Friday, June 16, 2017

His Secrets and Her Secrets

 (Above:  Detail of Her Secrets.  Click on any image to enlarge.)

Three weeks ago I blogged about To Be Seen and Not Heard, a unique art quilt made from over eighty antique engravings of idealized women. I stitched small, white shirt buttons over each mouth.  While doing this, I dreamed up another "button project" ... His Secrets and Her Secrets.   

 (Above:  Her Secrets.  30 1/2" x 22 1/2".  Photographs adhered to heavy watercolor paper with hand stitched buttons and running stitch.  Mounted to stretcher bars.)

The earlier blog post included this request:

I'm really pleased with the piece and it has led to new ideas.  I am now in search of people willing to provide a close-up, relatively high resolution image of just their mouth ... smile or no smile!  With luck, I'll use the images to create two pieces tentatively called Her Secrets and His Secrets.  In my mind, I see lots of larger, red buttons!

Lots of people sent me pictures!  Facebook friends sent me "their mouths".  I captured more images while at Soda City Market on Main Street ... just approaching strangers (and most of my favorite veggie and bakery vendors) and saying, "I'd like to snap a photo of just your lips".  Sure, people thought I was crazy but that doesn't matter? (Maybe I am a little nuts? LOL!)  I took more pictures at "First Thursday", a monthly art crawl ... also on Main Street.

 (Above:  Her Secrets, detail.)

Two computer folders were created:  Male and Female.  All the images were sized to 3" x 5 1/2" ... a perfect size for the heavy watercolor paper onto which they were adhered.  That's four columns ... ten rows ... a total of forty mouths.  Forty men; forty women.

(Above:  His Secrets.  30 1/2" x 22 1/2".  Photographs adhered to heavy watercolor paper with hand stitched buttons and running stitch.  Mounted to stretcher bars.)

Each 3" x 5 1/2" image was formatted to print in the middle of a standard 4" x 6" print.  I trimmed each one to the desired size.  I carefully measured and drew lines on the watercolor paper ... guidelines for placement.  I played around with the images until I liked the arrangement and then used polymer gloss medium to adhere them in place.  Why polymer gloss and not matte medium?  Well, the resulting shiny surface looks more appropriate when working with actual photographs.

 (Above:  His Secrets, detail.)

Both pieces were allowed to dry overnight.  In the morning, the heavy watercolor paper wasn't flat.  It curled as if in four columns.  This is typical when applying moisture/wetness to paper, even very heavy art paper.

(Above:  Her Secrets, in progress.)

For me, this isn't a problem.  As a custom picture framer, I own a dry mount press.  Heat and pressure are all they needed to become totally flat again.  The picture above shows Her Secrets in progress, fresh out of the dry mount press.

 (Above:  Her Secrets and His Secrets, in progress.)

Because I spent three days last week sorting my enormous stash of buttons, I had a container of red ones and a container of pink ones ready for this project.  The two works were placed on my living room floor while I played around ... deciding which button went on which mouth.  I liked this arrangement.

 (Above:  Two trays made of foam-centered board ... a way to organize the selected buttons.)

There might have been an easier way to keep the selected arrangement of buttons but I don't know it.  For me, creating two trays of foam-centered board worked.  Each tray has ten rows.  The buttons were pinned in the same arrangement as they'd sat on the artwork.  In the evening while watching television, I stitched them to the coordinated mouth.  (By the way, in order to make the stitching easier, I used an awl and tack hammer to poke holes for all the stitching ... hundreds of holes for all the running stitching between the rows and columns.  It made stitching a pure joy!  No more stress trying to ply a threaded chenille needle through the thick layers of these works!)
 (Above:  One of the two pieces under assorted "weights" while being glued to a stretcher bar.)

Two stretcher bars were cut with the same outer measurements as the watercolor paper.  Before gluing the work in place, I finished the back of the stretcher bars (see photo below).  Then, I glued each one to the front.  To assure a firm attachment, strips of wood were placed around the edge and weighed down. They sat overnight.

(Above:  His Secrets and Her Secrets, reverse.)

By the next morning, the pieces were finished.  I added my label to the back ... which, as mentioned above, was already finished.  What are the two metal things on each side?  Well, because even heavy watercolor paper is prone to expand and contract with changing humidity, I wanted to eliminate any problem of the paper bulging in the future.  A "strainer" (a piece of wood the same thickness as the stretcher bars) went across the middle.  The metal brace holds the strainer in place. The pieces are glued to the strainer as well as the stretcher bars ... not leaving much room for the watercolor paper to expand ... ever.  For a polished back, I screwed a piece of mat board over the entire reverse. 

 (Above:  His Secrets, detail.)

When dealing with so many mouths, I quickly learned several things:

People generally smile in front of a camera.
Men with mustaches and/or beards are eager to pose.
Women fret if they don't have lipstick ... even if they don't generally wear any.
Lipstick and stubble were often my only clues to the gender of the lips in my images.
There are several shapes and "styles" of mouths but within a particular "style" many look quite similar.

Most interesting:
Ethnicity is often blurred.  There are several Hispanic and Asian mouths on each artwork ... but I can't even remember which ones they are ... and not all the African-American looking skin tones belong to African-Americans!  I particularly like this reflection of the great American "melting pot".  In our lips, we are more alike than we are different!
 (Above:  His Secrets, detail of my nephew Tony.  Thanks, Tony!)

Despite the fact that many of the mouths are similar and few are personally known to me, there are a few that I really do know!  My nephew Tony sent me great images of his lips!  Thank you, Tony!  I snapped a photo of my husband Steve's lips and my own.  Otherwise, no one else is related to me!

(Above:  Her Secrets, detail of my own lips and signature.)

Yes, I included myself.  If one asks others to participate in an art project, one better be willing to participate too!  I used my own lips on the very bottom, right-hand side ... where I collaged letters and numbers clipped from vintage magazine for my signature.  If you look carefully at His Secrets, my husband Steve's lips are in the same position!

 (Above:  Her Secrets, detail.)

Not all the images I had made either art quilt.  I had more than enough and felt very badly about the images supportive people sent that I didn't end up using.  For the most part, the pictures sent to me weren't high enough in resolution and/or in focus.  What looks great on Facebook isn't always great when printed.  Most people don't understand that fact and I felt too guilty to ask for "better".  So ... I had to think hard about those who were otherwise "left out".  I came up with another button idea!

 (Above:  His Secrets, detail.)

I am already at work on two more, similar pieces.  These will be titled Silence is Golden I and Silence is Golden II.  By sizing all the images to 2" x 4 1/2", the small sizes didn't matter so much.  By desaturating the colored images to high-contrast, black-and-white, the slight blur didn't matter much either.  Silence is Golden I has five columns ... fifteen rows! That's seventy-five mouths on one piece.  So ... if you sent me a photo and can't find it here, just wait!  It might have made the next button-inspired art quilt!

1 comment:

Yael said...

This is truly awesome! :-)