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.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

 

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.

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.

Body Work

I’ve reached a place with my latest piece where I need to finalize a color scheme before moving on.  So far, I’ve only chosen fabrics for the flesh.  As I put these various body parts together, I’ve got to fill in the other elements of the composition (ie. dress, phone, background, hair.)  I use my Itten Color Star to work this out.

Color Scheme

Color Scheme

 

This Color Star is my favorite color wheel for making these kinds of decisions.  It comes with a full set of templates that let me block out colors I don’t want to use and let’s me get a better sense of what colors I will be  incorporating.

The hair is going to include yellow and yellow-oranges, while the phone will be blue-green, and her dress will be blue.

No decisions on the background yet, I’m going to put the figure all together and let it talk to me (or perhaps text me).

This week I’m able to complete the body along with the hand holding the phone. I’ve dipped into my special stash for the phone.  It is made from some hand marbled fabrics I picked up in Venice back in the 90’s.

A body to go with the hands

A body to go with the hands

Placing the face with the body, I have a real sense of progress.  I’m not sure about the darkness of the upper body, but I’m going to move forward.  I’ll audition some background fabrics before I decide whether or not to replace the body with lighter values.

A face with the body

A face with the body

Going Solo

Work on my latest piece has slowed briefly this past week as I experienced the opening of my first SOLO show.  It was very exciting, and for those of you who joined me, I offer my deepest thanks.  Thanks also to Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, WY for inviting me, and to Ed and Caren Murray for sponsoring the exhibit, and to my husband for being my arm candy.

arm candy

First I was able to share my work with Ed and Caren Murray, sponsors of the exhibit.

with-the-murrays

Then, it was off to the lecture hall to talk about my journey, my inspirations, and my work,

lecture qa

 

before opening the gallery doors to the public.

open-to-public-2open-to-public-1

 

Here is an unobstructed view for you, but

wall-1wall-2wall-3

I really encourage you to come and see it yourself.  The exhibit is up for viewing through October 7.

please-come

Fine Arts Gallery, Fine Arts Building, Laramie County Community College, 1400 E. College Dr., Cheyenne, Wyoming.  For more information call (307) 778-5222.

 

 

 

Talk to the Hand

The fusing has begun.  This week I was able to put together the hand for “We Don’t Talk”.   It is created from warm red-orange flesh tones that I hope will pop off the surface and give it a real “in your face” feeling.  For greater realism, I’m working with 7, rather than my standard 5 values.

The hand

The hand

Next, the face emerges from those cooler red-violet fabrics.  You can begin to see that there is a significant contrast in the temperature of these 2 features.  I hope it works as planned.

The face

The face

I’m liking the detail in the eyes and mouth.

Next week I hope to fuse the body and put the pieces together.

A New Beginning

After 8 months of buying a new home, selling an old home, packing, unpacking, FINALLY, it’s time to be back in the studio.  For my next piece, I’m taking another break from the historical series I’ve been working on. This next piece addresses a contemporary social issue.

SAMSUNG

Waiting for a table

I’ve long been uncomfortable with a shift in communication that takes us away from face to face contact, replacing it with texting.  Several years ago, I took this photo outside a restaurant, intending to use it for a piece titled “We Don’t Talk Anymore.”

In my day job, teaching high schoolers, I set aside a period of time each week for “Community Building” where we engage in an activity, purely for fun, that requires us to talk with each other.  At the start of this school year, I’m aware of how uncomfortable this is for many of my new students.  This is the inspiration for a new project.

Photo of Maya

Photo of Maya

Instead of the original photo, I’m working from photos I took of my step-daughter, Maya.  In the interest of full disclosure, she posed for these photos.  They were not candid shots.  If she has actually done this to anyone, it hasn’t been me.

With the photo cropped, edited, and printed to size, fabric selection is next.  Usually, I choose a set of flesh toned fabrics for each person in my compositions so that they have individual complexions.  In this case, with this bold close up of Maya, I’m going to need to establish 3 sets of fabrics just for her.  I want to establish her body on 3 different planes: hand in front, face in mid-ground, and upper body in background and in shadow.  I’m hoping, by doing this, to pop the hand forward and give real depth and dimension to this piece.fabric selections in 3 color ways

I start by choosing fabrics for the face. It’s in the mid ground so I choose pinkish, red-violet fabrics.  For the hand, I choose warmer fabrics in the red-orange range to make them feel closer.  Finally, the main body is in cooler, violet fabrics.  The cooler temps of these fabrics will push them back.  The tricky part will be the arm that transitions from the hand to the body.

Check in next week to see this piece coming together.