With this developed knowledge, Emily returned to portraits, where her stitching became much more dense, includes a broader colour range (the thread collection has now moved on to a crate!) and the work much more detailed. The muslin has become much less important, with sketching done directly on to the background. Prints as well as plain fabrics are included in the portraits, although colours are still subtle rather than bright; these are distressed with sandpaper, a technique Emily really enjoys.
Inspiration for the technique has come from ripped wallpaper, ripped billboards and peeling paint. Using these references, Emily layers the fabrics, away from her earlier technique of outlining with the faces fitting and sinking into the other materials.
Emily is a big fan of sketch books, using them to sketch into, hold reference photographs, doodles, collages and notes and describes them as a conversation with herself. Titles often drive the piece of work and these can come from song lyrics, poetry or she will hear something that makes it into the sketchbook to be a used at a later date. When doing a portrait Emily starts with the eye and moves on to the other parts when happy with this; this is the only part of a set routine she employs. The eyes are the slowest part as these need to be exact; hair is often the quickest as it uses long stitches. Long strands and loops are used for texture, but Emily tries not to stitch too thickly as this is tough on her fingers.
Emily works on a single project at a time, her impatience often drives the project to completion. Depending on the project Emily may stitch on it between 2 and 8 hours a day, depending on her comfort; some projects can result in sever neck pain, particularly if the project is large. She usually stitches with two hands, one under the work and the other above, working stitches individually.
More recently, Emily has been working on wallpaper. This has taught a few lessons; shiny paper needs an angled stitch, light drawing of subject and considering how the paper responds; too many needle holes reduced the integrity of the paper resulting in areas that are cut out. Unsurprisingly, less expensive wallpaper is not so good for stitching. Emily began with stitching wildlife on wallpaper based on Victoriana; the hummingbird was stitched on muted paper to make the colours pop. Because of the dense stitching, the work came close to degrading the paper.
Moving on to other substrates, a fox and seagull have been stitched on to the polystyrene supports for pizzas, a sand martin stitched on to plastic netting and a crab emerging from a plastic bag. As different bases have been used the work became more sculptural and dimensional in its appearance.
Emily was an interesting guest speaker and generous with the information she shared on her techniques. For images of her work and information of her workshops, please visit www.emilytull.co.uk
Report thanks to Tase W.
Photos thanks to Emily Tull