For Heidi Draley McFall, the fact that she can create large, pastel chalk drawings that look like photographs is secondary.
"Much more important to me is, 'How is this connecting to my soul?,'" the DeWitt, Iowa, artist said. "If there's a failure to connect with the viewer, you've failed totally."
McFall's exhibit, "Life Cycle," is on display at Bucktown Center for the Arts, Davenport. It consists of six portraits, each 48 inches wide and 72 inches long, of women in various stages of life — roughly ages 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 and McFall's own grandmother, from the woman's 80s.
"I got an interesting reaction where people thought they were the same person," McFall said.
"It feels like they could be the same person — but they're clearly not, but maybe they are," she added. "It's about what we all share, this experience of life and death and everything in between. It doesn't really matter that it's not the same person as much as we're all living this whole life-cycle situation."
A major life milestone of her own made her reflective when she decided to put her other hobby of photography to use in the portraits.
"At 40, I'm thinking about things differently and looking at things differently and choosing subjects differently than I would have at 25," she said. "I've been rethinking my body of work; how do I interpret pictures I took 15 years ago for today?"
She still prefers to shoot her subjects on film.
"Digital has a flatness to it that film doesn't have," she said. "Fooling around on Photoshop, your images cancel each other out and they dissolve into frivolity"
Working that way caused her to reflect on every step of the process.
"I've been thinking about all the process from front to back — how do I want it to look, how bright, how dark? What kind of emotion, mood do I want to create?" she said. "It's hugely dependent on what photo I get from the get-go."
Although "you can stay small and be quite maverick," she said working on a smaller field was too conservative.
"To me, it was kind of important to go for broke," she said. "The larger I go the more versatile and adventurous I can be with my mark-making, to approach it as abstract painting, almost."
Sherry Maurer, building facilitator for Bucktown, encouraged McFall to display her work at the MidCoast Fine Arts gallery there.
"I think it's tremendous," Maurer said. "The experience of assuming that they're photographs and then getting up to them and realizing you can see mark-making in them that's intriguing and reveals that they are pastels is a unique experience."
To add to the impression that the works are photographs, two of the pieces have a white space similar to overexposed film.
McFall, a self-taught artist, said she will likely return to the large format for future projects.
"They make paper that's 48-by-96," she said. "I'll probably do that next."