A PORTRAIT THREAD PAINTING

I have always thought human faces were so interesting but also so very complicated to render in a realistic way; especially a recognizable face! I have had so many hard fails attempting to paint portraits that I just stopped trying but the desire still exists. I decided to try out my “embroidering on a photo” method to create a portrait of one of my favorite all time guys……..this national treasure………..

BILLY JOEL!!!! This is one of my favorite pictures of him so I decided to try to recreate this portrait in thread. I have been searching to try to give credit to the photographer but am having trouble tracking down the artist/photographer even though it is a common image that has been used quite a lot. What I loved about this portrait was the expression on his face (kind of a subtle hint of a smile), the knit hat, and my favorite part of all, the beard! I also loved the way half of his face is shadowed. It makes for a really interesting portrait and I couldn’t wait to try it in thread.

BILLY JOEL!!!! This is one of my favorite pictures of him so I decided to try to recreate this portrait in thread. I have been searching to try to give credit to the photographer but am having trouble tracking down the artist/photographer even though it is a common image that has been used quite a lot. What I loved about this portrait was the expression on his face (kind of a subtle hint of a smile), the knit hat, and my favorite part of all, the beard! I also loved the way half of his face is shadowed. It makes for a really interesting portrait and I couldn’t wait to try it in thread.

I took a screenshot of the picture, then sized it down to fit in a 6 inch embroidery hoop. The actual image is about 5 inches tall. Any smaller and the details get lost. I wouldn’t mind maker bigger embroideries since there is much more detail you can include plus the smaller embroideries make me feel cross eyed and blind by the time I am finished! I printed the image on white cotton fabric then used another piece of white cotton fabric to place behind this one and act as a stabilizer.

I took a screenshot of the picture, then sized it down to fit in a 6 inch embroidery hoop. The actual image is about 5 inches tall. Any smaller and the details get lost. I wouldn’t mind maker bigger embroideries since there is much more detail you can include plus the smaller embroideries make me feel cross eyed and blind by the time I am finished! I printed the image on white cotton fabric then used another piece of white cotton fabric to place behind this one and act as a stabilizer.

I placed both pieces of fabric inside a six inch embroidery hoop and then pulled the fabric nice and tight. Ready to stitch!!! So excited!

I placed both pieces of fabric inside a six inch embroidery hoop and then pulled the fabric nice and tight. Ready to stitch!!! So excited!

I love how the photo acts as an underpainting. I used the direction of my stitches to create dimension. I started to doubt the brown thread color on the left side of his face that looks like a giant shiner but decided to just keep going and see how this thing would evolve. The beard became my absolute favorite part of the piece. So many different colors and directions of each little whisker and yet from afar, trimmed and neat. Order and chaos….the perfect metaphor for Billy. Did I mention how much I love this guy???

I love how the photo acts as an underpainting. I used the direction of my stitches to create dimension. I started to doubt the brown thread color on the left side of his face that looks like a giant shiner but decided to just keep going and see how this thing would evolve. The beard became my absolute favorite part of the piece. So many different colors and directions of each little whisker and yet from afar, trimmed and neat. Order and chaos….the perfect metaphor for Billy. Did I mention how much I love this guy???

I was really afraid to tackle the lips. I always find lips to be such a ‘make or break’ part of a portrait. It is hard to make them look convincing and they make a mockery of the portrait if they look weird but I tried my best to keep it subtle.

I was really afraid to tackle the lips. I always find lips to be such a ‘make or break’ part of a portrait. It is hard to make them look convincing and they make a mockery of the portrait if they look weird but I tried my best to keep it subtle.

I was also worried about those eyes. There was not a single color in my thread palette that matched the specific blue green in his eyes so I left those for later and just filled in the whites.

I was also worried about those eyes. There was not a single color in my thread palette that matched the specific blue green in his eyes so I left those for later and just filled in the whites.

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I filled out the shadowy side of his face with some grays and browns. I just thought black would be overkill. I added some more beard hairs and then finally got the courage to tackle the eyes. I made them a blend of two colors which I thought was an effective way of handling it. I used a green color alternating with a gray.

See how the stitch direction really shapes the face? These are all just small straight stitches.

See how the stitch direction really shapes the face? These are all just small straight stitches.

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Because I was limited to the colors of thread available, I made some choices that seemed a little more abstract and less realistic which I really ended up loving about this portrait.

I had to stop here and decide how to tackle the clothing. Should I just leave it? Make it all black? Go totally abstract?

I had to stop here and decide how to tackle the clothing. Should I just leave it? Make it all black? Go totally abstract?

I worked outside on my patio and this  guy landed for a visit.

I worked outside on my patio and this guy landed for a visit.

In the end ‘more is more’ always wins. I decided to add some highlights to the clothing. Eight hours worth.

In the end ‘more is more’ always wins. I decided to add some highlights to the clothing. Eight hours worth.

Some close up detail. I really liked the contrast of the black shadow underneath the stark white beard in the photo and tried to represent that here.

Some close up detail. I really liked the contrast of the black shadow underneath the stark white beard in the photo and tried to represent that here.

You can see the color variation in the eyes here. One of my VERY favorite parts of painting is adding tiny dots of reflected lights in the pupils. They really just add make it pop in such a satisfying way.

You can see the color variation in the eyes here. One of my VERY favorite parts of painting is adding tiny dots of reflected lights in the pupils. They really just add make it pop in such a satisfying way.

I kept it pretty minimal with the hat by just a suggestion of the knit. I am still debating adding a black BRAID STITCH to the middle part. To learn the braid stitch click  HERE  for my tutorial.

I kept it pretty minimal with the hat by just a suggestion of the knit. I am still debating adding a black BRAID STITCH to the middle part. To learn the braid stitch click HERE for my tutorial.

I am always surprised at all the colors I end up using along the way!

I am always surprised at all the colors I end up using along the way!

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Here he is.

A wise person once told me that if you tend to be an “over-doer” stop when you think you are about 80 percent finished. I think I’m at what my brain perceives as 80 percent. Time to stop before I ruin it! He will have a special place on my wall with some saved concert tickets and memorabilia:) Damn, I love him!!!!

Thank you so much for following along. I hope you enjoyed it and maybe even picked up some tips to try with your own embroidery. Next week I am excited to try a freehand portrait but with a special twist:) Hope you can join me!

Have a lovely week!

Pam