Leotie Richards designed textiles as an art director for retail sales. With retirement, she transferred those skills to art quilting, taking a variety of workshops to learn new techniques. Now she explores textile art by thoroughly researching her work online, creating complex and highly detailed work.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment?
I demonstrated an artistic focus from a very early age. I created handmade and very elaborate Christmas décor for my family’s home as well as event promotions for my high school. It was prophetic because I later held a position as art director for a retail chain designing seasonal graphics and promotional materials. I was very inspired in my high school and college art classes. Everyone who knew me thought of me as an artist.
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Why textiles? How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
My mother took me to Singer sewing workshops when I was a teenager. I sewed many of my clothes from then on. I also sewed tents and rain jackets later in life – nothing could stop me from sewing. Over time my relationship with fabric became more and more romantic.
In my position as art director I designed various textiles for retail sales. When I finally retired after 20 years, I moved to Sisters Oregon where art quilting is a central focus. My design skills transferred readily to art quilting. I studied intensely in various workshops until my skills began to provide me with great joy.
What inspires you to create?
In 2014 I decided it was time to create a series of art quilts that would provide an ultimate challenge for my new textile art skills. I proposed to the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show that I could create a special exhibit made up of twelve portraits of American Folk Heroes. I had never created a portrait before, but had seen some fabric portraits that truly inspired me. The proposal was accepted and in the next twelve months a created one 40” square portrait every month.
The American Folk Heroes were well received at the quilt show. I went on to present them in eight solo shows at various galleries.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
I do significant research before I start an art piece. I want to teach through my art and thus seek layers of content to incorporate into my pieces.
In my portraits I seek out truly inspiring and dynamic people. I feel strongly that we need positive role models in our society today.
In my botanical pieces, I gather information about the fascinating complexity in nature. My goal is to impart a sense of wonder in the viewer.
What do you do to develop your skills? How do you get better at what you do?
I currently belong to two major art quilt guilds – Columbia FiberArts Guild in Portland, Oregon and Studio Art Quilt Associates that offers local, national and international exhibits and educational opportunities. I have taken many art quilt workshops in the past, but now prefer to absorb news skills from quick online resources.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Having been a graphic designer for many years, I tend to be more of a planner. I love the process of researching and engineering a piece over time. Once I have a solid concept in mind, I do loosen up a bit and let new ideas take hold while I am working.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
Having juggled multiple projects over many years as an art director, I am a solid finisher. However, I occasionally toss out a project that seemed to be doomed. I don’t let those dead ends sit on a shelf. I remove them from my work environment and move on.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I am very lucky to have a large dedicated studio space. When we bought our home in Central Oregon, I immediately claimed my studio space. I make good use of it. It is my happy place.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
My centrally located pub style worktable is a joy to use. I cover it with ever changing colors and patterns of fabric to help keep my mind active.
My large design wall is located adjacent to my worktable which allows me to effectively analyze and critic my work while it is in progress.
All of my fabrics are kept in natural woven baskets – plastic boxes are a turn off for me. I want my workspace to be romantic and inspiring.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
My multiple projects for the year carefully organized in a three-ring binder. As my thinking process develops, I can quickly open the binder and add notes and sketches for various projects.
I do start with a thumbnail sketch of my concept and sometimes work out the scale on my computer in Illustrator. I also may create pattern pieces from prints I create on the computer. The process varies with each art quilt.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I love listening to jazz and experimental music while I work. It seems to create a bold attitude within my mind. Sometimes I think that the music is actually changing the shape of my art. I also listen to podcasts during the more mundane aspects of the fabrication process.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
My American Folk Heroes series came out of a strong desire to tell the stories of bold, creative and dynamic Americans. We see so much negativity in the media in general. I wanted to tell the untold stories of inspiring artists and activists. In my botanical series I wanted to create a sense of wonder and deep appreciation for the many miracles in the natural world.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
I love to challenge myself in many different levels. For the past five years, I have been working almost exclusively with wool fabric. I enjoy pushing the medium past traditional limits. I like to create and engineer dimension in my pieces. It causes my mind to hum in a most pleasant way.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I think everyone is creative, but you have to be willing to do the work. Creativity is a discipline. Many people ask how long it took to make a particular art piece. To the true artist, the amount of time required is irreverent. When you are truly inspired, you do whatever it takes to express yourself.
How do you get unstuck creatively?
Concepts flow into my mind on a daily basis. I am always looking for ways to express myself in new and creative ways. The projects line up like airplanes on a runway. I now have to prioritize and simplify my work schedule to make sure I am keeping my work on a high level of excellence.
What is on your design wall right now?
I just started a piece for a challenge titled “Meandering.” I am inspired by an actual dimensional metal gate which is titled the “Gaudi Door.” Behind the door graphic I now intend to create a mosaic of fabric pieces in the style of Gaudi’s many ceramic mosaics in Barcelona.
Interview posted January 2023
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