I enjoy working to commission, there are several pluses: someone actually wants my work and is willing to pay for it, I get a clear idea of the task ahead during discussions into the personal likes/wants/needs of the commissioner and I also get a time limit. The designer side of me likes working to deadlines as I can choose the type of techniques best suited to that limit and to the fee charged for the work. But best of all – I work with a sense of purpose – not my own purpose as usual – so this lets me off the hook of why am I doing this? where will I place it? Is it a worthwhile use of my time and energy?
I was shown a painted Thangka by a friend, who practices the strict discipline of Tibetan Buddhism; he also showed me an image of the Primordial Buddha ( the Buddha with his female partner Samantabadri, signifying the union of wisdom and compassion) that his partner found particularly resonant, she has a small postcard pinned up of it in her study. He wanted it translating into a fully formed Thangka……and asked me if I would like to attempt it – as her birthday present.
Looking at the wealth of fabrics surrounding the Tibetan paper image that he brought, I was enthralled. I suddenly knew why I kept all my old fabrics, silver woven saris, Japanese and Chinese silk brocades – to use for this glorious commission. I showed him several of the fabrics I had that I thought would work as the frame, I precisely measured the large Thangka and gleaned as much information as I could about the meaning and purpose of the image chosen and Thangkas in general. I made a “worst scenario” price and it was accepted….
To calculate a real price and make an estimate of my time to fulfill the deadline – some 6 weeks ahead – I first made a tracing of the art work
and then a full-scale working drawing, the sampling for this would decide how I would work the piece: the techniques, the fabrics and the overall time it could possibly take.
Basically the smallest detail will decide the quality of the work, how and with what can I stitch this to look its best. within the budget and the time limit? I now knew the work ahead of me, I emailed with the news and the price, roughly half the original cost – happily it was accepted and extra thrown in for the use of my beautiful metal woven antique fabrics….how good is that?
I must say that the fabrics materials I used for this work were really sumptuous,real gold leaf for the 2 bands of light surrounding the figures. by some alchemy I had every piece of material needed in my own stash; the gold leaf and threads, the heavy silk brocades were in the perfect colours. Later in the project a few would have to be hand painted and dyed.
The colours were kept brilliant by my own choice as I knew the taste of the person I was making this for – she really loves strong colours, so I did not soften them to look old, which is how the original image appeared. The gold really shone threatening to dominate the entire piece – but it would become more worn as I made the work.
Each element had to be made and slotted in the whole composition – like a jigsaw puzzle.
The simplicity of the figures lent themselves to machine applique, not my forte, but quicker by far than hand embroidering them – and I can manage quite accurate applique by machine.
On the original post card the outer edge of the flower garland surrounding the figures had been cut off – I had to invent a large area of the embroidery based on just a few flower buds at the top of the picture I set about dyeing raw silk for appliqueing the petals of the white lotus flowers
The lotus flowers were bonded into position, petal by petal with leaves underpinning them into a garland which were then machine stitched in a gold flecked thread.
the whole halo area was hand stitched in a dull gold thread to illustrate the rays emanating from the Buddha and his partner.
now the s of the thangka had to be made – I had all sorts of different ideas for using my wonderful silver woven fabrics …but they had other ideas – traditionally the first 2 bands are gold and red – with a dreaded bias seam at the corners I sewed this by hand so that I get perfect alignment. also I had noticed of several fabric surrounds that the fabrics were pieced to make the lengths necessary – a common practice where fabrics are appreciated for their own beauty and worth.
The remaining strips of the frame just came together very simply, I found that I had just about enough of each material I wanted to use – and where I didn’t I researched the traditional Thangkas for ideas of how to make them work together.
There was one area that really gave me some problems though – the area below the image has often an apron or square of fabric but whatever i chose just dominated the whole piece. I tried several colours and systems, but eventually after dyeing an old silver brocade a dull turquoise green, I found the perfect solution to the surround.
For a more in-depth, behind the scenes, version of this post, please go to the Commissions pages of the site.