Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Life class experiment

Shizuko Kimura: The Poetics of Form (detail) from here
Shizuko Kimura - from here
I remember first seeing a small nude by Shizuko Kimura in the New Ashgate gallery in Farnham, in the 90s, and being astonished to learn that she stitched from life with no preliminary drawing.  I had always thought how difficult this must have been, but not being particularly interested in reproducing the technique myself, did nothing more to explore this thought.  Until now.
The teacher announced that this week we would have the same pose all morning in order to explore techniques in depth, so I decided to put aside pencil and paper in order to try needle and thread on cloth.
Well, my admiration for Shizuko Kimura has increased by leaps and bounds.  This is what I tentatively produced for the ten minute warm-up pose:
The model is sitting with her back to me, and I just managed to think about her body's left profile.  The size of the muslin is 16 x 13cm, and I used black quilting thread because I thought that perhaps the stiffness would help.  It was extremely hard work translating the looking to the stitching action, and felt no direct link between eye and hand today.
When the main pose was set up I knew that I had no hope of encompassing the whole body, and so, knowing that we had a coffee break in the middle I decided to isolate two areas to attempt - one before the break and one after.
I started with the easier area: the hand. 
I was sitting to the left of the model, and her left hand was resting on her left thigh.  Unfortunately she had a cough today, and kept lifting this hand to her mouth and so it moved quite a bit, not helping with my measuring and comparing by eye.  Well, that's my excuse, anyway!
I discovered just how difficult it is to stitch the marks left to right (being right handed) - it is all very well to try to gauge distance and relationship by looking from model to stitched work when stitching right to left.  But when pursuing the line round the corner and back we turn the cloth round - unfortunately the model stays put.  So I had not only to look and gauge, but also then turn what I'd seen round in order to reproduce it.  This hand took me an hour - the size of the muslin is about 13cm square.
Not that I had mastered anything 'easier', I decided after the break to go for the more difficult head with hair all swept up.  Hey ho!
The head stitching is about 6cm square.  I decided this time to keep the ends underneath because they were distracting me.  This made the stitching tighter, and even smaller, which meant that I wished I'd made the whole thing larger in the first place.  I became extremely tense by the end of the hour, and my fingers were sweating - and I was definitely relieved when the class came to an end.
I was glad to have tried the experiment - my admiration for those who work this way is great.  It was interesting, but I shall not be pursuing this particular technique further.


  1. I feel great admiration that you even tried - it must be impossible.... But, how stimulating it must be being in such a class and being able to try out all the different techniques....

    And I love Kimura's work, at first I thought it was drawing.

  2. Eirene, the class is a normal life class, and I was seen as a bit odd doing the stitching today - but yes it was interesting trying the stitching today. I would have liked to have met Kimura to ask how she went about her stitch drawings. But ultimately, I must admit that the technique holds no personal attractions - which is just as well given what a learning curve I would have!

  3. How brave you were to try and to experiment in this way!
    That head by Kimura is wonderful - and the artist is new to me - once again you've broadened my artistic horizons - thank you.
    How delightfully the stitch seems to increase the sensitivity and delicacy of the drawing through the fine thread used - extraordinary work!

  4. Yes Margaret, she was wonderful. She was a member of the 62 Group, and unfortunately died a couple of years ago. The links in my post show more examples of her astonishing work.

  5. I too thought Kimura's work was drawing - amazing!!

    And yes, I am also impressed that you tried stitiching in a life class - it is so slow compared to drawing - but bravo!

    I wonder if it would be easier to draw lightly first, then stitch so you can turn the work around to suit the stitching direction. If you were inspired to try it again.

  6. i see kimura-like work online from time to time and have often contemplated attempting this style of stitch/sketching. how wonderful that you have actually done so! i love how you focused in on bits instead of attempting the entirety... thank you so much for sharing this! it is a wonderful reminder that we should always stretch and attempt new things!

  7. Marja-Leena, yes, Kimura's work is extraordinary. There are a few others who do this kind of thing too, and will have a look around when I have a little more time. As for myself, I think this was a one-off experiment as I had the opportunity of my last day of life class to satisfy my curiosity.

    Hi Montana Joe, good to hear from you. It was obvious from my first attempt that for a complete starter the whole body was going to be impossible, so it was best to start with discreet areas. I would then at least have a decent chance of seeing how recognisable I could make my marks.
    It was incredibly difficult, but I imagine that with practice and familiarity it would speed up and improve. It's the unfamiliar eye-hand/tool co-ordination which is the initial stumbling block I think.

  8. Currently in my portraits class we have a four-week pose - most people are painting, but I'm planning to try stitching in the final session, next week. Your experience is useful ... I might have a go before the class to see how it "feels" to draw with stitch in this way. Having looked at the subject for some hours already might help?

  9. Good luck, Margaret. Perhaps I should have practised, but what I have done is sufficient to satisfy my own curiosity. I'm glad that perhaps my experience it may help you.

  10. recreating the contour in stitch ! well this calls for quiet a tenacious artistic spirit and a creative mind!admire that you actually attempted;stepping out of our comfort zone can be quite an adventure!

  11. lovely lovely trials. I especially love the hand.