This rug was a commission by a friend who saw my rugs in a local art gallery. Up until then, she didn't know what type of work I did, and she was impressed with the pieces I had up on display. She asked if I would be interested in making a hooked rug of Paul Laurence Dunbar, a local poet who made significant contributions to the history of poetry.
I told her I was interested and she provided me with a photo of Dunbar. I asked her for a simple verse from one of her favorite Dunbar poems to incorporate into the design. With a photo and verse in hand, I set out to do the preliminary drawing.
I drew up the initial design, with a title at the top of Dunbar's name and the text of one of his poems at the bottom. There was a sizable background area and also a border to be planned, but I left those to be developed as I went along. I wanted to see how much detail I could get from the photo and would design the other elements accordingly.
After showing my client the layout on tracing paper, I set out to draw it up on the linen backing. I knew I was going to use a monochromatic color scheme, but instead of using the black and white found in the photo, I opted for a sepia palette. I chose a single dye color, a rich reddish brown reminiscent of old sepia photographs. With the limited amount of contrast in the photo, I decided that a range of eight light-to-dark browns would work best.
With the wool dyed, I was ready to start hooking.
I always start with the eyes. For me, they determine how the rest of the face will work, and if they aren't right, then nothing else will be, either. I also had to factor in the fact that he wore glasses, which can be tricky to hook. I reminded myself to hook what I saw and not what I thought should be there, and that was very helpful.
I worked around each eye, down his nose, and across his cheeks. I finished out with his mouth and chin, being careful to follow the shading in the photo. Once his face seemed to be working out well, I added the dark wool for his hair. Having that hair hooked in really helped define the face. I've found that taking photos constantly as I hook a piece makes it easier for me to stop and take a good long look at what I have so far.