Monday, April 17, 2017

How to Needle Felt a Tiny Cardinal or Tiny Bird

I use tiny birds to decorate branches and little felt trees and some of my treetopper Waldorf angels hold little red cardinals. I created many little birds for my picturebook Seasons of Joy: Everyday is for Outdoor Play. 
In this blog post, I'll explain how to make a tiny red Northern Cardinal. You can also watch me make the cardinal in the YouTube video.

seasons picturebook

Learn to make the tiny cardinal like the one on cover of Seasons of Joy: Everyday is for Outdoor Play


    felt bird
  • orange wool
  • red wool
  • grey-brown wool or alpaca
  • black wool
  • toothpick
  • felting needle 38 or 40
  • sharp scissors

Wrap orange wool tightly around toothpick.

Wrap red wool over orange, wrapping in same direction.

Carefully slide off toothpick, felt with needle, and bend wool to shape bird.

Wrap small piece of red wool around head, and felt in.

Cut head crest to shape like cardinal.

Wrap tiny piece of black wool around beak and felt in, add red wool to create tail.

needlefelted bird

Blend red and gray wool, fold a tiny piece of the blended roving and felt in as wings.

Watch me make the cardinal in this YouTube video:

Waldorf angel with cardinals

Another angel tree topper with cardinals.

snowman building

The tiny cardinal in a Winter illustration from Seasons of Joy: Everyday is for Outdoor Play.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

How to Create a Waldorf Wool Seasons Painting

Children playing throughout the four seasons is a theme that speaks to our hearts. Childhood as it should be, outside in the fresh air.

four seasons painting

Waldorf Seasons by Claudia Marie Lenart

I originally created my Waldorf Four Seasons wool painting as a commission for a kindergarten class at Da Vinci Waldorf School. I have recreated the image numerous times for art patrons around the world. There are subtle differences in the recreations and some of them have been customized to include the customer's children.  The characters, trees, and animals are all created from needle felted wool. 
The images I created of children playing throughout the year have been so well received that they inspired me to write a book with 12 illustrations created from wool -- "Seasons of Joy: Everyday is for Outdoor Play." 

In this blog I will provide an explanation of how I make a wool painting. It is not a step by step tutorial, but I hope you will find it inspiring. 

blue felt

Newly dyed felt drying in the sun

The wool painting begins with a sheet of 100 percent wool felt fabric. I dye it blue, since a large part of the painting is blue sky. 
After dyeing, the wool gets a bit misshapen, so I measure and cut to the desired dimensions. 

Dyed wool felt ready to be measured.

I apply thin layers of Romney wool to the entire painting, blue in the sky portion and white over the ground. I needle felt along the edges of the painting, then place frame glass over the painting and gently rub the glass. This method is called pressed wool painting. The glass can be left on the wool for days.

blue wool sky

Layers of wool create the sky.

My trees are made of natural brown Corriedale wool. They are felted along the edges and then on the tree to look like grooves in the bark. I sometimes roll the branches so they look more solid and thinner. 

Three wool trees

I have used different types of wool for the grass. In this photo it is mostly merino wool. I usually apply a couple of layers of different shades of green. I lightly felt the wool in and then place the glass frame over the wool to enhance the felting process. 

merino green

Grass changing from Spring to Summer.

The tree leaves are fun to make. I usually use green locks for spring and white locks for winter. The summer and fall leaves are created from many different shades, built up in layers. 

Four seasons trees

Four Seasons Trees

To create the children, I study photos of children moving and then lay down a white wool outline. I create the heads separately and felt into the painting. They are dressed on the painting. 

girl running in spring

Children in Spring

I create the animals and flowers separately as well and then felt them into the painting.

needle felt cottontail

Cottontail running in Spring

felt robins eggs

Needle felted robins eggs

spring wool painting

Spring complete

The swing in summer is made from very thin yarn strung around the tree branch then attached with a sewing needle to the seat. The seat is very tightly felted wool that I cut into a rectangular shape.  The girl on the swing is a little doll which I attach to the swing. 

