Lyric Montgomery Kinard is an award winning artist with a passion for sparking the creativity that she knows each of her students possesses. With playful support and gentle encouragement she will take you through your first steps on a new path, seeing the world through the eyes of an artist. As an artist, author, and educator she transforms cloth into art in her studio and timid spirits into confident creatives in the classroom.
Lyric was recognized for her talents as the 2011 International Association of Professional Quilters Teacher of the Year and is the author of the book Art + Quilt: Design Principles and Creativity Exercises. She has written extensively for Quilting Arts Magazine, appeared on Quilting Arts TV, and The Quilt Show. In her past life she was a musician, earned a BA in English Literature from the University of Utah and has also formally studied architecture. She currently lives in Cary, North Carolina, with her husband and some of their five children.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
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Becoming a textile artist and educator was not something I planned, or ever dreamed of becoming, or even knew existed. It’s been a circuitous and surprising journey. I’ve always had the need to create but as I was growing up that drive manifested itself in everything but the visual arts. My father was a high school art teacher and because of both fear and rebellion I refused to take the art lessons from him that the rest of my siblings enjoyed. I still regret that.
I was a working musician, and studied creative writing and architecture in college. Later I dabbled in watercolor and pottery. When I chose to have children I put everything aside and as a result I completely lost my identity for a while. I’m a good mother but my entire self had been wrapped up in my music or the things I created, and at the time I hadn’t yet fully embraced the value of motherhood. I was also too used to a system of tangible rewards. Nobody applauds, or pays you a bonus, or even says thank you, when you manage to get through a mind numbing and grueling day caring for babies.
A dear friend introduced me to what became my lifeline; quilting. I had sewn for years so I was immediately hooked and quickly learned all the traditional skills. It was a creative endeavor I could manage even with constant interruptions. It was the only thing I did all day that didn’t need to be redone ten minutes later. Jumping several years ahead I saw my first art quilts and they were a revelation to me. Who knew quilts could be more than patchwork, could be so expressive and unique!? Well, duh – I should have known but I didn’t. I immediately found ways to learn any technique that I thought would help me express my vision.
Fast forward to today, I am convinced that I have the best job ever! I get to travel and play with quilters all over the world who are some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve met. I get to create beautiful and meaningful artwork. Best of all, besides being able to maintain my primary role as a mother, I get to help people discover and embrace their own creativity.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can develop?
Yes, and yes. I think our society’s definition of creativity is far too narrow. It’s not confined to the sole realm of the arts. I define it as having questions and solving problems. My most pressing personal questions mostly involve the various arts: how hard is it to learn to play a ukulele? How many variations of a circle can I create that reference the geometry of a millstone? Can I create a whole series of artwork that remains interesting to my distractible brain? My husband is an engineer and solves problems in code, creating the most elegant solution to solve a function he can find. I think that’s creative. Learning to cook or garden – or really MAKING anything, is creative, in my strongly held and not so humble opinion.
How do you balance teaching and creating and motherhood? Are they discrete activities, or is there synergy between them?
I get just as much joy and fulfillment from teaching as I do from art making or I wouldn’t spend so much time doing it. Helping people, especially older women, who might have been told at some point they couldn’t be artists, find that spark and see the world anew through an artist’s lens is an amazing thing to be involved in. There is such joy in waking up your artist’s eyes!
My life balances like a see-saw! Sometimes something is up and the other has slammed to the ground. Nothing is ever on an even keel. People ask me how I “do everything” without realizing that I simply don’t. No matter how hard I try to control my workload there are always at least two balls dropped and rolling around on the floor. BUT…. over time everything balances out. I’m better at realizing my limits and being fine with them. It doesn’t discourage me when I can’t get to the studio because my children need me. (That’s much easier now that the youngest is out of elementary school!) And I don’t feel guilty when I have an art deadline and the kids have to feed themselves. They are capable. It’s all a matter of keeping my priorities foremost, whether they are family or deadlines, and being OK with my limitations.
What leads you to share so many resources on your website – your work, process, tutorials, calls for entry?
When I think hard about my own creative process, I find that I enjoy the exploration of an idea as much as I enjoy the finished artwork. I love generating and thinking through ideas and figuring out how to implement them. Mostly, I share what excites ME so you get to see a lot of the process when I’m working on my art.
