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Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Grand Plan Struck Out, but the Cygnets are Cute

I wanted to needle felt a swan with three cygnets riding on her back.  I decided to start with the cygnets, working at a comfortable size, then I could judge how large the swan would need to be.  That seemed better than beginning with the swan then making cygnets that maybe would be too tiny to work properly.  Good plan!?!

Probably, but the cygnets turned out to be 6" tall which would make the mom way too big!
The cygnets are cute, and I still like the original idea.  Perhaps I should try again and start with the mom.

By the way, these feet were very difficult to felt and it's hard to get the cygnets to stand, although, as you can see, it can be done.  Before I start again, I need to come up with a better strategy for the feet.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

My Own Small Reindeer

Inspired by Sara's reindeer project, I decided to make some smaller ones, with one significant change - the antlers.  Sara's were needle felted over a pipe cleaner core.  Mine are twisted rusted wire.  After I formed the antlers but before I attached them to the head I sprayed the wire with matte acrylic varnish so that the little specks of rust wouldn't get all over everything.

I like the look of rust, and the rusted bell on the harness complements the wire of the antlers.  The harnesses are twisted cords of brightly colored embroidery thread, complete with tassels.  I wanted to suggest that these are Scandanavian - maybe Lapland - reindeer.

These little ones illustrate a problem that I sometimes have with working small - an increased tendency to make the head too big.  That's probably because there's more detail on the head and I subconsciously "want more room."  But I'll have to watch out for that problem.  Also, in future, I'm going to make the legs a bit longer.

Then a Reindeer

Isn't this a handsome reindeer?  This was Sara Renzulli's project for the third day of our class.  I forgot to bring photos of reindeer so I was working from the one Sara provided.  But I wish I had brought my own so that I had more views and more detail, especially in the face.

This was a more complicated project than the donkey and despite beginning the day a half hour earlier than usual, we still went an hour late.  We were all very tired, especially Sara, but I, for one, thought it was well worth the effort.  I'm very fond of my reindeer and hope to make him at least one companion.

Both of Sara's projects are bigger than I usually work.  I would estimate that this reindeer is about 11" long.  I enjoy working small, but perhaps I should go bigger. 

Anyway, despite all the travelling difficulties, I'm so glad I went to Sara's class.  I recommend it!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

An Art Vacation

Last week I went on an art vacation to Maryland where I took a three day class in needle felting from Sara Renzulli, owner and founder of Sarafina Fiber Art.  Due to travel problems, I missed the morning of the first day which was information sharing about types of wool, skeletal structures, and color mixing.  In the afternoon, we made a bird.  I was disappointed to miss the discussion about the various types of wool fiber, but needle felting the bird was fun and relaxing - just what I needed at that point!

This donkey is the project we did during the second day.  It's a testament to Sara's teaching skills that all of us students were able to complete our projects in one day. I think the head is too big, and that's really exaggerated by the camera angle in this photo.  But at least she has a sweet expression.

I have watched all of Sara's videos and was pleased to learn some new techniques that she's developed since.  It was a nice day, and everyone seemed pleased with their donkeys.

The weather in Maryland was quite different from here in California and I was hoping to see some rain.  Despite the overcast the whole time I was there, sadly there was only the most anemic of showers.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A New World Lesser Spangled Bandicoot

Maerwynn peering at me
 My friends and I were talking about familiars yesterday.  Lucia's and my imaginations have long been stirred by this concept.  Cathy, who had her iPad with her, did a little research about the meaning of the term and it turns out that familiars are spirits associated with witches and "cunning folk."  Some and malevolent and some beneficent.  (Two words whose root meanings are interestingly different, "malevolent" meaning "wishing ill" and "beneficent" meaning "bringing good.)

I decided to adopt a different view of a familiar and then give my personal familiar definition and form.  For me, my "familiar" is a spirit the holds and protects my power.  I made this little felted creation, whom I named Maerwynn, to provide the spirit a home. 

I created Maerwynn as my mythical creature, the New World Lesser Spangled Bandicoot, of which Maerwynn is the only example.  She is a marsupial and carries a special treasure in her pouch - a shiny farthing with a wren (one of my favorite birds) on one side, and King George VI's (a hero of modern British history) portrait on the other.  The coin has a minting date of 1945 which is my birth year.  In addition to this treasure token, Maerwynn and I have a secret message that we share with each other.

Here are some other photos of Maerwynn.   And, in the art blog spirit, I'll tell you that she's needle felted and has 9mm dark amber glass eyes.
Maerwynn resting

Maerwynn observing the cats on the floor

Maerwynn looking for a book

Maerwynn asking me for help in finding the book on micro-macrame

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A Happy Accident and a Lesson

This needle felted rat was both!

The lesson was to not skip the step of drawing the skeleton first as a guide for the armature.  I did skip that step and the result was that the tail was too short and the body was too long.  I tried to stretch the wool on the tail and the result was a lumpy tail tip.

But the too long body was a worse problem.  In fact, it was so bad that I decided to throw it away and start over.  So I began crumpling it up and lo! it looked like a sleeping rat!  This was something I couldn't have achieved if it hadn't been too long - there wouldn't have been enough length to curl the body like this.  So, the rat saved herself.

