What if you spent every day looking for One Beautiful Thing?

The Needle Painter:



Cayce Zavaglia

Embroidery artist Cayce Zavaglia’s work is as much about the unseen as it is about the obvious. She considers the knotted, complicated, messy backs of her fiber portraits to be every bit as interesting as the remarkably lifelike faces she captures. The backs of her portraits represent the hidden pain and disappointments we all carry with us. Rather than using silk and linen, the artist uses simple cotton and wool, which she feels keeps the portraits accessible.

“Over the years, I have developed a sewing technique that allows me to blend colors and establish tonalities that resemble the techniques used in classical oil painting. The direction in which the threads are sewn mimic the way brush marks are layered within a painting which, in turn, allows for the allusion of depth, volume, and form. My stitching methodology borders on the obsessive, but ultimately allows me to visually evoke painterly renditions of flesh, hair, and cloth.”

Originally trained as a painter, Zavaglia says she took up embroidery a little more than a decade ago because she was seeking to create the most honest portraits she could make. She starts by taking a staggering 100-150 photographs of her subject. She then selects the image that speaks to her, and without sketching or projecting, begins to sew. I’m blown away by her ability to so accurately represent every quirk and feature of a person’s face without any guides or cheats.  What a magnificent talent!

If you find yourself in New York in May of 2018, check out the artist’s show at Lyons Wier Gallery. It’s going to include some of her newer embroidered works, alongside paintings she’s done of the reverse side of the embroidered pieces. Mind blowing!

You can see more of this lovely artist’s work on her website.

All images property of Cayce Zavaglia.

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Author: Donna from MyOBT

I have committed to spending part of every day looking for at least one beautiful thing, and sharing what I find with you lovelies!

26 thoughts on “The Needle Painter:

  1. Can’t find words to describe this outstanding needle work. I never would have thought about even trying. Truly great art. — Hal

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is incredible! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is simply extraordinary! What a talent!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Extroidinary beauty…every stitch.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love that she shows the back of her work…this is a turning of the tide in fiber arts. For those that are unfamiliar with needle arts, many artists have been taught that the back of the work should be as tidy as the front…that having “discipline” with the back of your work is the only true measure of a stitcher. Instructors, judges, and curators of needle arts will actually turn your fabric over and grade you on how tidy the back of your work is. Please remember, most fiber art will be displayed in such a way that the back will never be seen by the audience.

    The fiber artists of Gen X and younger have started protesting this practice, and refer to it as “back shaming.” I support this because I don’t feel art should be encumbered by ridiculous rules. Far too many fiber artists (and tons of general stitching hobbyists/enthusiasts) have been back shamed right out of the field. If you like a tidy back, great…if not, forget about it focus on the front. IMHO a messy back should never be what you’re judged on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Violet. I didn’t know that about judging fiber arts. “Back shaming” is a fantastic term. Thank you so much!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m so glad you enjoyed my little…educational rant? It’s a hot topic in the field right now. The artist you showcased would have received a resounding FAIL for the back of her work, which is why I love that she showed it. A “proper” back would appear almost exactly the same as the front of the work. It’s difficult to explain to a non-stitcher how hard it is to do that. It also slows down your stitching to pace that a snail could outrun, and hand-stitching is already an extraordinarily slow art.

        I think the origin of the tidy back came about because embroidery was generally taught to girls in religious schools/institutions; discipline with the back of your work was the equivalent to being spiritually disciplined. I will leave you to your own opinions about that, but I will say that when it comes to the field of fiber art, insistence on an immaculate back does nothing but bog an artist down.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I love that she showed it and also that she was so adamant that it remain messy, she painted a portrait of it, too!

        I get what you mean about the religious schools. I was fortunate enough to have mostly lovely, happy, creative nuns as teachers, but I can remember one or two who were obsessed with control and sought to squash students’ creativity. I cannot complain, though. My experience with the Sisters of St. Joseph who taught me for 12 years was largely positive. I feel like I was raised by remarkable women.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m with Violet on the back slamming thing. Imagine a painter being judged by his work studio.( now where is that tube of paint hehe.) Her work is truly art from the heart and a God given talent.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Woah! These are astounding. At a glance, I would have believed them to be oil paintings. I love that she uses embroidery to replicate the idea of colour mixing and brush strokes. The portraits are absolutely stellar and very engaging but I also love that thematic idea of the reverse of each portrait being messy and complicated and a bit untamed just like people are – the facade and the reality. I found seeing the reserve of her work to be really fascinating.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. WOW. So much of dept in the art work created by embroidery. I never thought that it was possible. I wish that I could be in New York to see more of these.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I love the way she blends her colors–reminds me of Van Gogh. Listening to her speak in the video made me teary eyed. Her portraits are so touching, so full of emotion.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Incredible. I’m shaking my head just in AWE over this, no other way to describe it. What an incredible talent she has. They are like sculptures in wool and thread and textures… Just beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: The Needle Painter — My OBT – Het Bureau

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