Daily Art Practice: What’s in it for Me?

© 2017, Lea McComas Fiber Art.

Day 1: Sitting on a Rock and lovin’ life.

Daily Art Series

Everyone says it’s a great experience to engage in a daily art practice; to make a small piece of art, daily, for a period of time. Some do it for 100 hundred days, others for a whole year. I decided, as part of my summer celebration of being home (most of the time) to take time each morning to meditate and reflect on the beauty of the Colorado mountains where I live and then create a prayer flag–daily.

I started my daily art practice on Memorial Day with the intent to continue until Labor Day. (That’s May 29 to September 4, the unofficial summer season here in the US.) It was glorious while it lasted. . . a whole 4 days. That’s when life got in the way. However, I will offer no detailed excuses here.

© 2017, Lea McComas Fiber Art.

Day 2: Storms pass through the valley

Plan Interrupted

Now, it’s been 2 weeks and I still have just 4 flags. Not exactly “Daily Art” However, I do have ideas and have tried to at least put a sketch down on paper each day. I’ve even tried to negotiate with myself, that it’s all OK if I roll into the studio and create a bunch of flags in one day. My game, my rules, Right?!?!

I thought this daily art practice would be a way of slowing down and living a more relaxed and focused life. With that said, I’m questioning whether or not I’m the kind of person who is cut out for this. Am I a free spirit who can’t be tied down with these false constructs? OR. . . Am I just a quitter looking for excuses to get out of something that became inconvenient?

© 2017, Lea McComas Fiber Art.

Day 3: Observing storm damage.

New Plan

I’m not ready to claim either of those labels just yet. This week I’m going back to the daily art practice. I’m going to live with it for a while to see what benefit might emerge. Four days just isn’t enough to make that determination. So, please check back next week to see if what flags I’ve created, and what, if any, insights I’ve gained.

For now, please check out the Naturescapes in my portfolio.  

© 2017, Lea McComas Fiber Art.

Day 4: Fresh, sweet smell of the Fir.

PS: My Game-My Rules

I am going to spend a few hours making all of those designs I came up with last week. They are part of the journey and I am claiming them. MY GAME – MY RULES.

 

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Vigil is Finished. See This Endearing New Work

It is exciting when a new work is completed. Vigil is finished and I’m thrilled with the results. It’s been photographed and added to the Genre gallery on my website. However, in this week’s blog, I want to share some of the details.

The lonely dog, a faithful companion, lies, waiting, and ever hopeful of the return of a loved one.

Vigil: Stitching the Dog

One challenge I faced in stitching the dog was to get the direction of the hair just right.  Stella, the dog in this composition, is similar to my own dog, Bosco.  So, anytime I was uncertain about the direction I should be stitching, I would sneak up on Bosco as he napped and use him as my reference.  Of course, he would wake up and expect to be held and petted in return for his services.

Lea McComas Fiber Art - Vigil detail

Detail of dog hair

Lea McComas Fiber Art - In the Studio

When you ask Bosco for help on a project, he is all in.

 

Vigil: Creating Depth

Lea McComas Fiber Art-Vigil

subtle value changes create feeling of depth

Another challenge was to give a sense of foreground and background.  For this, I rely, as I often do, on value changes. It is very subtle, but the black fabric used at the lower edge is slightly lighter than the dark fabric used for the upper part of the composition.  This subtle contrast was  enhanced with the thread choices in the stitching phase.  As a viewer, you may never consciously notice the changes, but the image will register in your mind as having depth.  Also, creating a broader field of gray below the white band brings that area forward.

 

Vigil: Stitching the Background

Lea McComas Fiber Art-Vigil detail

Subtle changes in thread and stitch design hint at what’s behind.

A final challenge was to add variation and subtle detail to the very large dark background area. I wanted to give the impression of a floor with a wall in the distance, but didn’t want to get too specific on where one transitioned to the other, and also wanted to maintain the feeling of a dark abyss.  For this, I employed a circular stitch design for the carpet, and an elongated vertical stitch pattern to represent the wall and then varied where I transitioned from one pattern to the other.  I also used two threads in this area: a solid black in the area around the dog, and a variegated thread of very dark values as I stitched further away from the figure.

