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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Weekly Post: SILK ROAD - Embroideries of Robert Glenn Ketchum

Silk Road - Embroideries of Robert Glenn Ketchum


The city of Suzhou, China, produced China's most beautiful silk and silk embroidery practiced by generational families for 3,000 years. My purpose in going to China starting in the mid-1980's was to turn my photographs into textiles, and this is my story. ~Robert Glenn Ketchum




Thursday, March 2, 2017
Silk Road - Embroideries #215
SILK ROAD #215:  In post #199, I teased you with this and explained that my collaborative work with Zhang Meifang and her guild of embroiderers was moving in two directions simultaneously at this time. While “YK Delta from 1500” was been woven on the huge loom created just to make that 4-panel piece (posts #200-215), the above image was being crafted in the embroidery workshop. “YK Delta from 1500” is a weaving that continues to explore the “transparency” of a subject, in that it is a 2-sided weaving, and parts of it bear little or no stitches and are thus, transparent. We have used this “transparency” to render water and sky “space” in many previous pieces, however, we have also spent a great deal of effort on highly detailed and stitch-rich subjects. At first creating them just to accomplish accurately rendering a photograph, but eventually learning to play with various aspects of the stitch design using texture, color, to affect the visual sense of dimensional space. Once Zhang realized how an embroidery can capture the realism in most photographs, both she and I began to enjoy those images where the challenge was increased in some way. From previous work, we both knew this image could be rendered with great detail, but we were curious to see if the illusion of motion could also be represented. Additionally, Zhang felt that if that could be done, it would make the highly rendered details more pronounced and dimensional, so she asked the embroiderers to stitch the forest with GREAT attention to individual branches, leaves, color relations, and textures, to which the blur of motion would be overlain.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, February 23, 2017
Silk Road - Embroideries #214
SILK ROAD #214:  I do not know how large you can make this on your viewing screen, but magnify these details as much as possible. In the last post I referred to the work in this panel as having completely over-the-top complexity, and this tight detail shows it at it’s greatest extravagance. The shuttle work here must have been VERY challenging to say the least. What appears to be quite a bit of textural variation is an amazing display of technique. Note the numerous tiny “islands” in the lower left, small dots of color and gold thread “floating” on a swampy pond of brown water. They ARE floating! While you ponder this, I will offer something else to consider as we near the final postings about this piece: EVERY thread line, warp or weft, extends well out beyond the image, and drapes towards the floor during the creation of the weaving. On THIS weaving, there are a lot of them, and they are responsible for maintaining the “tightness” of the mounting so that the weaving does not contract or expand unevenly, pulling it “out-of-square”- or in this case, out-of-rectangle. For final display, these must be cut off, or incorporated in some way.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Silk Road - Embroideries #213
SILK ROAD #213:  I do not know how large you can make this on your viewing screen, but magnify these details as much as possible. In the last post I referred to the work in this panel as having completely over-the-top complexity, and this tight detail shows it at it’s greatest extravagance. The shuttle work here must have been VERY challenging to say the least. What appears to be quite a bit of textural variation is an amazing display of technique. Note the numerous tiny “islands” in the lower left, small dots of color and gold thread “floating” on a swampy pond of brown water. They ARE floating! While you ponder this, I will offer something else to consider as we near the final postings about this piece: EVERY thread line, warp or weft, extends well out beyond the image, and drapes towards the floor during the creation of the weaving. On THIS weaving, there are a lot of them, and they are responsible for maintaining the “tightness” of the mounting so that the weaving does not contract or expand unevenly, pulling it “out-of-square”- or in this case, out-of-rectangle. For final display, these must be cut off, or incorporated in some way.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Silk Road - Embroideries #212
SILK ROAD #212:  Finally, this is panel #4. The reason I began with the left panel and have moved to the right, is that this last panel has a bit of everything in it, and was simply too over-the-top as a starting point. Perhaps using the richest mix of colors, this panel is a stunning display of complex loom weaving, especially the swath of green and reddish-brown threadwork that flows from the bottom of the panel, up past the midpoint to the first curve of water. There are numerous color variations in hand-dyed weft threads that represent the “transparent” water, and here again amongst all of the vegetation, selects spots have gold thread woven-in to create “highlights.” Lastly, like some kind of frosting on an already sumptuous cake, there are some small “dry” ponds whose brushy-ness is created by using the wrapped peacock feather technique I described and displayed in greater close-up in the previous post.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Silk Road - Embroideries #211
SILK ROAD #211:  To create variation in both the warp and weft of this loom weaving, not only were threads of varying sizes used, but some were actually created, made thicker by wrapping one around another. It was this technique, applied in a slightly different way, that Zhang wanted to incorporate, and there is actually an historical technique. Starting with what was intended to be a weft thread, it was wrapped tightly around a peacock feather. This somewhat “fatter” thread was then drawn through the loom design. This was done, thread line by thread line - one line at a time. Then all those threads that had been wrapped around feathers were pulled simultaneously and firmly from either side of the loom, causing the thread wrapped around the feather to straighten somewhat, and in so doing, flay the feather. Pressure from the thread pull causes the uniformity of the feather to break down and sends up little quills sprouting shredded feather bits. Voila! A very “fuzzy” appearing textural variation within the other astounding details of “YK Delta form 1500."
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Silk Road - Embroideries #210
SILK ROAD #210:  The closer we get in the POV, the more unusual this portion of the loom weaving becomes. If you are following this blog, you know I am referring to the middle band of this image that appears to have a VERY different surface than the rest of the weaving. In the photograph, most of the delta is water saturated and rich with vegetation, BUT in this one small area, everything has dried up and nothing is left but debris and leafless brush. Zhang saw how different that texture appeared, and she wanted to render it in the loom-weaving, but as I stated previously in discussing the difference between an embroidery and a loom-weaving, embroidery can be done in layers with stitches that have volume, defining texture. A weaving is one layer of threads entwined as a single, rather flat surface, making the suggestion of texture more difficult. Zhang wanted this section of the dried-up swamp to look “fuzzy” as the dried brush did, so she resorted to an historical technique. Elsewhere in this loom-weaving, some threads have been wrapped around others before being drawn through the loom, so that they appear thicker, giving some irregularity to the woven surface. In this case, Zhang took actual peacock feathers and wrapped them with thread.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Silk Road - Embroideries #209
SILK ROAD #209:  This is the 3rd panel (moving left-to-right) of “YK DELTA FROM 1500.” Remember, this embroidery is comprised of two photographs, each of which has been divided. In the order of the ACTUAL flight, this panel is 1/2 of my 1st shot. The 2nd shot was taken several moments later and the plane had moved a good deal. Although the middle “seam: between panels 2 and 3 may appear to be relatively contiguous, it is not. Panel #3 features something VERY different from what I showed you in the detail of panel #2, the last post. In that post, the vegetated area of the swamp reveals an astoundingly complex use of the numerous warp threads and complicated shuttle system to create the look of the various plants. In this 3rd panel, although the brown, “fuzzy” section just below the middle of this frame, appears to be an extension of that same swamp detailed in the previous post, it is not. In fact, this section actually seems to have surface texture like an embroidery might. I used the term “fuzzy” because if you compare this “surface" to other areas in the weaving, it is clearly quite different. In panel #3, the vegetated swamp seen in panel #2, HAS COMPLETELY DRIED UP, and all that is left visible is the brushy, leafless debris that remains. In the photograph, this dried up part of the delta, looked very different from other parts of the collective image, and Zhang wanted to capitalize on that obvious difference, so she revived an historical weaving technique to create the effect you see. Next week we will have a closer look, and you will be amazed at what has been done to achieve what you see.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Silk Road - Embroideries #208
SILK ROAD #208:  In this very close detail you can begin to see how complex a loom-weaving this is. There are several areas of transparency here, and all of those threads have been hand-dyed so there is a fluid transition from one tone to another, much as it would look if it were water. There is also some gold thread used here which I discussed in the last several posts. You can see those threads on the small “islands” of vegetation in the lower left. What truly stands out though is the very textural, vegetated part pf the swamp which also has some astoundingly complex weaving. Look at the immense amount of detail rendered here. Remember, every time you see an “edge” to an object, it means the weaver then reversed the direction of the shuttle. The larger loom they created for this piece had 3,000 lines of warp thread so they could address this detail, AND instead of two shuttles, it had four. As Zhang has stated with regard to this work, “I personally feel that the process of producing this piece gave me much happiness, despite the unprecedented difficulties encountered by the people actually creating it."
