Once upon midnight not so dreary… I pondered… a caricature of Edgar Allan Poe, in part because he is still such an intriguing literary figure, and because my daughter teaches high school English. I also wanted to try out another experiment with paints! Yes, I’m always experimenting. That’s how you learn and make happy discoveries (if you’re lucky)! 

I started by doing a sketch in pencil on paper. This was my second draft. A caricature isn’t supposed to be a realistic portrait; it’s a stylized portrait, closer to a cartoon, but not quite a cartoon. I guess this is somewhere between the two, but I asked my daughter and she liked it. So, I traced him to my white fabric by taping my sketch to a window, then taping my fabric over that. Who needs a lightbox? Well nobody if you work during the daytime!


I like to work on a white plate covered in self-stick cling wrap; it sticks smoothly to the surface of the plate and the white plate shows the colors more true. For this experiment, I wanted to try Jacquard acrylics mixed with Aloe Vera gel. I did test it on another piece of fabric first, let it dry, and then wet it down to check for colorfastness (since I’d be working with different colors and letting them dry in between; but if you plan on washing your painted fabric then it’s good to know it does not wash out). I’m happy to report you can indeed mix acrylics with aloe vera gel in place of a fixative or water and paint successfully on fabric, but there are pros and cons which I will discuss.

The pros for mixing acrylics with aloe vera gel: it does not spread or bleed, it slows the drying time with only half the stiffness of fixative medium (I don’t like the sound of quilting through stiffly painted fabric or the look of the needle holes you get with that), you can create lovely pastels and achieve fairly smooth blending. I started with my background. I use cans of beans or vegetables to hold my fabric in place. Bonus, you can eat the beans and veggies when you’re done! 🙂

Damp here, but I know it will dry mich lighter. Wish it had stayed this dark.

I like to use foil under my art piece with a very dense, smooth piece of cotton batting on top of the foil. The batting absorbs excess moisture to prevent unexpected spreading or bleeding. Once I got this background painted and his hair painted I wanted it to dry… right now… not hours from now! So, I used some clothespins and took it outside and pinned it to the skinny limbs of a tree on the patio in the shade, and waited for the hot Texas weather to dry it quickly for me. It did. This was dry in 20 minutes or less. TIP: use some clothespins at the bottom of your art, too; this helps prevent the wind from blowing your wet art onto itself and maybe transferring any color unexpectedly. Yes, I’m a genius, I did not have to learn this the hard way; we geniuses can anticipate stuff! ha. Tip 2: dry your cotton batting at the same time and then lay your art back down in the same spot when both are dry.


Now we come to the CONS of mixing acrylics with aloe vera gel. Minor issue but worth noting! The minute your brush hits the fabric that is where the color will stay, just like with acrylics anyway, but with the gel the amount of color you have on that loaded brush is what you get, too. No matter how much more color you add it is not going to penetrate that first, wet layer; your brush will just slip and slide but you can blend. Here I did blend the jawline into the face area and around the eyes and neck. Since this is a caricature, I opted for brighter colors on his face but knew these would also dry more pale, too. Looks a bit weird here, but Poe might have liked this look!


And his face did dry lighter. Here I’ve painted his clothing, too. And again, he went out to the tree to be hung out to dry fast.


Next, I added some backing fabric and one layer of wool batting just under him (not the background) and started quilting his head, face, and body using black thread. Why only under him? You’ll see.


Here is the back after having quilted him with the black thread. I did NOT quilt the background around him for a reason…


…because I wanted him to be trapunto! So, I cut away the backing fabric close to my stitching, then cut away the batting close to my stitches. Using these Karen Buckley scissors was great, they grip the fabric to prevent slippage. I found if I bend the painted fabric away from the batting and backing, and had a bright light shining from behind, I could see and feel where the edges were and make sure my painted art was not getting in the way or risk being cut.


After that, I flipped him over and decided he needed a darker background and more color in it. But for this, I got out my Inktense Blocks and did crosshatch lines and areas of color, then wet that down. I used dark blue, purple, and another shade of blue. Then, yes, I used my clothespins and pinned him to the tree limb again. Express art.


And here he is back from his visit with Mother Nature. I have now added a backing fabric and a layer of cotton/wool batting for the entire piece, pinned it and am ready to quilt the background. What to quilt? I thought about a lot of different things but being an artist, I decided to do what I’d do if I were drawing this, So I did a crosshatched background.


Here, I’ve quilted crosshatching going in different directions, using a lighter color thread and working my way out to darker, and using blues and purples. I grabbed a permanent black pen and darkened some areas of his hair. I used Jacquard opaque white to enlarge the white highlights on his pupils.


First, I stitched all the way around Poe to make him stand out from the background. The dense quilting around him makes him stand up higher from the background even more, greatly increasing the trapunto effect. Very fun.

All quilted, but, I wanted a border on him. He wasn’t as stiff as I wanted though. IF I had chosen to add a border and then double the batting I would have been fine and saved myself a step. Instead…I sewed a black border on, then added backing and one layer of wool batting behind everything. I then quilted around Poe again and did more crosshatching in the background all over to secure my art to the new background fabric and batting, otherwise areas of the background would have been too puffy. I only wanted the border to be puffy now. It did provide a little more puff to Poe, too. But, this was an extra step. So, plan ahead. Yes, sometimes even us geniuses miss the obvious!!


And here he is all quilted with his border quilted to look like a picture frame. I used a medium blue thread so the stitching on the border, frame, showed up, too. I signed my last name in the lower, left corner on the background (16 spi). I bound the edged like I would a quilt, sewing it to the back, turning to the front, and using a decorative overcast stitch. Done! He looks as melancholy as his writing. I wonder what Poe would think of this? Would it make him smile, maybe? Will I do this again? Never say “Nevermore!” !!!! The finished size is 22×26″.  BTW: This does look better in person than it does in these pics, but I think that is true of a lot of things, including… me!! (Our mirror never lies but the camera is such a big, fat, liar! Am I right or am I right?!)