In the end, I think this resulted in a very sweet piece that will be hard to part with. However, plans are already being made to exhibit this piece. When things finalize, I’ll let you know.  For now, visit the Genre Gallery of my website to see some of my other works.  You may notice another new work, Cruisin’.  I’ll be sharing the story of this piece in the weeks to come.

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Work in the Studio vs. Walk in the Woods

Time for Studio Art and Time for Play

Lea McComas Fiber Art

Sunrise on the Continental Divide

Two things I just can’t get enough of this time of year are: time in the studio for making art, and warm sunny days for wandering about in the woods. What do you do when life gives you both at the same time??

Progress on my latest piece has felt slow due to multiple interruptions. So when I find myself home alone, except for our dogs, and have no commitments or appointments, I’m ecstatic. YES!! WE’RE GOING TO MAKE SOME PROGRESS TODAY!!

First, I work in the studio…

Lea McComas Fiber Art "Vigil"

Vigil is fully fused

When I wake up to those first hints of sunlight, I shuffle to the coffee pot, and wander into my studio with a sense of urgency and expectation. Surveying a quilt top on the longarm,  gears began to turn. My mind’s eye can see a variety of stitch designs that I will use, thread colors and combinations, and a clear order that they will be laid down on the surface.  I am in the zone.

Lea McComas Fiber Art at work in studio

Lea at the longarm

 

An hour goes by before the dogs remind me that if I don’t feed them and take them out, I’m really going to be sorry. It is then that I get my first smell the pines and see the sun lighting up the mountains.  However, it’s still early, the air is cool and the breeze is chilling, so, “Back inside everyone, there is work to do.”

 

…Then, I walk in the sun.

As the day progresses, so do I.  But the beautiful day unfolding outside is getting harder, and harder to resist. Five hours go by before those pesky dogs are at it again, whining and scratching at my legs. Finally, I’ve had enough. We are out the door.

Lea McComas Fiber Art

Fresh air and sunshine

Being focused and closing myself off to distractions is great, to a point. However, this day has brought me studio time to work AND sunshine to feed the soul. All things in moderation, right??

Check back next week and I’ll show you some closeup photos of the stitch designs that I am using for this piece.  At this moment, my brain is working out how to handle all of that dark background.

Want to immortalize your own special pet?  Check out my Pet Portrait Memory Quilt class at Craft U.

Visit my portfolio to see more thread-paintings.

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Keeping Vigil? Who Awaits Your Return?

A Loyal Beast

Bosco Standing Vigil

I’m sure you have heard, or know of a real life example, of a dog that sits and waits, keeping vigil, for his master’s return. Recently, I noticed that when my husband leaves the house, my dog, Bosco will sit by the door to the garage and patiently wait for his return, often several hours. When I attempt to coax him away from the door to sit with me, he refuses. Sure, this is very sweet in one respect, but it’s also very distressing. I always thought I was his favorite. Anyway, it is this kind of devotion that inspired my new piece, “Vigil.”

Alone in the Abyss

In preparation for taping my Pet Portrait Memory Quilt class, I put out a call for cute pet photos and received one from a teaching colleague that captures this unselfish devotion. Immediately, I was drawn to the juxtaposition of light and dark and how it helped to conjure the image of the lonely dog laying, waiting, and ever hopeful of the return of a loved one.

Potential Energy

Another compelling feature of this composition is what is best labeled ‘potential energy’. You just know that a frenzy of barking, jumping, wagging is about to be unleashed as the door opens and the dog awakens.  Truly, I can think of few things more uplifting than unbridled enthusiasm simply because of your presence in the room. What about you?

The Back Story

Stella in the light.