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Silk Road - Embroideries #207
SILK ROAD #207:  This is the 2nd panel moving from left to right. Knowing what you do from the previous posts, you should be able to distinguish the “transparent” areas of water here from the textural surfaces of the swamp vegetation. For those of you really paying attention, you probably have already noted that there is some gold threadwork in the panel as well. This panel, however, offers up some new “surfaces” for us to consider and which we will explore in the next few posts with small, nearly macro-details so you can appreciate the complexity of defining such small objects using a shuttle to do the weaving. Frankly, I think this image would have been difficult to do with embroidery. The fact this has been achieved in a loom-weaving is technical (and visionary) brilliance. Next week we will zoom-in to the area of brown, red, yellow, and green textures that is woven just below the blue “water” that flows across the middle of the panel. There is a great amount of minute and intricate detail in this section of the rendering and it is worth a very close look.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2017, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #206
SILK ROAD #206:  One of the things that Zhang and the loom-weavers did that was untraditional was to use thread for both the warp and weft lines that was of varying textures and thickness. Zhang describes the threads selected as “coarse," “fine,” and “ultra-thin,” and they were MIXED TOGETHER rather than using one thickness to describe a single object and then another thickness for something else. You can see this variation clearly here when looking at the “water” - the more transparent pale, brown horizontal lines in the middle of the picture. Zhang says the thickest thread is 60 times larger than the thinnest, a considerable difference. This close-up also reveals another type of thread being used for one of Zhang’s MOST SUBTLE touches. In the aerial photographs, she saw the film had captured select highlights reflecting off the water, and she wanted this piece to have that same sparkling reflectivity when lit for display. To accomplish this, she used GOLD THREAD. If you will look carefully at several of the small green islands in the area of brown “water,” you will see that there are a number of them that have a bright yellow edge, or perhaps even a ring entirely around them. This is gold thread. As the viewer walks around the lighted and displayed 4-panel screen, at different angles of viewing these threads sparkle and flash like highlights on water, and then when you move, they are gone.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #205
SILK ROAD #205:  Because Zhang had always resisted my suggestions to do a loom-weaving claiming the subjects I selected had too much detail to render appropriately, I was surprised by her choice of these aerial images because I saw them as having a lot of detail. After 20yrs, however, I knew she saw something unique about how to approach this subject, so of course I agreed. The Chinese loom is one of the largest in the world with 1,000 lines of warp - the vertical thread - which allows them to weave some of the world’s most complex textiles. Nonetheless, when Zhang took these images and our ideas to the loom-weaving workshop, there was quite a bit of “discussion” and the weavers basically told her it could not be done. This created a truly “Chinese” dilemna. Zhang had told me this was going to be done, and now she could not loose “face.” Besides, she had also conceived of the unique execution of this in her own mind and she wanted to go forward with those ideas as much as I did. Her solution: build a new loom and make it larger, supporting 3,000 lines of warp. Doing that was no small feat, but after building it, working with it was much more complex AND Zhang wanted to try some very untraditional ideas. As Zhang describes it, the weavers in the workshop “encountered a lot of unprecedented difficulties in the process, (but) the overall effect of the piece is pleasing and brings joy to the ones who view it."
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, December 15, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #204
SILK ROAD #204:  Viewing from left-to-right, this is the first panel of four panels that became the loom-weaving, “YK Delta from 1500.” While this is clearly different in detail and description than an embroidery, this is a stunning textile in its own right. In designing the screen, we agreed the water areas within the photographs would remain “transparent” in the loom-weaving. It should also be noted that the “water” areas of the photograph are of many different colors. Zhang's solution to this was VERY selective hand-dyeing of specific areas. I have begun with this panel because it makes what I have just said more clear. Starting at the bottom of the panel, you can see “landforms” that have a textural appearance. Then you come to a more diaphanous reddish-brown area that appears to have parallel horizontal lines running through it - this is water and only one-direction of thread was used to define it, so it is very transparent. Still moving up the panel, more landforms and textures are rendered, and then to the middle-left, there is a blue “pool” of water (with parallel vertical thread lines), and farther to the right, a very small light-brown pool. Still moving upward, what follows are further landforms, and then a very large pale-blue body of water, with a complex of streams and ponds that top off the panel. All of these areas I just described are VERY transparent, BUT they have different colors because the threads that are there have been dye-painted by hand.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #203
SILK ROAD #203:  To more fully explain the difference between an embroidery and a loom-weaving, here is a detail from a loom-woven standing screen. If you have been following this blog, you will immediately notice that this is a very different way of rendering that has much less detail, limited surface texture, and no sense of volume or dimensional space. To accommodate the limits of the loom, the design is simplified and stylized. Loom weaving can be two-sided, but there is no matrix. The weaving IS the image, it is not an image sewn into a matrix. Everything you are looking at here is either a line of vertical thread, or a line of horizontal thread, woven into one-another with no other fabric support. The greater the detail of a loom-weaving, the more lines of warp threads are required, and the Chinese are considered to have the largest and most sophisticated looms in the world that feature 1,000 lines of warp. Note also, the “background” of this piece are weft lines of gold thread. I had always liked the look of the technique and over the many years of our working together, I had often proposed subjects that might be loom-woven, only to have Zhang say the detail was too great and they could not do it. Therefore, I was VERY surprised when I showed the aerial images of the delta, suggesting them as an embroidery, and Zhang countered that I had always wanted to do a loom-weaving, and this would be a good subject. They would do my two pictures (post #201) as a 2-sided, 4-panel, loom-woven, standing screen if I wanted to. What do you think?
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #202
SILK ROAD #202:  In one of my first visits to Suzhou and the embroidery institute, I was introduced to another technique for which the workshop was also quite well known, loom-weaving. As you have seen throughout these posts, the embroiderers work with an image affixed to a matrix of silk and nylon that is stretched in a frame. Every thread is then sewn into this matrix by hand. This allows for highly accurate detailing, the use of stitches to build texture, and a stunning palette of color. What you see here is a woman sitting at a small weaving loom. Above her head hang thread shuttles. Directly beneath them you can the see the wooden bar from which hundreds of lengthwise / longitudinal threads extend. Those threads are the “warp.” The woman is interweaving other threads through the warp using a shuttle. Those threads are the “weft.” The end result is very different from embroidery - detail is less precise, and great detail is nearly impossible; there is no layering of stitches to build textural surfaces; and, colors are more limited because they are not changed thread by thread. Nonetheless, the loom-woven screens on display at the institute had a beauty all of their own that attracted me, as you will see next week.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #201
SILK ROAD #201:  If you have ever photographed from a plane, especially one flying low, you know that things happen really quickly, and the landscape under the wings changes rapidly. I did not have too much “extra” film to shoot, but at this point in my flight over the “Y-K Delta,” it had become so spectacularly colorful, I HAD to make some pictures. Not long after the last post, these two shots occurred, 4 frames apart on my roll of film. I am traveling from right to left, and these two shots do not “match up” precisely, because they are separated by those other frames, BUT they do have visual continuity. Viewing this film in my studio, I saw how these images worked as a pair, and I was sure their textures and colors would appeal to my guild of Chinese embroiderers, so I designed this as a 4-panel standing screen. I wanted it to be 4-5ft tall, and I split each of these images down the middle to create the 4 panels. Of all the images I submitted for consideration in this recent group, this was also the most abstract.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, November 17, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #200
SILK ROAD #200:  I have flown a lot in Alaska, and I have seen many river deltas, both large and small, from the air. Above them, these complexes of tidal and freshwater are always an abstract landscape because they are a jigsaw puzzle of canals, backwaters, ponds, and channels. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is another world - in fact, it is one of the largest deltas IN the world. At the beginning of our flight, the edge of the delta was as I expected, marshy, green, and filled with oxbows, meanders, and various rafts of aquatic vegetation. As the flight wore on, however, THIS delta began to put on a VERY DIFFERENT kind of show. My pilot was quite correct, this WAS an amazing spectacle and I did not have much film to spare BUT I could not resist spending some of it on this. When I asked if he knew why all of these ponds were so colorful, he said he did not, AND HE SAID he flew over them nearly every day and they changed their colors regularly. WHAT???
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, November 10, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #199
SILK ROAD #199:  I made this image in the late 70’s working in New England on what would become my published portfolio, 'Order From Chaos'. I always liked the dynamic spacial dimension in this that has been further exaggerated by the contrast of the blurred moving branches and the crisply sharp detail of the rest of the forest that stands motionless. This did NOT make the portfolio, as the other images were more about flattening space than they were about defining greater dimensionality, BUT now it seemed this photograph might have its day as an embroidery. Before we continue on to that, I have said many times this was an especially productive time at the institute and often we had many pieces in overlapping production. Also, as is apparent from this image choice, most of the embroideries we had done were pulled from historic files. I did not go out and shoot subject matter to be embroidered, THAT IS until I stepped aboard a small plane in Bethel, Alaska while working on my Southwest Alaska/Bristol Bay, 'No Pebble Mine' campaign. I had come to Bethel to take a short flight over the Yukon-Kuskokwim river delta to a small Native village called Quinhagak, where I might access boats to work in the Kanektok River drainage. The pilot was true bush, wearing many layers of clothing, and not speaking much. After we were airborne and approaching the massive delta, he finally queried me about my purpose for taking pictures. He then asked if I had any “extra" film to spare, and when I queried why, he turned to the front windows where the abstractness of the delta landscape was now beneath us, and he said, “This may not be part of your project, but you may want to take some shots anyway. If Jackson Pollock could have seen this, he would have stopped painting."
