You have probably noticed that creative people are rarely creative in just one area. You may know an artist that is better at painting than they are at anything else, but this post features a truly multi-talented individual, Stephanie Laberis. Stephanie’s skills can obviously be found in her felting, but her love for felting can be traced back to her interest in sculpture and illustration. Talk about a powerful combination! We caught up with Stephanie just the other day to find out more about her passions.
Why did you start felting?
I have always loved stuffed animals and critters, but unfortunately my sewing skills aren’t up to par and I have a hard time breaking down shapes patterns in my head. I thought that felting would be a better way for me to create soft, sculpted characters and really work in the details. I found a felting starter kit at a local craft show, tried it out and haven’t looked back!
What or who influenced you to take up felting?
I have been doing a lot of digital and 2D artwork, since I am an illustrator and character designer. I wanted an outlet to get away from the computer and stop obsessing about design so much. I did sculpting with polymer clay when I was in college and thought it was a nice outlet, so felting seemed like a natural extension of my desire to sculpt and my love of plush toys and characters.
What about the process of felting has made you fall in love with it?
First, I love the sensation and sound of the wool crunching when you stab it. Talk about stress relief! The other aspect is that I love how well the wool holds its shape, you can really get down to the smallest fibers and make subtle changes to a piece. It also takes fabric glue, dyes and other materials well, so it can serve as a simple accent to a larger piece or comprise an entire piece in itself.
Where do you get your inspiration for your designs?
Living Felt’s Facebook page, the various crafting groups on Deviantart and tumblr have exposed me to lots of talented crafters and felters. Most of my felts are replicas of my favorite cartoon characters or people’s pets; I think I tend to do fan art in felt because it takes the pressure off of me to design a character from scratch (which is part of my day job) and instead focus on creating a likeness and personality that’s faithful to its source. I would like to do some more of my own original characters in felt too, but for now I am happy recreating artwork or characters that I admire.
Do you draw out your designs on paper before felting them?
No, I usually find reference material online or if it’s a feltie of a pet, I ask for photos. I think it would serve me well to work on some character turn sheets of my own characters though, and use that when I begin to felt.
What can you tell us about your creation, “Cookie”?
Cookie was my first free-hand feltie and my second ever felt project! I had felted a penguin from a kit prior to making Cookie and was chomping at the bit to do something of my own. Cookie was my beloved pet rat who died suddenly last winter. I made the feltie prior to her passing and it now sits atop the wooden box that contains her ashes. It’s a smiling reminder of the world’s happiest rat.
Did you draw our progress steps before felting her?
I used Cookie herself as my reference and let the wool dictate where the design would go. Sometimes just getting lost in the process and allowing happy accidents is the best way to get a look or expression you hadn’t thought of. Cookie enjoyed being able to play with the wool batts, she wasn’t the best model
What was your favorite project?
The big furry dragon, Flammie! (Click to see Video of Flammie) He is fan art of a character from a beloved video game and was made for a gallery show that features retro game characters. He was my biggest challenge, literally; he stands 18” tall and became a mixed media piece. His body and face are built entirely from needle felting over foam and wire (I used a whole core wool batt and then some!) and I glued plush fur on top to make him look fluffy and on-model. I used Paperclay for his claws and teeth because I felt that a light, textured clay would compliment the soft felt. I used dyed turkey feathers for his wings and resin-covered photo paper for his eyes and even wired him up with a speaker so that he could make his signature roar when you squeeze his right paw.
“Do you get more enjoyment creating for yourself or others?
I love felting for others and giving gifts! I think everyone wins in that situation, I have a new challenge and project to enjoy and they get a personal gift from me in the end.
Do you do any other kind of design/illustration work? Was your video game project the first needle felting project done for your professional freelance work? Any plans for more along this line?
I am a full-time artist at a social gaming studio and I also freelance for TV animation and console video games on the side. I do not get many commissions for my felties, because they take me a long time to make and I keep my prices appropriate to that. Most people think that asking more than $10 for a felted rat is too much, which is a shame, because it’s not like these are easily mass produced. The gallery show was the first time I have felted for an art show but my first true felt commission was Crouton, a little rat who was for a young girl who was about to get her first two pet rats. I would LOVE to do more fine art felts for shows or big commissions!
Stephanie’s first commission = “Crouton”
What was your favorite Living Felt project completed by someone else?
ANYTHING Jackie Huang does! But really, I love his giraffes especially, he has this wonderfully playful, chunky and raw look to his felts that I lack in mine. I gave one of his giraffes to one of my friends for Christmas, in fact! I have also noticed via Deviantart that there seem to be a lot of Russian felters who do elegant and meticulous teddy bears and other animals. I don’t know their names, unfortunately.
What’s your favorite felting or craft tool?
The >double pronged needle is a life saver! Gets the job done with a lot of control.
How does sculpting with wool compare to other forms of sculpture?
I was very surprised at the memory of wool, that is, it doesn’t lose its shape over time and can be manipulated and shaped quite well. I love how seamless it is as well, it’s easy to add layers and appendages. It’s fairly forgiving, you generally have a good amount of time to solve shape problems before the fibers lock up and become too firm. The downside is that the pieces can’t really get wet (lord help you if a cat gets ahold of a feltie!) and people who have allergies really miss out on this.
How does the wool color palette compare to that of other types of media you’ve worked with?
So far it’s been good, there are lots of natural tones for more realistic projects and lots of bold colors for cartoon characters and fantasy art. The fact that you can dye your own fibers makes the possibilities limitless. You can achieve some complex colors and depth when it comes to layering fibers as well. It’s not quite as fluid as watercolors and less forgiving than digital art (there’s no “undo” function in real life!) but I am still quite happy with the color versatility.
Does this influence how you go about creating your art?
I don’t see it as a limitation, so not really. I tend to choose subjects that are not shiny in texture or artificial looking, so the wool usually compliments whatever character or animal I am doing. If I need harder or shinier textures in a piece, I bust out the resin or clay.
Have you tried any wet felting yet?
I have, and I don’t think it’s for me! It was rather smelly and it seems to be geared toward apparel making, which is something that doesn’t interest me as much. Were I to add clothing to a feltie, I would probably hand-sew fabrics.
Have you had a “felting” party/get together with your friends yet?
Yes! Once a week I meet with my coworkers at the studio and teach them felting stuff! They’re all talented artists in their own right and I am thrilled with how quickly and naturally they’ve taken to felting.
We really appreciate the inspiration and excitement you bring to felting by sharing your work with our mutual felting friends; what do you enjoy or what keeps you tied to the Living Felt community?
I love seeing the diversity in the projects on the site. There are hats, scarves, gloves, critters, dolls, you name it. Everyone is approachable and willing to share techniques, which is so valuable in any artistic community.
We look forward to your next submission!
Thank you for letting me do this!
Thank you, Stephanie! We love your work and look forward to seeing much more of it right here on the Living Felt blog! You’re awesome.