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Embroidered Art: Portraiture and Self-Portraiture

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

This work was carried out as part of my research within the module ‘Exploring Theory and Practice’ module in the MA course in Contemporary Fine Art with Industry Experience at The University of Salford.

The reasons for choosing to explore the route of stitching are;

  • Stitching is of great personal benefit to me in terms of providing a meditative and healing state. Underpinning this rationale is the research into the work of Mihalyi Czsicksentmihayli where he identifies the flow state as being meditative for artists in particular.

  • The slow and methodical act of stitch provides a lot of thinking and healing time.

  • The slow act of stitching reinforces the meaning of the work in the belief that if something takes a long time to make then it is of value and considered and it is not undertaken lightly.

  • The major driving force for selecting the medium of stitch for this autobiographical project has come from the acknowledgment of the therapeutic benefits that stitch has given to me.

My first adventure into stitching portraits was the piece below in this stitched portrait of the Italian chef Antonio Carluccio.

My Friend Carluccio - stitch on linen, 60 x 60 cm. Embroidery kits by Victoria Merness.
Victoria Merness: My Friend Carluccio - stitch on linen, 60 x 60 cm

Self Portraiture – proceed with caution.

Portraiture is used as a means of self-therapy for artists. Apparently self-portraiture can bring about a form of self-acceptance, either that or it can break you.

In a report by Simone Alter Muri she states;

Throughout time, artists have created self-portraits as a vehicle to understand themselves. In self-portraiture the artist does not have to be concerned about pleasing anyone but him or herself. Self-portraits can allow the artist to be open and receptive to the self, which is an important component of therapeutic growth.

With this it does relinquish some of the ethical constraints surrounding subject matter, utilising oneself as subject matter means that there are no boundaries.

Recognising the benefits that stitch had provided to me I produced this self portrait as a child. The primary source material that I worked from was a school photo where I estimate that I was around 7 years old.

The first step was to enlarge and print the photo to approximately 100cm x 80cm so that it was clearly visible, the original photo was only 10cm x 8cm and it was very difficult to distinguish detail. This meant that the key features could be seen but the rest had to be visualised. The colour palette was kept as lifelike as possible whilst retaining the qualities of a textured piece and not slavishly following a photo realist style.

The first steps involved stitching an outline before filling in the eyes and then the face. I always start a portrait with the eyes because if this does not work or make sense then the rest of the piece will not work, getting the eyes right is everything in terms of likeness and coherence in a portrait.

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