From there I finished her face with closed eyes.  I knew she needed a blanket, but how would I make it without investing forever amounts of time?  Then I remembered a sweatshirt jacket I made nearly ten years ago in a class at the local quilting store.  It was fun to make, but the resulting jacket just looked like a bag on, and the applique process had stretched out the neck.  So, I seldom wore it.  But a piece of it would be perfect for the rat's blanket.

And when I got the jacket out of the closet I saw that I had gone to the trouble of embroidering a few patches with flowers.  So I cut a section, wrapped the raw edges with a strip of fabric, and...Voila!  The perfect rat blanket. 

So, in the end, what's the lesson?  I'm not sure, but maybe it's not to give up, or, to keep your eyes open!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Took a Class!

Last Saturday I took a class from Sheri Hoeger on painting pet portraits.  She's such a good painter and a lovely person.  She paints in acrylic and prefers Golden fluid acrylics that she applies with Golden's airbrush medium.

Using a medium with acrylics was new to me.  I have always just used water.  But this medium gave a very nice even flow and extended the open time.  I've worked with acrylics for many years, learning how to deal with their fast drying time, so extending the open time wasn't a particular advantage for me, but I did like the way the paint applied to the canvas.  (By the way, the weirdness in the photo must be the texture of the canvas?)

Before the class, she had each of her students email her a photo of the pet they wanted to paint.  She then used photoshop to make a grayscale copy with a limited number of values - I think mine had 6.  From that grayscale copy, we traced the image, then transferred it to the canvas with graphite paper.

The thing that was really new to me was using a very limited color palette.  For this painting - which obviously isn't finished yet - I used Violet Oxide, Anthraquinone Blue, Raw Umber, and Cobalt Green.  Ordinarily I would use many more colors.  But I plan to finish this painting with only these four (well, maybe a tiny bit of yellow).  I greatly admire the color Sheri gets in her paintings, so it's certainly worth giving her method a try.

The class was a delight.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rabbits and Roses

I've been making these small rabbits for my Etsy shop.  The first one I listed - the one at the right in the top picture - sold pretty much as soon as I listed her.  They're really a joy to make, althoughtthey're not so simple as they may look.
Even though they're small - 3" to the top of the head - I've built them over an armature.  I did that for a couple of reasons.  First, I wanted them to be posable, although the posing options are quite a bit less than for my large gray needle felted rabbit.  But also, the armature guides me as I sculpt.  So if I start out with a good armature I'm likely to get the shape I'm aiming for, and it's repeatable.
The jury's still out on the whiskers.  Mostly I used 4lb weight Fireline which is a nylon beading thread.  The stiffness is just right, but it's a little thin.  So for the Dutch rabbit and the brown rabbit below, I switched to a #1 Tuff Cord that I got at  I'm thinking it might be a bit thick, but I like the feel of it.

Friday, August 8, 2014

All Dressed Up

There are many things I like about the method of armature construction that I learned (and am adapting to my own animals) from Sara Renzulli's website  One is that the animals can be flexible enough for removable clothing - like this little mouse!

She's about 4" tall in this position.  I made her sweater from scraps of a felted recycled cashmere sweater that I bought on Etsy.  The felting keeps the sweater from unraveling when you cut it.  An example is the ribbing around the bottom of the sweater.  The ribbing on the actual sweater scrap was much wider, but I was able to cut it down.

When I put her sweater on, I could hear the little mouse excitedly declaring "My mom made me this sweater!"

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Painting Party

Richeson, a manufacturer of art supplies, donated two dozen 5"x7" gesso'd panels to our art group for a painting event.  They were also so kind as to donate two oil paint sets - one with 12 colors and the other with 6 - as prizes that we could use to liven up the party. 

So, we got together for a three hour session and each of us painted our own subjects on the panels.  This is mine.

I was inspired by the current issue of "Somerset Studio" magazine which is a magazine for mixed media artists.  I greatly admire many of the pieces featured in that magazine.  Although I often find the drawing skills somewhat lacking, the free use of color and often abundant inclusion of decorative elements appeal to me.  And it seemed like the freer approach of this style would be "good for me."

I found that I really enjoyed it.  The extemporaneous drawing with a brush was a bit intimidating, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

My first step was to texture the board with hard molding paste and fiber paste.  In a way this seemed like a shame since the boards have such a beautiful finish to them, but I wanted to work with texture.  I thought that these pastes would dry faster than they did and I inadvertently moved them a bit with my brush when I applied the first layer of paint.  So in the future, I would prepare a few boards at one time and let them dry overnight before I began painting.

I was excited to find that once the molding paste formed a skin, I could stamp into it with rubber stamps.   I stamped "mouse" with my alphabet rubber stamps, then couldn't resist smearing burnt umber over it to bring it out.

But my favorite part was the final part - adding the decorative dots and squiggles - perhaps a bit like "zentangles" (which I stubbornly resist on the grounds that they are much ado about nothing).

I will do more of these.