I got an idea for the self portrait! Somewhere across Europe, in a gallery (yes, I am being vague – er, I forget which one), I saw a portrait of a man, painted during the Renaissance, which had an enormous sense of life to it. ‘Wow’, I thought, standing in front of it; ‘That man’s character glows. He was so alive.’
I realised that the artist had used a trick of the eye to set his portrait apart: he’d painted a window ledge into the front of the painting, and in the picture, the man’s arm was leaning on the ledge. Simple, but effective – I think it makes it look as if the person in the painting is about to lean forward out of the picture. So that’s my borrowed idea: I’m going to do my self portrait leaning on a ledge.
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But at first I can’t quite reconcile the fabric in the pack you sent me with the classic colours of a renaissance portrait. The funny thing is that while I’m working on it, everyone who sees the final portrait says to me, ‘Oh, that’s your blue’, pointing to the bright blue I used for my shirt. Somehow they assume that you knew. But we’ve never met!
I sketched on trains and pulled your fabric pack out of my rucksack a hundred times before I got an idea. People must have thought I was – odd – sitting on the train going across Denmark or the UK, staring hard at a bunch of scraps of fabric. Suddenly I got it: I need to celebrate the bright colours! It’s obvious – I need this portrait to be playful, too, and the fabrics you sent are perfect for that!
There will be applique, beads, and embellishment. Oh yes, I like the chenille ribbon you sent, mmm, it’s so fuzzy. I’m inspired by a Melbourne quilter I once met, Olga Walters. Her quilts are fun and loosely collaged. I’m going to try for that look. I’ll let myself break the ‘rules’…
The face was the hardest part, and in the end, I took a photo my husband had taken of me, and with the photo on my laptop and a borrowed scrap of notepaper from a friend, I tried to draw the outline of my face and to map in my features.
When it was close enough, I pricked holes through the drawing at regular intervals and dotted through the holes onto the fabric with a mechanical pencil. This gave me a faint dotted line to trace, and then to stitch around.
Does it look like me? I don’t know. Most people recognise it right away, but I still think it’s a little off. But I do like it: this little quilt came right around the world with me, and it’s tied to so many memories as I stitched away in several countries and cities. Mirror of the world and my memories.