Stella is the dog who inspired this piece. She wasn’t actually laying in wait. She loves to sleep in the sunlight coming in a window. A careful look at the original photo shows the legs of the dining table and chairs. I interpreted the image in an entirely different way.  Days later, when I told my colleague what I saw in the picture, she was very surprised.

PS: He loves me too.

Finally, I spoke to my husband about Bosco’s devotion to him and my jealousy. He assures me that Bosco does the same when I leave.

Vigil is the second in my series of Dog Stories.  The first in the series was Puppy Love.

Next week, check back to see how things are progressing.

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I Use Pets to Inspire Others, and Inspired Myself

Pet Portraits

We love our pets, don’t we??  Two years ago we made a frantic, late-night trip to the emergency pet clinic.  Three hours later, we came home without our precious Gretchen.  It was devastating.  That’s why I jumped at the chance this winter to put together a class where my portrait techniques are applied to Pet Portrait Memory Quilts.

I’m a dog person with lots of dog pictures.  However, in this class I wanted to address pet portraits for a variety of animals: cats, birds, horses, in addition to dogs.  So, I put out the call for precious pet photos to my friends and colleagues and found myself with many more great photos than I was able to use for the class.

I made some adorable samples for the course.  A few of them are included in this post.  As you can see, for these, I simplified the compositions.  I did this to teach the techniques and focus on specific art concepts. I’m hoping that students will learn the lessons and then apply them to more complex compositions.

I Inspired Myself

More complex compositions:  now that sounds like advice I should follow myself.  So, I went back through the photos and set aside a few more images for a new series.  The exciting thing for me is that these new compositions will include more context and will tell a larger story.  I’ve chosen some images that address the reasons we have and cherish our pets: loyalty, companionship, comic relief. . .

Last year, I completed Puppy Love.  That will soon be joined by “Vigil.” This second piece in the series is still a work in progress, so stay tuned to see how this piece and the rest of the series develops.

Cat Lovers Stay Tuned

And, if you’re a cat person, don’t worry.  A cat series is soon to follow.

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Admitting I’m Committing to Submitting

Last week a polar explorer, an astronaut, a poetry slam champion, and a former pro football

player all advised me to dream big, step out on faith, and push forward despite setbacks and rejection. I attended a session on Exceptional Career Paths at the Conference of World Affairs in Boulder, Colorado. It has worked for all of them, so I’m going with that, and I’m telling the world so I don’t wimp out.

My big dream is to be an artist whose work touches people around the world. To that end, I’m responding to the prestigious Luxembourg Art Prize call for entry. I already have the full support of my studio mates.

The application process is complex. Where others ask for a single high-resolution photo, they invite the artist to submit multiple photos. Here are some of the detail shots of Busy Signal that I’m able to share.

warm hand tones pop forward against cool shoulder tones

Mouth shaded to create depth and contour

Binding fabrics change to match image.

background fabric created by me.

Rather than a short artist statement, Luxembourg asks for details about process, inspiration, and context. Selected, or not, taking time to think and write about my work has been hugely valuable. I now understand my artist self a bit better and am even more committed to the dream. I’ll share bits of this with you in the weeks to come.

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Busy Signal Got Me Thinking…

As I look back at that last post, I realize that much has changed:

  • gave my website a makeover for a cleaner, fresher look
  • rearranged my studio for better energy flow
  • finished and found the perfect title for my newest piece.

Ta-Daa…I give you Busy Signal

Lea McComas
Busy Signal, 36 in x 36 in, thread-painted portrait of girl with cell phone.
moveable machine stitching over fused fabric applique’
copyright: Lea McComas, 2017, all rights reserved

In my last post, I was just beginning the stitching phase of the work.  Take a look at the results up close.

Lea McComas
Busy Signal, detail stitching of mouth
copyright: Lea McComas, 2017, all rights reserved

Lea McComas
Busy Signal, detail stitching of hand
copyright: Lea McComas, 2017, all rights reserved

 

 

 

What really excites me about this piece were the challenges that led to an evolution in my process.

