When Lorie McCown brings her fine art education to textiles and mixed media, the result is a visual celebration of the layers that make up human stories. The textures create reflections and shadows that change when the light source shifts, echoing life’s journeys.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I was always making things – cutting up greeting cards, macramé, home sewing, drawing and painting.
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My parents were not creatives themselves, but they always supported my endeavors. I attended Cal State Long Beach, in Long Beach, California, then graduated with a BA in Art. My concentration was studio art and art history.
What media do you prefer to work with and why?
I trained in drawing and painting. I also did printmaking, and commercial display. So I still keep a painting studio here at my house.
Then I discovered textiles my senior year college through a weaving course. It clicked with me, and I loved the tactile and elemental force in the fibers and loom. I was taught to sew clothing from patterns by my mom.
Now I practice integrating as much as I can, textiles, paint and stitching. I like hand stitching and embroidery, especially in reference to historical work and samplers. I started quilting when I had young children, about 20 years ago. When we lived in Florida in the early 90’s, I took an extension class in traditional quilting at a local community college, and it really clicked with me. So I made traditional quilts for years, even completing a Baltimore album quilt with traditional hand turned appliqué.
Fast forward to 2000, when I attended a quilt show in Williamsburg, VA, saw an exhibit of art quilts, and knew this was for me. It was the best of both worlds, painting with fabric, if you will. I’ve evolved to making my own pieces now since then and enjoy the aspects of this art.
If we asked a good friend of yours to describe your work, what would they say?
I would hope they would say a unique voice unto myself. I think the message is everything in art, even if it’s a subtle one. No matter what media I choose, I try to be as honest as I can about what the piece is conveying. So it’s never about just color, form, line etc. Those are the tools I use to make pieces that I hope are both intimate, and timely.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I’m probably right down the middle with this one. The nature of textiles is so great that I feel like they do the work for us. So I try not to beat it into too much submission.
I like seeing the ‘hand’ of the artist, such as stitching, texture, weave, etc. I do start with a concept, or an idea. But I let the composition and piece ease into itself. It’s a delicate dance with some pieces, but others seem to flow like water. I try to show up and work, which is sometimes the hardest part.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?
This is huge with me. In no particular order: History, books, mythology, family roles, and the human condition are all themes that reappear often in my work. Words are of paramount importance. I’m a reader and love stories and storytelling, so I’m hoping that comes through in the work.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
This is a hard one, and maybe something for others to remark on? But I hope my work is original, timely and yet timeless. I wish I was more ironic, or political, but that doesn’t seem to be my bent. If I were to say anything, it would be a loose hand in painting or fiber work, the appearance of mark making, sketchiness, and hand stitching.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
Most definitely, not at all. I try but seldom get there.
I’m a baroque maximalist, so I like my ‘things’. Maybe it’s my Italian heritage because I adore the Baroque and Rococo time periods. I like to see my supplies on open shelves and jars of buttons. It’s not everyone’s groove, and I applaud those who are uber organized and minimalist, but it’s just not me.
Maybe a little part is that I love old, worn, torn, rusty stuff, and have been accused of doing a little hoarding. But I did make a pledge this year to only work from the supplies I have on hand.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
Yes. I love them. So I have stacks and stacks. They’ve become their own thing. I use them as a place to think, jot, paint, no rules. I also (before Pinterest) made lots of inspiration boards and scrapbooks.
Visual cues are really important, and spur the creative process for me.
What are the other indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
I’m pretty basic. Good lighting has become a huge need! And then a comfortable chair/table to work at. I love embroidery needles, sharp points, big eyes (see previous sentence!)
I’m fond of any type of antique linen, the more humble the better. I consider myself a bit of a scavenger, and I’m very much a non-gadget artist.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Lately it’s been audio books. I”m a part-timer at our library, so I have really enjoyed listening to stories. Now books are a whole other obsession for me! I love literature, historical fiction, biography, history, and re-imagined mythology. I sometimes listen to music as well. Silence is good, too.
How do you prepare yourself for a session of creative work?
It all starts with an idea. When I was entering a lot of competitive shows, there were rules, guidelines, size requirements, and of course, deadlines. Not so much now. But I do not enter these shows anymore.
My work lately has been slower, more thoughtful and based on ideas I’ve recorded, usually in the notebooks I mentioned earlier. I keep a schedule, which has altered over the years, working in my studio 3-4 days a week. I’m an early worker, so I’m not any good at late night (anymore).
How do you deal with creativity blocks?
Usually I know right off if something is not ringing true. So if it’s starting to look derivative or forced, it gets remade.
I don’t make my work precious or archival. If I don’t think something is working, then I rework it. A good trick is to leave something out that you are stuck on, then come back and look at it with fresh eyes. I’ve had a few spells where I wasn’t up to making anything, and I honor that too.
Creative work is all of the mind. So I’m reading, looking at art in museums, or books, using the down time to rest, recharge and take care of other things. I know if I’ve not been working in the studio for a while, as it makes me grumpy. I make a point of trying to take in other’s creative endeavors, especially not in my field. Theater, movies, dance all are good at recharging my battery.
If you had the opportunity, what creative person, past or present, would you like to work with and why?
Hard question! I tend to like my inspirations to stay that way, myth and all. But to sit at the feet of Jane Austen, any of the Bronte sisters, DaVinci, or John Singer Sargent would be something. I love the idea of a creative salon, where artists meet and discuss creative things.
But the real answer to this question is to meet my great-great grandmother and ask her how her life is. What are her fears, joys? I don’t know where my creativity came from, and I’d like to know. Now that is my gasoline for my engine!
How has your creativity evolved over the years? What triggered the evolution to new media/kinds of work/ways of working?
My personal creativity has been pretty constant, I’m lucky. I studied drawing and painting in college, so I had a firm background in classical art and practice.
I think the artists today have to deal with technology that seems to change daily. Being able to keep up, or already having a hunger for this is very important to relevancy I believe.
My work has so much to do with tradition and the handmade so I wonder about that sometimes.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Ah, the eternal question! It’s a combination of both, especially in modern times. A person can be creative from the beginning, but never develop it or use it or have it nurtured in any way. Yet, somehow, it comes through.
The thought patterns, the way they look at life, all come to the surface. It’s a drive that is intrinsic to them. But others have been creatively stilted by their environment, circumstances or just life. It’s too broad a question to answer here.
In the end, if creative expression is wanted enough, it will come through, no matter what. What gets confused is when commercial success or notoriety is valued as much as the creative practice. And this is not new to modern times. So I highly recommend to people interested in this question to do some research in art history. It helps to get the broader perspective of creativity and the expression of it through the ages.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Well pre-Covid I did! Unfortunately, the pandemic has been hard on creatives and all of my in-person classes or workshops have been cancelled. I do not have an online workshop forum set up, so teaching is on hold for now. I do have an Etsy store, which I try to keep up, and of course, accept commissions.
Life as a working artist is not an easy one, and I’ve felt the business of art is very taxing and a struggle sometimes.
Here’s some links to my information:
Interview with Lorie McCown posted July 2020
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