Visual Storytelling

This summer, while organizing and hanging my retrospective exhibit at the Falmouth Art Center (Aug. 1- 31), I’ve thought about children’s picture books and reflected on the wonderful opportunity they present to visual artists. The story book structure provides a unique opening to the imagination, with both writers and artists doing their part to interpret and articulate the human experience into something tangible and accessible.

It’s a great responsibility to connect with children through picture books and create their first introduction to art. I want to show the reader something they can care about and attach to. Adults call attention to my labor-intensive and inventive approach to illustrating; children respond directly to the emotional gestalt of a story with pictures. I try to keep that in mind while I stitch and stitch, translating the images in my head into something real.

On Tuesday, August 15th at 7:00 pm, I will participate in the presentation ~ Meet Our Local Picture Book Creators at the Cataumet Schoolhouse , Cataumet, MA. The writer/illustrator team of Jim & Deb Bowen will also talk about their work.

For those of you from far away, I’ve taken some short video tours of my exhibit, Salley Mavor: 25 Years of Picture Books. More videos are at the end of this post. Reflections on the glass make it a challenge to photograph the framed artwork, but I think the videos help give a sense of the show.


VISUAL STORYTELLING

Lately, I’ve been describing myself as a visual storyteller because the term “illustrator” just doesn’t seem to fit anymore and adequately encompass what I do. All of my work is narrative, but not necessarily illustration. And as for terms to describe how I make things — I don’t even try to define it anymore. I make picture books, how-to books and stand alone fabric relief pieces like Displaced. There are also fairy houses, wee folk dolls and sculpture. This past year, political satire and stop-motion animation from the Wee Folk Players – They’re a Stitch were added to the mix. By the way, if you’re missing the Players, they are busy filming on location in the basement. My husband Rob and I are making progress with the animation and have made about 2 minutes into a 10 minute movie.

NEW BOOK
After taking 3 years to complete Pocketful of Posies (2010), I needed a break from the all consuming process of making a book, so I could be free to develop other ideas that have been tugging at me for a long time. I’m glad I spent the last few years experimenting with new subjects, but I’m happy to say that the picture book bug has returned. It’s too early to say much about the new project, but I can tell you that it’s about beds, has an international theme and will be published by HoughtonMifflin in 2020. I’m not sure how much if anything I can show, because this is the first time I’ve worked on a book while also keeping up a blog about my artwork. I figure it’s OK to show details of the process, but not the whole pieces. So, if you want a more frequent inside glimpse, please follow me on Instagram and Facebook.

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Here are a group of detail shots I took of some fabric relief originals in the show, while cleaning the frames and glass.

 

 

 

Mr. Pence goes to Washington

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To commemorate the upcoming inauguration, the Wee Folk Players (They’re a Stitch) decided to film a production of Mr. Pence Goes to Washington. There’s nothing like a deadline to get you going and moving they did, albeit one millimeter at a time, with hundreds of camera clicks.

The stop-motion animation process demanded great patience on the part of the actors, as well as the director and photographer from Dubious Productions. Just like in Hollywood, it took a lot of standing around between scenes and discussions about the simplest actions. Everyone hung out together in the basement for several full days, determined to get through as many shots as it took to make a 1 minute video. The troupe came out unscathed, but there was a question as to whether the dog’s tail would stay attached, after wagging so hard!

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The cast member playing Mr. Pence wasn’t so sure that his assigned costume would give the right impression, but once he tried on the gingham frock, he felt right at home in the role.

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Makeup for the Mr. Pence character was a challenge, but white cropped hair and a permanent look of disapproval on his otherwise bland face helped bring him to life.

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As for the little guy, his head had to swivel around and his tail needed to wag.

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This costume fitting got a little out of hand. Don’t theater people say that animals and children always steal the show?

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The set department painted a gazillion yellow bricks for the road.

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All in all, the cast enjoyed their moving performance and are already rehearsing for the next chapter in the American Drama Series.

The Wee Folk Players are busy writing and directing new episodes in the American Drama Series. To keep up with new posts, subscribe to this blog (top right column on the home page). And for a wide ranging look at new and old material from my studio, please follow along on Instagram and Facebook. And to find out about my post-election satire, please read  this interview.
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Displaced

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Sketch for Displaced

All winter long, while I sat and worked on this new piece, I listened to news stories on the radio about the people who are fleeing their home countries amid war and conflict. Even though Displaced is inspired by current world events, it could very well represent the universal and timeless plight of refugees throughout history.

I often think in terms of creating miniature shallow stage sets and with this one, I envisioned a highly dramatic scene. It was important to me that the piece evoked a strong emotional reaction, much like an opera.


The heavily burdened figures are a chorus of characters making their way through a black and ominous landscape. To help create tension in the design, I thought of antonyms, such as dark/light, general/personal, despair/hope, trapped/escape, harsh/tender, sharp/soft and horror/beauty.

With fiber art, much attention is paid to materials and techniques, as well as the labor intensive process. My intention was to make a work of art that transcends the amount of work invested, and the methods and skill involved in the expression.

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Displaced, 24″ H x 22″ W, 2016

UPDATE: 18″ x 24″ Posters of DISPLACED are now in my Etsy Shop here.

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Poster – Displaced

Here are some details of the piece, along with a glimpse behind the scenes in my studio.

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still playing with dolls

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Some things never change. Like the urge to play with dolls. I’d venture to guess that there are a lot of grownups like me who still find themselves drawn to creating little worlds, just like they were in their youth. I feel honored to share my passion (perhaps even obsession?) for the wee world with you through my books and this blog.

