Artist Spotlight: Leslie McNeil

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I love to work with my hands. I’ve dabbled in all manner of arts and crafts over the years, and always was fascinated by quilting, but never turned out to be much of a seamstress (I’ll stick to crewel and embroidery.) Well, to kick off the New Year, I wanted to introduce an artist who works in a completely different type of media than anything featured yet. Leslie McNeil’s work was one of the first that introduced me to “art quilting” with its exquisite details, rich colors and complex patterns (I had no idea this could be done with a sewing machine!). I love the texture created by the fabric and thread – just gorgeous! I hope you enjoy her interview and take some time to check out her work at her shop too!

Leslie McNeil Art Quilt

Detail of “Montana Treasure” Landscape Art Quilt

BT: Please introduce yourself and your medium.

Leslie: Hi there! First, it’s an honor to be asked by Beth for an interview. I am truly blessed! I would like to say that I am not a specially trained artist! {Anyone can learn whatever they DESIRE!} While my passion lies in playing and creating with fabrics, sewing and quilting, my real love is free motion threadplay… on just about anything I can get my hands on! My husband Brian and I have five children in our blended family; three of whom live in Washington, where his boys farm for a living, and the youngest daughter who stays active working from home with our first grandbaby. My two boys are the oldest, one a rancher, and the other a full-time Sargent with the U.S. Army.  I  work full-time in the U.S. Courts, as the Jury Administrator for the Montana Federal Courts, and also a Criminal Courtroom Deputy, and am just beginning my 27th year.

I was introduced to traditional sewing as a young girl, when my mom forced me to sit down long enough to learn something that was deemed a life skill! {I was a tomboy, and had no time for sitting down of any kind!} I didn’t come to really value those skills, until I understood how much a prom dress cost, when I desired to attend a formal dance in college, which was a big motivator for me to make my first dress!


“Montana Treasure” Landscape Art Quilt

Although I went to college, majoring in business education with a minor in art,  I have very little formal art training.  In the late 70’s when I attended college, art mainly focused on art history, pottery, drawing, and painting. There wasn’t too much beyond that.  I began pursuing quilting in the late 90’s when Pine Needle patterns (created by Montana’s McKenna Ryan) became popular, and were quite simple with a cut and fuse method that was then quilted.  These patterns mainly focused on forest scenes with animals… and that is how I began to learn free motion, and grow my skills and passion for thread and fiber in the nature of “art quilting” – or non-traditional quilt making.  I currently teach regularly for a local Bernina store where I live, and continue to piece, quilt and sew, in any way I can.  It’s all good stuff!  Recently, I have become fascinated with the possibilities of mixed media, and incorporating it into fabric manipulations, paper and canvas.  I describe my quilting as bright and contemporary, and slightly abstract.

BT: When did you first discover your creative talents?

Leslie: As a youngster in high school, I always loved art, and crafts, but it was not encouraged, or thought to have a lot of ‘value’ by my family and peers in the age I grew up in.  I don’t believe I understood, or accepted that I had any kind of “real talent” or that it had value beyond giving it away, or for my own personal recreation.  I began to want to ‘be more serious’ with it… but didn’t really know how to begin, until I was encouraged by friends in my bible study, and particularly a sweet girlfriend, with her husband, who told me something that has always stuck with me: “Leslie, expect glorious things!”  She not only encouraged me, {still does!} but is my ‘sounding board’ – a person who loves the Lord, and keeps me accountable, and speaks the truth to me in love.  What has been even more precious is knowing she is one of several people who pray for me, my fledgling art and teaching business; eventually encouraging me to open up an Etsy store, (2009) and then to pursue writing a blog (late 2010), which I’ve named “MarveLesArt Studios.

A glimpse at Leslie's sketchbook.

A glimpse at Leslie’s sketchbook.

BT: What themes do you pursue in your work?

Leslie: I love pursuing vibrant, bold colors, and uplifting, Christian themes, scripture, poems, and lettering, as well as the abundance of nature here in Montana, inspire my quilting, threadplay, and interpretations, usually with a base of a single piece of hand-dyed cloth.  I am currently using thermofax screens, paintstiks, foiling, and applying cords, yarns, and beads onto my quilts! Often, I will ask myself, “what is the unexpected thing to do?” when I am creating. In my quiltplay, I am known to use a minimum of five different threads, and multiple quilting motifs, as well as combining decorative stitch techniques, in combination with the free motion quilting.

"The Flathead" Landscape Art Quilt

“The Flathead” Landscape Art Quilt

BT: What “fills your well” and inspires you to create?

Leslie: What truly fills me up is worship, based on faith and life in Jesus Christ!  Without that, my creating is very shallow.  When I put God in first place, it’s amazing the things that flow out of my heart, into my head, and from my fingers, onto fabric, paper, and crayon. My art quilt named “Be Still” was very representative of this; a quilt based on my first piece of hand-dyed fabric, and totally quilted with only words, and swirly, undulating lines with many different threads.  It currently hangs in our Church sanctuary.

And then… memories oftentimes will inspire me. Specifically, I have three quilts, “Montana Treasure,” “The Flathead,” and “Summer Shimmer.” The “Montana” quilt was definitely inspired by my color feelings of growing up in Montana, and was my very first art quilt.  “The Flathead” art quilt was inspired by memories of traveling to the Flathead Valley, with my grandma, which was where she grew up, and her parents homesteaded.  “Summer Shimmer” was based on my childhood memories of spending our summers in the small community pool with my brothers and sisters.

BT: How do you handle creative block?

Leslie: I hesitatingly say that I have not had a serious issue with this … that being said, I also find that usually a ‘block’ comes from not taking time to think… and rushing… or of ‘not taking care of business’ first – with things like my husband, my home, and chores!  When I try to ‘make time to create” – or rush and hurry, I find that it will rob me of the joy in spending time creating. If I am feeling unfocused, I only need to touch, look, and take in the bounty that is my sewing studio, or look at my photographs, and I can be inspired. {Cleaning and organizing my studio are key for me, helping me to become quickly motivated and inspired!}

Detail of "The Flathead" Landscape Art Quilt

Detail of “The Flathead” Landscape Art Quilt

BT: If you had a superpower, what would it be, and why?

Leslie: Oh wow.  I don’t think I honestly have one I could wish for, but you know, as a little girl, I always wished I could fly!  I think that would be just seriously cool, but of course, as an adult, I no longer wish for life as bird… but to soar right where I am ~ on the wings of eagles.

BT: What artists do you admire?

Leslie: If I had to choose only one, it would definitely be Carol Hagan, a wonderful watercolorist from Billings, MT, whom I have admired for over a decade.  In fabric art, I really appreciate those who free motion quilt, or longarmers, of which there are far too many to mention {see my blog roll!}

Detail of "The Flathead" Landscape Art Quilt

Detail of “The Flathead” Landscape Art Quilt

BT: What is your dream project?

Leslie: Well, my dream project is usually the next one I’m playing with! Although I do have ideas for future projects from photos I’ve taken, I sometimes think about creating a landscape art quilt, based on a Montana scene, would be a dream and a goal, and to have it hanging in a public place. We live near the Missouri River, in Great Falls, MT, and someday, perhaps I will make a quilt with that focus, in a dramatic, and God-glorifying way.

BT: What’s the best advice you’ve been given as an artist/maker?

Leslie: Be who you are.  Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  Don’t’ be afraid to grow, and experiment! Don’t be afraid, period. {Matthew 14:27!} In all I do ~ to Glorify and Edify God in my art. AND…  “Expect Glorious Things!”


4 responses to “Artist Spotlight: Leslie McNeil

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