Thursday, February 12, 2015

Needle Felt Book Illustration — The Next Big Thing

When I first embarked on this journey to illustrate a book in needle felt, I did a Google search to see if anyone else was doing this. After searching with a few different terms, the only illustrators I found were Cozy Classics.
The Cozy Classics author/illustrator team of Jack and Holman Wang created a series of board books for little children, based on classics like War &  Peace and Jane Eyre. Each book has just 12 words, and endearing needle felted characters posed both outdoors and in miniature settings.

I wanted to illustrate a book for author Jewel Kats almost completely in wool with wool backgrounds and characters. It was uncharted territory. Hansel & Gretel: A Fairy Tale with a Down Syndrome Twist is the second book I illustrated for Jewel. Loving Healing Press will publish the first later this year.  And, the third book is in progress. I am still in awe of Jewel who saw my needle felt animals in my Etsy shop and surmised that I could illustrate her book. 

Hansel & Gretel Illustrated by Fiber Artist Claudia Marie Lenart
Hansel & Gretel: A Fairy Tale with a Down Syndrome Twist

This week, I was thrilled to see some needle felt illustration make its way into the mainstream with the announcement of the Caldecott Medal Winners.  Caldecott Honor Winner 2015 Yuyi Morales includes some needle felted characters in her book Viva Frida. Morales, who is an innovative illustrator and accomplished artist, uses a variety of media to tell the story of artist Frida Kahlo. 

Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales

I was also delighted to discover that Viva Frida and Hansel & Gretel: A Fairy Tale with a Down Syndrome Twist  have something in common. Both books include a needle felted deer.

Needle felt book illustration by Claudia Marie Lenart

Another wonderful surprise this week, was the Google Doodle. While working in my Chrome browser, I noticed the doodle and immediately recognized that it was needle felt. The Google Doodle celebrating Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 148th birthday was created by Cozy Classics. What a thrill! The Doodle page also has a nice explanation of how the characters were created, which is similar to how I created mine. 

I was speaking to Loving Healing Press Publisher Victor Volkman about the trend of needle felt illustration this week and he had an interesting perspective. It's all about the 21st century revolt against mass-produced products and return to the handmade ethos,” he said.

The needle felt characters have a special quality. I think creating with fiber gifts from animals gives life to the characters.

Illustrating with needle felt is a slow process. Hours go into creating each character. The backgrounds I created are akin to creating little movie sets. When it’s all done, the photography is quite a project. More hours go into posing each character perfectly, a slight twist of the head can change a smile into a frown. But the process is invigorating and be sure you will see more from me.

And a side note: Cozy Classics is working on a Star Wars series with Lucas Films/Disney. Looking forward to that!

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