Sunday, April 12, 2009

Creating Gift of Life, Decision Portrait Series

(Above: Gift of Life, Decision Portrait Series by South Carolina fiber artist Susan Lenz. Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin. Hand beading and embroidery. Stitched words: She saw her mother's drivers license and said, "If anything ever happens to me, I want to be an organ donor too"; After a terrible car crash, her parents honored her decision; Seven lives...were Saved. 25" x 35", unframed. 31" x 41", framed. Click on image to enlarge.)

April is National Donate Life Month.

The Decision Portrait Series is an on-going body of work by South Carolina fiber artist Susan Lenz. Susan created a blog especially for this series in order to explain the concept and document the work. This portrait, however, is very special. Working with Britta Cruz and the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network of Chicago, Illinois, Susan was able to create this piece during National Donate Life Month. It is the hope of all involved that more individuals register as organ donors. To do so, please visit Donate Life America and sign-up!

Below is photo-documentation for the creation of this piece. It serves as a tutorial for other fiber artists as well as an explanation for how the series is created.

Above: The photo above was emailed as a relatively high resolution image from Britta to Susan. Using PhotoShop, Susan desaturated the image, increased the contract, eliminated the background, and altered the size to 22" in height. She also flipped the photo....creating a mirror image of the original. (The orientation is again reversed during the transfer procedure.) A CD of the resulting image was burned and taken to FedEx Kinkos and printed as an over-sized black-and-white print. (All images can be clicked upon for enlargement.)

Above: The over-size black-and-white printer used to create the desired photocopy.

Above: The photocopy sitting on top of tea-stained muslin torn to 22" x 32". This is on top of a piece of mat board. Most of the photos in this tutorial were taken from above Susan's studio table. Susan tapes the tea-stained muslin to a sheet of mat board and positions the to muslin...taping it at the top. Using an extremely hot iron (no steam) she irons the back of the photocopy. This transfers some of the ink from the paper onto the muslin. The tape prevents the paper and muslin from moving....which would blur the resulting image.

Above: In order to transfer the vast majority of the photocopy ink to the fabric, xylene is used. It can be purchased at most hardware stores by the quart and by the gallon. It is toxic. A professional quality air filtering mask is a must! Using a rag dipped in the xylene, area of the photocopy (approximately 5 - 7 inches in diameter) are wet and burnished with a bone burnisher.

Above and below: More images of Susan transfering the ink from the photocopy to the fabric. The wet paper reveals the ink underneath. It is important for the paper and muslin to stay in alignment....never moving. Plenty of pressure is needed to embed the ink into the fabric.

Above: Another image of Susan transfering the ink from the photocopy paper to the fabric. These three photos were taken by Stephen Chesley, an artist with studio space directly across the hallway from Susan's studio at Gallery 80808/Vista Studios.

Above: The first transfer. Susan didn't like it. The family was too dark but Viridiana looked great. Susan had a lighter photocopy printed for a second attempt but salvaged the section of Viridiana for a small piece intended for the family.

Above: The image of Viridiana ready to be stitched.

Above: The second transfer was successful!

Ordinary white, acrylic felt is cut for a middle layer. The first fiften or so portraits in the series used recycled white felt provided by Guy Jones' business, the River Runner, a popular canoe and kayak shop in downtown Columbia. Boats are shipped to River Runner covered in felt, and Susan used all the white felt she could get. (The black felt is being used in another project.) Recycling material is important to Susan; but, once the supply ran out, this felt was store bought. She likes to cut the felt in a jagged manner, as if deckled paper.

Above: The image on the tea-stained muslin atop the white felt.

All the pieces in the Decision Portrait Series are technically ART QUILTS. They possess three layers that are fastened/stitched together. It is the requirements for being an ART QUILT. The back or third layer is Thai Stucco paper from Legion Paper in New York City. Two pieces are needed.

Above: The Thai Stucco paper is hand torn around the white felt. The three layers are pinned together with long pins.

Above: (This image will absolutely NOT upload with the proper orientation. Sorry!) The three layers of the art quilt....muslin with image, white felt, and Thai Stucco paper....all pinned together and ready for stitching.

Running stitch using a variegated gray yarn from Curious Creek Fibers was used to outline the group and some of their features.

Above: Detail of the running stitch.

Yarns were selected for smaller words.

Yarns were selected for the bottom, larger words.

Above: This is the yarn from Curious Creek.

Placement of words is planned using tracing paper. The tracing paper acts as a guide. Susan then writes the words directly onto the tea-stained muslin with a #2 pencil. Errors can be erased using a "Magic Rub" eraser.

Above: The top is stitched. These letters are stitched by "couching" a heavy yarn in place with small anchor stitches using a thinner embroidery floss.

Above: More words are added.

The larger words at the bottom are "couched" using a heavier yarn and also include an edge that is "back stitched".

Beads were placed around Viridiana's head, giving her an aura of a halo.

Viridiana's name and the dates of her life were finally added.

This blog will include additional posts.....such as the finishing of the smaller piece for Viridiana's family.


  1. Wow...what an honor to see "the making of". Very interesting. And of course I love the results. I love the mask too, by the way

  2. I become torn between the awe I feel for the process you do, and the story in the art piece itself. How do you hold it together making all these emotional pieces?