Updated July 13, 2021.
There has been some discussion around the web this week about fine art reproductions on canvas and it’s getting me a bit concerned. It seems to me that people want every decision to be made for them before they stitch (no room for interpretation) and that many seem to want a needlepoint version of a painting to be, I’m sorry to classify it this way, a stitched “paint by number” version of the original art.
As a result, I’d like to clear something up. I’ve spent a long time studying both the different ways needlepoint designs can be produced, the different ways to stitch them, and the difference between needlepoint and other mediums.
There are two ways to get a design reproduced on needlepoint canvas, by hand and by a mechanical process. By hand, the design is either drawn (line-drawn) or painted on the canvas. A painted canvas can either follow the intersection exactly (stitch painted) or not. Which it is depends on the designer and the design. But it is done by hand, which means that irregularities in the canvas can be compensated for.
Because we stitch so many canvases that are created this way, we are fooled into thinking that needlepoint canvas is straight.
Quite simply it isn’t.
So when something is produced by mechanical means, no matter how good or how expensive, there will be drift and things won’t always be straight. This is true whether it is stamped (cheap kits), silk-screened (Ehrman and Bradley kits), or computer-printed (Art Needlepoint, Sandy Grosman-Morris, etc). I’ve seen cheap kits close to perfect and expensive kits that are way off. There are things manufacturers do to minimize this, but the plain fact is that it cannot be helped.
This necessary limitation in the medium. The effect this has on your stitching is that some intersections will be more than one color. But the same thing happens in canvases that aren’t stitch painted and we don’t complain. In fact, we often enjoy the challenge of working on these more “painterly” canvases.
Why is this lovely in a hand-paint, but not in a computer-printed canvas?
The second limitation is the one of adapting one medium to another. There are two things working here. First, a painting is solid, there aren’t holes. Needlepoint canvas js mostly holes. As a result, much of the information in the painting disappears into the holes. Think about it. If you took the same exact outline and put it on 13 and 18 mesh canvas, you could get lots of detail on the 18 mesh. Same thing here. Things are lost on needlepoint canvas.
This has two effects. You will have to fill in details, and you will need to make decisions about the missing details.
Second, painting is a two-dimensional medium. In it, texture is indicated by changes in value and color mostly. In needlepoint, texture is indicated by thread, color, and stitch. If you tried to reproduce in Tent Stitch the variation in a painted surface you would find, as many of you have, that you are frustrated beyond belief. If you do end up doing this, you may find that the end product looks a bit like paint by numbers; it has no soul.
But if you make a change to some stitches or switch to an overdyed thread you would be much happier. What you have done is not just make the stitching easier, but you have also made a decision about the design and what it means to you. You haven’t made a reproduction, you have made a work of art, adding your artistic sense to the original artist’s through your art — needlepoint.
We are all, I think, too quick to praise the needlepoint on the expensive hand-painted canvas, and too quick to condemn the mechanically produced canvas. But I’ve seen plenty of lifeless expensive stitched pieces and stunning printed ones.
It’s your choice and your art, but don’t let it be a source of snobbery.