The Story Behind “Black Sand at Vik, Iceland”

In my last post I introduced you to my newest piece “Black Sand at Vik, Iceland” and I promised you the story behind the process of its creation.  Although the finished piece looks quite simple, it was really anything but due to a combined number of factors including colour palette, technique and mood that I was trying to capture.

This was the photo that I based the piece on.  This past summer while in Iceland on vacation (our third time in that fantastic country) we drove the furthest east along the Ringroad that we had ever gone and ended up in the town of Vik.  Right down by the water was this beach. I remember that my daughter and my husband ventured down to the water’s edge while I stayed up on the sand, alternately watching them, the waves and the heavy sky.  A light sprinkling of rain had started (totally the norm for Iceland) and this little patch of grass caught my eye.  It was so bright; almost neon in comparison to the rest of the surroundings.  I knew I had to have this photo.  I was six months pregnant with my son at the time but I totally dropped to my knees and tried my best to flatten myself onto the sand to get the shot that I wanted.

I knew I wanted to make this scene.

Fast forward to when we returned home and I saw the antique frame.  I knew immediately that this was the scene that I wanted to fill it with.  So, I did my colour planning and started the project.

The problem was that I had forgotten a lesson that I had learned in the past.  Photos are great, but I really should also carry a sketchbook with me at all times because the camera CAN lie.  The colours captured are not always the true colours.  And the camera doesn’t always capture the mood and atmosphere of an experience.

Variation One


So this was  my first attempt at the piece.  Going by the photo it made sense to make the water and the sky blue.  I was happy with the water, but I hated the sky.  I was doing my blending technique and I totally felt that it started to look like a really bad sweater.  As well, although staying true to the photo, the blues were too cheery.  The grass was not standing out enough.  This was not the scene that had motivated me to flop onto my belly to capture.

I had thought I was happy with the beach until my husband pointed out that by going with shades of brown, it actually could have represented any beach anywhere in the world.  It was not the distinctive, unique black sand beach of Vik.

It had to go.

Variation Two

So, I ripped out the sky, water and beach.  I re-did the beach in the blacks that you see in the current version.  Much better.  I beefed up the neon green a bit to make it stand out even more.

I was totally happy with the lower portion of the rug at that point.

I then did the water in two shades of grey.  One of the shades of grey even had a little bit of a shine to it which I thought added well to the watery effect.  Then I tackled the sky.  I started hooking it but quickly realized that because the grey in the sky was very similar to the grey in the water, it was just going to make the piece look like a big grey blob.

Out came the sky again.

Variation Three

Still working on the sky, I decided to try a stitching technique (the same as is used in the water of the finished piece) to make the difference between them more apparent.  I really liked the technique, but after finishing the entire sky I realized that it really didn’t work as a sky. It made the focal point of the piece the sky, which wasn’t really the point of the whole scene.

Since I really liked the look of the stitching, though, I mulled the idea of using it for the water.

So, out came the water and out came the sky.

You have no idea how hard it is to rip out that stitching technique and how long it takes.

There was also something else that was bothering me about the piece as a whole.  No matter what part I changed, the whole piece still seemed flat.  It was my husband who figured out the problem when he told me “I think it is lacking perspective.”  He was totally right.  I hadn’t put any perspective in the piece which made it completely one dimensional.  I knew I had to factor that into the next variation.

Variation Four

Using the stitching technique on the water, the original idea was to stitch it half way up and then hook the top of the water to make the waves look like they were receding.  This would add the much needed perspective.

After doing that, though, I realized that the hooking didn’t sit well beside the stitching.  What I needed was to put in more stitching instead of less and make the stitches smaller.

Out came the top of the water.

Variation Five

I replaced the hooking at the top of the water with stitching and it looked much better.  But because the stitches were so small they weren’t lining up in a staggered manner like the rest.  It looked odd.

So, I had to go over the small stitches with longer stitches.

At this point I also tackled the sky using a subtle blend of colours.  Thankfully it worked this time and the end result is the finished piece that I showed to you last blog post.

This piece taught me SO many lessons.  But most of all, it taught me to stick with it.  I have learned in the past that if a piece doesn’t feel right there is no point passing it off as done as I won’t be happy with it later and will end up destroying it.  Many times I wanted to pass this piece off as done but I knew I couldn’t.  I had to keep playing with it until I got it right.  I put in so much time making changes to this piece and in the end it was totally worth it.  It turned out exactly what I had envisioned when I stood on that exact beach thinking how I would turn that memory in the making into a rug.

Sometimes the simplest scenes are the hardest to recreate.  But the challenge of getting there is really what art and the joy of making it are all about.






Hand Hooked Rug by Karen D. Miller

Black Sand at Vik, Iceland

Hand Hooked Rug by Karen D. Miller


Well, here it is.  Many weeks after I thought I would have it wrapped up, but I got it done nonetheless.

This piece was inspired by one of those magical memories that I have stored away in my mind.  This past summer when we were in Iceland, we came across this black sand beach in the town of Vik.  It was the first time that we had gone to this town and we spent about an hour at the beach just watching the waves and running around on the sand.  It reminded me at the time of a similar experience on a beach in the Faroe Islands several years ago.  There is just something about hanging out on a cold, remote beach- feeling like I am at the very end of the earth with those that I love most in this world that gets me every time.  I think it was this emotional connection that kept me going even while I struggled over and over again with this piece.

I used my new technique of mixing yarns for the sky.  I think this mixture of lopi yarn in closely related colours really worked to give it a subtle, blended effect.  The rocks in the background are of black leather with the leather strips reversed so that the suede side is showing.

As you can probably tell, the water is not hooked.  I’m going to talk more in-depth in the next blog post about the struggles that I had with this piece and one of the major issues was that the sky and the water are almost the same colour.  To try to differentiate them I experimented with using a stitching technique (which probably has an actual technical name but I just kind of made it up as I went along).  I really love how it came out.  I feel like at different angles and in different lights it looks like the water is actually moving- ebbing and flowing.  I will definitely incorporate this technique again in the future.

The piece is framed in an antique Eastern Ontario window frame.  I think the aged look of the frame is perfect for the look and feel of this piece!

More on the process behind it to come.  I’m so happy that I stuck with it!!




“Mosaic” Vernissage

vernissage 3

This past weekend was the Vernissage for the opening of the Arteast “Mosaic” show in the Trinity Gallery at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Ottawa.

vernissage 2

“Atlantic Mascot” has a nice spot along the back wall.  Though, to be fair, there isn’t really a bad spot in this great venue!

vernissage 1

 The Vernissage was packed with people!   This only shows a small portion of the crowds.  So good to see so many people coming out to support local artists and their works.  Even Mayor Watson was there.   Such a terrific mix of artwork too- lots of bright colours and creative use of materials in a range of media.  I noticed that four pieces had already sold and the show had only been open for a few days!

The show runs until March 19th so if you get a chance be sure to stop by!



On Exhibit…..



I am pleased to announce that my piece “Atlantic Mascot” is now on exhibit at the Trinity Gallery at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Ottawa.  There was space for only about 60 pieces in this show and there were 156 submissions so it is especially thrilling to have been selected!

If you are in the Orleans area be sure to check out this exhibit!