I love the sea and sea birds of the coast where I live and I often incorporate them into my felt pictures.
A couple of years ago I was watching some dark-bellied Brent geese swimming in the sea and feeding along the shoreline a few miles east of my house. They’re smallish geese that breed in northern Russia and over-winter in the salt marshes, coast and estuaries of the South and East of England. They don’t populate large areas so are on the ‘amber’ UK conservation status list. I took some photos (one with a bonus curlew!) which I looked at again recently when I was thinking about creating a new felt picture.
I decided to use as the background a piece I made a few months ago. I’m a little obsessed with trying to capture the many colours and patterns of the sea here. Sometimes they become stand-alone pictures, sometimes they are combined with a bird and other times they hang around waiting for me to decide what to do with them.
With this one, I made two pieces of cobweb prefelt (one white, one blue) which I laid on top of a pewter-colour (all merino wool) and wet felted them together.
I thought it would serve well for this picture and was pleased to be using something I’d already made: saving time and freeing up storage space.
I did a quick sketch to help me decide on the size of the goose and cut it out to check the size and position and how it would sit in the frame. I realised its head was a bit small but this was only a guide and I’d sort that out later.
I made some light prefelt for the goose’s wing and belly feathers using natural carded Norwegian batts as I wanted short fibres that would give me lots of colour mixing.
One of the challenges was the potential wool migration between the black and white of the bird’s back half so I made a firmer white prefelt to lay as the top white layer which I hoped would minimise the bleed between black and white.
Here is the rough layout for the bird (just before I added the white prefelt) and what it looks like after felting and fulling. I made it bigger than I needed so I could trim it to the final goose shape. It’s easier to take away than to add and it needs to be a bit bigger than the final bird to allow for needling the edges into the background.
I had a bit less definition in the grey/brown and white wing feathers than I’d hoped for. I should have made the prefelt a bit firmer (note to self). But I thought the white prefelt worked well. I kept checking the composition with the paper sketch, the background and the frame.
Next I trimmed the goose nearer to size, using the paper template as a guide.
Normally my felted birds sit on top of their backgrounds. I needle felt them on which makes the picture more 3 dimensional. I hadn’t really thought through the fact that this one is in the water so some of the sea is in front of the goose.
I pondered this for a bit. Maybe felt a wave to go across where the bird enters the water? How about cutting the background and slotting the bird into it? Not something I’ve done before and it felt like a rather brave irreversible step but I decided to go for it.
Once the goose is slotted in, it’s time needle felt it into place and add some more detail. I faffed about with the shadow / reflection for a while, added more definition to the belly and wing feathers, added the white neck pattern then spent a while getting the eye and beak as I wanted them.
Here’s the finished picture just before I framed it. Framed it’s 64 x 64 cm (approximately 25.2 inches square).
Do you think cutting the background worked? I wonder what other solutions I could have tried. What ‘brave’ decisions do you make in your textile work?