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, November 3, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #198
SILK ROAD #198:  After some 18 months of work, this is the finished 20”x 24,” “Old Tree in Autumn Forest.” I think the spacial depiction is the most successful of all the embroideries that we have created AND, as importantly, when we see a finished result such as this, it very often sets me/Zhang off on some new tangent. What struck both of us in this finished image was the work that had been done to the background. Besides the very inventive “free form” embroidery display, as I mentioned before, in some places the result looked like the leaves were in motion, blowing in the breeze. That started me thinking about the representation of motion, which a camera can do in a variety of ways. We had this discussion before regarding the very first embroidery we ever attempted, “Snowfall" (posts #10-13), and at that time Zhang was concerned the falling snowflakes suspended by the camera action, would just look like white “blobs” of stitching, and NOT be read as falling snow. Now my thoughts were moving in the opposite direction, instead of rendering “stopped action,” could the camera effects of motion - a blur in the subject - be stitched. Could motion be translated into an embroidery? Could fixed, linear stitches EVER appear to be an out-of-focus blur of something like a branch of leaves blowing in the wind? I remembered an early 4x5 view camera image I had always loved, but never published - it was a stunning fall scene in New England and it had been a VERY WINDY day.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, October 27, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #197
SILK ROAD #197:  On the left-hand side of this embroidery, the treatment of the background was slightly different. Rather than an accurate delineation of a group of leaves in one distant tree that then becomes more abstract in the overall stitching, attention here was paid to the leaves in the FOREGROUND, which were rendered with great detail. The background is a COMPLETELY texture-driven orgy of varying stitches that don't really define anything absolutely, but serve more as a sea of colors and forms that SUGGEST leaves, some that might even be blowing around. The effect of this swimming relief of needlework, is that the highly detailed branches, twigs, and leaves of the immediate foreground noticeably separate, exaggerating the visual sense of dimensional space. Now, what happens when these details are read as the completed embroidery? See you next week!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, October 20, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #196
SILK ROAD #196:  Moving to the right side of the image, this detail includes the entire yellow tree. Each of the background trees is treated slightly differently in "Old Tree in Autumn Forest" and in this case fairly detailed and descriptive stitching has created the first "layer." Rather than morphing into different stitches as the rendering moves up the tree which you saw being done in the last post, here the "base" layer of leaves is relatively consistent. Created primarily with very tight, tubular stitches, this layer clearly "rises" above the darker and more randomly stitched background because it has volume. THEN COMES THE UNTRADITIONAL MOMENT - on top of this first layer of "leaves," random, looping stitches in widely varying sizes have been added rather abstractly. Look carefully and you will see them everywhere, and clearly some are big and sprawling and do not serve as description of anything. To me this a pinnacle moment in the workshop as this embroidery, for all of it's representation, is actually an abstract masterpiece of stitching and more playful and free of tradition than the embroiderers have ever been before.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, October 13, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #195
SILK ROAD #195:  In this overlap of two very close-up details, I am showing you the red leaves I mentioned in the previous post. At the bottom of the tree branches the leaves are carefully detailed and clearly stand out from the background of loose, darker random stitches. However, at the top of the tree, the stitch application has changed significantly. While to-the-eye this rendering appears to be leaves of the same tree, the stitching has morphed from highly detailed, "fine" stitching set off from the background, to a maze of short, random spiky stitches interweaving leaves from other trees, and parts of the background, presenting a kind of rhythmic color SUGGESTION of tree leaves, but NOT really defining them. By doing this, the highly detailed foreground tree's dimensionality is greatly enhanced against the "swimming" colors and textures "in-the-distance."
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, October 6, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #194
SILK ROAD #194:  Taking a wider view, you can see the careful detailing of the trunk and the lichen give volume to their presence in the foreground, greatly enhancing the sense of dimensional space. This sense of space is further heightened by the color palette - the lighter, bluer colors are exclusive to the foreground. The darker, warmer colors are exclusive to the background. Having noted all of that, there is something else more subtle going on, and it is quite untraditional but it surely creates a stunning illusion. The forest background has many different trees of many different colors. As in the past, different stitches were used to define different trees. Traditionally, those stitches would be used to define each leaf in some detail, such as you see here in the red leaves near the center of this image, framed by the foreground tree trunk. Those red leaves appear very realistic, and you can see the fine detail they have been given. The gold leaves to the right are similarly carefully stitched - UNTIL you start to study the stitching applied to the rest of the leaves on that tree. What is happening???
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, September 29, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #193
SILK ROAD #193:  In the course of our many years of working together, Zhang had come to understand that rendering the foreground element with great detail and careful attention to "photographic" accuracy established a very 3-dimensional relationship to the background. In some cases like "Sumac Along the Chattahoochee" (posts #33-40), the detailed foreground was offset by a "loosely" stitched background, suggesting the camera's in-and-out-of-focus. We also used a variation of this technique in "Pale Leaves and Blue Fog" (posts #77-82), wherein we further heightened the dimensional effect by NOT embroidering the majority of the background matrix. Even so, the leaves in both embroideries were stylized and a familiar subject to the Chinese. A proving moment for Zhang was "Rock in Lake with Fog" (posts #99-102) because I insisted they honor the photographic accuracy of the rock and NOT just render in the "Taihu" stylized way. Zhang understood how different and dimensional the embroidery was because of the "reality" of the rock, and in the trunks of this new embroidery, she saw a way to use a similar treatment for a new effect. The foreground trunks with their lichen colonies are VERY textural (the rock also had lichen and moss, post #102) and she wanted elaborate layers to be built up EXACTLY as described in the photographic image. This detail shows the consistent-length, linear stitching that describes the tree, offset by numerous looping and bundling stitches used to render the lichen. Look carefully also at the ASTOUNDING intermixing of dyed threads in BOTH surfaces.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, September 22, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #192
SILK ROAD #192:  The "freedom" of the background stitching in "Golden Light of Late Evening," as seen in previous posts #188, #190, and #191 was an indication of Zhang and her embroiderer's willingness to explore stitch applications in new ways. When I first arrived, traditional approaches would have had textures more uniformly represented, and there would be few examples of such random stitching as you saw in "Golden Light." The matrix would surely have been "filled-in," not leaving any transparency through the face of the embroidery. At the same time we were working on "Golden Light," Zhang also agreed to begin another image, pushing these same ideas of "freedom-to-stitch" and "randomness" in another direction. The image above was to become "Old Tree in Autumn Forest." Our mutual goal was to capitalize on the colors, the textures, AND the pronounced dimensional space created by the foreground tree trunks and the background canopy of leaves. In our first 15-years of working together, we would have approached this by using different shaped textural stitches to define the trunks and the lichen on the trunks. We would also have selected different stitches for each tree and rendered that leaf cover in tight detail. We would likely have filled the matrix completely with stitch, except perhaps for small sections of the river. What we would do differently here was that we WOULD detail the lichen and trunks tightly (In fact, one of the most superior renderings of ALL the embroidery work we accomplished), and Zhang wanted to allow the embroiderers to "interpret" the background forest without rendering it specifically, although she was sure it would still appear photographically realisitic. I liked the detail in those leaves and was not sure about this new idea, BUT our synergy had always been terrific and we had already done things the "other" way in past embroideries, so it seemed an interesting direction to explore, and I agreed. photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, September 15, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #191
SILK ROAD #191:  This is the completed "Golden Light of Late Evening" before it is framed. In this full shot you can also see another aspect of this embroidery that really makes the lighting of late evening work. The background matrix is dyed more lightly in the lower right and it has very little random stitching with dark threads when compared to the upper left corner as shown in posts #188 and #190. The effect created alludes to illumination coming in from that direction. In fact, the original photograph was made late in the day in a narrow canyon in Telluride, CO. The setting sun was doing so directly at the mouth of the canyon, and its last rays of light were up the canyon into the trees in front of me. This nuanced use of dyes and threads captures it perfectly.photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, September 8, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #190
SILK ROAD #190:  In this last detail I offer, the layers sewn upon the matrix are clearly visible. To the far left, you can see the dark blue-black matrix into which the embroidery was sewn. Moving to the right you can begin to see the base of the embroidery, the loose threadwork revealed more closely in post #188, that has actually gone from seemingly abstract, to quite clearly a "description" of trees and tree trunks. Lastly, using both color AND stitch-upon-stitch, the foreground trees literally "pop" off of the embroidery surface, COMPLETELY separating themselves from the darker and more distant background. To this day, I marvel at the dark threads used so randomly in the shadows. They describe nothing but they have a clear effect. More importantly, they mark an historic point in our work exploring this new style of applying the stitches, and they reveal that Zhang and her select embroiderers are becoming "free" and are working to reimagine how embroidery can be used to define space. photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, September 1, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #189
SILK ROAD #189:  The other portion of this embroidery is quite the opposite of the last post. If you look carefully, you can see some of the loose background stitches, but in this detail, most of them have quite literally been covered over by layer upon layer of other stitches. There are bundled stitches, and knots. There are stitches that have been blended. There are some tiny bead stitches created with the acupuncture needles. The MOST adventurous part of this embroidery, however, is that these stitches were traditionally used in uniform ways to represent larger areas of an embroidery. Here they are being mixed together in small areas of great detail, and more astonishingly, they are being sewn on top of one another. Using stitches that have "volume" creates a visual dimension to the embroidery surface, but putting one kind of volumetric stitch on top of another creates an actual dimensional relief. This is spectacularly offset here by the minimal stitching of the dark colors in the background, a perfect foil to the gold and red in the tree leaves, that causes them to "pop" of the surface of the matrix. photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, August 25, 2016


Silk Road - Embroideries #188
SILK ROAD #188:   SILK ROAD #188: "The Golden Light of Late Evening" would be the first of two embroideries that would use trees to explore a new kind of stitch application. Zhang was not only inspired to work with minimal stitching of the matrix, but she also saw it as a new way for the embroiderers to stitch in a more "free" form and still arrive at the visual illusion of the photograph. This detail gives meaning to those words. The foreground tree (yellow stitching coming from the lower, right corner) we will examine separately as it is an example of textural stitching similar to other pieces that we have done. It is the background of those yellow stitches that is revealed more closely here, and how VERY unusual it is. The threadwork is loose to say the least. Look at last week's post and this one together and you will see how the seemingly random stitching here is actually clearly defining a section of the forested hillside when you step back from this detail and view the whole. The black and dark purple stitches really work well to enhance the sense of deep shadows, and those vertical pale blue ones are definitely tree trunks.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, August 18, 2016
Silk Road - Embroideries #187
SILK ROAD #187:   Zhang liked the visual effects created by our new style of 1-sided embroidery. I am referring to NOT filling-in the matrix but supporting it with a painted or tinted background in the frame, and thus allowing a greater build-up of more complex stitches on the principle subjects, giving them a palpable dimension. At this point in our long relationship, we had worked through many ideas and images, and in-between China visits I would spend a good deal of time with my entire film library, selecting shots I thought might perk the embroiderers interest. I usually brought 8-10 photographs to our meetings which we would discuss as a group and narrow down to one or two with which we might proceed. I chose this image because of the light AND the varied textures. When Zhang saw it, she was immediately attracted to those elements as well, but she also recognized an opportunity to render a very dimensional, and highly detailed foreground of colorful trees, against a more discreet, but still very textured background. The trick would be to not let the background embroidery compete with, or diminish the dimensional effect of the "showcase" stitching that would be done on the foreground elements.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, August 11, 2016
