Monstrous Felting Retreat

A few weeks ago I experienced the delight that is the Auckland Fun Felter’s Retreat, 2 full days of felting bliss! šŸ™‚

We were 13 like-minded ladies at a retreat centre, tucked away in a quiet and leafy corner of west Auckland, we had the entire centre all to ourselves and were blessed with some lovely weather.

Jenny, our organiser extraordinaire, asked if anyone would be willing to teach / lead a short workshop on Saturday morning. Due to the pandemic, I haven’t had the chance to teach face to face since 2019 so jumped at the chance and then immediately panicked that I had nothing to teach this incredibly creative and experienced group (most of the members have been felting at least as long as I have!).

After several weeks mulling it over and talking to other AFF members I settled on “animal textures in felt”, I thought this would lend itself to a series of pre-prepared samples that we could discuss the potential pitfalls and then each member could incorporate one or two into their own project. This group is so experienced I couldn’t imagine any of them wanting to waste their precious felting time watching me laying out fibre over a resist.

We all arrived on Friday afternoon, settled into our rooms and started playing with our fibres in the main hall. After talking to a few members I realised not everyone would be happy for me to share some samples and tips on how to achieve different effects, they wanted a project to follow…. my heart sank, I hadn’t planned for this, how was I going to come up with a project that included, fur, scales, eyes and locks before tomorrow morning?!!

So it was that Fugly was born….

A little pod critter, with eyes, scales on his back, a lambs tail and an unfortunate ear-hair problem – for the record I would never normally recommend trying to cram so many different techniques onto one item but now he is finished I do find Fugly quite endearing šŸ™‚

To my surprise most of the group also made pods that incorporated most or all of the techniques and we ended up with a ?gaggle, ?fright, ?laughter <insert collective noun of your choice here> of funny little monsters:

A couple of members applied to techniques to small bags with great effect…

This weekend was such a success we agreed to do it all again in just 6 months time! šŸ™‚

Noody-what?

I am often asked what inspires the pieces I make, the truth is inspiration can strike anywhere, sometimes it is the materials themselves, the pattern on a piece of sari silk or the tassels on a charity-shop scarf for example. Nature is another great source, the textures of a patch of lichen or orange-crimson autumnal leaves against a bright blue sky. Memories from holidays or previous careers such as watching cells growing in a petri dish from my days as a “lab rat”.

As some of you may know, I used to SCUBA dive a lot and frequently draw inspiration for my felting from the underwater world, for my new collection I couldn’t resist the gloriously colourful world of nudiranchs (pronounced noo-dee-branks). I confess I have been slightly obsessed with these little sea slugs for more than 20 years but the usual response when I try to describe them to non-divers is, “noody-what?” Their name means naked gills in latin and refers to the fern-like gill structures you can often see sprouting from their backs.

I love them because they are so outrageously colourfulĀ  and don’t seem to care who sees them strutting their stuff in the magical aquatic world. I can’t think of a better muse to create a fabulously colourful set of wearable art, deep down, who wouldn’t want to be a nudibranch? šŸ™‚ If you google “nudibranch photos” you will get a taste of their fantastically beautiful world and the colours will be much less washed out than those in my photos.

 

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The Pink Dorid nudibranch was my muse for this hat and gloves set.

Now I just need to find a human who is as exuberant and fun-loving as a nudibranch to wear them…. šŸ˜‰

Book Review – Pastel Innovations by Dawn Emerson

I confess, I am not really one for writing book reviews, it is rare that a book excites me enough to give it a star rating on Amazon but this one is in a class of its own….

Following a very enjoyable workshop with Mark Cazalet a few weeks ago I was looking to broaden my pastel drawing skills so trotted off to my local library to see what they had, the front cover of the book immediately grabbed my attention and flicking through the vibrantly colourful photos in the book had me hooked.

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The title, Pastel Innovations, 60+ techniques and exercises for painting with pastels is a little misleading because this is really a mixed media book with pastels as a recurring theme, but in my opinion the mixed media element really enhances the book rather than detracts from it.

Dawn starts with a materials list but I like her pragmatic, “use what you already have” approach, she makes a very sensible comment that you are more likely to experiment and take risks when working on cheapo newsprint paper and the art materials you were given as a child but never found a use for. An opportunity to use some 20+ year old materials that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away? I like her already! šŸ™‚

She then takes you on a journey through some basic art theory: line, shape colour etc but she compares each element with her own twist and provides lots of examples and drawings along the way. This section culminates in how to self-critique your work against each of these elements.

