Friday, July 30, 2010

Needle Felted Unicorn Creation

“The Unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone…“ These are the first words of The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle and if you haven’t read it then you might not understand my fascination with unicorns in general and The Last Unicorn in particular. I can’t remember when my obsession with unicorns started. I do remember that when The Last Unicorn movie came out I didn't get to see it in the theater. I’m pretty sure that I was obsessed about unicorns before the movie, although I don’t think I’d actually read the book so maybe not. I don’t remember having that “oh they changed that or left or this” moment. I was pretty particular child when it came to mythical creatures. I don’t like mixing them up (unless they already come that way, like a chimera). No wings on my unicorns, please, and no horns on my Pegasus, thank you. I still don’t like werewolves that don’t turn all the way into a wolf. As a very bookish kid I liked mythology, I like legends of the gods, so of course I liked fantasy. I also conducted my own research into things by reading everything… I didn't care if I understood it or not, I just read it. When I finally did read the Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle I wanted to know everything about unicorns; everything, for example, early in the story the unicorn has a conversation with a butterfly. The unicorn is trying to find answers and is asking the butterfly whose answers are made up of bits of poems and songs, because that’s how butterflies communicate. I looked up all the poems…there’s Yeats, Bible verses, and snatches of songs. I think there’s a scholarly paper on the whole thing somewhere, not mine…but someone’s, I’m sure of it. At 11 or 12yrs old I had a need to know. I collected books on unicorn photography unicorn"photography" (damn you, Robert Vavra, you big faker, yet how love them), mythology, history, art, everything. I guess I’m trying to say that The Last Unicorn is complex, it’s not simply a fantasy, but it’s about immortally vs. mortally, about loneliness, fighting fears and obsessions too. It’s also about redemption and discovering your own power within you. That’s all hidden within layers of irreverent humor and fairytale satire.

I didn't have a chance to meet Peter Beagle until just a few years ago. I saw him at an author’s table at Dragon Con in Atlanta. That first time I just looked. I couldn't actually bring myself to speak with him. I didn't want to go all fan girl, although I’m not that bookish, shy, awkward, kid any more I still have my moments. So the next year I did go up to his table and get a book signed, it was towards the end the whole thing so the crowd was thinning and I got to thank him for writing a wonderful story that totally influenced my childhood and adult life. I don’t think I said exactly that. I do remember I starting weeping uncontrollably and apologizing a lot. He patted my hand and said that sometimes he gets like that too. I also met Connor, his manager who responsible for bringing Peter out into the open once more and discovering where Peter had hidden all his stories away. (Find out more about Peter's new projects here. ) Since that tearful, kind of embarrassing meeting I go where Peter’s appearing whenever I can. I got to pitch and help out at his table at Akon in Dallas a few years go when they were overwhelmed. There was another teary moment at Apollo Con in Houston, but I got to hear him sing. I've missed some things, like Peter at Scarborough Faire because I was working at the Castle in OK that month and I missed Akon this year. Last year at Dragon Con I not only saw Peter and Conner again, but to my delight the artist Rebekah Naomi Cox was there too… and I had my own teary moment with her. She is wonderfully enchanting and talented person I've ever had the chance to meet. I had that same soul touching experience I had with Peter Beagle. I also was making little felted creatures and I got to give one to her, I think it was Puss n Boots. I gave Peter a merman and Connor a centaur. All needle felted pipe cleaner people I’d started making out of boredom in the car, starting with a Ninja. (That’s another post.)

So being obsessed with anything about Peter Beagle (I mean unicorns) and wanting to support his endeavors, I had to order the comic book when it came out and I didn't read it right way. I put it away and only about month I was looking for the extra copy I’d ordered for my friend’s birthday did I look through the whole thing and see this contest.

The Last Unicorn Art contest that they hope to put into a book, compiling all the entries and there’s prizes and such. However, didn't even have time to think about this project for while. I got some dates mixed up, I thought I had another month. I've been discovering the nuances of Nuno felting and have therefore have been a bit distracted. So while I could mess with this for another month. It’s probably better that I don’t. Don’t they say an artist is never finished but also knows when to walk away? Mostly, I made this for me… something that I love, and a little tribute to my favorite author.

Okay, enough about my unicorn craziness. I still obsessed by the way, I just try to limit it and I demand that it’s mostly tasteful… Mostly.