One of the difficulties in thread painting is to balance the stitching in such a way as to keep the surface relatively flat, and then mitigate when it isn’t.  This usually involves a process called “blocking” where the surface is moistened and then heat and pressure are applied until the piece is dry.  If all goes well, the bulk is redistributed.

That was not working for me, until panic and frustration led to inspiration.  I realized that Busy Signal was  flat except for the face.  When pushed from the back, it was beautifully convex, if not a bit unstable.

I went with it; attached a reinforced panel, slightly larger than the face, to the back of the piece and filled the space between with batting for support.  I’m thrilled with the result.  It may be difficult to fully appreciate in photos, but when you see the piece in person, you can realize how it enhances the sense of depth in the piece.


Why I love being an Artist?

problem-solving — thinking outside the box — discovering something new


Where can you see it in person?  I’m currently working on a few options.  I’m also hard at work on my next piece, and a new series, that will use this new technique again.  Stay tuned because you’ll see it and read about it here, first.

 

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Moving from Fabric to Thread

Shifting gears, moving to the next phase, changing the focus; that’s what I’ve been doing in these last couple of weeks as I transition from the fusing stage of my project to the stitching stage.  I find it helpful to take a break and clear my head so that I can look at the project with fresh eyes.  So, during this period, an idea that has been floating around in my brain for several years actually came alive and demanded to be brought to creation.  I’ll img_1201share that with you in a few weeks.  It is a total departure from this project and did allow for the fresh perspective I needed.

Before going of on this side trip, the fused fabric foundation for “We Don’t Talk” was loaded onto my longarm machine.  You can see here all of the layers and how they are placed.  If you’ve done your own thread painting, you may know that it is always a struggle to end with a piece that lies flat.  I’m always on the quest for a better solution.  In the past, I’ve used a layer of raw artist canvas. This has been marginally successful, so, this time I will use 2 layers positioned under the batting so that the grains are perpendicular to each other.  I’m giving it a shot, but the tradeoff is weight.  This baby is going to be heavy for it’s size.img_1199

(2 weeks go by)

Thread, thread, so much thread needed.  Just as with my fabrics, I like to create selections for each element in the project, and just like with fabric, I use my trusty value scale to make good choices.  However, with threads, I usually put together sets of 7-10 threads: one each of the #1 and 5 values, and then two or three each of values 2,3,4.  However, given the size of the figure in this piece, I may have 3-5 threads in every value.  Here is what it looks like in my studio when the threads come out to play.img_1200

Hmmm, I think I’ll start on the face first.  Check back next week to see the progress.

 

 

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Finally, Finished Fusing

Yes, Finally, all of the body pieces are working together and creating the depth of field that I’m looking for.  With the face in place, I add some hair.

Helmet Hair

Helmet Hair

Yuck, that hair looks a bit too much like a helmet, but I’ll fix that when the background is in place.  I rehearsed several fabrics for the background and settled on a piece that I made a few years ago in a dye/print/paint surface design class that I took with Susan Brooks in Louisville, CO.

Periodically, I take a class that is out of my comfort zone, just to learn some new things and  get a fresh perspective.  That was Susan’s class.  I came home with lots of interesting pieces of fabric with no idea what would ever come of them.

Dye class fabrics

Dye class fabrics

more dye fabrics

more dye fabrics

How happy am I to find the perfect background in that stash of “experimental” fabrics.

Background ini place

Background ini place

Now, back to that hair….

more-hair

This is better.  Phase 1: Fusing is complete.

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Keep Your Eyes Where They Belong…and nose and mouth

Use Calipers to position facial features.

Use Calipers to position facial features.

Finally, I’ve posted a new video on my YouTube channel

This latest video is Golden Mean Calipers Part 4 where I share how to find the optimum position of eyes, nose, and mouth in a portrait quilt.

There will be new video coming each month on how to use my calipers and other design tools.  Subscribe to my You Tube Channel: Lea McComas Fiber Art to follow along.

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