Today we have a guest post by Jan Scott she is a great needle felter.
The concept of the show.
As you likely read in Ann’s earlier posts the Ottawa Valley weavers and spinners guild was given a proposal to have an art show of 150 pieces of a uniform 12inX12in size to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary. The originally the idea had been discussed at socials to decide the rules for the submissions.
The rules were quite simple:
Rule #1 – the artwork could be any medium of fiber arts, spinning, weaving, felting, knitting, were all ok. But the rest of the rules quickly developed as I started to propose ideas I would like to try to Carlene who was going to present the idea at the meeting. My first thought at hearing the format was AH!! Cascading waterfall in felt over 3 canvases!Rule #2 – all 12×12 pieces must not extend past the canvas. My second question was can we do this in 3 dimensions?
Rule # 3 – nothing should extend above the canvas more than 3 inches.
I’m glad I dint ask any more questions.
Art show Piece 1:
So now with the parameters decided and 3 canvases purchased I started to consider ideas. I had to find something that was quintessentially Canadian to me. I thought of all the places I liked best in Canada and settled on my parent’s cottage and the summers spent with my giant bullfrog friends. So I started to plan frog on lily pad as art work #1 and Lilly pads in flower as my second piece.
My work process seems to have developed as; first research images on the internet. (or looking thorough my photographs no wonder I have been taking pictures of everything through most of my life!). Then decide the general composition with a couple sketches. Do more researching for details of the composition. I created a folder of frog pictures that had elements I wanted to work from. Toes from this picture and the profile of the head of that one. Coloring from another shot. I selected the best bits from various photos and printed out a few reference photos to work from. With the frog covered I looked into lily pads and flowers, did you know they have huge lily pads that are used to photograph baby’s floating on them? I think they were in Thailand definitely not the ones from the cottage so I mostly ignored those.
My next problem as I started to make an armature for the bullfrog (a bit smaller than the life size ones I had played with) was how to make sure he/she was under the 3 inch height limit? Ahhhh. I turned the canvas over and looked at it again. Working from the back gave me almost an extra inch so Froggy could still be crouched to spring and fit in the height restriction!!!
I worked on the armature using mostly pipe cleaners and light gage wire to make the framework. I made an upper and lower skull/jaw, dorsal lines in the back and all appendages with articulating tows. It was somewhat frog like!
I had gone over to Ann’s to get help with carding Free Fleece from agriculture Canada’s experimental farm flock. I had washed the excessively dirty and vary spongy fleece but wanted a really cores carding to make core wool. That is the wool you use for structure but don’t want anyone to see. She put it through her picker which helped immensely and then we carded it on her really impressive electric drum carder. Much bigger than the home use ones we normally see. Ann’s help was greatly appreciated she saved me a lot of time!
So I started with stuffing rolled up balls of core wool (likely a redo Arcott blend) into the center of the frog frame armature. Until I had the body formed and started rapping the legs and the first foot. It was quickly apparent I had miss judged the tow length and had to give Froggy finger extensions in pipe cleaner! After quick osteology surgery to repair his bone structure I continued giving him muscles until I was happy with the overall shape. Next I needed Froggy like colours. I started looking through my stash of spinning and felting wool. Hummm, Green does not seem to be my favorite colour. I have Lots of blue though! I had won at one of the guild auctions a bag of lime yellow green that I had planned to use as a core wool on something but hadn’t got around to it. I did a run to some of the local supply places, bought some more fiber at the Chesterville spin in and begged a bit from Ann’s stash and a bit from Bernadette too.
The horrid yellow green was perfect for the under colour for the lily pads, but I didn’t have quite the green I wanted for the frog colours so it was time to think like a painter and blend my colours.
