“What is it for?” or: Sketching at the Felting Table

I’m often asked, when demonstrating feltmaking, what a piece is for.

“What will you do with it?” Sometimes I can answer specifically that a piece is meant to hang on a wall, but more often I open up a real can of worms with my answers to folks who may not be familiar with how a design process such as this works.

If what they’re asking about is a felt ball with stitching on it, or a piece of flat felt with colors and fibers moving across the surface, I could say that it’s “just a sample,” but if that is my answer, there is no frame of reference for real understanding there.

I need to help the person asking the question to visualize how a stitched ball could become a piece of fruit on a tree, or be used as a bead or a button on a larger piece. I need them to understand that a flat piece might simply be the background of a design, its color and texture created to shine through, just as a painted paper might be used as background in exploring any of a variety of design ideas.

I can talk about the 3-dimensional nature of my work in felt balls when describing the tree, or tell about the beautiful bowl filled with all sizes and colors of felt balls that we enjoy as decor in our living room.

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Felt balls in a bowl. Copyright Valerie A Stein, 2016

I find it harder to describe the process I’m pursuing when I talk about the nature of my exploration in felt being the same as I use in following a path of discovery in the sketchbook, because somehow there is an expectation that once I lay out the layers of fibers, the finished product will always “become something.” Yes, it’s a sample, but it differs from a sample of technique and materials that I might use in designing an actual piece. It is, as I said, simply an exploration – of color and form, perhaps, or of interpretation, with no expectation that the work I’m doing will lead to a finished piece.

What it always leads to is more learning, and that is my goal when I set out to explore.

I demonstrated feltmaking recently at an Open House held at the Gail Harker Center for Creative Arts.

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Watercolor and aquarelle. Copyright Valerie A Stein, 2016

I finished a sketch inspired by my work on Gail’s online Course, Designing With Circles. My play was centered around scale, moving circles from larger to smaller across the page. In the background, I moved the color from light to dark, too.

I wanted to interpret the sketch above in felt, and to approach it two different ways in order to explore differences and similarities, not only between techniques and their application, but also as compared to the sketch itself. So while it might not “be” anything, it is part of an exploration of a concept. Will I use the techniques I explored that day in a future piece? Possibly. If I do plan such a thing, I’ll be sampling with that finished piece in mind.

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Flat felt ground with sculptural felt balls. Copyright Valerie A Stein, 2016

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Flat wet felts, with holes pierced in upper layer. Copyright Valerie A Stein 2016

Usually I’d choose fibers for a finished piece based on their felting characteristics. For this exercise, I assembled a bag of fibers based solely on color inspiration, and I can’t say that it is a sample in the truest sense of much of my sampling work. I can record half a dozen fibers in the explorations I did.

So, “what will they be?” I explored an inspiration and learned some things along the way. These fuzzy “pages” will look quite nice in a (3-dimensional) sketchbook.

Would you like to explore ways to experiment like this? I’m teaching a course at Gail’s Center April 16 and 17. Stitch, Twist and Roll: Felt Work and Color Play is a weekend of experimentation you can apply to your own work, play in your fuzzy sketchbook, and learn some new skills to add to your tool box. No experience is necessary. Won’t you come join me in beautiful LaConner, Washington?

If you’re interested in reading more of my thoughts on art and personal expression, you might like to read my recent post on From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors.

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About vst3in

I am a writer, avid reader, library techie, birder and runner. I make felt and teach others. I love colors and textures and birds and books. I'm working on a historical novel and reading lots of books for young people. I am running to get stronger, and I sail with my husband. This blog contains thoughts about all these things.
This entry was posted in classes, fleece, inspirations, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “What is it for?” or: Sketching at the Felting Table

  1. Barbara Fox says:

    Your explorations and interpretations are wonderful. And giving us a glimpse into your what your answer is to that proverbial question is so assuring. Lovely work Valerie!

    • vst3in says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Barbara! I’m really inspired to help others understand the process, as I feel that’s the first step toward embracing it as a practice for oneself.

  2. Reblogged this on Gail Harker Center for Creative Arts and commented:
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about felting and exploration. Exploration and thought process are so important to artists. This class has past but we will look forward to your next class at the studio. Gail

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