When Perfection isn’t Perfect

I took a walk in the countryside last Thursday. It was a slow day for work, the sky was blue and the temps a breezy 75°F, so I couldn’t resist the chance to take a few pics of late Summer’s splendor. The greens of the foliage will soon transpose to a rainbow of oranges, reds, yellows and browns, and although this transformation is gloriously breathtaking, it might be another 12 months before I get this view again. Playing hooky seemed justified.

Taking advantage of photo opportunities is one of those perks of being an artist – it’s a fun necessity. I must continue to build my library that I reference for various projects, such as when creating embroidery designs in a realistic style. Oh sure, I could surf around the net for hours trying to find the right details in a Maple leaf or the wild shapes of Oak branches, but I wouldn’t get the inspiration and clarity of details (not to mention, exercise) that I get from memories recorded in my own images.  And I like to strive for perfection – well, sorta. The objective for a realistic style is to replicate details perfectly, but Nature isn’t always perfect. If I were to create a symmetrical daisy, with each petal exactly the same by punching one petal and duplicating it for the remaining petals, the results would be so very wrong, at least for the realistic style I’m trying to achieve.

It was quite nice to have a guilt-free excuse on a work day to hike through one of Minnesota’s Scientific and Natural Areas, and this particular place is dear to me – I called it “home” for 15 years. You would think I should have enough pictures after living there so long, but the area is forever changing, especially since the house and barn were removed and the natural foliage allowed to flourish.  Each time I visit, I find something new to capture and add to my reference image library.

The leafy Sumac bushes that once camouflaged the heating fuel-oil barrel now cover the spot where I washed countless dishes, and OxEye Sunflowers have sprung forth from where the old, weathered outhouse once stood proud.  Yes, we even had one of those, and although rarely used, it was kept clean for those particular visitors who were strangely attracted to the experience of using a tattered, wooden privy in the fresh outdoors.

We were also quite grateful for having this not-so-perfect commode, of sorts, as it was the perfect solution one extremely cold year of -50°F when the drains froze.  (I had experienced an icy hell in them thar snow mounds along the frozen path in the moonlight.  I went on a diet until Spring.)

The Violets, Irises and Lilies that had lined the house and other wildflowers have devoured what once was a perfect city-like lawn. Little ferns carpet the ground under tall Goldenrod, Milkweed, prairie grasses and more, scattered throughout, making it necessary to step carefully, so as not to destroy small wildflowers – or be surprised by a snake or other critter I’d rather see from afar. It might have grown to be unfamiliar territory for me, if not for the valley left from the gravel driveway, my surviving patch of Rhubarb and the stately Oaks, Elms and Birch trees that remain.  The bright patches of Goldenrod and Purple Loosestrife still dot the one-time horse pasture on the hill this time of year.

A part of me is sad I no longer live there, but I’m so very delighted I can still occasionally visit and experience this abundance of natural beauty.  Having something to draw on when I’m lacking inspiration is priceless.  I find it well-worth studying the details – those that are symmetrically and/or consistently the same, and those of many changing variations – because these memorized details eventually appear somewhere in my work.

Now, on the other hand, digitizing anything – whether it’s the variations found in Nature or the crisp symmetry of a corporate logo – distortion must be applied to achieve quality results. Compensation for the threads that pull in or push out must be observed, such as widening and shortening columns so the width and length are correct in the final sew-out. Depending on the substrate, this can be a tedious procedure for digitizing small elements, most especially tiny letters. Veteran digitizer, Erich Campbell of Black Duck Embroidery & Screen Printing, recently shared a project he completed of 4 MM letters that turned out quite nice for what he described as a quick job. Most impressive is the clarity of letters that are embroidered on a textured polo, which is a situation that often results in crooked columns with ragged edges.  It’s somewhat tricky to digitize the elements of each letter seemingly wrong for them to appear right. Erich credits one of his favorite lessons learned from the masters, “Embroidery is the art form of distortion.”

Erich also posted a recommendation for perhaps one of his secrets, a Gutenberg book titled OF THE JUST SHAPING OF LETTERS from the Applied Geometry of Albrecht Durer, Book III.  This free e-book download, is an excellent reference to have in reach during the creation of any size letters, be it print or embroidery, as it explains everything you need to know about the basic rules when replicating shape. An excerpt regarding the letter B: “… in this way you shall describe both curved limbs: and they must both be broader towards the top than towards the bottom, as follows naturally with the stroke of a pen, and, moreover, while approximately round, they are not to be circular ….”

From this point, we as digitizers, must apply the embroidery rules of distortion to achieve exact replication in the final sew-out. The book is available for Kindle, and if you didn’t know, you can now download the Kindle for PC application, making e-books available to even those without gadgets.

Until next week … I’ll leave you with the suggestion to begin your own reference image library for design, starting with captured shots of your surrounding, natural environment. There’s a design to be created from Nature found everywhere, from the driest desert to the wettest swampland.  It can even be seen pushing through the cracks of cement and asphalt or rooftops of the biggest cities. Perhaps, visit a local florist who is willing to let you take a few snapshots, and at the same time, you just might snag an embroidery order for garden aprons, donning a logo with tiny letters.

Embroidery designs pictured are available at Moonlight’s Design Shoppe.

5 thoughts on “When Perfection isn’t Perfect

  1. Thank you Kristine! It’s easy to write a “lovely post” about a lovely place. The toughest part was trying to choose from the photos, I took over 200 shots! I really miss that old farm some days.

  2. Thank you very much for your kind inclusion of my work, Bonnie. What beautiful surroundings and designs! I love the leaf design in particular- well done indeed! Durer’s text is not one of my secrets, but the constant search for inspirational material and willingness to accept new sources of inspiration is- though I see you share the same willingness and desire to learn. Thank you so much for sharing these great photos and all the information with everyone.

  3. You’re welcome, Erich and thanks! Perhaps “secrets” was the wrong choice of words, as I know you are always willing to share what you’ve learned. This book is an excellent reference tool! I also should note that there are no copyright terms restricting the use of any portion of this book, and sharing is actually encouraged — a sign of commendable concern for retaining the quality in what we create.

  4. Pingback: The Friday Blog Round-Up 9/2/11 » EnMart Embroidery Talk

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