Portrait Quilts that are Picture Perfect

A selection of modern portrait quilts

What is it about the human face and form that we find so fascinating that we want to recreate it in our artwork? From preschool stick figures to high school drawing class, many of us dabbled in making portraits long before we started quilting. But the inspiration to capture an image our favorite person – whether on a canvas or in cloth – is the same. We are all fascinated by portraits.

This is the inspiration photo for my Ed Note portrait quilt

This is the inspiration photo for my Ed Note quilt

Pixelated Portrait Quilts

I’ve certainly tried my hand at making portrait quilts. Using an online design service and translating my editor’s note photo into a pixelated portrait was a blast (I talked about it on Quilting Arts TV as well as where pixilation fits into the contemporary art world. Check it out here!)

This pixelated portrait quilt, Ed Note was created using an online design program called You Patch. It measures 64” x 64”… As someone who is 5’4” tall, that’s exactly my size!

This pixelated portrait quilt, Ed Note was created using an online design program called You Patch. It measures 64” x 64”… As someone who is 5’4” tall, that’s exactly my size!

But portrait quilts are so much more than pixelated versions of photographs.

Modern Portrait Quilts:

I’d like to think that every portrait we render in fabric and thread captures more than just the representation of the face of the subject. Creating a portrait is an intimate act and speaks volumes about the artist as well as his or her subject. What is important to them? What ideals do they share? What does the expression (or the background, or the clothing) say about the human condition?

Sandra Bruce’s work, Self Portrait was inspired by contemporary painter Chuck Close. Her 80” x 80” quilt is made up of 1,600 2” squares.

Sandra Bruce’s work, Self Portrait was inspired by contemporary painter Chuck Close. Her 80” x 80” quilt is made up of 1,600 2” squares.

As a piece of art – no matter what technique or medium is used – a portrait reflects the social constructs of the time in which it is made, the personal values of the artist, and the interests of the individual depicted in the final work. Quilters have learned through trial and error to create portrait quilts using a wide variety of techniques, and each artist captures their subjects differently.

Laurie’s pop-art inspired quilt captures the sophisticated glance of her model and reflects their shared love of fashion.

Laurie’s pop-art inspired quilt captures the sophisticated glance of her model and reflects their shared love of fashion.

Modern Quilters Inspired by the Masters

For instance, quilt artist Laurie Ceesay gathers inspiration from the masterful painters and printmakers (such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein) of the pop-art movement. Her portrait quilts are striking in their modern depiction of contemporary women, catching them in poses that are both sophisticated and sleek. Laurie uses technology to help simplify and enlarge a photograph and then creates her work with an appliqué technique. She has a way of capturing what is important to her subjects – fashion, image, and personal style. Her work is firmly rooted in this age and tie.

Heidi’s unusual technique of creating mosaic patterns with a digital cutter lends itself to sentimental portraits of her family and others as in this quilt, <em>Daddy, Hold my Hand<em>. Her strong design sense and use of color are apparent in all she creates.

Heidi’s unusual technique of creating mosaic patterns with a digital cutter lends itself to sentimental portraits of her family and others as in this quilt, Daddy, Hold my Hand. Her strong design sense and use of color are apparent in all she creates.

Another artist who creates unique portrait quilts with a very different method and result is Heidi Proffetty. Heidi’s mosaic images harken back to the mosaics of the Renaissance, yet are created using photo-editing software, a digital cutter, and a lot of patience. She, too, captures the essence of her subjects with amazing accuracy and sensitivity. Her work is sentimental, poignant, and precise. Want to know more? Heidi’s technique has also been featured in the October/November 2017 issue of Quilting Arts Magazine.

Both of these artists share their techniques and perspectives about art, color, value, and creativity on Quilting Arts TV series 2200. With a wide variety of topics, portrait quilts are just part of this fascinating show that dives into contemporary art quilting techniques with joyful exuberance. Art quilting is about more than creating beautiful quilts that will be treasured for a lifetime. It is also an emerging movement in the greater artistic world. We look forward to the day when a painter refers to 21st-century art quilts as a primary inspiration for their work!

In the meantime, check out Quilting Arts TV and these other sources for inspiration for your own portrait quilts. We’ve gathered information in an eBook called Portraits in Cloth, and covered the modern pixel portrait movement in the Summer 2015 edition of Modern Patchwork. You never know, you just might find a new favorite artist from your very own tribe!

Best,

Explore more portrait quilt inspiration!

 

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