Artist Notes: Part 3

Posted on December 18, 2011

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The Artistic Process – Final Steps

Mixing the Paint

After the yarn color palette is selected, the paint mixing process is the next step in the process.  Acrylic paint is mixed and applied to scrap canvas to test the color before painting.  A hair dryer is used to expedite the drying time and then the color is tested again against the wool card swatch.  It’s an unsolved mystery how one color  can be perfect when placed on the canvas, but when dried turns into a completely different shade.  Unfortunately, it was a common occurrence.  Reds seem to be the most difficult to mix, in that their pigments become translucent when added to the canvas….this is an artist’s nightmare!

Once the palette is mixed, I write down the yarn swatch number in a notebook – grouped by color family – and line up the the paint in my paint cart which sits next to my drafting table.  This list will be painted onto a color key which will be located at the top and bottom of the painted canvas, serving as a yarn swatch.  A large batch of the paint is mixed and tested again, then placed into small sealed containers.

Once the palette is mixed, I write down the yarn swatch number in a notebook – grouped by color family – and line up the paint in my paint cart which sits next to my drafting table. This list will be painted onto a color key which will be located at the top and the bottom of the painted canvas, serving as a yarn color guide for those stitching the tapestry. On this piece, I started painting all of the gold; sometimes painting for hours on one color alone.

When I stood back and looked at my progress, there were little dots of gold all over that seemed not to be reminiscent of anything. I was exasperated.  So the next day, I focused on the State House and completed it in its entirety.  Then  I went back to my one-color-at-a-time method. I felt overwhelmed at first, but could see great progress most days. Some days, I would finish an entire street; while on others, I would only get a house or two completed.

This was definitely a work in progress.  Four months and four paint brushes later, it was finished… but I still had work to do!

You would think that my final step would be the completion of the painting; however, the final step in this process is to do a yarn count. Using the color key as a guide, I visually scan the piece, counting blocks of color out loud as my hands move up and down and all around the painting. My eyes would focus on one color and seek out those colored stitches much like you do when you train your eyes to look at those “Where’s Waldo?” picture books. By the end of the nearly two hour yarn count, I had tallied nearly 2,500 strands of wool that would be required to stitch the tapestry!

The additional research required to complete the piece at times seemed ongoing. Little things, like the color of the shutters of the Peggy Stewart House or the inclusion of the Shaw flag with the eight pointed stars may seem inconsequential to the non-artist, but the fact-finding was important for me to depict this significant era of Annapolis’ history. It was a daunting process, but I couldn’t be more proud of the final product and I cannot wait to start the next!

Gail Bolden, Tapestry Artist and Designer

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