Silk Road - Embroideries #186
SILK ROAD #186:   Nearly two years in the making, this is "Colorful Leaves and Grasses." With over 1,000 shades of dyed thread, the preparation for this piece, i.e. the dyeing and stitch planning, took almost as long as the actual work because it was SO complex. As you have seen from the details, each and every leaf and blade of grass has an astounding amount of stitching nuance and color variation, and yet in this broader view, those subtleties are barely visible given the visual dynamic of the overall image. Now you may better understand why in a previous post I advised bringing a flashlight and a magnifying glass when looking at the real thing. I am happy to say this embroidery is in the collection of Mr. & Mrs. Richard Smooke, old friends of mine from Sun Valley, Idaho, AND it is the only piece in their collection that is NOT a photographic print.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, August 4, 2016
Silk Road - Embroideries #185
SILK ROAD #185:   One more VERY close detail and then I will post a broader view. This final embroidery is only 20"x 24" and as you have seen there is an amazing amount of varied stitching and layering literally "stuffed" into this one image. This tiny section may say the most about the attention given this piece. When I took the photograph from which the embroidery is derived, it had been raining. There were water drops everywhere and Zhang wanted them represented in the embroidery as well. Once again TINY white and silver looping stitches were used on various leaves and reeds throughout. Get those acupuncture needles out again! AND, bring a magnifying glass to view this piece.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, July 28, 2016
Silk Road - Embroideries #184
SILK ROAD #184:   Besides being a spectacle of subtle color variations, this embroidery is also an orgy of stitches and textures. In this detail you can see the amazing intensity of stitching and the elaborate layering techniques that were being used to create visual depth. The ferns alone are strikingly rendered but when you look more closely you can see how they have been laboriously interwoven with the leaves and grass reeds. There is SO much layering being done with the fern fronds that just beneath the red/gold leaf in the center of this image, there is a "dark colors" stitched area that clearly appears to be well behind the foreground - down, under the bushes, into the tangle of the undergrowth.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, July 21, 2016
Silk Road - Embroideries #183
SILK ROAD #183:   In the unfolding of this blog, I have shown you many details from other embroideries, most often emphasizing stitching layers or the use of a unique stitch. The layering is especially visible here, BUT what this detail reveals that you have NOT seen before is the ASTOUNDING rendering of each and every leaf and blade of grass. In her intent to show off color breadth, Zhang chose to use the extreme fine-stitch style to do VERY subtle shading on just about every object in the field of view. LOOK AT the hundreds of thread color changes used to define these leaves. Even the grasses show thread color variation. "Colorful Leaves and Grasses" is clearly an image that radiates color, but closer observation shows just how complex the layering and stitchwork is to achieve that, and it does so at both "macro" and "micro" levels.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #182
SILK ROAD #182:   Many times in the work we were doing we would pursue an idea, using it in different ways on multiple pieces. Of late, we had been doing a lot of work using 2-sided imagery and the transparency of the matrix. Inevitably, to keep the embroiderers fresh, excited to be working on the "new," Zhang and I would go in the opposite direction, as in this next piece where we return to the detail-intensive, stitch-intensive approach used in earlier works. Among my Alaska images, this detail of fall colors at the edge of a saltwater marsh caught her attention, not only because of the greatly varying textures of the leaves and grasses, but also the stunning array of colors. Zhang knew the numerous textural surfaces would appeal to both myself and the embroiderers, BUT what she wanted to show off in this piece was the workshop's ability to dye color with astounding nuance. She promised that even though some of the previous pieces used as many as 800 dye colors, THIS PIECE would have many more shades than that, and so we agreed to begin work on "Colorful Leaves and Grasses."
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #181
SILK ROAD #181:   This is "Lakeshore in Morning Fog" framed with the airbrushed background in the frame behind the matrix. The matrix was a uniform pale green in color, so with the addition of the background painting, you now see a more yellow tone at the edges and a more blue tone toward the center. At water level you can also see a much more golden tone, some of which is stitching to simulate the surface of the water. The rest is coloration from the painted background. Once again, however, the embroidery slight-of-hand amazes me, and the beach and trees are PHOTOGRAPHIC in a way no other embroideries in history have ever been. Zhang took tens years considering how to render the beach properly, consider that!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #180
SILK ROAD #180:   Now let's take in a broader view of "Lakeshore in Morning Fog" and see what all the elements look like when combined. The illusion of the rocky beach is perfect, and the layered stitching in the trees gives them a distinct dimensionality. So, the challenge was mine - how to render the subtle sky tones. Previously, in a number of the embroideries we have created, I experimented with framing in various ways, one of which was to add color or texture to a background layer BEHIND the embroidery. I also found that by offsetting that background panel with spacers, the lighted image on display had subtle shadow relief that added to the sense of dimensional space. The tones in this sky changed and shifted color slightly, but there were NO lines of distinction, the changes were "seamless" in the vapor of the sky. As someone that for a time did airbrush work on surfboards, I knew that style of painting to be the answer. I contracted a women that did airbrush work on cars and motorcycles in LA, and I had here paint the mottled colored sky on aluminum sheet with gloss enamel. That panel was then set back about 1/4" by spacers BEHIND the matrix into which the embroidery has been sewn.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #179
SILK ROAD #179:   By this time we had done many embroideries with trees and the rendering of them had become a challenge to "improve" their stitch design with each new subject. In the case of "Lakeshore in Morning Fog," the trees were clustered along the shoreline but actually only occupied a small part of the image, so the embroiderers lavished a great deal of time on them using a wide variety of stitches and integrating them in complicated ways. This detail features random stitching, bundle stitches in layers, and looping stitches, which were intended as highlights. I also chose this detail because you can see the matrix clearly. A pale green color was chosen and there has been no stitching of any kind done in the sky. As this embroidery developed, Zhang repeatedly reminded me that the subtle mottling of the sky tones was my problem, and I assured her that I had a plan that would compliment the beautiful work being done.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, June 16, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #178
SILK ROAD #178:   One day while visiting the workshop to see progress on "Can't See The Trees For The Forest," Zhang reached a point in our meeting where it was clear she was very excited and wanted to show me something "special" that had been done. She opened a notebook she often carried with her and took a small swatch of embroidered fabric from between the pages, handing it to me. As I looked at it, I felt it was quite abstract but somehow I also thought I knew what it was. Then Zhang asked if I DID KNOW what it was. I considered it a moment longer trying to consider why she was showing me this and what it related to, and then the color tones struck me - it was the rocky beach shore from "Homage to Monet." For years, she and many of the embroiderers had expressed appreciation for this image, but declined to attempt it because she did not have embroidery solutions for the rocky beach and the tonal sky. Zhang and her colleagues had finally resolved the stitching approach to create the photographic illusion of the beach, and she wanted to tell me that they would embroider "Lakeshore in Morning Fog" IF I could resolve the tonal issues with the sky.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #177
SILK ROAD #177:   The embroidery work on "Can't See The Trees For The Forest" took 4yrs. for each of the panels. Meanwhile other embroiderers were working on very different images of mine, one of which Zhang spent much time considering before agreeing to create it. The photograph above I entitled "Homage to Monet", for obvious reasons. It was part of an early body of work called TWILIGHT and all of the images in the series featured large sections of the subject that were simply pure color. Importantly, "Homage" was my first large scale print, a 30"x 40" dye transfer displayed in 1973 in my MFA exhibition at California Institute of the Arts. It was also featured on the back cover of my 20yr. retrospective published by Aperture, "The Legacy of Wildness: The Photographs of Robert Glenn Ketchum". It was in that publication that Zhang first saw this. Interestingly, during the Mao years, the embroidery institute kept a library of books about artists in the outside world, and one they found especially inspiring was a collective of the works of the painter, Monet, so this photo had particular resonance with her. All the embroiderers agreed they liked it as well, BUT Zhang did not have a solution as to how they might stitch the rocky shore realistically, AND she felt ANY embroidery of the sky/fog would be in vain, so that would have to be painted or dyed in some way and it seemed too subtle for her to feel the dye-painters could do that.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #176
SILK ROAD #176:   Now you "Can't See The Trees For The Forest" because we are illuminating this embroidery from the side opposite our POV. Remember, these 3-panels are nearly five feet tall AND double-sided, meaning they are complete images on both sides - viewable from either side AND NO EVIDENCE OF ANY STITCHING KNOTS OR TIE-OFFS, such as you would see all over the backside of a 1-sided embroidery. THIS IS EMBROIDERY MAGIC!!!!!! In 2006, the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, TX honored me with a 45-year retrospective exhibit which included a number of my largest and most complex embroideries. "Can't See The Forest For The Trees" was the final piece displayed near the exit of the exhibit that went out to the bookstore. The museum collaborated with a lighting company to have the lighting on this slowly switch from front to back and back again over a timed cycle. The exhibit drew VERY large crowds and eventually this embroidery attracted A LOT of attention - so much so that it had to be repositioned because fire marshals felt the viewing audiences that gathered to watch the lighting cycle were large enough to be blocking the exit!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #175
SILK ROAD #175:   Now, let's return to the entire embroidery considering what we now know about the way it displays. This was post #167 when I first introduced you to this image, but upon second look, if you have been following what we have done, you will notice the rather "flat" black of the tree trunks that is atypical of the luster of silk embroidery. As previous posts illustrated, the trunks have no stitches and have been selectively dyed black, and they become transparent when the lighting is reversed. You have seen the result in the preceding details, now let's look at the whole piece illuminated from behind the screen.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #174
SILK ROAD #174:   Once again, illuminating "Can't See The Trees For The Forest" from behind, the trunks in the foreground become transparent and the shades of thread colors lighten. The effect of the transition from from frontal lighting to lighting from behind was clearly part of the magic of this piece. The more I studied it while it was being created, the more I sensed when I displayed this embroidery properly, I should consider some way to allow viewing from a single position that would show both versions of illumination. Although you could see the change by walking around the 3-panel screen, it was NOT the same as having the transition just occur before your eyes. Just as HOW we framed some of the embroideries became integral to their overall design, now we have created a piece where the lighting is also part of that design.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #173
SILK ROAD #173:   Here I am still dealing with the same panel as in the previous posts, but I have moved in for a tighter detail that pays attention to the stitching and how it has been applied. The densest layer of stitching here is where the looping stitches are used to create "highlights" on the leaves (center of image). Just to the right of that you can see leaves in the foreground rendered in the traditional way that delineates their clusters clearly. In contrast to them, what this image reveals is that the rendering of the shrubbery in the background has been accomplished NOT by the use of detail, but rather by creating patterns of flow in differing directions that give the illusion of leafy bushes. Here too, you can see once again the challenge the embroiderers faced in deciding which branches were in the foreground, and thus left transparent, and which branches were in the background, and thus were textured with stitching.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #172
SILK ROAD #172:   This is the SAME panel as the previous post with exactly the same framing, but this time lighted from behind/the opposite side. The "black" trunks are now clearly negative space and the rich tonal colors and patterns revealed in the frontal lighting have become pale and more pastel. The rhythmic patterns of the stitches is less apparent, but the stitches that have more body stand out because they block the light in a different way. This panel also shows off another interesting design decision the embroiderers made. In the actual photograph there are black tree trunks that receed into the distance, as well as those that appear in the immediate foreground. The question was, would all black tree trunks be transparent, and it was decided to stitch some of them, so that when lighted from behind there would still be a few select black trunks to set off the pastel colors. That happens nicely here. The solitary black trunk in the middle ground not only is a foil to the brush colors, but it adds dimension the your sense of "the view."
