Experimental faces

The languages of medieval manuscripts and medieval embroidery share many commonalities, one being the treatment of faces.

in opus Anglicanum grotesque faces are shown in shades of cadaverous blues and greys, using strong colour shading as opposed to the subtle stitched shading of the more saintly faces, and this same use of coloured grotesque faces occurs in the Lutrell psalter, mainly for human faces attached to less than human, or base bodies and activities.

The illustration I based the final two figures upon has the cadaverous hue of the grotesque. As I blocked in the main bodies I thought long and hard about how to treat them- should I use the flesh coloured two tone that’s worked so well on many of the animal grotesques or just bite the bullet and go for the full-on zombie?

Flesh coloured two tone would have looked fine, save I was concerned one figure was wearing a flesh coloured tunic. I was concerned that if I went zombie and hated it this would sour the finishing for me. In the end I realised I would regret it if I chickened out, so I went on a rummage for zombie colours.


The purple and grey was my first, but I really don’t think the two colours contrast enough, although Gareth says it works better from a distance. So I had another go with the palest blue in my arsenal, which it think works little better but is still not quite right.

I really want to try this form again, but I think I’ll save it for one of the fantasies where I plan to do silk faces.

I’m not going to pick it out though. I rarely unpick because I think I learn more from letting what could be regarded as mistakes stand. I say “what could be regarded as mistakes” because I don’t think a failed experiment is actually a mistake, but rather a step in development – a bit like the saying that you can’t ride a horse without falling off occasionally. If I unpick these I might forget what I can do to improve the next attempt.

~ by opusanglicanum on May 28, 2016.

9 Responses to “Experimental faces”

  1. I think they both work well. The colourings both go well with the clothes. Looks like they’ve been at stalemate in their battle for a lo-o-ong, lo-o-ong time. Now waiting to see whose arm falls off first.

  2. They both look good. What about undyed natural greys and browns? There is a good tonal range and the greys especially could be delightfully Zombie.

    • I don’t really have any hand spun greys to hand, and the blue is more fitting to the originals. I think it’s definitely something to play with in one of the planned fantasies with lots of human figures, where I’m going to use silk for the faces – I think I can play more with the contrast in silk ( one of the main reasons I’m doing the dragon fantasy next rather than the human one is that I’m having a major dilemma over whether or not to use the bear baiting scene. On the one hand it’s a really interesting image on many levels, but on the other I feel really sorry for the poor sad bear)

  3. The blue does seem to give more contrast. When you said full on zombie, I was imagining a greenish-grey – do you think something like that would work?

    I really like your philosophy on “mistakes”. I have a couple of things I’ve wanted to revisit but have a mental block against because something about it didn’t work quite as envisioned. It may be worth simply finishing them regardless to get them out of my UFO stack, and then seeing what I think of the overall effect.

    • In medieval it’s usually more blue grey, hence my choices, but the dark grey is quite green.

      The thing to remember here is that the faces are barely an inch tall in a piece almost five foot in length, so they’ll be barely noticeable. Anyone reading them with an eye trained to medieval art will recognise then despite the lack of contrast, and with anyone else it’s something to talk about. It may well be that your huge problems are not as big as you think

  4. I don’t think you can even say “failed” experiments. Especially these fellows. I do see what you mean about the lower contrast, but they have wonderfully suspicious expressions!

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