“Proportion refers to relationships of size, amount, and degree.” These elements relate back to the whole. In my portraits I attempt to inject an edgy/emotional aspect using these elements to underscore the personality of the individual I am portraying. I use proportion for emphasis most obviously with larger than life size. (We relate all we perceive back to our own physical size.) A large scale creates visual weight which is perceived closer and more important than smaller. I have also used these relationships in my use of value, color, line, texture, and density.
For my first few tapestries I did not give these elements much attention since I was so focused on technique. The first time I seriously considered any of these components was on my tapestry, Golda II. I had already woven one version and I felt it did not have the effect I desired. I concluded going larger in scale would give more power. Golda I is 9.25” x 9.25” and Golda II is 16.25” x 14.75.” This size increase made the face larger than life, a statement that portrays Golda Meir well in my estimation. I decided to simplify the design by removing the hand, name, and enlarge the face. This created a more challenging and direct image. Add the element of outline using silk brings in a small amount of shine and richness against the vast flatness of the wool. The lessons I took from this exercise are simplify composition, a little sparkle (the silk) goes a long way, and a face larger than life makes a strong statement.
The Golda’s were not the only time I repeated a design. I wove Blue Frida (Frida Kahlo) and Homage to Egon Schiele twice each changing some of the elements including the size, going larger in each.
When I look at the pair of tapestries Homage to Egon Schiele I and II the smaller version was more successful. The intimacy of the smaller size and darker value used for the background color draws the viewer in. The size of the bead is larger which speaks more to the medium of tapestry. This was an instance where bigger was not better.
In the larger version of Blue Frida, the face gives the impression of being monumental even though only a portion of it is shown. Drastically cropping the face serves to characterize Kahlo’s personal struggles. More contrast of values in the larger version better accentuates the relative smoothness of the shapes of her face and the edgy profile of the earring.
In Homage to Anne Frank, I wanted to evoke a strong emotional response. Working with different visual images relating to her life, I eventually juxtaposed the face of Adolf Hitler with Anne Frank. This was the “aha” moment. My goal became to visually portray opposites. I chose to make both heads of equal size. The faces look out from the picture plane in opposite directions. This created a tension that I did not feel when I had them facing toward each other. Connecting the heads increased the sense of mass and density, taking on the impression of a two headed monster. I decided to merge the images further by slicing both heads into vertical bars. It took hours of trying out different proportions for the slices. The size worked best when I slowly gradated from small to large starting from the left with Hitler and the right with Anne Frank. I tried the Fibonacci sequence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 … but the size of the slices became large more quickly than I cared for. The proportions I used allow the faces to read easily.
I chose an equal proportion of warm colors for Anne adjoining cool colors for Hitler. The warm colors tend to come forward and the intensity of the cool colors attempts to overpower the warm. The curved lines of the faces are juxtaposed against the sharpness of the straight bars of the sliced images.
The outcome of the proportion chosen to slice the faces into bars defined the aspect ratio, roughly 2:1. Interestingly, this ratio is similar to a movie screen, 1.85:1 to 2.35:1, something our eye recognizes. Subconsciously augmenting the impression of colossal heads and emphasizing the importance of the subject.
When it came to the size of the overall tapestry I knew I wanted something larger than life to further stress the significance of the subject but, how large? I projected the cartoon onto the wall moving the projector back and forth. There was a point going larger where I said to myself ‘Wow that’s too big.” The decision was subjective and the tapestry is 27.5” x 54.
My goal in many of my tapestries is to evoke a strong response from the viewer. Working larger than life along with different proportions of warm against cool colors and cropping are some of my tools to meet this end.
Weisman, Donald. The Visual Arts as Human Experience. NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1970