Cayce Zavaglia does not create portraits using a traditional medium like paint, pencil or photography. She stitches them, like with a needle and thread.
No stranger to the media, the St. Louis artist was featured by the magazine Elle Decor earlier this year and several art sites like This Is Colossal. In her statement on her website, Zavaglia wrote, “I still consider myself a painter and find it difficult not to refer to these embroidered portraits as ‘paintings’.”
Using crewel embroidery wool, Zavaglia wrote that she uses techniques from both painting and drawing to achieve her threaded works. Zavaglia and her work was recently featured by ZFilm productions. A week after posting the video on Nov. 1, ZFilm saw more than 50,000 hits. It was also made a Vimeo staff pick.
Watch the clip about the “portrait and process”:
One of the commenters in the video called them “Van Gogh-esque.”
As you can see in some of “paintings” there are speckles of color to give the people more textured and realistic look. To acheive this she created a “system of sewing the threads”:
The direction in which the threads were sewn had to mimic the way lines are layered in a drawing to give the allusion of depth, volume, and form. Over time the stitches have become tighter and more complex but ultimately more evocative of flesh, hair, and cloth.
To Elle, Zavaglia described her technique as “renegade embroidery.” Here’s how she does it according to Elle:
Zavaglia begins each piece by taking photographs of her subject against a plain gray background. After selecting an image, she transfers it to fabric, draws over it in sharp detail—“every line, hair, wrinkle,” she says—then starts to sew. The hair comes first, followed by the forehead, as she works her way down the face.
Describing the technique as “pointillist,” Zavaglia says she layers stitch atop stitch to achieve the desired color and subtle tone. A large work consists of roughly 80 to 100 colors of crewel wool and takes six to seven months to complete; a smaller one, made with finer, shinier thread, about six to eight weeks. Zavaglia has yet to count her stitches, but the tally is clearly in the thousands.
In the ZFilms clip, Zavaglia said that she’s working on a project that specifically focuses on the back side of the embroidered works.
“I feel like we all have this side that we present every day. And we might have moles and scars and we do our best to pretty it up and present it to the world, but there’s always the side to us that perhaps no one sees,” Zavaglia said in the video.
Elle reported that it wasn’t until 2008 that Zavaglia’s work was discovered after some of her embroidered portraits sold within hours of being brought to an art fair.
See more of Zavaglia’s work on her website here.
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