I also love connecting with people. I think living creatively brings joy into the world and it’s pretty much my soapbox-call-to-action-cause to bring that joy to other people. So I create lots of tutorials for techniques that people can use to create their own work. I also think that doing things to help others and sharing art makes the world a better place so I keep a call for entry list that focuses on shows featuring art quilts. It’s totally a pay-it-forward thing. I’ve been helped by so many generous and kind textile artists that this is just one small way I can turn it around and pay back a little of what I owe.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?
My inspirations come from so many places that sometimes it’s really hard to narrow my focus. I love the mixture of order and chaos that exist where nature and the man made world meet. Much of my adult life has been wonderfully chaotic (I had five children) and feel that a lot of my artwork is a response to that. I love creating order and beauty built on a layer of unexpected chaos right below the surface.
Are you a planner or an improviser? How do you make the leap from the idea in your head to the art you create?
With my smaller, hand stitched work, I am completely improvisational. I’ll gather a small bunch of beautiful fabrics, beads, and embroidery threads and just see what emerges. I simply cannot just “sit” so I work on these on road trips, while waiting through the kids practices or in carpool lines and such. I always try to have a small “to go” project handy to work on, or at least a sketchbook.
With larger representational work, I will sometimes plan the placement of each image, especially if it is a whole cloth printed or painted. With my abstract work I find I have to be completely flexible with the process as seeing the shapes and colors on the design wall gives me an entirely different idea of the composition than thumbnail planning sketches. I cannot tie myself so strongly to an idea that I cannot solve problems as they arise.
Do you have daily creative rituals in your studio?
Hah! I talk about it, I wish I had rituals, I need to have daily practices. What I have in real life is difficulty with discipline. I am interested in EVERYTHING and am so easily distracted. I have to set hard and fast deadlines and make lists in order to get anything done.
I’ve recently published something that’s been kicking around in my head for years that I think will help. It’s a card deck – a game of sorts for artists – or really anyone of any age who wants to play creatively for a few minutes. Start Your Art consists of 48 warm ups that can take as little as 15 minutes. You play with a prompt and various materials, without fear, without expectations. You make “bad art” just for the joy of creating.
Do you focus on one piece from start to finish or work actively on more than one project at a time?
Currently I have eight or nine random pieces layered and ready to quilt, many small hand stitched works underway. But I am concentrating on starting new pieces for a big (and very scary) solo show that will happen next summer. I’m also launching a new card game for artists, helping to curate a traveling exhibit, redesigning my website, learning how to make a commercial pattern, and have just updated my online store.
Do you critique your own work? What is your process?
Absolutely!!!! It’s kind of my thing! As I’m creating I might think, “how are the elements of texture, line, shape, color, and value functioning?” How is the principle of focal point or balance or unity working here? Sometimes it is intuitive and I only consciously think about it when I hit a snag. Knowing how each element operates in the visual language helps me to objectively analyze the work.
This is also one of my favorite things to teach! Beginners or advanced artists can all benefit from being able to objectively analyze what is going on in a composition.
The Artist’s Toolbox: pt 1 the Elements of Art
Tell us about a challenging piece. What were the obstacles and how did you get past them?
Ah, I rarely have a larger piece that simply goes together without a hitch. It’s part of my process to hit a point where I think it’s horrible then push through to the next two or three steps before everything works out. Sometimes it stays horrible, and that’s OK. I feel that if I, as an artist, never made any bad art – that I would be stagnant. I don’t have to show you the bad art, but I do need to learn from it in order to get to the next level.
Then there are the pieces like Essence that teach me really important things. With a largely looming deadline and working with black paint on a whole cloth white piece a huge glop of paint landed where it shouldn’t have. It was late. I cried a bit because this meant I wouldn’t be able to be in this show. Then I went to bed. The next morning I took a fresh look and chose to add more and more and more (a little less gloppy) marks. I turned that original mistake into an integral part of the design. It worked out and now Essence is one of my favorite works. Sometimes a “mistake” turns out to be a “design opportunity” if you stop and analyze what happened. You can learn from it instead of giving up.
What is the most important takeaway you want students to gain from your workshops or seeing your artwork?
Fearlessness. Joy. Curiosity.
When people see my work I want it to uplift them or make them think deeply about something. I want them to bring their own meaning to the art, whatever that is.
Whether I’m teaching online or live, I want my students to play, to try new things without worrying about making anything good or pretty. I want them to learn enough of a technique or design process that they can use that tool in whatever creative endeavor makes them happy. I tell them that I only teach kindergarten – we finger-paint and get messy. We try out all the mistakes and learn from analyzing what happened.