Maggie Dillon designs portraits inspired by the everyday life in the 1940’s. The textile art pieces are created by cutting each piece of fabric by hand and layering them to create dimension and texture to the final art work. Why textiles? The texture that is created by the fabric and stitching.
How did you get into what you do creatively? How does your formal art education help your work develop?
I owe my art education circumstances for bringing me to this medium.
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When I went to art school, I had dreams of becoming an artist. I did not know what that meant at the time, and I am so grateful for my creative journey. I worked at a local quilt shop within walking distance of campus.
As I worked through my degree completing courses in design, drawing, painting, printmaking, we were encouraged to find our own voice and the way we, as individual artists, wanted to create.
Having creative freedom and being surrounded by gorgeous fabrics on a regular basis at the quilt shop had me wanting to experiment and try my hand at some sort of collage with fabric. When I brought my first experimental piece to class, it was well received and with that encouragement, I continued to create in this way.
I truly believe that if I was in a different place, I would not have arrived where I am in my work. Just the simple nudge to continue experimenting was all I needed.
Why textiles? How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
What I love about textiles is that I can create in the same way I would with paper, but fabric is more forgiving, I’ve found. You can cut an infinite amount of shapes out of fabric and not have to worry about ripping like you would with paper. Fabric is completely flexible and can be crumpled and still end up flat again. I also love that I can create texture through stitching and quilting.
When I think of how I want my work to be perceived, I envision tapestries hanging freely on walls. While the design has a painterly effect, I like that my work differs from traditional stretched canvases. When my work shows in an all-media fine art show, it is so different from most of the work and that gets people to walk right up to it and get a little more attention. Textiles and fiber art are more widely accepted to galleries than in the past, but it is still unusual and unique.
Is there an overarching theme that connects all of your work?
My current series is entirely inspired by the 1940’s. My work is well known for its nostalgic quality and color palette.
I am absolutely in love with old photographs and create in a muted color palette like old color film. I love colorizing old photos and creating compositions from vintage images. I have worked on this series for the past 15 years.
Even the modern images I create are wholly inspired by settings that have been around for over a century… historic homes, pubs, parks… I’m about it!
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
Portraits are my signature. I have been a textile portrait artist for 15 years.
I work in layers from front to back. All of the layers are true layers whereas the 2nd layer is larger than the 1st so that it can stack on top with no edges butting up. It gets thick, but the pieces are so stable. My work has a sculptural effect when you look up close. There can be up to eleven layers in a face, so you can actually see the profile if you look very closely.
I created a course called the Textile Portrait Masterclass that details how to make your own portraits.
Do you plan your work out ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
Each piece is designed and carefully planned from the beginning. I have an exact idea of how it will look in the end. I have my fabric colors selected, the pattern is printed at the size the finished piece will be. It’s like “paint by numbers” at that point – haha.
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
When I first started creating textile portraits, the subject of my piece was the main focus with little to no detail in the background. Over the past 5 years, I have put a greater emphasis on creating a story for the “character” within the background details.
When I feel it looks like you could walk right into the scene, the top is complete. Then, comes the quilting. While much of my quilting is used to emphasize the outlines of shapes I have already created within my original design, I also use it to create additional texture in wood, brick walls, and ripples in water.
When the quilting feels even across the piece, it is FINISHED!
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have a dedicated studio space in my home. I keep it *mostly tidy.
I have two raised 6 foot tables side by side that act as my creation space. I work flat on the tables. My sewing machine is set up on one corner of that space. I work large, so the tables are completely covered in my work in progress.
I usually have a little space on one of the corners to display the color palette of fabric I have selected for that piece, organized from light to dark in each color family. This makes it very easy for me to select the next fabric.
I have two magnetic pin cushions, one for each type of pin I create with, and an array of sharpies ready to grab as I need.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
My pieces often take around 2-3 months to create. I then take a break for 3-4 weeks in between and work on other creative ventures to free my mind, then back to the next large piece! I love working with my hands, so I have taken to drawing lately. I realized that I haven’t really drawn since college, so it feels nostalgic and peaceful to get back into it.
Which part of the design process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
I enjoy creating the design digitally. I find it exciting and satisfying. The actual creation process is WHERE IT’S AT. I enjoy deciding what the fabric shapes will look like. I enjoy hand cutting the pieces and layering them up. I enjoy the methodical pin, pin, pinning along the edge of each shape. I could probably do without sewing every once in a while, though.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
My biggest challenge is burnout. I create so rigorously and am so hyper focused that once the piece is complete, I need a mental and sometimes physical break. I have learned to cope through this by working on smaller, unrelated creative projects – such as drawing, jewelry-making and various DIY’s. I love to keep my hands moving.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person? Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?
For me, creativity is human nature. I have always felt the pull to create. As a small child I remember being in daycare and loving crafting. I participated in many county-wide art shows in elementary and middle school. I took art electives in high school. My love of art was always supported by my parents and I attended college to earn a fine art degree. While I was fortunate throughout my life to nurture my art and take courses, that natural urge to be creative was always there for me.
Where can people see your work?
www.MaggieDillonDesigns.com and on Patreon, Instagram & Facebook @maggiedillondesigns
Interview posted August 2023
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