Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Working Big

2-13' x 2' fabric panels drying

Remember the old mind teaser, Which is heavier, a ton of feathers or a ton of bricks? Well, I can tell you, a ton of wet fabric is the heaviest.

Phase two of my commission to create 11-13' x 2' fabric panels for the restaurant, Hjem (pronounced yem), that is opening in early June upstairs from the Fayetteville Underground is complete. A person can learn a few things from working big, so I offer you these observations on the process.

When I first got my studio at the Underground, I thought it was huge. After all, it is twice as big as the one I shared in California. For this project space was a consideration because I only have room for three panels to dry at a time. That meant after three panels were marbled or painted I had to wait. Waiting for fabric to dry ranks right up there with watching grass grow. Do something else while you wait, you say? I looked around the studio and every available surface, including parts of the floor and all of the chairs, were covered with fabric, supplies and tools. After pacing around the table a few times it occurred to me that glaring expectantly at the fabric wouldn't make it dry any faster so I went and had a cup of coffee. The next time had to wait I called a friend and we had coffee together. Bonus.

Proportion must be considered…and considered again.
Of course proportion must always be considered but when working big the distance from which something will be viewed enters the equation. Small details can't be seen when far away and may even muddy the design. Exaggeration is often necessary because what looks huge two feet away can look great 13' feet away. Michelangelo's David is one of the most famous examples of this. I am sure there are more detailed explanations but this one came from Wikipedia:

"The proportions are not quite true to the human form; the head and upper body are somewhat larger than the proportions of the lower body. The hands are also larger than would be in regular proportions. While some have suggested that this is of the mannerist style, another explanation is that the statue was originally intended to be placed on a church fa├žade or high pedestal, and that the proportions would appear correct when the statue was viewed from some distance below."

However, I must say that when you are standing there looking at him the last thing you notice is that his hands are too big…but that's a story for another day.

Working big is physically challenging—yards of fabric to hold in one hand, gallons of water to carry, standing for hours days at a time, it adds up. Of course the work is lovely to do, exciting and challenging and fun. It is wonderful to be engaged in the process and thinking about the each step as it comes—but in the evening it means sore muscles and sometimes anxious sleep. Will it all work? Will I make the deadline? Thank goodness I had help along the way. In addition to Camilla who helped with the marbling, many of my studio-mates and a few building maintenance people were called upon to hold this or that.

Sore muscles aside, there is a freedom that comes with working big that I really enjoyed. Movement comes from the shoulders instead of the wrist. You can step into the action; your whole body gets involved. It feels good. It makes me think I would like to work on a series of large pieces. I am impatient to explore all of these new considerations. If any of you have experiences or thoughts on the subject of working big I would enjoy hearing them. Please feel welcome to leave a comment.

As soon as the Hjem fabric panels are up and the restaurant ready to open, I will post photos so you can see the results. Maybe you'll even come for dinner sometime!


  1. Jennifer, Your "big" work is awesome! I was able to zoom in and I really like it! I can definitely see it hanging in a restaurant. I can't wait to see photos of it hanging once the restaurant opens. I have never worked this big but I can imagine the weight of wet fabric.

  2. I for one am chomping at the bit to see the fabric installed...it is so lovely to see in its current state... I can only imagine how that is going to be personified when it is living in the space for which its intended.

    Your Michelangleo rap is terrific!!

    I have often worked large, my favorite size canvas is 72" square, and you describe the body's responses well...a recent painting measured 13' by 28' and I once created a series of murals for a hardy and trendy restaurant...the largest in the group measuring 12' x 48'...It's a grand feeling.

  3. I have not worked quite this large. It sounds like tough work. The pieces look really intersting, and I too am anxious to see a photo of it all installed. Sending a virtual "pat on the back" for a job well done.

  4. Yes, working big often becomes an athletic event, but size always seems to be determined by the spacial limitations of the work space. Sounds like your having a great time pushing those boundaries....Jan