Falling down a rabbit hole can be a good thing when it comes to designing.
I began my latest design with the desire to weave details of horses. My false starts took me from compartmentalized details, to a more integrated collection of imagery unified by a border from the illuminated manuscript in Catherine of Cleves’ Book of Hours. I replaced much of the imagery with my own, leaving a ribbon representing DNA and evolution. The final outcome is influenced by the US political news which changes daily.
This design is rife with symbols following in the footsteps of the long history of symbolism in tapestries. I made a list of what I wanted to portray, then searched the web for images: The four horsemen of the apocalypse horses, black for famine, red for war, pale for pestilence and death. For the white horse I chose the unicorn from one of the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries representing divining truth and wisdom. I added a snake neck and devil head to the red horse. Wheels on the pale horse represent the Trojan horse. These led me to the working title: The Apocalypse. A working title helps me keep on track.The image of eight radiating arrows (top center) represents chaos. Hidden within is a hammer and sickle. This symbol is also similar to a magnified view of the corona virus. The scales of justice are being tipped by a suited leg. Uncle Sam going to hell in a hand basket is at bottom center. I was quite pleased with how well that came together.
Completing the inner border motifs left me with the central field to design. After several attempts using puppeteer hands and words I decided to use a raven as the focal point. Often associated with loss and ill omen, this clever bird also represents prophecy, insight and transformation. After auditioning different sizes of the raven I renamed the tapestry to Never More after Poe’s poem. The blue patterned background comes from a panel in the Apocalypse Tapestry in Angers, France. To finish off I added a red and blue border.
I knew from early on this would be a large piece. After projecting the image on a wall I settled on 75 x 54 inches. I moved the projector back and forth until the image size looked right. I took into consideration two elements, weave-ability and gut reaction. Next steps are choosing colors and dyeing yarns. I don’t always follow the colors in the cartoon. The colors will include indigo blue, black using black wash fast acid dye over dark indigo, reds from madder and cochineal. I just finished testing the redsin order to achieve the bright red in the Apocalypse tapestry.
Lessons learned: Be patient, trust my instincts, don’t rely on a first design and be willing to let go of ideas if they don’t suit the design.
This article was printed in the Weavers Bazzaar October 2020 newsletter and will be in the Canadian Tapestry Network Newsletter December 2020.
Addendum: After writing this article I hung up my cartoon while I spent my time dyeing yarns for the project. All along I had a niggling feeling about the design. Something was off. I finally figured out what needed to be done and changed the design one last time, I hope. I flipped some elements, reduced the size on a couple and moved some things around. This is another example of why it is important for me to be patient and not get attached. Below is the latest, final design.
Post script: In October 2020 a previous version of the cartoon won an award. You can read more about it here.