The funeral boat of Scyld Scefing

Progress continues with my first Beowulf ‘vignette’ depicting the funeral boat of Scyld Scefing.   In the end I’ve stuck to a fairly robust medieval color palette to help create that manuscript look.  The work is stitched with laid and couched work, stem stitches, back stitches and gold work.    Accompanying text in Old English comes directly from the poem.

A knotty linguistic problem to do with additional runes not yet appearing has just been solved with the help of some extremely talented and learned acquaintances in a rune writing/reading group on Facebook.  Those runes will shortly be added, along with more ‘ice’ beading, ship rivet beading or stitching (not made up my mind yet) and a lot more gold.  The goldwork has barely commenced at the time of these photographs.

Hopefully I should be done in a week and moving on to Hrothgar in Heorot.

Smaug’s appearance

I’ve been dreadfully neglecting my blog, not because I don’t care about it but because there is apparently a limit to my ability to multi-task. I have been pouring out pictures and commentary on Facebook but of course I really should chat here too, not least because the mechanism here supports something a little lengthier on occasion than a Facebook ‘snapshot’!

So, in no particular order, here is the news since the last time I posted back in 2013:

My Gandalf piece went to Sevilla, Spain and was exhibited in the Infanta Eleña library during November 2013 as part of the Sociedad Tolkien Española’s Premios De Arte: Niggle competition for Tolkien related art. I was honoured to have made it even thus far, so was doubly delighted to find that I had been awarded the second prize in the competition!

My design for Smaug was intended to take about the same time to stitch as Gandalf, which was in the region of about 250 hours over five weeks. The dragon proved testy (and fiery) however and most definitely had a mind of his own. He refused to cooperate with some of the stitching techniques I had planned, leading me to abandon all inhibition and go for something that took much, much longer to execute. Finally, after 600 hours of work over the course of five months, he was completed at the beginning of 2014. He is now in the hands of my wonderful framers and will go on then for digital asset capture and print production. I hope to have prints available in the Spring.

In the meantime, here’s the picture that I took of him late at night in artificial lighting on the night that I finished the piece. It’s not the best photograph, but I intend to take a better one with an upgraded camera once it gets back from the framer. Since most of the beauty of the piece is in the fire-like glimmer of light movement over the variety of metals angled differently to one another, I will also take a video and post that at a later date.

smaug2

And here is a picture of me nearly at the end of the laborious task of stitching 200 Swarovski ‘pearls’ and more than 300 gilt spangles (I lost count).

Smaugcoapic1

I tend to call the piece ‘He’ rather than ‘it’ in a term of slight endearment and respect, as, having worked on him for 5 months, we got a little close! He’s constructed in pure silk (soie de Paris), Japanese gold, gilt and silver passing threads, metallic yarn, gilt spangles and Swarovski ‘pearls’ on a ground fabric of cotton broadcloth stabilised with canvas. I ‘auditioned’ some linen prior to starting and ultimately preferred the broadcloth for various reasons. The stitch techniques used are split stitch, couching, padding and bead appliqué.

Last, but by no means least, I was recently interviewed by the Middle Earth News and interested folks may see the article at Middle Earth News interview

Exciting Times

Three of my pieces: Gandalf, Grail Knight and The Two Trees will be exhibited for the first time this weekend in Giclee print form at Oxonmoot in England. Oxonmoot is the annual gathering of the Tolkien Society and an event that I intend to attend next year for the first time.

The prints were almost literally hot from the press (or the drum in the case of Giclee) and were the very first prints from the first edition run of these pieces. They were delivered _just_ in time for me to send them to England by UPS courier, where they arrived on Tuesday. There may have been some squeaking in my household due to relief at the fact that the timing worked out in the end! I owe serious thanks to some people, who will be rightly recognised on my official website.

We are awaiting some feedback on print size from the weekend before proceeding with the rest of the run; it seems likely that two of the pieces will be printed at slightly larger than actual size, especially since the extra cost of doing this is not prohibitive and adds only a minimal amount to the retail cost of each print. I otherwise thought that the first Giclee prints were incredible and so cannot wait to hear what people think!

Meanwhile, work continues apace on Smaug. I have a lot of stitching and goldwork still to do, but he is starting to come together very nicely. At the moment I am working intensively in a floral area of the border and am itching to begin the Or Nué of Smaug himself and the mountain beneath him, but order guidelines dictate that the goldwork is done last so I have to wait! Once I have completed a bit more of the border area, I will put up some more work-in-progress pictures. Smaug will eventually be offered in Giclee and digital offset print form.

