Leigh Herndon uses a Japanese art form called Rozome which is a wax-resist fabric dyeing technique.
Creative killers and cranium-peeping cops in pursuit prowl a make-believe Naples in the Oct. 4 episode of the CBS hit, “Criminal Minds.” But good guys, bad guys and TV viewers alike will see it played out against walls romanced with authentic Naples art.
The rozome (pronounced roh-ZOME-ee) artworks of Leigh Herndon, often populated by Florida wading birds and Everglades grasses, are on them, reproduced as prints for the “Criminal Minds” sets. The show’s designer, K.C. Fox, chose an artist who aptly distills the Southwest Florida charm: sunny days, waving fronds. deep-hued skylines dappled with serene avian life.
Herndon is nonplussed, but pleased her works were chosen.
Even Naples Art Association Executive Director admits she doesn’t know the criteria. “They emailed us and asked for four to six artists for an episode that featured Naples,” said Schlehr. Curator Jack O’Brien sent them a list, and Herndon’s name was on it.
One day, an email from Fox showed up in Herndon’s in box.She didn’t believe it.
“It said it was from a set decorator for ‘Criminal Minds,’ and I didn’t know whether to open it because that didn’t seem very likely, ” recalled Herndon, who said she had been battling some scamming emails at the time. Her husband, Mark, researched Fox’s name before Herndon even opened it.
“She said she like my paintings and wondered whether she could use them in their episode that takes place in Naples — although it’s done on their LA set,” she said. Eventually Fox chose six of Herndon’s works and paid an honorarium to make prints for the set.
“I wondered if I’m going to be in a serial killer’s home,” Herndon said, laughing. She knows only that a police station in the show will have one of her works, “although I was hoping the episode would be about art theft.”
Contacted in Los Angeles, Fox said she can’t promise that Herndon’s works will actually be in the episode. The set designer looks at photographs from the locations to be depicted and creates a number of walls and spaces for them. The director, however, ultimately chooses which of them will be behind the characters.
Fox has her fingers crossed. After studying Naples, she said she felt Herndon’s art “really epitomizes that Naples look. It speaks well of Naples.”
The beach on which the heroes play a scene, however, is definitely not Naples: “We went down to Long Beach for that,” she said.
Process, process, process
Despite its zen aura, Herndon’s art is focused and labor-intensive. The Japanese style of batik she uses calls for shading, its own tradition in batik work. Herndon buys powder dyes that she blends and simmers for each piece of art she does.
Even the liquid that prepares the fabric before it’s painted is a production. Herndon soaks soybeans overnight and pulverizes them in a blender, brushing the milky residue over her silk as a sort of sizing. Then the fabric must dry before it can be used.
Nearly everything she uses must be ordered: The wired-together brushes that can withstand the melted wax that would destroy glued brushes, the right kind of silk for her project. If Herndon were more traditional, she would even buy the clips that hold the fabric taut for her work. But safety pins and rubber bands are less pricey — “and I think they work better.”
Herndon melts the wax that she’ll paint on the areas she wants to keep away from the color she’s using. Then comes the color, brushed into the silk fabric, which has been treated to be receptive to it.
“They use these little badger brushes to get the shading they want,” she said, holding up a sleek-topped little tool.. “There’s no vat dye in rozome.”
Rozome artists cut away the bristles on wider brushes to paint with a lined effect known as shiki-biki They spatter wax to create a “snow storm,” a dappled effect known as rö-fubuki, and shade by rubbing and removing color. Herndon uses 13 of the Japanese techniques that make its results unique.
She also tends to follow her artistic instinct, adding details as she paints: “I’m not thoroughly, completely planned out like some people.”
Each shade must dry before Herndon can start on the next layer of color, carefully painting wax over what she has completed to avoid any incursion from the next color.
“It’s a very unforgiving medium,” she conceded. Herndon creates one of her art pieces or her one-of-a-kind ruanas or scarves over a period of several weeks. After every step the painting must dry. Then she rolls the finished product between sheets of newsprint, steaming it to lock in the dyes.
Is her masterpiece finished? Not yet.
At the end, more work
At one time Herndon was then faced with the chore of ironing the work repeatedly between sheets of paper to bleed off the wax.
A local dry cleaner with wax-removal experience has eased that burden. But there is no shortcut to the process of fringing her artworks: The ragged edge Herndon likes comes from pulling threads out, one by one, around the edges of the painting.
Herndon is particular enough about her art that she won’t glue it to the white fabric used for background.
“That turns yellow over time,” she said. So she tacks it with thread to the background fabric. Finally, the piece is ready for framing.
Viewers of “Criminal Minds” will have no idea how much creativity and hard work has just played through their field of vision while they’re watching a crisp killer plot.
Herndon knows her mood-setting wax-resist works won’t even get a line in the show’s credits. But she’s excited that a TV hit show sees bringing a genuine local flavor to its stories important, and that art is part of it : “I think that’s extremely wonderful, because artists need the exposure.”
The set designer has put her information on file for that random TV viewer who falls in love with a set piece.
“If someone calls ‘Criminal Minds,’ they’ll give them my name,” she said hopefully.
If you watch
What: The CBS show “Criminal Minds” will feature Naples as a location for an episode
When: 10 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4
Something else: Naples artist Leigh Herndon’s art was chosen for some of the wall backdrops; contact Leigh at her website, www.leighherndon.com