The Portrait of a Maker

An interview with local artist Kara McGrane

To say artist Kara McGrane is a creative person is an understatement. She paints, she sews, she teaches ceramics and if she ever has more free time she hopes to explore stained glass, fiber arts, and woodworking. Look for examples of her unique pet portraits and sewing projects on Instagram @companion.portraits and @new.oldfriend. You can also enjoy her pet mural traffic signal box at the corner of Russell and Wyoming.  

Tell me about your background in the arts. 

I moved to Missoula for school in 2012 and received a fine arts degree with a specialization in painting and a minor in art history. My full-time job is with Opportunity Resources doing ceramics for the clients. I wasn’t trying to do pottery but that’s what I do now and it’s wonderful. It’s a fantastic organization.  

What sort of artwork do you create?

I feel like I dabble in so much. I have been doing custom pet portraits for about two years. I call that business Companion Portraits. I work off photographs of pets that people send me and I make custom mixed media water color paintings. Then at the beginning of quarantine in March (2020) I got a sewing machine and started sewing every day when I had time. At first I was making clothes for myself and it’s turned into making more universal products. I found that if I ever were to sell things, clothing would be really hard because I want to be inclusive for every size, body, and person and I thought that a way to avoid any issues with that would be to make bags. So I’ve been creating a lot of waxed canvas bags, toiletry bags, fanny packs, and backpacks.  

Did you have any experience sewing before March?

A little bit. I took a home economics class when I was in middle school but I haven’t used a sewing machine in probably 15 years. I picked it right back up. YouTube helped a lot and social media has been a great tool to find other makers and see their ideas. I sew every day now so I feel like every time I’m at the machine I learn more just by doing it.  

I heard you made your own wedding outfit. 

I did! I got married October 28 and I thought, this day is going to be so special I’m going to remember it forever. I found a fantastic jumpsuit pattern and a white linen fabric that was just screaming for the pattern. I was expecting the weather to be mild but of course it was about 25 degrees, so a day before I sewed myself a jacket. It was great that I can have that item forever and hopefully pass it on one day. 

Do you have a favorite medium?

Any art form that I come across I find myself enjoying and diving in. I love learning new projects and with sewing every time I make something I feel like I’m learning. When I have free time I find myself always reaching for my sewing machine.  Everything can be so crazy in life and when you have something that is A, B, C, D, this is the order you do it in, it’s nice to have that structure when you can’t find that elsewhere.  

Where do you find your inspiration?

My love for all animals is definitely where my paintings stem from. And I feel like life is vibrant and so interesting and colorful and unique. I try to get that in all the paintings that I make. I want each painting to have a soul of its own so people can connect and know that’s definitely their pet.  For my sewing my inspiration comes from making things I enjoy and find useful. I want to make something that I can be proud of, that will last for a really long time, and will be loved.

I was once told by an artist that creativity is learned and you’re not necessarily born with it. Do you feel like you were born a creative person or it was something that was fostered in your life?

I think it’s a mix of both. If you were to ask my parents I’m sure they would say I was born with it. I was a very eclectic child. I’m so thankful that my parents gave me a warm and excepting environment and allowed me to explore that creativity and that self-expression. But definitely as you get older you have to make more time for it. I can see it not being a priority if I weren’t practicing every day and if I didn’t set time aside for it. The more I practice and use it the stronger it gets and the better I get at articulating how I want my creativity to come across.  You’re not going to be an all-star artist, sports player, baker, or expert at any hobby unless you work for it.  But I’m thankful I was given creative roots, too.  

Is there any medium you’d like to explore that you haven’t?

I’m very grateful for the art program at the university because I was able to explore so many mediums. I’ve done iron sculptures and welding, print making and photography. I think stained glass would be really fun to explore. And woodworking.  Or fiber artwork, maybe weaving. 

What do you enjoy about being a part of the Missoula art community?

Just seeing all the support Missoula gives to local artists is inspiring and I feel like that situation is not always common. What I love about the local artists themselves in Missoula is the sense of community. When certain people are aspiring to be independent artists it seems everyone that is an artist gives them a pat on the back and says, “Go for it! I stand with you and support you.”  It’s not a very proud and boastful community. Everyone just seems to cheer you on.  

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