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I recently got out some props I’d made a few years ago for a video project that my husband Rob and I were planning, but didn’t undertake. It was pure play, as I set up one of the houses out in the yard and made this video with my phone camera.

Our original idea was to make a short stop motion animation of one of my favorite nursery rhymes, Wee Willie Winkie. The easy part was constructing the characters, houses, trees and a clock. Finding the time and space to work on the incredibly tedious task of animating the story turned out to be too much of a challenge. We figured that it would take several months of concentrated effort to make even a 5 min. video that we would be proud of. We’re still intrigued by the prospect of putting together a film and who knows, we may do it eventually. But for now, I will soon embark on a new project that will keep me busy for a few years. More about that later…

The houses, etc. (and a couple of original Pocketful of Posies illustrations) will be shown for the next 6 months, June 2, 2016 – Jan 8, 2017 ~ in the Geometry Gallery display case at the Providence Children’s Museum, Providence, RI

13147836_1084989028189856_5937376141503391142_oHere’s the clock for the scene, “Are the children in their beds, for now it’s 8 o’clock?”

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In the meantime, the various props have not been hidden away. They’ve been used as backdrops for other photos, including shots of Polly and A Buggy Picnic, which is available as a card.

Cover Up (part 3 & video)

CoverUp_lowresWMThis is part 3 in a series of posts about my new embroidered bas-relief piece Cover Up. In part 1 and part 2, the collection of “covered” women are introduced and discussed. Now, I will show how the pieced felt background was made. There’s also a short video my husband Rob filmed, which shows me stitching various stages of the project.

In the beginning, I knew that the piece would be populated with portraits of women, with each peering through an oval opening, but I didn’t know how many characters would be included. I did some simple drawings to get an idea of its composition and proportions and then calculated that 45 portraits would have enough breathing room within the 24″ x 30″ size. As you can see in this sketchbook page, there were lots of possibilities for border treatment.

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The background needed to be done in a way that would compliment the portraits and not compete with the detail of the individual women. I also wanted the colors and design to work from a distance and also entice viewers to take a closer look.

I grouped my felt scraps in piles according to color and pieced them together crazy quilt style in diagonal strips according to their hue. It was done in a similar way to the beard in Whiskers. I find that large solid colors can be too overpowering and simplistic, whereas breaking up the field into small parts brings a softer, more natural appearance. I guess it’s more like impressionist art that way. I used plant dyed wool/rayon felt that I bought years ago from Textile Reproductions. Unfortunately it is no longer being produced, so every little piece is as good as gold.

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The odd-shaped pieces are held together on the back with a simple slip stitch. On the front, I used a fly stitch to join and outline the felt pieces. Here’s a video of some of the stitching:

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It was great winter project, which I worked on through the holidays and into the new year.

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I used Soft Flex beading wire to outline the holes and give them a clean edge and some structure.

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I had fun playing around with the arrangement of the women.Cover_Up_process_3WM

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Before sewing the portrait heads in their holes, I sewed the pieced felt background to a stretcher frame covered with upholstery fabric.

The next post (part 4) will show the process of making the border for Cover Up. Read Cover Up (part 1) here and (part 2) here.

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Poster - Cover Up

Poster – Cover Up

12 x 17 posters featuring of a selected group of portraits from Cover Up are available in my  Etsy Shop here.

Cover Up is part of a series that includes Face Time and Whiskers, which focus on bringing to life different people from around the world, using themes of history, style and cultural identity. In each piece, head and shoulder busts peek out of “cameo” framed holes. Their faces are painted 20mm wooden beads, with wigs and adornments, similar to the doll heads in my how-to book Felt Wee Folk – New AdventuresThese 3 pieces will be included in my exhibit Intertwined – Needle Art of Salley Mavor at the Bristol Art Museum, Bristol, RI, Sept. 16 – Oct. 30, 2016.

Scotland (Oct. 2015) misc. & video

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Glencoe and window in St. Margaret’s Chapel in Edinburgh Castle.

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Isle of Skye.

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The Great Hall in Edinburgh Castle.

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My husband Rob made the following video, which is a composite of our 2 trips to Scotland this year. In June, we hiked the Great Glen Way, along the Caledonian Canal in the Highlands. Then, in Sept./Oct. we traveled with a WGBH Learning Tour, which focused on Scottish music. The video soundtrack includes live music we recorded during the evening performances. The musicians are credited at the end of the video, including the teenage students at the National Centre of Excellence for Traditional Scottish Music in Plockton.

 

Fairy Family Video!

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My husband Rob and I had so much fun putting together this 2 min. video to spread the word about the Fairy Family RAFFLE for the benefit of Highfield Hall. While I worked on the dolls, I kept having to pester him about coming to film different stages of the process, from wrapping their bodies, to dressing them, to painting their faces. Make sure that you watch long enough to see these process shots, as well as the animated close-ups of the fairies.

Here’s the info about the RAFFLE:
Take a chance to win a fairy family of 5, handmade by Salley Mavor. 3 tickets for $5.00. Tickets may be purchased online or at Highfield Hall and Gardens in Falmouth, MA, where the fairy family is on display. The Fairy Houses of Highfield Hall outdoor exhibit will be held from June 28th to August 31, 2015. The raffle drawing will be August 30, 2015. The prize will be sent to the winner anywhere in the world! Good luck!

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