Silk Dragon

Silk Dragon by Susan Dawson

Level II Teacher’s Certification piece, 1986

For me, the Academy Certification work was life altering in many ways but the single most beneficial assignment was the series of expertise pieces. In that era a candidate was expected to produce a piece of work that represented his or her best each year. I took the assignments literally, forgot about commercial or extraneous goals, and simply attempted to do what I thought I could. By doing this three times in a row, rather than as the single example now required, I was encouraged to expand my ideas of what I was capable of doing. All too often we are more limited by what we believe than by our skills. The real value for me was coming to understand how much I limited myself.

The dragon was my final expertise piece.

By way of background, at the time, I was studying design with Edith Feisner. Early in the year-long course she presented a hypothesis stating that framing was an integral part of the design and should be included in the design process. I was studying Japanese embroidery with Shuji Tamura and ecclesiastical embroidery with Laura Jonasson and was anxious to explore what I could do independently with the techniques. Lastly I was fascinated with stumpwork but was unhappy with padding that created nothing more than rows or lumps as too simplistic. I wanted to design with complex topography.

I chose the dragon because by using a fantasy subject I could face the challenge of realism without being held to accountable for my short comings. I struggled with the drawing and finally took it to Eddie for help. I wanted menacing eyes but the one I drew looked more like it belonged to one of her dachshunds hoping for attention. Eddie refused to help by saying “Face it kid, you draw cream-puffs.” So the dragon became “Cream Puff.”

The eye was the focal point and one is more intense than two. I chose to use the tiger’s eye stone because a stone had more depth, a more appropriate glossy-smooth-wet texture than I could not create with stitches, and because the refraction “eye” moved in relation to the viewer. I spent much of the year expanding the layered felt padding in common use in order to create the contours of the face and a believable socket for the all-important eye. The padding is probably more important that the overlaying of needlelace and assorted stitches that needed only to follow the contours accurately while maintaining a fine scaly texture. My husband and I, living in New Jersey, spent quite a bit of time at the Hoagle Zoo in Utah analyzing/debating reptile scales and how their character changed depending on the purposes of the different body areas. While Cream Puff has stylized scales, they still vary over the contours of his body and he has three distinct types: armored back, flexible belly, and mobile appendages. I studied value as it relates to light in order to create a glowing, back-lit quality to the image. A New Jersey carpenter created the frame with its door to my specifications. I love the fact that the knob turns involving the viewing and that the design changes depending on the position of the door and the viewer.

There is always room for improvement and I hope my work has grown based on this effort but “Cream Puff” certainly was my best in 1986.

And, Eddie, 20 years later I am finally beyond being embarassed that I do cream puffs. That is growth too. Thank you.