13 Ways of Looking at a Wren
Carolina Wrens have dumpy little bodies that are constantly in motion. Their characteristic bobbing movement reminds me of those cheap toys that have springy legs and suction cup feet – you push the toy all the way down, and when the suction cups let go, the legs spring up to full length. That’s how the wrens move – turn sharply left, turn center and sink all the way down, spring up sharply to the right – over and over.
With strong white “eyebrow” stripes and a long, down-curving beak, they look like they are permanently sneering. They remind me of feisty tiny old men. If they had hands they would hold miniature walking sticks to shake at unwelcome intruders.
They are absolutely undiscriminating as to where they build their nests, and I am always finding nests in old cardboard boxes of nails, or in old river shoes that have been left out in the barn.
Best of all, they say “cheeseburgie cheeseburgie cheeseburgie” just like John Belushi on those old SNL skits. (Listen to the second recording here, and you will see that I am right.)
Normally my photos capture the wrens in profile,
but about a month ago I got a picture straight on, that made me wonder how a wren sees around that beak! I loved this composition of graceful lines of branches and vines arching protectively over the pear-shaped wren, and decided to use the image for some art quilt technique practice.
To reduce my photos down to their important lines, I have been using Photoshop to convert the picture to black and white, and then using the “Find Edges” filter, and that gives an effect like this:
But in her book Dreaming From The Journal Page, Melanie Testa suggests using just regular tracing paper to capture the lines you like in a picture, and then using that as a layer of an art journal page. I tried it, and really preferred it — the lines looked more alive to me. I used one traced drawing over a background of Golden acrylic paints, and one by itself, with some Inktense colored pencil details drawn on top.
Then it was time to translate this into fabric. I wanted to see how vintage linens would work. I folded an old raveled and stained linen damask napkin in half, put some batting in between the layers, and thread-sketched the image.
I had seen an article somewhere years ago, about printing an image on organza, and then mounting it with its original photograph to give a misty, hazy effect. I couldn’t find the article anywhere so I did a little trial and error. I printed the picture on a piece of silk organza, and it was much more transparent than I expected. You could barely see it! I was very disappointed.
And yet, when I laid it over the sketches, I saw that, even though it didn’t call attention to itself, it did add some depth and a hint of realism.
Setting aside the organza for a while, I went on to try different media on the vintage linen, which was lovely to work on! I used Jacquard Lumiere textile paints on one side —
— and Inktense pencils and textile medium on the other. I preferred the more muted colors of the Lumiere paints. But the pure hues of the Inktense pencils could look good on a project for kids.
I still wanted to find a good way to use the sheer image, so I searched online “printed organza with photos.” One of the top results was a Quilting Arts video that I already had, but had never watched! (Season 2, Episode 209, and the segment is downloadable here.)
I immediately watched it, and learned so much from artist Wen Redmond. Due to the supplies I had at home, I ended up doing things a little differently than she does. She dyes, prints, or paints special fabric to match her focus image, and then transfers the image onto that. She sews the silk organza to fabric and mounts those on the front of artists’ stretcher bars, and then mounts the background image below. The two printed images are then 3/4 of an inch apart, which she says is the perfect distance for them to register correctly, and still be readable as two separate images.
I used a regular artists’ canvas that I had on hand, flipped upside down. Inside, on what would normally be the back of the canvas, I painted some green textile paint. I printed the wren photo on a piece of printer silk, and attached it with basting spray. I glued some batting scraps to the wooden bars of the canvas to pad them a little. Then I sewed various scraps of fabric around the organza print, and wrapped them around the edges of the canvas.
The final effect is a little like those changeable pictures that came as Cracker Jack prizes. I did not get the amazing results I hoped for, but I can think of a lot of variables I can tweak to get better results. And I’m glad I finally got to this technique that has been on my “To Try” list for a long time.