Looking Back: House Portraits

A post in an occasional series – looking back at artworks or mediums I worked in from earlier in my artist years.

Here I show you two house portraits and tell you a little bit about these houses, why I made these wall hangings, and about house portraits in fabric and me.

All right, here is the story. In the beginning of my art career, the first thing I made was a portrait of our house in fabric. I got the idea from a book and I was inspired to try it out. It was an awful mess but I enjoyed doing it. So I kept on.

At first I did them in hand applique and later went on to machine work. I developed my own methods and refined them, and my sewing abilities improved. I began to sell them on a commission basis, with customers found either through art shows or through a local shop which displayed samples of my work.

In most cases I took photos of the building and worked from them, drawing up a picture on graph paper and using it to create pattern pieces for the building. This method was the forerunner of the technique I recently described for collage work.

I made houses, mostly – but I also did commercial buildings, a nursing home, and a florist’s greenhouse, as I remember. Here are some photos. Please excuse the poor quality – all of these works were done in the 1990’s or so and I was still using a film camera, not very well. I made the gallery small because there are so many of them – click if you want more detail.

You may notice there are two versions of one building – it’s the Valley Green Inn, a popular spot in Philadelphia, on Forbidden Drive in Fairmount Park. The original piece I made at the suggestion of the owner of the shop I referred to earlier – she sold it in the store. The other one was made as a commission, requested by someone who had seen the original and wanted me to make this version, a fall scene, as a gift for her sister who was having her wedding reception there.

Well, there is a story with each one of these pieces.

Let me get back to the original images I showed you. In 2001, I was asked by the editor of a series of quilting books by Rodale Press to participate in one of their volumes. Its theme was drafting and designing various types of quilts. My assignment was to explain how to make a house portrait in fabric, start to finish.

I was given a template for how to write up my process as well as for a glossary, tips, and suggestions. (I still have the files from this project, so I know! What a trip down memory lane). I had to come up with 2 house subjects, one a front view and one an angled view. My husband and I drove around our area looking for the perfect subjects and found them in two different neighborhoods within 15 minutes of home.

I created the drawings, did all the writing, and made the pieces, submitting them for editing and review. I remember I asked a friend to read over the directions to see if she could follow them before I sent them to the editor.

Then came time for photography of the process, the drawings, and the pieces themselves. With the editor’s help I broke the process up at points that would made good photo points. This meant I had to make several drawings, for instance, showing different stages of design. Luckily, since the book was not about construction, I did not have to show myself putting the piece together, and make several different versions at different stages.

We met at the editor’s house to accomplish this  photography task: me, the editor, a hand model,(!) and a photographer. At this session I mostly observed and handed over the right items at the right time. And enjoyed the inside view of how a book photo project was made.

The book is still available: check here on Amazon.

This project was a highlight of my fabric art career. I was, and still am, very proud to have been chosen and for the work that I did on the project, and through this phase of my art career.

I also did a self-published book on the subject in the 1990’s. Don’t know if there is still a copy in existence (though Amazon says there is). I still have the interior of the book in my files, though, I think.

All of the house portraits I made were sold or given away long ago, and I don’t have photos of some of the earliest ones I did (which is maybe a good thing). I also did a few house portraits in collage, but not many – by then I was wanting to spend more time on my own work and did not accept many commissions. In any case, house portraits are what got me firmly involved in art-making and I will always remember this phase of my work in detail and very fondly, I think.


12 thoughts on “Looking Back: House Portraits

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. This was a real trip down memory lane for me as I had not looked at these images in years. Sometimes I forget all the things that I have done.

  1. Laura (PA Pict)

    All of the house portraits are fantastic. I enjoyed the insight into the book process. I never considered before the fact that art and craft books were using hand models instead of the actual artists and creators though it seems obvious.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. Yes, as I reviewed this phase of my art life a lot of memories were revived and I enjoyed thinking about my small participation in being in a book. I remember being very surprised at arriving and finding out that a hand model would be involved, as I had never thought about that either. I felt my work was very important to rate such a thing! All in all house portraits were very good to me, artistically – I learned so much about all aspects of art in doing them, and as I remember, the first class I ever taught was on the subject of creating a fabric house portrait, too. So there is a lot that this one genre did for me over the years.

  2. Diane

    I absolutely had NO idea of this part of your career! Talk about learning something new everyday! And the book too??? Again, had NO idea! What a wonderful story and thank you for sharing it. XO

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you, yes, as I think about it, I was not doing as many house portraits when I met you, as I had gotten in to doing shows and making works on other subjects of my own choice. I did like doing them, though, for a lot of reasons, and I learned a lot about art in figuring out how to create an image, make it look sort of realistic, color choices, etc. I always liked houses in real life, all aspects, and I think this was a natural fit, plus of course there was a steady amount of people who wanted such a thing, so it encouraged me to keep creating.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. As I said this was my entree into the art world and I really learned so much as I fumbled my way through, each portrait taught me something more, and of course it was what got me started in doing art shows which were such a big part of my life.

    1. Claudia McGill Post author

      Thank you. I guess I have been itching to do books since forever, because this one was done very early computer and before internet self-publishing – I did the manuscript, slowly, painfully, eeek! and got a local shop to print it and bind it. Now it could be done in a flash, then it was quite consuming. I did sell a fair number of these plus I had another one I did on fabric collages in general that I also sold similar to this one.

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