27 December 2017

Holly McLean interview: Overcoming distance and isolation

Waterfall by Holly McLean (detail, 2017) w11” x h20”
Holly McLean is a mixed media and fibre artist recognized for her richly thread-painted images of nature and the outdoors. The Bathurst NB artist is also known for articles published in magazines such as Quilting Arts, Quilting Arts Gifts and the online magazine, Through Our Hands. Working from her home in northern New Brunswick, Holly has often felt isolated from other fibre artists. Membership in SAQA has helped her connect with like-minded artists and show her work in regional, national and international venues. In this interview, Holly McLean talks about how she has worked with magazines and social media to expand her reach as an artist.   

Rosehips by Holly McLean (2015) w12" x h14"

How would you describe your art?

I see my pieces as being realistic with a touch of Impressionism and whimsy. They are heavily collaged and stitched, most often featuring the natural word. I sometimes work in a series, such as with my birch tree pieces.

Tell us about your process for creating. Where do you find your inspiration and how do you get from that to a final product?

Holly McLean (2017) sketch
I find endless creative inspiration in my rambles through New Brunswick forests, its countrysides and its beaches. I collect bits of flora along the trails, for sketching and pressing. I take pictures. Even in winter, I like to stop for a few minutes to do quick sketches. Back in the studio, I like to share these moments through words, pictures, sketches and through my fibre art. I have two favourite ways of working.

I use the pressed leaves, vines and flowers for mono printing onto fabric, using a gelatin plate and fabric paint. I make a series of prints in one session, later stitching and embellishing them, often using them for artsy but useful pieces like bags, pouches and sewing kits. (such as the ones featured in the Quilting Arts October/November 2016 issue) 

The sketches, photos and plant material are also inspiration for my landscapes in fibre, on which I paint, collage and stitch many layers, often embellishing with bits of yarn, ribbons, lace and beads. Certain pictures percolate in my head for a while as I consider how I might ‘paint’ the scene.

Sewing kits project by Holly McLean (2016)

What are the benefits of having your work published in popular magazines?

First there is the pay. Not all magazines pay for contributed content. I’ve received about $300 for each of my pieces published in Quilting Arts or Quilting Arts Gifts. My first article was a bit of a learning curve and took me awhile to produce. With more experience I now find that the payment equals the time spent.

The exposure is another benefit. I have built a network and taught workshops based on some of my articles, for example I lead a mono printing workshop and another on shibori trees, both based on previously printed articles.

What tips can you share with readers, from your experience writing for magazines?

Magazines look for articles that spotlight an artist’s work, but are not usually willing to pay for this type of submission. They also look for articles describing a technique – something that may be new or that puts a twist on familiar quilting, fibre art or surface design. 

Monoprint pouch project
by Holly McLean (2017)
Most publishers include submission information inside their magazine. They may request a short paragraph about the technique you propose to write about, together with two or three high definition photos showing details of the process or project. In my experience, the more precise the submission, the better. You may not hear back from them, but if you do, you may have as little as two or three weeks to write the article, send images and mail the finished piece. You can expect your artwork to be returned after about four to six months. 

The articles I’ve had published describe techniques I’ve experimented with. I often think about publication while I work, taking suitable photos to document my process and the finished project. This will save me time if my submission is successful.

You are an avid blogger, how does that experience compare to newer networking platforms?

I’ve been journaling on my blog for nearly a dozen years! It began as a way to document my process and projects. The blog also helped me connect with other artists and overcome the isolation I often feel. 

Recently, I’m getting more response on Facebook and Instagram. While I still enjoy blogging, it’s faster and easier to post pictures and a few lines on Instagram and Facebook together. As a result of these posts, I’ve gained a wide range of followers and have been contacted about teaching opportunities. All of these social media platforms provide opportunities for anyone wishing to develop workshops, write articles or sell patterns to supplement their exhibition work.
Early Frost by Holly McLean (2017) w7” x h10”

What are your goals for the coming year?

I have so many more natural scenes I want to create! I’m happy with my current style, but I’m always open to new approaches. I have a larger project in mind and have been considering applying for an art grant.

I also would like to continue exhibiting in SAQA shows. I’ve found that I don’t work well toward a theme, so I’ve decided to just follow my own inspiration and enter pieces when the theme fits. 
Watch for more of Holly McLean’s artwork and textile explorations on Facebook and Instagram, and on her blog, Through My Window.


  1. Great to read about your inspiration and the publishing process, very interesting topic!

  2. Good advice about articles :). And I agree about FB & IG. Proud of you Holly! Your love for what you do really shows.