Wood Nymph Meets Robin

Friday, March 5, 2010

How I do my needle felted portraits.

What you need to make a portrait the way that I do mine.

Bought wool mix felt in background colour of your choice, A4 size. I use wool mix as this holds it's shape a lot better than the pure wool version which I found would stretch and distort the final picture, when it was removed from the foam.
Foam for needling (I have a foam insert from an old easy chair so I can lay the whole thing down flat.  I don't think this type of portrait would work having to release it from a small piece of foam, to work on the next bit)
Piece of dissolvable web for tracing your picture onto, the white woven sort not the other type, enough to just overlap the felt backing. (I don't wet this off later I cut it away.)
Wool tops: white, dark grey and black, I've got used to working with Merino tops.
Size 36 felting needle, throughout. (You can use a slightly finer one, for any small details).
Bought frame with glass.
Piece of card to frame your picture.

I start off with a coloured photograph, one that shows the eyes clearly because if you don't get the eyes right then the whole thing will be wrong.  Then using the magic of computers I re-size it to fit A4, and using the hue part of my colour program I change the whole thing into shades of dark greys. (I tried the straight forward change to black and white but that won't work.)  You can of course work straight off the coloured version but I find it easier using the hue change, it highlights where the shades should be.

First step to making the picture.
If you have a light-box then you will be well on your way.  If not and you have a glass topped table you can stick a lamp under, then that is better than nothing.
Lay the dissolvable web over the printed A4 copy of your picture.  Stick it down here and there at the edges so it wont move.
Using a fine black felt pen or similar (remember that the web will dissolve if you use something too wet).  Carefully trace the shape of the eyes, lightly shading in where the eyelashes are.  Trace in the position of the iris and pupil with too, the highlight for the pupil and the corners of the eyes.
Trace in the markings for the lids and under the eyes.
Then do the mouth, and teeth if they are showing.
Outline where the nostrils are and eyebrows, don't worry about the hairs that come off the eyebrows, just get the main part traced.
Trace in the smile creases and where any dimples form.  Then the outline of the face itself, and the neck.  Finally the shape of the hair and any obvious highlights, if the ears are showing then do these too with any shading, which depicts the make up of the ear.  If these go wrong later, unlike the other features you can always cover them with hair.  Now lightly mark in the outlines of anywhere that shows the shades that give shaping to the cheeks, forehead chin etc.

I'm not lucky enough to have a real carder so I use wire dog combs, (not the ones with blobs of plastic at the ends of the wire, the bare wire ones).  I drag layers of different colours across the wires, lifting and re-blending them until it becomes a colour in it's own right.
Blend as many shades of white, black and dark grey tops together as you can, more white in some, more black in others, etc, then dropping the black altogether, blend white and grey, then grey and black, until it all becomes too boring, but I promise you it pays in the end especially when you want to get on with the picture and you have to stop to mix up a colour. Keep your different blends in separate sandwich bags that you can see through.

I always start with the eye balls, because I know that if they aren't right it's no use carrying on. I layered them at first as I did with my dolls heads but found  that they were far too bulky and that I needed a different approach with these flat portraits. I don't needle pack the wool down so much either, not as much as you would, say for a doll or handbag etc., as it gives a very over-all flat look to the picture.
You only need a light touch to your needling not too light though, enough to needle felt it to the background.

Now for the fun part.
Lay the background felt down onto the piece of foam. On top of this place your traced piece of dissolvable web.
Using glass headed pins, pin straight down through both layers into the foam. Don't push the pins down so hard that they pucker or indent the background felt.  Use a lot of pins around the edges and also close to the hair line, roughly about one and a half inches apart.  You need to do this so that the dissolvable web won't move as you work on the outlines.
Unlike with the dolls for which I make eyeballs that are layered, for these flat pictures, I work from the inside out, by this I mean, I start with the highlight of the pupil, I make this a little larger than it should be because when the black goes on the hairs, more often than not, overlap it and I let it do this to give a more broken highlight.
Next using tiny bit of black, surround this to make the pupil, once you are happy with it, surround it with the iris mix (lighter for blue eyes darker for brown but even with brown it is best to use the darker versions of the white/grey mixes rather than the black mixes). I use my finger nail if need be to prevent it from messing up the pupil, and as with all eyes there is a darker iris colour around the edge of the iris, that really brings the eyes to life for this I use a darker mix of white and grey. Then the most important part, the shape of the eye, I use a thin line of the very darkest mix of grey and white. Once I'm happy with this, which sometimes means pushing the line here and there I then finish off the eye by adding the white bits on each side of the iris.
I only use a very tiny amount of white on each side of the iris using my finger nail as a stop in order to stop the white interfering too much with the iris and the eye outline but I do let some of the grey strands of the iris 'corrupt' the white so as not to be too stark a contrast.  I then using a medium mix of white and grey, literally draw in with very fine pieces of wool the lids. As this will be covered with white, then a bit more shading the darker colour mutes out, as long as you have not made these fine lines too thick. If they disappear they can always be replaced but if you have made them too dark to start with then ripping back can interfere with with whole eye.
Now gently layer in white above and below the eyes, adjusting the eye outline if you distort it too much. You may be tempted to keep going back to work on it but honestly all you end up with is a tightly packed eyeball and this you want to avoid because when you lift the whole thing off the foam, then the background will have stretched out of all proportion at that point. When you have 'coloured' in the rest then you can give that final touch to the eyes if need be. By that I mean using your needle you can nudge it back into shape.
For the rest of the face use grey mixes to depict the nostrils and laughter lines etc., then layer in white over all of these, forehead cheeks neck and so on.  Then working off the picture use your various shades of colour mixes to very finely add the more delicate shades greys.  Work the mouth and then the hair.  For the hair I just lay strands of each colour and lay them in a wavy motion to match the picture, overlapping here and there until it resembles hair.
Once I'm happy I carefully remove it from the foam and using a really sharp scissors cut away the surplus dissolvable web away, I find that instead of snipping I can get away with just moving the scissors as the holes I have needle punched act like a postage stamp on the webbing.  Any way whatever you do whether you snip or try my way, do not wet it, to get rid of it as you will have a very blurry picture.
That's it oh except for one important thing, when you have checked it out and touched up around the edges where you have cut the web away, if need be, when you come to put it in a frame do not under any circumstances stretch it, as you would do for a canvas painting or similar, or you will end up with a lovely piece of ripped felt.
Lay your, cut to size card frame, over it, I stick mine down with that double sided tape used by scrap artists, then I lay it picture side down on top of the glass (still in the frame) and then put the backing in place.  The least bit of disturbance to the picture the better.  Hugs Joyce

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