Leopard Thread Painting
Recently, I completed a commission which was a leopard thread painting using a photo taken by Diane Yeager. It was a pleasure doing this work for Diane and Mike and describing the process in this post. Creating a fabric leopard has given me more confidence to sketch large animals as textile art. Maybe a horse next? There are many ranchers around me with horses. I just don’t happen to know any of them, yet. While my textile work is usually inspired by my own experiences and photographs, I have learned to enjoy creating work to other’s passions.
The first image to show you is a watercolor of the base I sketch on cotton. My goal is to separate the background sky from the big cat. I use a water based resist to draw a physical barrier to the paint. Since the branches and leaves are darker than the sky, I paint them later.
Next, I paint in branches and shadows I believe are left on this leopard sitting in a tree. I concentrate on the leopard’s eyes and facial features.
When painting on raw cotton, paint must be pushed into the fabric weave. Of course, I am concerned, all the time, and with each decision I make, whether it is going to work. Studying the folds in the leopard’s skin and fur direction is only the beginning of it. Online, I watched people paint animal portraits. Unfortunately, most of the techniques shown will not work with watercolor paint on cotton. My best technique is looking at my favorite artwork: a calligraphy made by and given to me by my Arizona friend, Mikki. The calligraphy says: “It will just be fine.”
It’s All in the Spots
Leopard spots are rosette shapes made up of dark brown fur. It took more than 20 hours on a sewing machine to thread paint each piece of each rosette and the different shades of fur contained within. I would say there are more than 10 different shades of yellow, dark brown, gold and gray in this leopard’s coat.
This artwork started at 13 x 17 inches and ended up 12-1/2 x 16-1/2 inches. About one-half inch in each direction is taken up with thread “compression.”
The leopard’s eyes gave me the most grief.
Because it was looking back, the position of the pupils aren’t symmetrical. Even when carefully calculating eye position with the photograph; when put to fabric, they just didn’t look right. I experimented on separate fabric before I could come to a correct position and size for the pupils.
How Long Did it Take?
When people view my textile work at art festivals, they often ask, “how long does one take to make?” I always said “I don’t know. I don’t want to spend my time recording time.” With this leopard, however, I recorded my time on a sheet of paper, accepting that I would not write it all down. My written notes indicate the leopard project has 60-plus hours into it. I have personal thoughts on different techniques I might try should I attempt a similar project, but none of them have to do with saving time.
The Finished Leopard
Seriously, if you, or someone you know is passionate about bird, wildlife or landscape photography and wants to share, please contact me. There is stock photography everywhere but that does not interest me. It’s not the cost. What is interesting to me is knowing the story and the person behind any photo I use to inspire my work.