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #171
SILK ROAD #171:   The last two posts were close-up details to show-off the "negative space" design of the 3-panel, 2-sided, "Can't See The Trees For The Forest". This post and the next will take a step back to look at one entire panel in exactly the same framing, but illuminated in the two different ways shown in the detail shots. Here, with frontal lighting, you can see the amazing rhythm of the stitching that gives definition to the textures in the background meadow. Even within the hand-dyed black trunks which are transparent, they have the appearance of not only being opaque but you can also see they have mottled tones and are not all the "same" black.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #170
SILK ROAD #170:   This shot is extremely close AND the embroidery is now illuminated from behind. The "opaque" black tree trunks have become completely transparent. The colors and variations that you see in the "negative" space are workshop objects in the background BEHIND the embroidery. At this magnification and lighting you can also see what I described in previous posts as a "thin" layer of stitches. You can clearly see space between the threads because the matrix has not been "filled" with dense stitching, and except in a few places where there are special stitch embellishments (looping stitches are visible here), most of the embroidery is a single "layer" without the build up of stitch upon stitch. Being lighted this way also shows off the incredible variety of stitch variations and patterns that create the sense of many different textures. The subtleties of the huge palette of dyed colors and the way they have been blended with one another are accentuated in this illumination as well.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #169
SILK ROAD #169:   To further illustrate what I was explaining in the last post I have chosen two details. This first one has been made with frontal lighting, and the trees appear black and opaque. There is quite a bit of complex stitching using a variety of stitch styles and they are emphasized by the broad pallet of thread colors involved in this piece. There are even some very robust textural looping stitches visible here. However, even though this application of needlework may appear layered as in other embroideries, this stitching is very "thin". There is more space between the stitches than you might imagine, so when the lighting is reversed, the illumination floods through the threads and changes their appearance from that of deep saturated color, to one of luminous pastels.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #168
SILK ROAD #168:   As a way of explaining where this idea is going, this is a shot in the embroidery workshop of "Can't See The Trees For The Forest" on the loom - actually - two panels, on two looms, side-by-side. I have draped black cloth behind one panel and left the other panel undraped, allowing the sunlight in the workshop and other looms behind to be seen "through" it. On the panel to the left, the tree trunks clearly appear black. Although a bit confusing at first glance, on the right you are viewing another panel with the SAME degree of completed stitching, but light from behind the panel that is coming through the windows of the workshop makes clear there is NO stitching on the tree trunks, THEY ARE TRANSPARENT! In subsequent posts you will also be able to more clearly see that the colored, stitched background also changes from one that appears to be opaque with saturated tones, to one that is an array of pastels and minute, but NOT excessively layered thread work.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #167
SILK ROAD #167:   THIS is "Can't See The Trees For The Forest." 3-panels, 2-sided, each requiring four years of work. Importantly, in this lighting this embroidery appears somewhat similar to a previous rendering of this image as described in blog posts #50-55. However, "2:10 p.m." (posts: #50-55) is a 1-sided embroidery with layers and layers of elaborate stitchwork and special textural stitch styles. THIS is something VERY different! The embroidery on these screens is quite "thin" and barely "fills" the pale blue matrix, even in the places that seem to have great detail. The tree trunks have NO embroidery and have been meticulously dyed with mottled black tones. It was important in the dye process to NOT block up the matrix screen with ink, as it needed to remain transparent, AND Zhang wanted the trees to appear to have varying textures on their surface, even though that could not be stitched in.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #166
SILK ROAD #166:   As I have noted before, my relationship with the workshop was at a peak of exploration and they had committed to multiple projects. "Summit Above Clouds" (posts #150-156) and "Distant Trees through Falling Snow" (posts #157-165) took about 1-1/2 years EACH to complete. All the while, a much bigger embroidery was ongoing that also involved playing with the "transparency" of 2-sidedness, and on a larger scale of both size and committed time - 4-years for completion! I will take you back further in this blog to an image already created, "2:10 p.m." (posts #50-55). I noted in those posts that when I originally proposed this image, I wanted the tree trunks to be left without stitching AND for the image to be 2-sided, allowing them to be black, but transparent. At that time, using the tree trunks as dark negative space just seemed too strange an idea for the group. The embroidery they accomplished was one of my most stitch-lavish and color/texture rich, and was one of the largest at the time, so it greatly succeeded, BUT I NEVER LET GO of the original idea and brought up the suggestion many times over the years. One day, because of what our now-numerous other creations had revealed to us, Zhang offered that she WOULD embroider this as a 3-panel, 2-sided standing screen, 50" tall!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #165
SILK ROAD #165:   "Distant Trees through Falling Snow" has an image size of 20"x 16", and a chuo sha border pattern in black termed "broken ice." The embroidery features 8 different stitch styles and more than 20 colors of thread. As you have seen from the previous posts, because this piece is SO transparent and incorporates such fine stitching with just thread STRANDS, lighting changes how you see the image with even the most subtle adjustments. If you have followed the last five posts, you now know the most distant trees are sewn with 1/48 strands, and here you can see them receding to a virtual infinity point. I would venture that when you first viewed the full image of this embroidery in post #160, you barely noticed the "deep" background - a spectacular sleight-of-hand, or in this case, sleight-of-strand (LOL).
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #164
SILK ROAD #164:   In this full frame I have lighted the embroidery to show the random stitches. There is a beautiful progression here as the first "hill" is stitchless and transparent. The 2nd "hill" just has a select few stitches to give it a different texture, and then, those same stitches flow up into the "trees." The trees have been created by simply adding more layers of random stitches atop one another. Remember that all of this work is being done with 1/24th and 1/48th STRANDS of silk thread. Their subtle use is quite remarkable defining the tree line as it fades into the distance and is veiled through the falling snow.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #163
SILK ROAD #163:   This view is only slightly wider than the last post, but things have already changed. Most notably, I have turned off the backlighting. Now you can see the stitches of the tree trunk and fallen snow (I LUV the looping stitches). However, the white and silver threads intended to define the hill "behind" the bushes have all but disappeared, AND YET you can see just enough of them to give the hill a texture that the completely transparent foreground does not have. To me, even with this small POV adjustment, the seemingly amorphous stitching in the "distance" which clearly appeared abstract in the last post, now seems to be forming shapes that are starting to look suspiciously like pine trees.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #162
SILK ROAD #162:   Now I am going to show you true embroidery magic. This is an extremely close detail revealing some stitches that you can barely see without magnification. This image is lighted from behind causing silhouettes of the tree and branches which were rendered with full silk threads, as were the bushes in the near foreground. What you see beyond that APPEARS very abstract and random, not really defining anything. Furthermore, these stitches are NOT full silk threads but rather 1/24-strands that then diminish into 1/48ths as they "recede." What you are looking at will materialize into shapes as we step back in our POV. For the time being, although it may not seem like it, the white and silver threads define a hill behind the brush, and the dark threads are various tree groups seen "through the falling snow."
