By Jerri Stroud
When I was getting ready to attend Susan Carlson‘s retreat in Maine last summer, I prepared three possible projects. One was the portrait of Emily that I ended up doing in class and another was an Eastern Collared Lizard, based on a photo from the Missouri Conservationist several years ago.
The cocky lizard in the photo is native to Missouri, and it has a pretty amazing range of colors, from green to yellow to orange and almost black. The picture I liked best of several in the magazine showed the lizard on top of a rock, its body alert, and an amazing curve of a tail.
I didn’t want to reproduce the photo but rather to use it as a starting point. For example, I wanted to show the entire tail, whereas in the photo, the tail disappears behind the rock.
I started with the head. Getting the eyes right and the shape of the head was one of the most challenging parts of the quilt – and as I learned at the Susan Carlson retreat, one of the most crucial. I spent a lot of time on the eyes and getting the curve of the head to look somewhat realistic. But I also wanted to show off some of the interesting batik fabrics I’ve collected over the years.
The picture above shows an early version of the head. I later removed the sunflower.
I kept the pictures of the lizard and the enlarged drawing handy to reference as I covered more of the picture with fabric. Sometimes it helps to check and see if I’ve covered a critical crease or other feature of the body.
I discovered an old easel I had from my oil painting days made a great working surface, though working upright requires more pins to hold the collage in place as you work. We bought a sheet of insulation board to use as a pinning surface. Half the board fit well on the easel, which I wedged into my sewing room.
After getting a good running start with the head, I began working down into the left leg and the rest of the lizard’s body. I love green, so my collection of green fabrics was a real asset as I continued to work on the lizard. I even found a few with spots that suggest the lizard’s crinkly skin.
The actual lizard has orange stripes on the back and an almost pink ruffle on the sides. There is also an almost black “collar” on the back of its neck. I played with a variety of orange, pink and green fabrics as I moved forward.
The lizard’s feet were orange with some yellow near the top. I worked to separate the toes from each other with light yellow on the top and purple shadows beneath them.
The background was a challenge. The rock that the lizard was perched on was a light gray with a rough surface and dark shadows under the lizard’s body. I had some grays with purple lines, which I mixed with a print of purple and green ferns against gray and a pale pinkish purple.
I also wanted some foilage behind the rock, but I didn’t want the lizard to get lost in a background too near the same value and color as his body. I had a wonderful blue with subtle swahes of other colors that made a good sky, and I cut shapes to resemble grass that would grow up behind the rock and add contrast as needed to keep the focus on the lizard. A few butterflies fussy-cut from batiks completed the sky.
Making the shadows under the lizard was probably the biggest challenge – and one where I’m not totally satisfied with the result. I chose some florals and near-solid purples to make the shadow. I probably should have toned down the flowers more.
I began this quilt before my mother had a severe fall in July that left her with extreme disorientation, a fractured hip and scapula and a brain bleed. For the next few months, I had little time to work on the lizard and some issues with my sewing machine that delayed quilting the finished collage. But I finished it before she died at the end of October.