Down to the method end of it now... sorry its taken so long. The actual needle felted unicorn is wool over wire armature, its core is felted more solid that anything I've ever felted before. It’s very firm. The body took a week, maybe weeks to create. I've been working off and on this for about month so time a bit compressed in my head. I only had these really big glass eyes and no time to order or make others. This is maybe one of the largest pieces I've made by needle felting, especially over wire. The wire underneath makes everything more difficult, because as I poke and shape the wool there’s a significant increase of needle breakage. I actually broke quite a few. I was in such a hurry to create (and out of camera batteries) that I failed to take pics of the actual work in progress. Bad Joyce, I know. In the back of my mind was also, who wants to see me stabbing a unicorn, really? Good thing I’m pretty philosophical about that sort of stuff. Many times I had to work a little on this and then stop… for fear of over working it or screwing it up. The look of the unicorn is influenced by the description on the first page of the book. “She did not look anything like a horned horse… being smaller and cloven-hoofed…Her neck was long and slender, making her head seem smaller than it was… the long horn above her eyes shone and shivered with its own seashell light…” She really came together in the last couple of days… I sculpted hooves out of polymer clay that I mixed to just the right shade of silver. They kind of came out a bit largish, I think I’m influenced more than a little by Michael Hague. I like those splayed cloven hooves. I ended up filing them down and reshaping them by hand until I got to a size I liked. Once I set her eye in they didn't look quite so large even though she’s based on the mythical description of a unicorn (at least one of them) the Last Unicorn’s “look” is also highly influenced by the animated feature. I totally avoided blue, pink or purple mane, you have to drawn the line somewhere. However, she does have somewhat of a Japanese look to her. Partially, because of those over sized orbs. I had to root the silk mane mixture a ¼” section at a time. It’s actually a blend of silk, wool, and bamboo with a tiny bit of shiny firestar fiber thrown in. It was very, very tedious. Its so soft I thought that if anything was unicorn hair this was. Softer than clouds or dreams or cobwebs.. I love her, she came out better than I could have possibly imagined. I don’t care if I win, I hope she makes it to the book. But this is more about creating a tiny piece of enchantment …unicorn out of wool, wire and silk and a couple needles. I hope you enjoyed this explanation of her creation.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Another day at the "Office"

I don't have a big house, or a studio, but I do have lots of outdoor space. If you're not afraid to be super hot in summer or freezing in winter then you can utilize it to your best advantage. Its taken me a while to appreciate this, but my husband Cedric has generously cleaned up our back porch. Its shaded from the sun and had electricity and lights.. I put a few tables out there and voila instant studio! So I thought I'd include few pics of my "office". My view and how do you like my "office chair"?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Rainbows of Color

After a week of rain! So here's the fruits of my labor after screwing up my courage to actually dye wool roving for the first time ever... Its just a little intimidating when you spend money on this bunch of nice wool and you're terrified that all you will have to show for it is a giant dread lock. I also kept toying with the idea that I needed to do this on my stove or I needed a special Crockpot... (actually, a big Crockpot would be nice) Focus! Focus! Okay... so I after completing my research on YouTube. Thank you, new internet connection with unlimited bandwidth usage! Oh, my favorite ones are Rexene's Get Ready to Dye and Spin2weave's Dyeing to Spin Part #3... the first one is so funny and full of practical advice. She showed me that I don't need a huge space to work in. The latter video showed me that I can just heat my wool up in the microwave without burning it. I also looked at countless other videos many of which are for kettle dyeing or yarn dyeing and not hand painting... and some folks well its kind to say they are a yawn a minute. I also figured out what I'm did wrong pretty fast. Well, wrong.. its not exactly wrong, undesirable maybe.. but this wool is mostly earmarked for my nuno felting so I then dyed it to compliment the silk I dyed earlier...
I started this whole thing Sunday and it felt like I wasn't getting a bunch done. I was also fighting the holiday languor. It's mostly waiting. Waiting for the wool to pre-soak, then waiting for the wool to cool, and then finally waiting for the wool to dry and see how it turned out. Hoping that some where that mass of soggy fiber there's artistry and beauty. There's also making the dye baths... realizing that I need way bigger squeeze bottles, improvising with solo cups... forgetting to wear my gloves and ending up with red hands...(my fingernails are still orange) oh, and the actual dyeing. Then today I hung all I've finished up next to each other and thought, thats not too bad for a start...
I like rainbows.. Promises and hope.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Adventures in Nuno Felting

So, I think I'm finally getting the hang of Nuno felting. I started Nuno Felting about a month ago. I took a leap of faith and ordered some dye and 11yds of silk fabric from Dharma Trading Co. I had never dyed fabric before but the silk I'm dyeing is brilliant and wonderful. It creates the base of the wrap or scarf. Then I take tuffs of wool and lay them out in various patterns over the silk. I create layer after layer of delicate wool; sometimes incorporating curly mohair locks, or eyelash yarn or strand of unspun silk for interest. Its like trying to stretch a spiderweb. Each time I do a new wrap or scarf the more I learn about the whole process. I don't have a studio, I live in a small house. Where there's a will there's a way. I have lots of space... outside. So I'm using my covered back porch that my husband cleaned up. Its soo hot here in Texas all summer that getting really wet doesn't bother me. There is the wind, however, imagine having this beautiful delicate creation of wool and silk piled up like a fluffy layer cake and an errant gust destroys all that work! Its so frustrating, to say the least. That only happened once. ONCE!
I found that if I wet the wool down as I go then that won't happen. Then I roll up my wetted wool and silk into the bubble wrap and seagrass matt and roll it back and forth for well.. its a while. Makes me long for a nice steppe pony or camel that I ride with my roll dragging behind it.. (felting old school Mongolian style!) Not to digress, but they really do. Except its huge rugs not scarfs they are making.. Hmm, maybe I just need one of the cats....
Okay srsly, now.
I'm very pleased with the results. And I think Nuno felting in the summer heat might be the next new cardio workout program.. its intense.
Okay back to the felting. For more pictures on this process checkout my Facebook Gypsyharte Arts fan page!