At the end of each chapter there are exercises to practice what you have learned, I thought these were the best part of the book and if you learn best by doing, I think they are what sets it apart from so many art theory books.

This is my interpretation of the exercises from chapter 1…. Dawn provides a detailed still life photo to work from by I preferred a black and white photo of some pears on a window sill that she provided for an exercise later in the book.

Line:

Shape:

Value:

Texture:

Colour:

Translating this into textiles…

Working with pastels and charcoal is all very lovely but I was itching to put this into practice with felt.

I “cheated” and use some commercial prefelts as a support for my painting with a few wisps of wool between 2 prefelts. Bearing in mind that these fibres will migrate as the felt is fulled I laid out an “underpainting” of tones roughly where I wanted lights and darks to come through between the two layers of prefelt. These fibres will also help the two commercial prefelts glue together

Line

I laid out some purple fibres to suggest the outlines of the pears and windowsill, I used wool tops rolled between my hands with some wool yarns for different line weights and some variety.

 

Adding white highlights:

Using yarn and Kap merino.

Adding shadows:

I used some low-immersion dyed Kap merino provide some extra depth but you could also blend 2 or 3 different colours / shades to get the same effect.

Adding a light complimentary colour

The compliment of purple / mauve is yellow… unfortunately the only yellow I have is quite a dark, orangey yellow, not ideal but blended with some white, it will have to do.

Adding some interest to the background:

Looking at the photo, there’s still something missing….

I think it is green! Green and purple, always a good combination in my mind, and the reddish pinks in the background really throw the greens (their complement) forward, although I am running the risk of ending up with khaki brown once the picture is fulled.

 

Then I brought touches of the bright pink from the background and used it for mid tone highlights on the pears to try to visually link it all together.

Once it reached the firm prefelt stage (fibres holding together but no shrinkage) I let it dry out so I could assess the colour and needlefelt in some details this is dried prefelt. Wetting the fibres reduces the contrast between the light and dark colours so it is best to let your painting dry out before fulling:

And after adding some more details and dark blue shadows:

To mimic the texture element from the first exercise I screen-printed some blue and purple patterns over the background and a small area of the foreground before fulling it ready to be stretched over a frame:

 

My tips for wool paintings:

  • Layout your wool directly onto your felting set up, trying to move it once you have starting arranging the fibres could lead to disaster. I like to work on a sheet of plastic over a bamboo mat as the mat gives to wool some extra support, especially in the early stages of felting
  • Use only enough soapy water to anchor each layer of fibres down, it it is too wet it will be difficult to place the next layer of fibres where you want them
  • Check and rearrange your fibres as necessary every time you add water
  • Kap merino is very versatile for wool painting, the short fibres make it very easy to blend and feather the edges of a colour, it is available from Woolknoll in Germany
  • Spend at least 10 minutes gently massaging the front of your painting to ensure the surface fibres are knitting together before flipping it over and checking the back is evenly wet before starting to roll.
  • Roll up your work, at least to begin with, with the painting facing down, this will minimise the folds and distortion forming in the face (the outside of the roll is slightly stretched while the inside of the roll is slightly compressed when it is rolled up).

 

Chapter 2 covers various monoprinting, stencilling, embossing and brayer printing techniques, most of which I haven’t tried yet.

Dawn is clearly a fan of frottage (rubbings), I am sad to say some of the exercises I did for my City and Guilds course put me off this technique but I really like Dawn’s approach. For the most part she seems to use it as an accent in her own work but she also advocated using it to build up an entire image in what she called a “drubbing”. I found this a useful for pushing me away from trying to be to representational and literal in my interpretation and was a lot of fun to boot, this was my attempt at a “drubbing” of a calf using various textured wallpaper samples and charcoal:

 

Chapter 3 concerns itself with backdrops and under-paintings, among the options presented are, abstracted brayer paintings, watercolour and charcoal value drawings. The exercises at the end of this chapter felt a little disengaged from the chapter content, they predominantly focussed on the effect of different colour combinations but were still very enjoyable and informative in their own right.

Mass drawing with compressed charcoal:

 

Monochrome:

Complementary colours:

 

 

Adding analogous colours:

 

Towards the back of the book there are more mono-printing techniques, how to take a print from a pastel drawing and how to paint with pastels by mixing with a painting medium and using as paint. I confess I simply haven’t had time to work through those exercises yet but am really looking forward to having a play with them.

