Under the Ginkgo Tree

Here’s my most recently completed work, Under the Ginkgo Tree.


I was trying for a contemplative feeling with this one, as though we’ve interrupted someone deep in the midst of thought.

There can be a tendency to regard childhood as an innocent, happy time, particularly in light of the sometimes-messy events which come later in life. It can be an emotionally complex period, though, with a great deal going on in young people’s minds as they try to figure life out and find a place in the world.


A closeup of the eye area, which reveals some of the stitching. I had to struggle a bit to get the eyelashes and eyebrows well defined without being effete.


A detail shot of the mouth and nose area. Have we seen enough detail shots for one day? Yes. I think we have.


A project like this one begins with awful sketches, such as this one. I struggle to answer compositional questions such as whether it’s a good idea to have a tree trunk slashing diagonally through the picture. (Does it slice the picture up too much? Is the tree likely to fall over from the kid leaning on it?)

I puzzle over what kind of tree it might be, whether I can find such a tree to look at in person. For this project I chose a Ginkgo tree, because I like the shape of their leaves and there happens to be an entire street full of them near my house.


I’ve skipped a few steps here – I don’t think you really want to see photos of me sitting around in a bathrobe, swilling coffee and jabbing grumpily at my Wacom tablet.

This is my final design, printed out on 8 1/2 x 11″ sheets of paper and taped together into a large, ramshackle printout. I could send files out to a service bureau for printing, but that would require that I do things like shower, brush my teeth, don clean clothing, and talk to the people at the service bureau.


The same drawing, traced onto a length of plain white cotton. Gosh, I’m boring. I have drawers and drawers of gorgeous prints in every hue in the rainbow. Do I use them? No, it’s plain white cotton for me, day in and day out.


I like to start painting by rendering the eyes. Once the eyes are roughed in, I start to feel a sense of emotional connection. From then on, it’s just a matter of painting whoever is behind those eyes.


The figure is fairly well roughed in. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t gone too much beyond this. I wish I’d left the background mostly white, with just the bare outlines of leaves and so forth ghosted in. I think the composition would have been stronger and there wouldn’t be so much of a battle for dominance between the figure, the leaves and the background. C’est la vie. Do something, see if you like it, then move on and do something else.


The painting is more or less done.


Time to think about how to stitch the thing. I like to develop a plan by sketching on my printouts. That lets me identify contour lines and test stitching motifs.


Stitching done. Even though it took weeks, I can’t remember much about it. That’s the way I am about everything. I stay anesthetized on coffee and TED talks, and once a project is done, it’s no longer interesting to me. I fulfilled whatever need I had to do it and I’m on to the next thing.


Binding on, more ink work to develop shadows and contours.

I’m done with this thing. Go on, quilt-painting, go make your place in the world. Get a job and a haircut. Write when you’ve found work.

5 Responses to “Under the Ginkgo Tree”

  1. Martha Ginn says:

    Tanya, another amazing quilt of your little fellow. Thanks for all the detail images, and no, not too many of them! I am fascinated at how you get such detail yet softness.

  2. meg says:

    I find the composition very satisfying. Love the pensive look.

  3. Kathy N says:

    Awesome expression and painting…hope you’re entering it somewhere good!

  4. Cynthia says:

    Tanya, I love this quilt (and the close ups). May I place this on my Pinterest board or would you rather wait till it is entered somewhere? And, as always, your words are as inspiring as your quilts.

  5. Chris says:

    Another stunning work! Thank you for sharing it. I hope to see it live sometime, maybe at PIQF? It was nice to chat with you at the fiber talk today.