I’d been wanting to work with this image for a well over a year. Not really having a reason to get started, it sat on the back burner in my head. When my local quilt shop announced it was going to be part of a national competition, this was the first – and only – image that I could picture myself doing as an entry.

Photo posted by Travis Johnson to one of his social media pages

The competition deadline – for entries to the local quilt shop – was August 29, 2020.

Contest Rules, as posted in my local quilt shop

I had a few other projects I needed to clear off my tables before I could get started with this. This gave me time to collect the fabrics in the colors I’d need and to begin preparing.

The fabrics I’ve chosen to work with

Once I got my color pallette set up, it was a matter of finding the right background fabric. Since this competition was designed to showoff/showcase the fabric company’s specific fabric lines, and per the rules, I was only able to use those fabrics. *nods* Ok… Not what I’m used to, but let’s see how it goes.

I’d gotten my base pattern printed out, “warned” my beta viewers that they’d be getting busy soon, and then settled in to begin working.

Getting the base pattern ready

As with any of my art quilts, I needed to get the background up first. From there, it was a matter of figuring out where to start. Since the design forces your eyes to travel up the fretboard, I began with the face. If I could get his head and hair in the right positions, I’d find the top of my quilt and work down and out. There was no way I was going to be able to fit everything from the original design, so I wanted to make sure to not miss the key elements.

First piece is up

It doesn’t seem like a lot, but getting his forehead and his hairline at the right angles was a wee bit challenging. I’d spent a few hours trying to get those to line up. I finally had to break out the tape measure and start double checking myself.

Trying to get everything in the right alignment
Sometimes, you have to get out a tape measure to double check your work and placement

After a frustrating couple of days, I decided to move on to an area that I knew would be a key focal point. Getting the left eye done would start bringing this quilt to ‘life’. The joys of working in grayscale means that any color you add would make that section really POP. The photographer had done an incredible job of with the perspective of the photo; my job was to drill that one home.

Making sure I’ve got the details placed in the right areas
The eye looks good; the hair is still off

Once I had the eye detail worked out, I knew I had him! If I can make the right eye just right, then both eyes will seem to follow you around the room. In truth, the photographer did that in the photograph. It’s also one of the things I want to make sure to replicate.

Adding a few more details

Feeling better about where and how this would move along, it was time to tackle the hairlinge again. Would you believe it wasn’t until I started adding the darker fabrics to the hairline that it’d all begin to fall in line?

This is when I knew I had him. I was getting the detail and the intensity I was looking for.

I wish I could describe the satisfaction of seeing The Faceless Freak looking out from my design wall. (Yes, there’s a definite difference between Mr. Johnson and his onstage persona.) I had The Faceless Freak watching as I made design and fabric choices. Some would be spooked, but I was thrilled to see where and how the rest of him would be revealed.

Next section to work on would be his mask. There is a lot of detailing, and working on getting the shading and highlights in the place would be a lot of cutting small and futzy pieces.

On a more personnal note: It was about this time that my lower back and hips decided to take a hike on me. It’d be about a week and a half before I could get back in front of my light wall and design wall. Trust me, this was NOT time I could afford to lose – not with the competition deadline fast approaching.

Time to find his face mask
Not quite where I want everything, but pieces are still going up.
The face mask is done. Those eyes – they’ll follow you around the room.

Next up is the guitar. As this next section was going together, I made sure to double check with a couple of friends that play – to make sure I didn’t put pieces and parts in wrong locations. I paid marked attention to their feedback.

Getting the guitar started

While it’s fun to see the photos and assorted fabric bits going up, I don’t believe my beta viewers had an idea of what scale I was working in. To be blunt, an artist friend asked me how big this was going to be. Rather than try to tape measure the piece, it was faster to just pose in front of it, and then send the photo.

This should give you an idea of the scale I’m working with.

For as much as the hairline gave me the fits, the guitar was – well… let’s just say it gave me a bit of breathing room.

Shading in the areas that will shape the guitar
Getting the details added in

It was at this point that I’d run out of a couple of fabrics. Mostly, because I had a couple of miscuts and redos. My local quilt shop had something that was comparible to what I’d started with. You can see where I started filling in. However, when you see the final piece, I seriously doubt you’ll be able to see the difference. You’ve got be almost nose to fabric with my quilt to see change over.

Almost done with this side. Time to start adding the strings and working across the guitar to the other side

The hardest part, for me, was waiting for all the beta viewers to get back to me about any other suggested changes, alterations, etc.

Last call for any suggested changes from my beta viewers, before he comes off my design wall.

Once the ‘all clear’ came through, I’d gotten all of the pieces pressed/fused into place. If anything would fall off from taking him down, those pieces would need to be put back in place. I’d done too much work to want to lose any of the detailing because itty pieces fell off.

I don’t think I took a deep breath until I had the quilt top on my dining room table. The quilt looks different when it’s laid out flat. Knowing that I’m not going to be adding any further to it was a bit of a rush.

The most difficult part of this whole process, for me, was about to begin. I needed to quilt him. After trimming off the raw edges and squaring him up, I started putting the quilt layers together (top, batting, and backing).

It was a this point that I stopped for the night. I wanted a clear head when I sat down with my mid-arm machine. I knew I had one day to quilt, bind, AND get it turned in. (My personal deadline was a couple days prior to the quilt shop deadline, as those days were already heavily booked.)

Off the design wall, the quilt sandwich is put together and waiting for when I can start quilting the layers together

Keep in mind, I had only a vague idea of how I wanted the quilting to look. I knew I could emphasize sections and push stitching to the background, depending on what colors I used and how set myself up.

I knew I didn’t want to use black thread on the back, even though I probably should have. I was taking a gamble on not wanting to deal with and “freckling” if my tension was even slightly off. More than likely, I probably should have used one of the gray fabrics for the back, but I didn’t have enough leftover to futz with it. I didn’t have enough time to spend piecing together scraps for a backing. I did, however, have a nice chunk of the black fabric.

Some minor tweaking getting finished before being submitted

So yeah… this is how he looks, for the last time on my design wall.

The last time this will be on my design wall before it gets turned in

There may have been a squee and a fist pump into the air when I took the quilt down for the last time. Even with losing time and being injured, I still managed to get it done and turned in before the contest deadline!!

Turning it in for submission

Quilt details:
Date completed – August 27, 2020
36 inches by 45 inches
Cotton fabrics, cotton batting
Raw edge applique, machine pieced, machine quilted

Before you ask, there are a couple of follow ups to this:
1. Mr. Johnson has seen the photos of the completed quilt. His response was amazing!! You could have knocked my over with a feather when he blasted the photo on his social media.

2. My quilt won the local level for the competition. It’s been submitted to the fabric sponsor (Moda Fabrics) for final judging with the other local winners from across the country.

My local quilt shop owner thinks/believes that Moda will notify the shop owners around October 1, 2020 – who the top three winners are.

Once I have my quilt back in my hands, I’ll be shipping it out to Mr. Johnson. I knew, going into this, I wouldn’t be keeping the quilt. Sometimes, you gotta let people know you appreciate them.