Maybe now is a good time to tell you a bit about myself. I am severely dyslexic you likely have figured that out by the spelling or lack of it. From Pre-school on I wanted to be a paleontologist but decided you had to be able to spell your profession so gave up on that idea in grade 6 when I realized I still couldn’t spell paleontologist or most of the dinosaurs’ names. My other interest was Art (I can spell that!). I loved technical illustration, I was really bad at it but was good at layout and design and kept being told I should be a fine artist not a commercial one. So I wound up with 3 years of commercial art and 3 years of fine art and art history. With Dyslexia and all the commercial art background I tended to approach my fine art projects at school with a slightly different perspective then the rest of the class. As an example we had a large scale painting assignment. I asked if I could use un-stretched un-gessoed canvas with acrylics applied in watercolor like washes and was allowed. So I arrived each class with my painting folded in my smallest portfolio and some painters tape to tape it to the studio wall. While my classmates tried to figure how to get there monumental pieces on and off busses.
It has become apparent to me over the years that the dyslexic brain does not take a straight line to get to the solutions to a problem. Of the 150 pieces created by members of the guild only 6 canvases were turned and worked from the back. Froggy, Lilly pads, muskox, polar bare, the forge, were mine. The only other one was the Hudson’s bay blanket woven on nails attached to the back of the canvas. So problem solving tends to result in a nonlinear solution not usually arrived at by the majority of the group. This can be a good thing or not. In this case I think it worked out very well.
So now you know why I looked at little balls of coloured wool and was excited about colour blending like my long unused acrylic paints. As well as thinking about layering colours like washes of acrylic used like water colours. My third important concept was grisaille painting technique where you paint you’re under painting in gray scale and then overlay the colour over it. This is used to give amazing depth of colour at the end. I thought about the under structure of the armature and core wool as my underpainting then layered over the colour and shading as the final layer. This make it much easier to get a Froggly look to my Frog.
I tried two technique to bend the colours. The first was very traditional using dog brushes from the dollar store as if they were little carders. This tended to give more uniformity to the blend but dint look quite rite. So method 2; I took little bits (a bit longer than the staple length) of the constituent colours and started to bend them by holding the tips and pulling them apart. Over and over, this produced a more stripy colour which looked much more natural. It took a long time to get the colours blended in this way but I think it was worth the extra work. This blending technique which I practiced on Froggy I think really worked most effectively on Muskox and Pole bare.
I had purchased from Noble fiber last November at the guild exhibition and sail a piece of pre-felt to be used for the backing of a picture. I had chosen a large piece of blues and greens in colours that reminded me of both the cottage and Monet water colours. Unfortunately I should have bot 2 pieces. So I allotted the one to the lily pad background and started colour blending to make the second for Froggy and his lily pads to sit on. I made the background large enough to rap around the frame and attach to itself thus making a form base to work from.
The lily pads were the next to make. I used a mix of both wet and dry felting to create them. I discovered that pipe cleaners don’t shrink at the same rate that wool dose and had to do a bit of patching to cover up the differential shrinkage. I laid in stylized veining and darker edges to the leaves. Then started to bend the pipe cleaners to the shape I wanted the leaves to be. I used thread to attach the leaves to the felt backing.
Next step Froggy must grip the edge of the leaf with his little articulating fingers and prepare for his grate leap to the lily pads in the next picture. So I got to play with bending and posing Froggy until I was satisfied. Than he too was sewn to the lily pads and felt below.
Canvas #2 the lily pads
I created the lily pads as I had the first 2 Frogy is sitting on. Pipe cleaner armature sandwiched by 2 layers of wool on either side. Using again wet and needle felting to get the structure I wanted. Over laying the final colours to give a representation of a lily pad.
For the flowers I made a core that was sort of lozenge shaped with a point at one end. The base of the core wool had 2 entwined pipe cleaners for the stem. I then created triangles with the tip firmly felted and the base left unbelted. I added white over the core wool for the center of the flower then the triangles for the white petals that surrounded the core. The outer layer was triangle of the limey green I had used with the lily pads. I needle felted each petal onto the core and stem until I finally rapped the base of the flower and stem itself.
I made 3 flowers and 3 leaves. I split the pre-felt base and rapped it over the back of the canvas frame attaching it securely. Next I played a bit with the leaf composition, no draping off the frame or flowers poking up too high. When I was finally happy I used button hole thread (since it’s nice and strong) to sew it all down.
I started working on the Froggy/lily pad combination idea in November just after the exhibition and sail and was pleased with parts by the February meeting. Originally Froggy was going to get a lily flower too but it make him too high so all the flowers went on the second canvas frame.