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #161
SILK ROAD #161:   Now, to the details of the image WITHIN the chuo sha border of "broken ice" - this detail shows a number of our new approaches to rendering an image. The tree trunk is especially notable because it has NOT just been filled-in with clusters of cross-stitching. In the actual photograph, the grain of the tree clearly shows, so the embroiderers "followed" that grain with their stitches, modulating tone and density to give the trunk a natural-looking irregularity. Numerous shades of gray and black were used to create the trunk, but they were also cleverly merged with lighter shades of grays and silvers where the tree trunk meets the snowline. Some of the black thread is actually the "base" layer for the snow, intermixed with silvers, blues, and grays. The next layer sewn into the snow is a flurry of cross-stitches in blues, silvers, and white. Lastly, on top of this "bed" of stitch layers, very irregular white looping stitches - you can see them very clearly here - were used to represent the final topping of "new-fallen" snow.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #160
SILK ROAD #160:   This is "Distant Trees through Falling Snow." This is one of my favorite embroideries and I have it on display in my home. In this shot you can see how transparent the overall embroidery is, and thus the swivel display stand. I felt the traditional Chinese framing influences worked well with the image, and the chuo sha border is even more perfect in an unexpected way. Contrasting it by proximity to the more detailed and layered embroidery in the stitching of the image, even in this picture, you can see it appears very flat, and the embroidered image has a dimensional surface to it, made more apparent by the flatness of the border.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #159
SILK ROAD #159:   Inspired by a window frame pattern she encountered during a reflective moment in a #Suzhougarden, Zhang guided the embroiderers to create this, the VERY FIRST chuo sha border to ever be done with a black pattern design. In this detail you can see the careful attention to the “randomness” of the pattern, rather than a balanced or repeating one. I think the distinct separation of the border design and the image in this piece is especially striking, made more so by some of the elaborate and layered stitching used to render the accumulated snow and the surface of the trees.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #158
SILK ROAD #158:   #Suzhou is well known for the many historic private gardens that were built for wealthy administrators as their seasonal "retreat." The most significant ones have been well restored and are now open to the public. Many people, Zhang included, visit to enjoy them and relax. There are always benches around ponds positioned to offer a particular POV, and from inside, windows "frame" the garden and sculptural rocks. Here you see such framing and it looks remarkably like a chuo sha border in an embroidery. On one such garden visit, Zhang was considering my design request to use black on a border, and she looked up at windows much like these. Only that day the pattern in the windows she was viewing was more irregular and is described as "broken ice." Immediately she connected the concept with my embroidery, and later informed me that they WOULD be able to sew a black thread design into my border that would compliment and not compete with the image.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #157
SILK ROAD #157:   The 2nd embroidery we began as a chuo sha border experiment was also an image from the portfolio, "WINTERS: 1970-1980," entitled “View In A Storm.” Both Zhang and I agreed the image offered some terrific embroidery possibilities, but I especially wanted the border graphic to be a pattern using black. As it had never been done before, Zhang was very concerned that such a design would overpower other subtleties we might incorporate in the embroidery of the image. I felt certain the dark foreground tree “frame” was powerful enough to harmonize with a black chuo sha design and not be a distraction to it, and so Zhang set about pondering my request and searching for a design idea.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #156
SILK ROAD #156:   So this is "Summit Above Clouds" on display in a gallery show. In this lighting you can see how much of the screen has been left without any embroidery. This overall view also emphasizes the "rhythm" between the embroidery and the display framing that Zhang felt when she decided to create the phoenix designs in the corners. What I especially enjoy about this shot is that it makes clear the success of the needlework:  the foreground hill and trees are dimensionally more pronounced than the hazy summits in the background; and, the summits have beautiful, subtle definition but still appear to be "in-the-distance" and being viewed through slowly disappearing clouds. On the wall behind this embroidery, you can also see three photographic prints displayed from the original B/W portfolio, "WINTERS: 1970-1980," from which this embroidery was derived.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, January 7, 2016

Silk Road - Embroideries #155
SILK ROAD #155:   The mountain arising from the clouds was "in-the-distance" and Zhang wanted the foreground/background relationship as pronounced as possible. Since the trees and hillside sewn in full silk threads were the foreground elements, to render the mountain/clouds in the background, silk threads were unwound and reduced to strands. Using strands of 1/24 and some smaller, the shading of the summit face was stitched in several shades of black and gray. Similar strands of white, blue, and silver were also used to create the ether of the clouds surrounding the summit. Although extremely fine, some of those stitches show up well in this image, appearing just above the peaks. This shot is quite close up, and in the following post I will show you the entire piece. Most of the stitching you see here will have "merged" in your vision to create an amazing illusion of these mountains.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2016, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Silk Road - Embroideries #154
SILK ROAD #154:   WITHIN the chuo sha border Zhang had designed, she introduced some other very subtle but VERY effective visual elements to the embroidery "subject" by choice of thread and stitches. The phoenix corners and surrounding cross-stitch border were all sewn with "full" strands of dark silk thread. The trees within the border are also sewn with full dark thread and incorporate some additional "knotted" stitches to give the them further volume. The snowy slope is rendered more loosely with random stitching that utilizes many different colors of thread - white, black, shades of gray, and silver. These stitches are also sewn in differing directions causing the snow to "shimmer" as you see it from differing perspectives and lighting sources. Full threads were used here as well to give the slope a sense of dimensional space and to assert itself as the foreground, well "in front" of the peak rising from the clouds in the valley behind.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Silk Road - Embroideries #153
SILK ROAD #153:   If you follow this blog, you will have noted how the frame design of #embroideries has evolved considerably over the course of our many years of working together. Sometimes I have gone with traditional #Chinese stands or frames; sometimes I have modified Chinese designs to make them less ornate; and recently we have been exploring the transparent matrix and the background as part of the overall frame design. This current foray into experimenting with the chuo sha border really crystallized in Zhang's mind around the historic phoenix page design, so I accepted her frame/stand design as well because she saw it as integrally related. She wanted the stand to incorporate the phoenix design by carving it into the wood of the "arms" that cradle the embroidery screen.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Silk Road - Embroideries #152
SILK ROAD #152:   In posts #84-85 you can see the traditional application of a "chuo sha" border. Historically Chinese design dictated the border be pale in color with a subtle pattern that would not distract the viewer from studying the embroidery within the border. Having done one in this traditional way, I wanted to make some chuo sha borders that were different, and in particular, I wanted to use darker thread designs which had NEVER been done. #Zhang felt "Summit Above Clouds" looked like a delicate brush painting and worried that it would be overwhelmed by anything dark in the border. However, as she was browsing some books of historic drawings and designs for ideas, she came upon a page of text BUT the corners of the page were decorated with drawings of the phoenix as you see above. She felt some synergy between this clean, simple design and my image and she wanted to use the phoenix "corners" in the embroidery in the same way they had been rendered on the page. They were stitched into all four corners and the entire rest of the border was left transparent. Zhang also thought having "very little" embroidery on this image made it more light, airy, and diaphanous, adding to the sense that the mountain is "floating" above the clouds.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, December 10, 2015
Silk Road - Embroideries #151
SILK ROAD #151:   Very few embroideries since the #UCLAFowlerMuseum exhibit have been photographed professionally, in-studio. The most recent pictures I have posted were made with various cameras, hand-held in the embroidery workshop. With my #iPhone I can also show you another aspect of these embroideries that reflects LIVING with them. At the moment, I still own "Summit Above Clouds" and have displayed it in my home. The image is approximately 20"x 16". The embroidery is 2-sided and the mahogany stand allows it to swivel. At this moment it is enjoying a momentary ray of of light and it makes very clear how much of this embroidery has been left transparent and unstitched. It also shows you a VERY unusual "chuo sha" border. There are two stories here: one involves the details of the stitched image; the other addresses the choice of subject within the border. If you have followed this blog, so far, stay tuned, many of the best and most complicated pieces are yet to come. You will have to put up with my compromised, non-studio images, but I will try to make them interesting in ways that studio shots do not.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, December 3, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #150
SILK ROAD #150:   This period was my most active and productive with the SERI workshop. We were working on multiple embroideries simultaneously, and with all of them we were trying to expand what we had learned and apply it to the next piece. In the last three embroideries posted, I explained that we were experimenting with the background behind the embroidery matrix, and to do that we had shifted our stitching applications to be more “loose” so that the transparency of the matrix could be utilized. Two other images involving a very different kind of transparency were also begun about this time, and both of them would explore another form of presentation - the border. The Chinese loved my "WINTERS: 1970-1980" imagery and we had already rendered several of them in embroidery (posts: #83-87 featuring a "chuo sha" border; #88-93; #115-116) so I suggested we return to that portfolio to find additional images through which we might further explore “chuo sha” border techniques. The first of the two photographs we would work from is “Peak, Above the Clouds” and it would be stitched as a 2-sided, mostly-transparent standing screen in a swivel mount.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, November 26, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #149
SILK ROAD #149:   As though the rendering of the individual flowers was not enough, Zhang and the embroiderers were especially intrigued by the subtle infusion of color provided by yellow wisteria blossoms in the background. Having made the foreground trunk and cherry blossoms SO dimensional, Zhang wanted to be sure the background did not appear too “flat.” Bundle stitches were employed as part of leaf groups, and a tiny, tight red loop stitch was made into a ball to look like a red berry. The “piece de resistance” of this complex use of stitches was the “wisteria stitch” invented just for this embroidery, and used to describe the yellow background flowers. Again working with an acupuncture needle, the thread was tightly wrapped around the needle and that coil was sewn into the matrix. As the coil “relaxed,” it also “opened up” a bit and “hung” from the matrix, much like the actual flowers do when blooming on-vine.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, November 19, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #148
