©Mary McCauley Canna Countours: Canna variegata

It’s always interesting to learn more about the educational background of our contributors, especially as it relates to their artistic development.

One of the highlights of our March/April 2016 issue is an article by multi-talented artist Mary McCauley about her 3-dimensional fabric sculptures. Mary recently earned a Foundation Certificate in Botanic Illustration from the Denver Botanic Gardens and she was kind enough to share with me how this has impacted her fiber work.

“The Foundation Certificate in Botanic Illustration from the Denver Botanic Gardens is a rigorous course of study and practice. There are 15 required courses, plus 100 hours of elective classes, and a required juried portfolio of 5 plates in graphite/carbon dust, pen and ink, watercolor/gauche/egg tempera, colored pencil, and a plate of mixed media or artist’s choice. The required curriculum includes technical training in color theory, value, perspective, light on form, composition and botany for illustrators. How could a path of study like that NOT impact whatever art one is doing? That fact that the subject matter is botanicals is almost irrelevant – what the expert faculty teaches is so important to any artist.

If I had to sum it up into the most valuable learning I got from the program, it is to truly observe –to see what is really there rather than what you expect to see or want to see. I no longer look at a color as one color, but I think now in terms of what component colors have to be there to get the exact color I see.  My world now has more greens than I can count and every one is a mix of many colors. I think about shapes and forms that make up everything from simple basic shapes to a complex cluster of forest trees, or roots of a bulb, or the stamen in relation to the petals and sepals of an iris. I learned to look at very intricate and complex forms and see the simple structures and their relationships that make up the whole. What artist wouldn’t benefit from that skill?

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©Mary McCauley Container Garden: Lily II
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©Mary McCauley Reef Forms
Lighting has also become more important and understandable to me. What lighting is present, how it strikes your subject, shadows and reflections – these are all so important to what you actually see in a subject. Canna variegata shows the subject with back lighting – the darkest forms and shadows are in the foreground, with tints and less detail in the background – atmospheric perspective. I think if you look at art quilts and sort out the truly memorable and striking pieces, you will see the artist has found a way to show light. It may be contrasts in values, shadows or – as in portrait quilts, strong light sources.

Training in illustration is all about editing. You don’t represent everything you see. You learn what features or aspects of a plant are important to differentiate that particular species, that point in its life cycle, or to simplify a composition as in a patch of tangled weeds. As quilters we all learn to select a palette of colors – not everything in our stash, and the balance of lights and darks – just one example of the editing we do as artists.

I encourage all quilting artists to step outside their usual learning zone of quilting classes and study art in other contexts and subject areas. You will be amazed at how relevant and inspiring it will be.”

Thank you so much Mary! Your work is certainly inspirational to us.

Be sure to visit Mary’s website to see more of her beautiful artwork of all kinds.


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