Tag: Designing

Stella’s Birds – more thinking about the design

Vaguely triangular design in gouache of three allegorical birds

You may recall that I said last time I mentioned the design I am trying to work out here, that it was proving very difficult to balance three birds not looking the same way, and that making them look the same way didn’t work at all.

Then it occurred to me that – obviously! – the two earlier birds would be facing towards the one that’s singing. Partly because we always turn to look where the noise is coming from, and partly because that is their aspiration.

You will notice that all of the rough designs I’m playing with here are in colour, which is not at all in keeping with my idea of using Mountmellick work. That’s because at present I want to find it easy to distinguish parts of the design. When I’m a little clearer about the shapes and their flow, I’ll start moving towards a more tonal patterning that will help me to think about stitch choice.

In the meantime, I am playing with shapes and layout in very vague terms.

Eventually, I want the birds to be quite medieval and slightly mad in appearance, and I’m thinking of trying to find some suitable thread – a round, matte cotton in two or three thicknesses – in a variegated colour that will help me to create the look of carved wood. The challenge is in finding it. This is not something easily bought online with any confidence, and so many of the thread companies don’t go to the shows anymore.

Still another idea from a book

Quick gouache sketches, inspired by medieval images, of the birds described in the text. They aren't in scale with each other.

January’s Book of the Month for the Elizabeth Goudge Bookclub on Instagram was “Gentian Hill”, and that reminded me of an episode in that book that I’ve long wanted to depict in some way. In the book, the heroine, Stella, and the Abbé visit a local church where Stella has been entranced by some carved panels and asks the Abbé to explain their significance. The carving show birds, one eating a grape, one killing a caterpiller, one with beak open in song. The Abbé explains:

Another attempt at the bird feeding on a grape, with something below that even I can't recognise!

The bird with the grape in its beak is the penitent soul of man feeding on the true vine. The bird attacking the caterpillar is the strengthened soul of man fighting evil. The singing bird is the soul that has overcome praising God. You take them in that order, Stella.

Elizabeth Goudge, Gentian Hill
More attempts at birds. These have more energy, but they still look the wrong sort of awkward.

(And, for those twitching at the non-inclusive language, Gentian Hill was written in the 1940s and set during the Napoleonic War. One of the themes of many of Elizabeth Goudge’s books is that there are many forms of struggle and many forms of service, none less than another, even if some may be less spectacular!)

Vine leaves and sketches of the birds, trying to surround the birds with bunches of grapes.

Now, as I’ve been adding final details to the Excavation, I’ve been reminded of how much I enjoy working in the hand, and I would like to devise a way to depict the images, singly or as one panel, in a way that is strongly textured, surface embroidery, that I can work in the hand as a rest from underside couching or attaching spots to border panels with invisible stitches.

A branch with vine leaves and bunches of grapes, and the three birds in different aspects. Still not balanced or successful, but it shows how I have been thinking.

So I’ve been thinking of basing the ideas and stitch choices on Mountmellick work, which is not entirely unsuitable when you consider that one of the other main characters, Zachary, is of Irish parentage, and the shapes of the birds on medieval images, because the church, of course, is a very old one.

Alas, thus far my playing with pens, paints and ideas hasn’t got me very far. It’s hard to balance three creatures that aren’t all looking the same way, and it doesn’t feel right to me to make them face the same way!