SILK ROAD #148:   In this detail you can more clearly see what I was describing in the last post. Each flower has been stitched differently to model the shift in light and shade. EVERY stitch in EACH petal is a different tone, an incredibly laborious effort that resulted in an astounding sense of volume in the flower-filled branches. This detail makes clear the subtle application of colored stitches throughout the image, especially on the tree trunk and in the background foliage. It also shows there is considerable unstitched matrix “beneath” the background. Note, in the lower third of this image, you are viewing a completely undeveloped area of the embroidery and you can see the red and pale blue lines of the drawing on the matrix. For all of the embroideries to date, I have created prints of the same exact size and after the matrix is stretched in it’s frame it is placed on top of my print and EVERY detail is traced onto the matrix. This allows the embroiderers to render the absolute correct proportions for the embroidery to have photographic realism.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Silk Road - Embroideries #147
SILK ROAD #147:   There are MANY elements to this embroidery that make it remarkable. As you will soon see from details in following posts, there is some stunning subtle stitching going on “beneath” the overall image. However, the overall image deserves some description as well. Because the cherry blossoms are being struck in various places by sunlight, each and EVERY blossom has been detailed differently. The end result appears as “layers” of blossoms with the most illuminated “in front” of those blossoms that are shaded. As the blossoms are like little “cups” of light, EACH of them has been rendered with a dark side and a light side. The effect of this is that the individual blossoms all have dimension, then in turn they are part of the larger tree that clearly has its own dimensional presence. We are NOT EVEN to the background yet!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Silk Road - Embroideries #146
SILK ROAD #146:   This blog has been discussing 3 embroideries being worked upon rather simultaneously and all them are explorations of incorporating the background behind the embroidery matrix as part of the overall design and rendering. This is the third embroidery entitled, “The Exuberance of Spring,” and it features a blooming cherry tree. Also created as a commissioned piece, this embroidery is a tour-de-force of stitching and dimensional illusion. As with the previous posts of “Cosmic Trees,” “Cherry Tree Blossoming," as this embroidery was titled, left a great deal of the matrix without stitching, especially where the sky was visible, BUT there was a clear foreground and background. The foreground was the tree trunk and stunning blossom display. The background was some dark trees interwoven with blooming yellow wisteria vines that offered a flash of very different color. All of these elements would be treated differently, and we would actually invent a stitch to truly top this effort off.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, October 29, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #145
SILK ROAD #145:   This detail clearly reveals how VERY different the work we are doing is from traditional Chinese embroidery. Look closely and you can see that there is a GREAT AMOUNT of unstitched matrix, quite literally EVERYWHERE not just in the background “sunlight.” By rendering in this way, we will “add” color to the “blank” spaces in the embroidery either by dyeing the matrix or using a “painted” background in the frame behind the matrix. In doing this, instead of filling the open spaces with stitching, the lack of stitched matrix immediately gives greater volume and dimension to the adjacent thread layers that are stitched. “Cosmic Trees” would introduce a new idea in creating the background for the framed matrix: the lower half of the background was painted in modulated tones of blue, BUT the upper half was NOT painted. Instead it was burnished with actual GOLD LEAF. Not only did the gold leaf give the background the necessary color, but when properly lit, it would “glow,” very much like the sunlight it was supposed to represent.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, October 22, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #144
SILK ROAD #144:   This is “Cosmic Trees” while it is still being embroidered. Much of the foreground detailing is nearly complete. The tree trunks are still being “layered” with stitches, and lesser foliage in the middle ground is only partially developed. You can clearly see, however, that the upper right third of this image has A LOT of unstitched areas “beyond” the distant aspen trunks and leaves. This image is 24” x 30” and was done entirely by my old friend (at this point), Master Embroiderer Huang Chunya. She was always excited to accept my most experimental pieces because they offered her creativity, and her amazing “fine-style” stitchwork employed here to render the forest makes the foreground a palpable dimensional space.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, October 15, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #143
SILK ROAD #143:   As this embroidery was commissioned, this was NOT a sketch. Zhang and I would bring many different ideas to this piece, combining previous discoveries in new ways. As we had done with ”Sumac Along the Chattahoochee” (posts #33-40), this image would be one-sided and involve a certain amount of unstitched, transparent areas that would be supported by a colored background of some kind. However, the foreground forest would be done with the “fine-style” stitch and highly detailed. Some of the leaves would be rendered with “reverse” stitching so highlights would change with POV. As the forest “retreated” toward the sunshine in the background, the stitching would become increasingly loose. The area of the image in “sunshine” would be left with NO stitching at all and tones/colors behind the matrix would be crafted to appropriately “color” the open areas of the matrix. Here you see the beginning of "Cosmic Trees" in frame at a workstation - the actual print is pinned above the embroidery and the thread palette is under the window to the right.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns

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Thursday, October 8, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #142
SILK ROAD #142:   In “Colorful Hillside,” the previous few posts, we were experimenting with framing by making the background of the matrix part of the overall design. We created a tonally modulated background painting behind the embroidery that would show through the matrix where there was no embroidery stitching. Seizing on that idea, and carrying it a bit further, a client commissioned me to render one of my better known images, “Cosmic Trees,” as an embroidery, and Zhang also liked the image so she agreed. Taken during my Artist-In-Residence at #SundanceInstitute, this image is a view from “inside” a stand of aspens (after a long rain) looking “out.” I am in deep shade looking into bright morning sunlight, and I thought we could leave the golden sunlight behind the trees unstitched, bringing color to the area by dye in the matrix and a very special background I wanted to try as an experiment. Zhang and I would design this using MANY dimensional stitching techniques developed on other pieces, and they would be most effective if the "background" remained transparent so all the stitches layers would build "up" from that point.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, October 1, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #141
SILK ROAD #141:   I have mentioned previously in this blog that many of the embroiderers liked working on my pieces because they were so different, and it gave them a new freedom for their skills. In this case Xu was really having fun because the specific instructions were to “sketch” by working quickly and simply - no fancy stitches and only a passing reference to photographic detail. Working with layers in the forest and pure color, Xu has playfully created what is most likely one of the wildest of all the various stitching orgies that have occurred in my pieces. Her use of small flecks of color here is spectacular. Some sketch!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, September 24, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #140
SILK ROAD #140:   This Xu Jianhua who was selected to embroider “Colorful Hillside” upon which she is working. This shot gives you a nice sense of each embroiderer’s “space.”Xu is seated in front of her embroidery frame. My actual photograph (to size) is pinned above her frame for reference and direction. Just at this moment Xu has selected a new thread color from her “palette” and she is threading her needle. The palette of colored thread she has selected from has been carefully created for her by consultation between she, Zhang and the dye room. EVERY embroidery has its own unique thread palette. I will eventually do one with over 1,000 dye colors.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, September 17, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #139
SILK ROAD #139:   This first image we selected to work with was one made during my residency at #Redford’s #SundanceInstitute. Entitled “Colorful Hillside”, the embroidery was small (20x24) and done VERY quickly, like a sketch, by just one embroiderer. We were playing more with background effect, rather than an actual image rendering. We had done enough “texture” stitching on other pieces. We knew we could do that here, but at the time we felt were we to do the “full” rendering, we would make it larger. For the moment, our interest was in to experiment with the background/sky in cumulative layers that we hoped might cause a greater sense of dimensional space. The “hillside” was to be completely stitched; the mountain in the background was done more sparingly and made partly transparent; lastly, the sky was completely transparent and would be supported by a background painting. You are viewing this image on a workshop loom during its creation.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, September 10, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #138
SILK ROAD #138:   During the organizing of the “Threads Of Light” exhibit at the @UCLA @FowlerMuseum, the work at the institute never ceased. In fact, Zhang and I were exploring several new ideas about framing and background. The first time we “dropped-out” background stitching in a 1-sided embroidery was in the early piece “Sumac Along the Chattahoochee” (posts #33-40). The background matrix was black, and we backed the embroidery with black cloth, so we did NOT stitch AT ALL in many places. Then we REALLY left the background stitching out in “Pale Leaves in Blue Fog” (posts #77-82) once again using the color of the matrix and a colored fabric backing. We repeated this same stitch minimalism in “Visual Haiku” (posts #88-93), but when we worked on “Trees and Branches with Heavy Snow” (posts #103-107), the matrix color was modulated by a painted background that changed the sky tones slightly. As with painting ON the matrix was something we had explored, these next three images/embroideries will explore painting BEHIND the matrix and other special backgrounds.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, September 3, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #137
SILK ROAD #137:   The craftspeople at the embroidery institute did other textile work that was not always random stitch. The petit-point application you see here has a completely different appearance compared to random stitch work, but I thought it quite beautiful for that very reason. The institute could also do very complex loom weavings and operated the largest loom in the world with 1,000 lines of warp thread. I felt at some point I should create something on the loom, and Zhang and I had discussed it, but she was always concerned that my images had so much detail that we could not render them appropriately even on a loom that large.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, August 27, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #136
