Femida H. She is my close and very dear friend and I made this portrait for her 50th birthday present. We met as neighbours in London (hello, NW3) and she is an incredibly kind & loyal friend, and a gracious & generous woman. I hope I've done something nice for her here.
When our children were at school together, we'd often - very often - head into oh, I dont know, The Wolsley or The Savoy, or maybe The Dorchester for lunch and with her by my side, I leant to shop.
Stopping by her house on many cold London afternoons made for some of the best memories from those years; times like once, having been instructed to bring drinks, I picked up a magnum of Krug from the Oddbins on the corner. OMG the way we rolled.
We were friends from the moment we met and there aren't many people like that that we get to have in our lives so its very special; making this picture for her expresses some of the deep gratitude I have for being blessed with a ladyfriendship like this. Damn, hope she likes it!
Her natural grace & poise made making a beautiful picture easy really. The hard part was quashing her resistance to her family's desire to enable this portrait! Thanks guys, we got her!
From my initial concept designs below, the whole family decided on which direction they'd find the best reflection of her to be. Having returned from the UK a few years ago, they've settled into a beautiful new home, so we were able to bespoke the the whole look to suit; we know it'll look good in the room it'll live in.
There are some similarities between design processes to this portrait and indeed, they were made concurrently, but for me they have quite different feels.
I endeavoured to capture in an image, certain key elements of this remarkable woman's story; from her quiet but certain faith & pride in her heritage, to her love and appreciation of not only beautiful things but of the beauty in others. She actually goes looking for the spiritual beauty in others. Crazy! sometimes I marvel that we're friends at all.
I wanted this portrait to reflect her serene sense of certainty and how she seems to radiate good will and comfort all around. Having arrived in Australia as a child refugee from Uganda, her empathy is legendary amongst social workers and asylum seekers here now and she's tireless in her advocacy for those who;s voice might otherwise remain unheard. True compassion.
And Fem knows her fashion; I can say this with conviction, I have shopped all over London with her! So there's some reference to at least one luxury brand that needed to happen in this picture. #robertocavalliforever, yo. We love the decorative and theres plenty of that in this piece and I also got to sneak in some of my digital lace elements, yay.
When we had a short list of possibles seen above, I started sampling how I'd create the finished piece, running through my production process.
I was very very keen on this embroidery idea & did many tests with different media on different canvas with varying paints, alternative thread types. sewing needles, machine feet, stitch setting etc etc until I achieved something of the gorgeous effect I wanted.
Actually what I really wanted was an industrial embroidery machine to do it for me from a digital file but alas I could not locate any so I went free-arming embroidery on my plain old Janome My Style 28. The hand drawn quality of the 'lace' worked well with free arming/darning foot. For future reference I note here that sewing with metallic thread is definently tricky.
I researched (browsed for hours) online and have the following result of my experience to offer: i/ attach darning foot, drop the feed dogs & aim bright task lighting towards the pointy end of the job at hand; ii/ put the metallic thread spool into a heavy mug, set high up a good distance away from the machine so the thread can uncurl as it clatters away on route to the machine; iii/ use an embroidery poly filament in the bobbin; iiii/ use a metallic needle size 90; iiiii/change the needle often iiiiii/ sew really slowly iiiiiii/ go back & forth over the lines two, three or even four times to get the concentration of gold thread really sparkling.
It was an interesting combining sewing and artwork, I've often wondered why I haven't done more of it to date. I'm liking the added dimensions of appliqué & embroidery onto canvas.
Back to business, when we had determined which image to run with for the real deal, I redesigned it to fit the family's available empty wall space, 800x800mm and being an over-thinker as I am, I threw in more image options to make actually choosing the final image that special little bit more stressful.
Believe me, I'm showing a skerrick, a mere scrap of the many, many options I tortured us all with. Waaay too many options. I'm a good friend like that.
I hoped the 800 x 800mm would be just size enough to manoeuvre the painted canvas around the sewing machine arm. I really had no idea if it would till I tried it! Made for a very worrisome moment as I put the finished artwork under the needle, eeeeep!
And thats kind of it then. I had it stretched asap to know that it wouldn't either tear (from the needle perforations) or be so out of square that it couldn't be trued but it was AOK. Bloody phew. I had to crumple & push/pull it in all directions getting it under the needle but canvas is obviously very durable & the acrylic paint is obviously flexible so no prob really.
It'll be framed once it reaches its destination, but she'll see it like this for the first time when its unveiled at a birthday party so big it's like old times. And yeah, I really hope she likes it.
Happy birthday Fem!