In other news, I’ve just joined the Embroiderer’s Guild of America and The Embroidery Guild (UK), my official website goes live within the next few days and I’m planning a trip to Seville, Spain in order to see one of my pieces hanging in an exhibit there in November! Exciting times indeed!

Smaug, work in progress

I must be a glutton for punishment in deciding that I would fill in Smaug’s night sky background with, of all things, split stitch. It’s the fault of the Two Trees for this really: that was a picture on a much smaller scale than Smaug, but I liked the woven texture that the split stitch sky imparted in that piece. I could use Bayeux stitch (laid and couched work) and it would progress farther faster while using a lot less silk, but I just don’t feel right about the texture it would lend to the piece in that specific place. Bayeux stitch will work nicely for the mountain side, but that’s a way off in the future at this juncture.

In Smaug, the split stitch for sky is only a background layer, as I will be stitching details (e.g. clouds, expanded lunar corona, rising smoke, stars) on top of the black, but even so there is a lot of work involved. Cue my latest ‘work in progress’ picture, which also manages to showcase my use of vanishing pen in order to mess about with cartoon lines that I later decided I didn’t like. I’m deliberately aiming at giving a very slightly uneven texture to these ‘sky’ stitches, as I intend to whip around some of them with filament silk, which would be more difficult if every stitch were flat to the fabric.

Anyway, here he is so you can see how he’s coming along after a week:

Smaug, WIP

The Two Trees

While I was waiting for my materials to arrive so that I could start Smaug (who is now on my frame at last, hurrah!) I worked on a picture of the Two Trees, Laurelin and Telperion, from JRR Tolkien’s Silmarillion.

Here is the result. It is styled as a Medieval miniature and stitched in cotton and silk on broadcloth, with glass beads, gold and silver metallic threads, gilt and silver passing thread and Japanese gold. Techniques used are padded couching, couching and split stitch. I’m pretty pleased with how it came out, though I’ll be even happier when it comes back from framer and printer after a professional image has been captured.

Two Trees cr

Taking Smaug Seriously

I’ve finished the preparation for my Smaug project and it’s lying in wait for me like its namesake, framed up and stabilised on canvas backing fabric.

Meanwhile, I’ve had something of an emotional 48 hours, debating the subject of cost of materials with my husband. He, being the lovely man that he is, has now assisted me in drawing up a strategy that means we can afford to get better materials for my next three pieces. (Pause for much W00tage, as some of my friends would say…and another pause to marvel at the fact that the Word Press spellchecker doesn’t balk at that word at all!) I love the way Gandalf turned out, but my Smaug design is a different animal entirely and practically begs to be taken seriously – and with a different level of seriousness to boot. That means silk and it means 100% silk.

Gandalf

Gandalf, completed June 2013 after roughly 250 hours. Image and design © Liz Heffner.

The intent was to capture some of the style and essence of Medieval manuscript illustration, which hopefully has been successful.

Working with spangles was quite amusing as they wanted to act like tiddlywinks and spring off in all directions. I was certain that I would find some in my hair at the end of the day, but luckily this was not the case. This is also my first attempt at working with Japanese gold and I must say that while it is indeed time-consuming, especially when couched singly rather than double-stranded, I think it is safe to say that I have now been ‘bitten by the bug’.

For those who are not able to read the inscription, it reads:

By the light of the small hearth fire,
Gandalf took the ring from the tongs and was
not burned for it was quite cool.

This references the point in the Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien, where Gandalf tests the ring in Frodo’s hearth fire and discovers the final proof that it is indeed the One Ring. I note that fan conversations are multiple on the subject of whether or not Gandalf actually handled the ring in the book, because the movies of course took quite a different stance on the matter. To me it is clear and not at all ambiguous that Gandalf did indeed handle the ring and pass it to Frodo. He just never put it on his finger!

Gandalf, completed June 2013

Design measures 22cm x 42 cm

Stitch techniques: couched goldwork, laid and couched ground work, split stitch and French knots.

Materials: Japanese gold, gold and silver metallic threads, gilt and silver spangles, 100% silk and cotton perlé.

A few other close up ‘detail’ pictures are available on my Facebook page (Liz Heffner – Artisan).