the horizon. Sparse trees shown in, and around, Reynold’s Tavern would become one-stitch sized dots as they reached the top of the tapestry.

Gail Bolden, Tapestry Artist and Designer

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