Girl on swing

Spring and Summer

Nuthatch in spring


Fall characters in progress

Children playing in fall leaves


tiny grey squirrel

Little squirrel

I spend a lot of time studying animals both in real life when possible and, more often, in photographic images. For the deer, I used a photo I shot while hiking last winter as my inspiration. The deer was created in layers directly on the painting.

Creating a deer

Winter sledding

Fall changing to winter

I hope that I inspired you to create your own wool painting. This image is copyrighted, so please do not create one to sell. 
If you would like me to create a wool painting for you or if you would like a print of my Seasons paintings, please visit Claudia Marie Felt on Etsy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Wool Painting, Needle Felting Feature on Major Chicago News Station

An already busy holiday season became a bit more hectic, and a lot more exciting, when I was contacted by WGN news producer Pam Grimes, who was interested in doing a feature on my work. "Wool Painting: How a Love of Animals Led a Chicago Area Artist to a New Calling," was featured on the evening news, Dec. 21. I was pleasantly surprised that the feature was about 5 minutes.

Needle Felt artist
"Wool Painting: How a Love of Animals Led a Chicago Area Artist to a New Calling

Pam and photojournalist Steve Scheuer came to my home to talk to me about my work, photograph my winter woodland mantle display, some of my wool paintings and illustrations, and my needle felt animals. Prince Preemie also made the cut. He is from the most recent book I illustrated for the late disability advocate, Jewel Kats,  "Prince Preemie: A Tale of a Tiny Puppy Who Arrived Early." 

Dog fairy tale
"Prince Preemie: A Tale of a Tiny Puppy Who Arrived Early." 

Actually, it was interesting to see just how much of my story was portrayed in 5 minutes -- my summers working in national parks, my love of animals, my former career as a journalist.

My son's alma mater, Da Vinci Waldorf School was also featured in the segment. Very fitting, as my Waldorf connection was integral to my finding needle felting.  We drove over to the school where Pam talked to Kindergarten teacher Ieva Scoggin.  Ieva commissioned my Waldorf Seasons wool painting, which has become popular in my Etsy store and among Waldorf families. So many people have connected to the image, that it inspired my first picture book as author and illustrator, "Seasons of Joy: Everyday is for Outdoor Play," to be published in Spring 2017.

Waldorf school artist
The original Waldorf Seasons hangs at DaVinci Waldorf School. 

I was touched that the news segment captured my motivation for doing this work -- the joy that it brings me and the joy it brings to others.

Root children artist
My wool painting inspired by Sibylle von Olfers "The Story of the Root Children."

wool fiber artist
Claudia Marie Lenart of Claudia Marie Felt explaining and demonstrating needle felting on WGN.

A scene from my holiday woodland mantle display

Friday, July 1, 2016

Illustrating the Sad Picture Book: Jenny And Her Dog Both Fight Cancer

When Jewel Kats first approached me to illustrate her picture book "Jenny and Her Dog Both Fight Cancer," she told me she had written the book some time ago, but was looking for a distinct type of illustration for this project.
I read the book and cried; it touched me deeply. While I had little experience with pediatric cancer, I had lost three dogs to the disease.

Pediatric cancer picture book

Jenny and Her Dog Both Fight Cancer features a rainbow theme symbolic of the Rainbow Bridge.

A story about a little girl and her dog both fighting cancer is not your typical, light-hearted picture book fodder, but the story rings true. There is beauty in the bond between a child and her best friend; that bond is especially strong through difficult times. There is a beauty in death (sorry for the spoiler, but the dog does not survive cancer).
As a needle felt artist, my dolls and animals are noted for their character, their expressions. With Jenny and her dog, I wanted to convey the emotions of the characters as they struggled through cancer.

Jenny tells Dolly she will be by her side as she fights cancer. 

A subtle shift of the head can change the emotions of the characters.