SILK ROAD #136:   At 4-feet tall, this was a very striking single panel. Entitled, “Geese Among Reeds,” it was also EXTREMELY subtle, in part, because of the unique stitch applications. The matrix of this is silk gauze and the birds and reeds are defined by petit point embroidery, NOT random stitching. Remember, this is TWO-SIDED petit point – perfect stitches regardless of which side of the panel you are viewing! If you will look very closely you will see there is also a full moon at the base of the screen in the middle - NOT a bad digital retouching spot (LOL). With it’s “similar” color tones, the remarkable, barely visible moon, and the look of the stitches, there was no other "traditional" Chinese piece I had seen that was quite like this.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, August 20, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #135
SILK ROAD #135:   Among the numerous pieces on public display in the halls and galleries of the embroidery institute, flying birds in many variations were a popular and repeated theme. Certain birds are symbolic to the Chinese and birds of all species have appeared in Chinese painting for centuries. The embroiderers especially liked images of birds because they felt they could render the feathers and the colors “more realistically” than the painters using stitches (textures), dyes, and the way light plays off of silk much as it does a feather. Although we did not put this embroidery in the “Threads Of Light” exhibit, this VERY stylized version of cranes (good luck) was an image that always interested me. It also inspired me to include “some birds” in the exhibit, and to choose a large and VERY subtle embroidery that, like this one, was highly stylized in a most striking way.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, August 13, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #134
SILK ROAD #134:   Referring to the previous post, the embroidery of this landscape employed a dimensional stitching technique that was learned from working with the in-and-out of focus created by a world seen through a camera lens. One of the significant discoveries we made when rendering “Sumac Along the Chattahoochee” (posts #35-40) was the heightening of the sense of dimensional space by embroidering the foreground with great detail and tight stiches, and the background with “looser” stiches and less detail. “Spectacular Spring’s” most distant mountains are VERY loosely stitched, BUT as the layers build and come to the foreground, it becomes a literal blizzard of random stitches. Then, ON TOP OF THAT, and borrowing from the work we had previously done on “2:10 p.m.” (posts #50-55), the embroiderers used a multitude of mixed stitch styles in the foreground forest, making it the most clearly defined "object" behind which the receding mountains lie. This SERIOUSLY CRAZY needlework!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, August 6, 2015
Silk Road - Embroideries #133
SILK ROAD #133:   At the time of the “Threads Of Light" exhibit at the #UCLA #FowlerMuseum (1999), I had been working in Suzhou almost 15yrs. As the Chinese embroideries included in the exhibit became more contemporary, I could also see the influence of my ideas on the way new work was being created at the institute. This image, “Spectacular Spring,’” is based on a painting by #YuanYunfu and in it you can see several techniques developed in MY work but previously NOT used in “traditional” Chinese embroidery. “Spectacular Spring” is 3.5ft x 6.2ft and one of the most immediately striking aspects of viewing this large landscape is that it has been built in layers of stitches that give it dimension against the “flat” sky. The sky is “flat” because instead of “filling” it with stitches, they have painted the matrix a luminous orange-gold color. My 3-panel embroidery, “The Beginning Of Time” (posts #62-71) was the first time a matrix had ever had colors painted onto it, replacing the use of embroidery stitches to fill that space.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, July 30, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #132
SILK ROAD #132:   In this perfectly lit, nearly-macro detail you can see the differing “weight” of the stitches. The detail is close enough that it records the fine mesh holes of the background matrix into which the embroidery is sewn. The long, fluid white/silver lines are the “free-form” stitches representing the flow of the water current. They are very spare with a good bit of spacing between the stitches, AND many are sewn in “reverse” direction, so they highlight at differing points of light reflection. The carp, on the other hand, have been rendered with extremely dense “fine-style” stitches, all running in a uniform direction, a perfect illusion of fish scales. Against the diaphanous threadwork of the background, the highly detailed embroidery of the carp give them dimensional “volume." They have a physical presence as they clearly float in the "current" swirling around them.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, July 23, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #131
SILK ROAD #131:   Previously in this blog I have discussed embroideries that capitalized on silk thread’s ability to reflect light based on the specific direction in which it is sewn. This was a technique I learned and incorporated into several of my pieces, BUT it was the use of silk threads in that way in this image that originally inspired me. The truly “magical” aspect of this embroidery is how the “directional sewing” has been employed to create, not only the gesture of motion around the fish, BUT ONE THAT CHANGES as you change your POV on this large embroidery. This has been accomplished by the deft stitching of long, "free-form" threads sewn in very DIFFERING, rhythmic lines of “water flow” that seem to make the water shimmer and move.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, July 16, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #130
SILK ROAD #130:   “100 Butterflies” (posts #117-119) was unquestionably the “show-stopper” among the traditional Chinese embroideries in the @UCLA @FowlerMuseum exhibit, “Threads of Light.” However, my favorite was “9 Carp." It was more subtle and, for me, an embroidery that really inspired my understanding of the ways in which silk thread could be used for visual effect of both dimension and motion. Fish, like the peacock, are another frequently visited subject in Chinese art, and nine carp serve symbolically here, connoting good fortune and prosperity. They also serve masterful embroidery that give the carp a palpable physical presence and render the water a diaphanous, changing shimmer in the folds of the current. Additionally, the 3ft x 6.5ft scale of this piece and the intense stitch detailing of the carp create a sense of volume to the bodies of the fish as they float, suspended in the “flow” of water around them.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, July 9, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #129
SILK ROAD #129:   This particular version of a peacock is entitled, “Fluttering,” and it is based on a painting by #ZhouTianmin. As suggested by this detail, the embroiderers felt they could do “more” with this image than the painter could. The extremely fine stitching in the black leaves and peonies is technical genius – rich in color, tightly sewn, almost to the point that you cannot see the stitch, and beautifully nuanced in shades. These stitches were also sewn so they would be viewed as blocks of “flat” color, a manipulation of the stitch so it did not have a shine. The peacock feathers are then “set off” against this backdrop in several striking ways, very different from the painted version. First, they are literally stitched in layers. Some feathers are actually “beneath” others, adding depth. This sense of depth was also increased by making some of the overlaying feathers “transparent” allowing you to see through them to the ones beneath. Lastly, a subtle tonal range of whites, grays, and silver were sewn to be as reflective and shiny as possible. In truth all of these layers are just millimeters of thread on top of thread, but the illusion of a much deeper space is pure slight-of-hand (little embroiders joke there - LOL).
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, July 2, 2015
Silk Road - Embroideries #128
SILK ROAD #128:   Traditional Chinese embroidery often included themes/subjects that were regularly repeated because they were showcases for tour-de-force embroidery stitching. Some subjects, such as dogs and cats, were way overdone, and in reality most of those were “training” exercises created by younger embroiderers still working on their skills. Other subjects were rendered by master embroiderers to define how “good” THEIR guild work was. The peacock was one of those subjects. It was said that a peacock feather embroidered onto the robe of a high administrator was so realistic that the embroidery could not be distinguished from an actual feather. One of the best of these peacocks was on display in the special "museum" room at the institute, and was SO striking that we included it in the “Threads of Light” exhibit at the #UCLA-FolwerMuseum. The red/black floral background is not too shabby, either!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, June 25, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #127
SILK ROAD #127:   Here is another (and final) detail from “Spring Returns To The Great Earth”. This particular section was embroidered to emulate the painting style of #XiaoShufang. If you compare last week’s post to this, you will clearly see stitch variation. In this image the stitch pattern is more tightly rendered, especially notable in the iris flower. The emphasis in the previous post demonstrated the diffuse nature of a watercolor, whereas this detail addresses a more highly detailed painting / rendering.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, June 18, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #126
SILK ROAD #126:   This detail is from the section of "Spring Returns to the Great Earth," originally painted by Tang Yun. The "fuzziness" of the stitch work is simulating the way ink bleeds into paper. I'm always blown away, however, by the subtle variation in color, and especially tonal shades. Here the nuances of red are pretty amazing, YET the blacks and grays made me recall something Zhang told me when we completed my first embroidered image, "Snowfall." I had queried why the embroidery looked richer than the photographic image, to which she responded by asking me how many shades of black/gray were in my picture? I replied with the Ansel Adams' scale of "black and white with 13 shades of gray." SHE countered that the embroiderers worked with 8 shades of black alone! PLUS many, many, grays. AND silver! YEOW!!!
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, June 11, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #125
SILK ROAD #125:   While this may not be this blog's most beautiful post, it serves to acknowledge the prominent Chinese artists that collaborated to create the original painting from which this embroidery was done. This "guide" was published beneath the full color image of "Spring Returns to the Great Earth" in the "Threads of Light" exhibit catalog. These were the contributors:  #1) Cheng Shifa; #2) Guan Shanyue; #3) Li Kuchan; #4) Xiao Shufang; #5) Chen Dayu; #6) Zhang Jiquing; #7) Tang Yun; #8) Wang Geyi; #9) Xu Shaoquing; #10) Zhu Qizhan; #11) Zhang Xinjia; #12) Hang Zhou; and the calligrapher, #13) Zhao Puchu.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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Thursday, June 4, 2015


Silk Road - Embroideries #124
SILK ROAD #124:   Another VERY LARGE #embroidery we included in the “traditional” #Chinese #gallery of the @UCLA @FowlerMuseum exhibit, “Threads of Light,” was “Spring Returns to the Great Earth.” Unique because of its size (measuring a little over 4-feet tall, and nearly 12-feet wide), this embroidery was also artistically unique because it wove together the words and images of 12 different, well-known painters, and a master calligrapher. Each of the painters had distinctly different styles, so when the #embroiderers rendered this painting, they changed their stitches to suite each painter's brush style. And yet they also had to harmoniously unite these 12 differing styles, so the total embroidery had visual continuity. The calligrapher’s art was to render the name of each artist in the general area of the work in their style, without allowing the characters to be disruptive to the flow of the painting. Note:  At the time I took this picture, the embroidery was wrapped in plastic to protect it. The actual background is white, the blue shades you see here are reflections off the plastic cover, they are not part of the embroidery/painting.
photograph(s) © copyright, ROBERT GLENN KETCHUM, 2015, @RbtGlennKetchum @LittleBearProd #LittleBearProd #Embroidery @WesCFA @RSSDesigns
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