Waterford Virginia is a historic town in Northern Virginia. Since 1943 The Waterford Foundation has supported the preservation of this national, historic landmark which was first settled by Quakers in 1733. Originally conceived as the Waterford Homes Tour and Crafts Exhibit, the Waterford Fair has maintained its focus on arts and artisans. The Fair begins the first Friday in October and draws about 10,000 visitors over three days.
During the 2022 Waterford Fair, I took lots of photographs throughout the town. In general, I don’t create many landscapes. I prefer images which zoom in on a special feature or section. One of the photos I took was of a lovely house on Main Street which the sign on the door said it was Talbott’s Tavern. Fortunately, I captured the house number. From that, I was lucky enough to find a YouTube video of the history of the house. And I learned that it is the oldest house in town with quite a story.
For a few years, I have been intrigued by the idea that many paintings are created on canvas. I find the fabric an interesting connection to my fashion design background. As such, I really wanted an opportunity to combine painting and needlework.
A water-based paint on treated fabric was the best solution. In 2021 I took a class with Margo Lehman to learn how to create wool needle felting. At this point, I wasn’t yet quite sure how to incorporate it, but it seemed a great addition to my skill set.
While I took dozens of snapshots, my favorite of the Talbott’s Tavern house was a straight-on view taken mid-afternoon and included some strong shadows. This image included a variety of textures interspersed with the bright reds of the bench cushion and geraniums.
On the left is a large planter with a topiary. While I maintained this element, I chose to make it slightly smaller so that it did not obstruct the porch light. Another change was that in the original scene on the door is a hanging blackboard sign. I eliminated that blackboard using the video to research what was behind it. Other photos taken proved great references where I revised elements and enhanced details.
The first major decision I needed to make was which materials to use. I thought this would be a great opportunity to use the wool felting. I’d already purchased some white linen which is a good base for needle felting. However, when testing some of the linen prepared with a ground to keep the watercolors in place, I learned two things. First, the paints were still running along the lines of the threads. Second, when the fabric is treated, its properties making it conducive to felting are obliterated by the ground.
Colored pencils were an option, but I really wanted to use the PrimaTek watercolor paints that I used in Fallen Leaves. Because the pigments are ground minerals, they seemed perfect for painting stonework. As the fabric was not an option, I instead used my preferred watercolor paper, Arches Cold Press.
In 2021 I took a workshop with watercolor artist Frederick Brosen who specializes in architectural watercolors. (Make sure you look at his work. It is stunning!) While for this painting I didn’t use the graphite grisaille technique he taught during the workshop, the skills I learned about how to put down washes and render the brick and stone were really helpful.
Now I had to figure out how to develop the fabric component. Stitching through paper is risky. Finally (in a moment of inspiration!), it occurred to me that I could do the needlework pieces on their own and then just glue them down. The original concept was to use embroidery. And with that, some beads would add a little sparkle and so would tie in with the sparkles produced by the PrimaTek paints.
However, while I can definitely sew, I’m not particularly proficient with embroidery stitches. The Tavern provided the perfect opportunity to incorporate wool needle felting; it was the best solution to quickly cover an area with color. I used a pencil on tracing paper to trace the areas on the painting where I would place the appliques. I removed the tracing paper and then redrew the same lines using a thin, black felt-tip marker. Then, I brought out a light box, laid down the tracing paper, and layered the fabric on top of that. Using a graphite pencil, I traced those same lines onto the linen fabric.
At this point, I began the wool needle felting which happened fairly quickly. On top of that, I layered with basic embroidery stitches such as chain stitch, blanket stitch, and French knots. The red geraniums were a bit more complex. For those I used a teensy crochet hook to create the flowers and then the stems were added. All of this was sewn together. Then beads in red, white, and green were added throughout to give it a bit of glimmer. Finally, the appliques were glued to the paper.
Photography and Editing
As with all of my art, I use professional photography equipment so that I have accurate records of every piece. It also allows me to create cards, prints, and other products. However, even with good lighting, photography requires editing. In most cases, this means modifying color, value, and exposure at various levels throughout the image.
When I first saw the raw photos, I realized that I’d overlooked something major. All those shimmery sparkles were now tiny circles and squares of white. Thank goodness for the healing brush in Adobe Photoshop which blended these bright shapes. It was simple but time-consuming. The image was enlarged to about 400%, and then I had to click on each dot. Individually. One at a time. Hundreds of them. Click. Click. Click. Click.
I started this piece later than I would have liked. (Life happens, right?) And while getting it finished is one challenge, making sure it is framed is quite another. I’ve got a great framer I work with, though, and they were happy to work with me on this project.
For the top mat, I chose an off-white that worked with the painting. The greyish-blue lower mat reminds me of a pale, colonial blue. Because of the raised surface of the embroidery, they added some height between the two mats. As I was working on a tight deadline, I could use only frames in stock. On the third try, I found a perfect, simple wood frame that accentuated both the colors and style of the piece.
And Finally . . .
So, with the artwork completed and framed on September 30, ‘Twas Talbott’s Tavern was delivered to the 79th Annual Waterford Fair. It will be judged in two categories: Multimedia and Waterford Scene. I’m looking forward to updating you on its journey.
What do you think of this multi-media piece? Do you have any technique recommendations for future pieces? What other subjects or scenes do you think I should paint?