I was particularly smitten with a photo of a fancy chicken that Dawn shared to illustrate the inspiration behind one of her paintings, he was so funny I just couldn’t resist… šŸ™‚

I can see him as a wool painting with his feathers made from coloured yarns and perhaps the occasional wool lock but that will have to wait for a later post….

Winged Vessels Workshop – Give Away!

On Sunday 29th July I will be teaching a face to face workshop in Normandy near Guildford (UK), we will look at two techniques that can be used to make 3D felted structures with wings or flaps and everyone will have the opportunity to make at least one vessel. These are some examples of what can be made with the techniques we will cover:

 

All materials will be provided as part of the class and there will be a maximum of 10 participants (that means you have a 1 in 10 chance of winning!).

If you would like a chance to win a place on this workshop all you need to do is:

  1. Share the URL / link of this page on social media (Facebook, Instagram etc)
  2. Post a comment with a link to where you shared this post
  3. Submit your payment for the workshop (places are limited to 10, on a first come first served basis) – please email me at teri@teriberry.com to reserve your place and for details on how to pay (I can accept cheques or Paypal).

Entries close at midnight Wednesday 25th July.

The lucky winner will be drawn at random and their course fee reimbursed on Thursday 26th July.

Good luck!

 

Life Felting

Apologies to anyone who also follows the Felting and Fiber Studio blog, this was a guest post written for their blog but I thought I would share it here too for anyone who doesn’t follow both blogs.

A year ago, I signed up for a life drawing class, not really sure what to expect but I knew I needed to expand my portfolio if I wanted to study art and design / textile design further.

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I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it, Tuesday evenings soon became the highlight of my week. Like everyone else, I was working with charcoal and pastels but a turning point came when I met a lady at an untutored life drawing session who was making collages of the model with acrylic ā€œfeltā€. I cringe to call it felt, the fuzzy plastic she was cutting up bears very little resemblance to the woolly gorgeousness that we all know and loveĀ ?

The following week I turned up with a sheet of commercial needle-punch prefelt as a base and largeĀ  bag of wool tops and fabrics for felting. Sarah was my first muse and I am still working on her, she is being treated to a lot of hand-stitching that is taking weeks to complete, this was her after felting and adding some stitch around her eyes:

sarah

And as she looks today, still lots more stitching planned, she is giving my hands something to do while sat in front of the TV in the evening:

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Chantelle and Omar were the models at the next session, this time I used some low-immersion dyed prefelts as the base and Chantelle was collaged from screen-printed prefelts I made during Ruthā€™s online class.

Chantelle is still at the prefelt stage and she needs a lot of work,

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but Omarā€™s hands are progressing nicely,

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I think the background needs work though, what do you seeĀ  when you look at the dyed background?

 

This is a line drawing on a printed photo that could be one optionā€¦

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And finally, I tried a new technique with Terry, mixing rust dyed fabric with Kap Merino. Kap merino is a very short fibre wool that is lovely to ā€œpaintā€ with but unfortunately it isnā€™t that easy to source, I bought mine from Woolknoll in Germany.

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Kap merino with cm measure

Terry is still at the very soft prefelt stage but I am happy with todayā€™s progress and I hope to take the sander to him later this week. This is what he looked like first thing this morningā€¦

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And after another 5 hours work on him todayā€¦ I can still see areas that need fixing, it is funny how you see things looking at a photograph that you donā€™t see when looking at the feltĀ ?

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Are you interested in finding a life-drawing group near you? Most further education colleges with an art department offer evening classes, these are usually quite structured and they are great way to get a grounding in traditional methods of drawing the human figure but they might not be so keen on you turning up with a large bag of wool instead of charcoalĀ ?Ā Alternatively, most towns have informal life drawing groups, where someone organises for a model to sit each week or month and you pay per session or series of sessions. I foundĀ Meet UpĀ to be a great source for finding these groups (and other art and craft groups). They are typically untutored so they are much more amenable to weirdos like me turning up with armfuls of fluff and a bottle of soapy water!Ā ?Ā  Do check how long each pose will last before turning up with your wool though, I would find it tough to work with anything less than hour. Be prepared for lots of questions about what you are doing, I think most of the Guildford group are genuinely fascinated by what I am doing and the models say they enjoy watching me work too (they normally just have the back of easels to look at).

And finally, a shameless plugĀ ?Ā Registration for the very popular concertina hat class, the one with the cute snail hat tutorial, will open tomorrow please follow thisĀ linkĀ for more information and fill out the contact form at the bottom of the page if you would like to join us. Alternatively, you might like to admire the wonderful creations from previous studentsĀ here.

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