Making a raven (and the mistakes in the process)

Around December of last year, I was asked by a friend and customer to make a life size sculpture of a raven. I’d never done one before, so it was an exciting challenge to accept.

My husband, a professional painter and sculptor, helped me create a template. I then created the core with needle felting foam rectangles, which I cut and glued to size. I then covered the foam with wool.

Feathers were another challenge for me, I researched quite a bit online to see how other people were making them and tried a technique whereby you add wool top to fusible interfacing, add a wire in the middle and steam iron everything together, but the interfacing was just too white and showed through. Sorry I don’t have any pictures of these, they would have looked very nice in a differently coloured bird. This part stumped me and took ages to resolve.

I left the feathers conundrum to simmer in the back of my head and moved to raven feet. I made mine out of wire that I covered with pipe cleaners and then wool.

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Although the feet looked nice enough, they were not too lifelike. As it turns out, the wire was also not too sturdy for something this big, since it became clear it was too soft to hold the raven’s body at the angle I wanted. The poor thing stood too much like a duck!

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It became clear I needed to replace the feet, so I did some surgery: I cut the original wire out, then added a sturdier one and repaired the cut site with more wool and felting. I had an idea to use polymer clay on the feet at first because I thought it would look more lifelike but it was an absolute fail: clay, once hardened, has obviously no yield and therefore can’t be posed, which can be a problem depending on the surface you’re placing your sculpted animal on. Back to wool it was.

Enter a magic technique I had never tried before: wax.
Adding wax to wool makes it look less like fibre and more like a proper part of animal anatomy. See below:

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You can see by one of the pictures above that I got the feathers to work eventually. After much musing I cut felt sheets to size and put the sewing machine to work to add the central stem you normally see in real feathers. Some of them still had wire in them for structure.

Because I really love how the feet looked after adding the wax, I couldn’t wait to play with this new-to-me material on another part of the corvid: the eyelids.

Here’s an image of my raven without eyelids. The poor thing looks too startled and weird to be real.

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Now behold, with eyelids!

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What a difference. I wonder how I made it without using wax on sculptures this long.

After making more longer feathers for the tail, my corvid was ready to be unveiled. Photographing black wool is notoriously difficult so I apologise for not having more professional-looking pictures to show, but I believe these show you the end result well enough.

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This chap has been named Huginn (old Norwegian for “thought”) after one of Odin’s ravens. I think it suits him.

I felt sorry to send Huginn to his forever home. After spending so much time (5 months!) working on him on and off, I really built a connection with this character. I’m glad he’s receiving much love and will even have a custom-built dome to keep him protected against the elements…

Let me know what you think of him in the comments, and if you’ve any questions about the making process I’ll do my best to answer them. Thanks for reading.

About Leonor

Textile artist, indie dyer, conjurer of fluff.
This entry was posted in felt art, Guest Writer, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Making a raven (and the mistakes in the process)

  1. Kay says:

    Wonderful! Thank you for sharing some of your technique Leonor!

  2. smw166 says:

    He is amazing, in your research did you come across Phoebe from Lavender & Lark, she makes beautiful felted birds (and animals) and then adds a faerie or two http://lavenderandlark.com/gallery#/new-gallery-3/
    Susie x

  3. queenpushy says:

    Wonderful!!! I always wanted a raven for a friend. You really created a masterpiece.

    • Leonor says:

      Thank you! It is indeed an honour when a wild raven chooses us as a friend, I hope one day to be adopted by one too. In the meantime I’ll have to be content with the needle felted kind πŸ™‚

  4. ruthlane says:

    Very nice, Leonor. I love your use of wax on the wool. I will have to keep that in mind to achieve that effect. It worked so well. What is the beak made from? I am sure that the new owner will treasure Huginn.

    • Leonor says:

      Thanks, Ruth. Wax worked a charm! Took me a little to get used to it (I practiced on Huginn’s first set of legs first) but the results are well worth the hassle.
      The beak is wood, my other half carved it for me. It’s great having an artist at hand for help!

  5. Fabulous! Such dedication to perfection. What did you use for the beak? I’m sure Huginn’s new parents will love him.

  6. RovingOne says:

    I think he is Huginn the Magnificent. Well done.

  7. Florence Heyhoe says:

    He is wnderful, well done. What is the beak made of?

  8. Lindsay says:

    Brilliant, I really love him. Lots of character and very life-like. The wax made such a difference.

  9. annielynrosie says:

    The eyelids are so perfect! Amazing how you fitted the beak in – it looks so natural. What a difference the wax made to the feet.
    The raven is magnificent.
    Thank you for sharing your journey with us – fascinating read!

    • Leonor says:

      So glad you like him! The beak has a hole drilled through on the inside so it’s stitched in place πŸ˜‰
      Wax is amazing and I’m never doing without it ever again!
      Thanks for reading πŸ™‚

  10. A fabulous raven. I have seen him on Facebook from time to time. I will make sure Jan gets over here to see him. She likes to do sculptures but is without internet until later this week.

  11. Antje says:

    Wowza! Huggin is fabulous and will be much admired. Thank you for taking us through your process warts and all, it is a great way for me to learn.
    You have a clever other half to make such a sculpted beak.
    The wax has created a very natural looking effect. I’ve seen it used on a much larger Felt sculpture but can’t find the link to the video at the mo, if I do I’ll forward it.

    • Leonor says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read about it, warts and all πŸ˜€
      My other half is a professional fine arts painter and sculptor, very useful to have when accessories are needed!
      Please do, I’d love to see more examples of wax in sculptures. Thanks!

    • Antje says:

      Leonor, somewhat late but I’ve just happened on the artist that used the wax –
      How to use Swax by Sarafina Fiber Art

      Hopefully you can access the link and that this might be of interest.

    • Leonor says:

      Ah, of course I know Sara Renzulli! Thanks for sharing πŸ˜€

  12. Karen Lane says:

    WOW! Hugging is magnificent! I don’t normally find myself attracted to Felted animals but a Raven is something I would be happy to have sitting in my studio. You’ve done a great job and the wax is perfect for the claws and eyes. Also love the beak. Thanks for sharing your techniques.

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