There is something so sweet, feminine, and old-fashioned about paper lace doilies, don’t you think?
Maybe it reminds me of making Valentines as a child, or special occasions like having high tea. So in my recent
obsessions explorations on Pinterest, I’ve been inspired by some of the doily crafts I’ve collected on my pinboard, like this beautiful garland of painted doilies (credit to Meg Duerkson and Pink & Green Mama) and this example of stenciling with doilies.
A few weeks ago I decided to experiment using some of these ideas with my arts & crafts group. I thought the ladies would enjoy trying some new ways to use watercolor (a very familiar medium for our group) and stenciling techniques. As always, we learned as we went about what works best for us.
At first I tried taping down some watercolor paper to secure it to the table, and then taping down 1 or 2 doilies on the paper (warning: white doily on white watercolor paper can be hard for older eyes to see!). I offered watercolors (I prefer the more saturated colors in these Pelikan gouache sets), a good flat brush or stencil brush, and demonstrated how to tap onto the lace of the doily to stencil it onto the paper. It’s important to paint all around the perimeter of the doily’s edge to get a well defined shape. After applying the desired amount of paint (be careful to not saturate the doily with too much water or you’ll have too much bleed-through), carefully peel off the doily for the grand “reveal” beneath.
Here are some examples of what the group created:
Didn’t the lace pattern come through beautifully? This artist then proceeded to fill in the white space at the center to make a kind of mandala. She then layered on another doily to make a second print. (Interesting how she used black paint to make the center…Makes me wonder about the metaphorical quality of what is inside the circle/self and what is shown on the colorful outside.)
This artist had some difficulty with the process, but with some help she was able to apply enough paint to get a partial stencilling effect from the doily. This woman has severe cognitive loss, is mostly aphasic (little to no verbal communication, but seems to understand some verbal speech), and has limited motor abilities. (She has a kind of frozen quality, but the warmth and sparkle of her quiet eyes suggest a radiant presence within.) A brush loaded with color was gently placed in her hand, and then her hand was guided to the paper. She was then able to create this beautiful piece. To me, the fragmented quality of this image has a certain poignancy that reflects the parts of her that have been lost in the dementia process…yet the pieces that remain are still vibrant and colorful.
The stencilling technique was difficult and frustrating for some, and took just a few minutes, so then we switched gears to try this approach. I invited the ladies to try painting the doilies themselves. So we had an experience of painting the negative space with the stenciling technique, and then shifting perspective by painting the positive space (the doily itself). This was much easier and rewarding for the ladies who struggled with the stencilling approach. We didn’t make enough for a garland, so instead I made their doilies into flowers like this (with their permission).
Just take 2 doilies and pinch each one in the center to form a ruffled flower shape. Layer them together, one over the other (like you would for a tissue paper flower), then use a pipe cleaner to secure them in the back and form a stem.
The doilies were a surprisingly versatile material to work with, allowing us to adapt to the needs of each individual. Some responded very well to the stencilling approach and were delighted by the experience of pulling off the doily to reveal the pattern beneath. There seems to be something magical (and metaphorical?) about pulling off a layer to reveal something that was hidden beneath. And there is also the experience of “ruining” the doily itself as it is pulled off, offering a little experience of letting go of one form to find something even more precious revealed. This process of letting go is such a central theme for many people at the end of life, and the grace with which one is able to let go often determines how peaceful one can be. Amazing how the art process and the use of art materials can mimic these themes of living, dying, letting go, creating, and transforming. This wasn’t discussed directly in the group, as I prefer to let the artwork itself hold the metaphor, instead of confronting people with something they may not be comfortable discussing. I just follow the lead of the artists themselves; if they bring up a topic I am willing to “go there,” otherwise I don’t force this kind of heavy conversation upon them.
For others, this stenciling process was frustrating and produced some anxiety. Painting the doilies themselves with color was a much more concrete and straight-forward directive to grasp. There was no mystery or anxiety about what was underneath. For one artist, it seemed that she needed to see exactly what was happening and not have to wonder if she was “doing it right.” So the versatility of the doily as art material offered her this more reassuring experience, which resulted in a concrete object: the doily flower.
Have you ever used doilies or lace in your art or with a group? What has your experience been?