There is a magic to characters with very subtle features. When posing Jenny and her parents, a slight shift of the head could change the expression from happy to sad. Photographing the scenes was quite the challenge as each character has to be carefully posed.
The illustration process starts with me imagining what is the most compelling aspect of the page. I create a story board, which generally depicts each scene. Then I create the characters out of wire and wool. Needle felting is like sculpting with wool. In Jenny and her dog most of the scenes were created by building props, like a sofa out of wool, a trail with twigs for trees, and an animal hospital with a number of needle felted pets.

Jenny is thrilled to be greeted by Dolly who recently returned from the animal hospital. 

Jenny takes Dolly on a walk and notices that she is slowing down.

Jenny waits at the animal hospital while Dolly undergoes cancer treatment.

Jenny wears a pink scarf throughout her journey, which she throws in Dolly's gravesite in the final scene. The pink scarf was a natural both for its symbolism in cancer awareness and for its connection to little girls.
Rainbows also run throughout the book as I hand dyed a series of pastel shades for Jenny's dresses, which she changes with the seasons. In the final scene she wears a rainbow dress. The Rainbow Bridge is known as a sort of path to dog heaven.

Jenny throws her pink scarf in Dolly's grave. 

Understated illustration conveys the bond between child and dog, both with cancer. 

When I create pet portraits or woodland animals, I tend to fall in love with the pet or the species. Jenny and Dolly were no exception. I fell for them too and I hope readers can feel the love as they turn the pages.
I think the soft and wooly illustrations are a nice balance to the the serious subject. Jewel, who passed away in January, was so thrilled every time I shared an illustration with her. She was such a positive supporter of my work.
This was the first book I illustrated and as I continue to blaze the trail for this type of fiber art illustration, I learn and continue to perfect my techniques. I create many more wool paintings for backgrounds now than I did with Jenny.  "Hansel & Gretel: A Fairy Tale with a Down Syndrome Twist," was the second book Jewel and I worked on. "Prince Preemie: Tale of a Tiny Puppy Who Arrived Early," was our final collaboration; it is due out in fall of this year.

Next year, I will embark on my journey as both author and illustrator. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Thumbelina, Doorway to the Wee World

There is a reason Thumbelina, as well as Tom Thumb, are among the most loved of fairy tales. They take us into the wee world where we can explore what it is like to float on a leaf and fly on the back of a songbird. 
Thumbelina wool illustration
Thumbelina by Claudia Marie Felt

Life in the teeny, tiny world is fascinating, hence the trend of fairy gardens. Just walk into your garden and imagine life as Thumbelina -- a flower bed becomes a jungle, small rocks are boulders, and the butterflies . . . 

I think small children especially relate to Thumbelina, because they do live in a world where they feel little among adults. 

Thumbelina is a Hans Christian Anderson tale, published in Danish, as Tommelise, in 1835. Danny Kaye sang a song about Thumbelina for a 1952 movie about Hans Christian Anderson. And of course there have been animated movies. 

Vintage Thumbelina illustration
Thumbelina Father Tuck

I prefer the Thumbelina version in William Bennett's Book of Virtues. In this version Thumbelina goes for a stroll and enjoys a sailing ride with a fish, explores a field mouse's home and flies with a songbird. I like this version because Thumbelina is childish and in the end she is returned home to her mother. Bennett puts this tale in the Compassion section as Thumbelina's kindness toward the bird results in her happy ending. 

Elsa Beskow Thumbelina and toad
Elsa Beskow Thumbelina illustration

Of course in Anderson's original Thumbelina, she is abducted by creatures who want to marry her --first a toad, then a cockchafer, and a mole. This story is one of perseverence as Thumbelina survives, helps a sick bird who then takes her to a wonderful fairy land where she finds her true love, the elf prince. 

Maja Lindberg Thumbelina
Maja Lindberg Thumbelina illustration

The Thumbelina story can also be seen as a tale of being different; perhaps some people saw pretty little Thumbelina as disabled, but in fact, she could do things others could only dream of. In the end, she found the elf-prince who was her own kind.