Thursday, September 22, 2011

How to Create a Pattern for Needle Felting From a Photograph

The following tutorial is about creating patterns for needle felting but can be used for other artistic purposes as well.  I have been creating patterns like this for my quilts and it works really well for wool paintings also.

Start with an idea for which you want to create a wool painting.  You could be inspired by a place you have visited, an experience you remember, a place in your garden or anything at all.  Begin looking for photos on that subject.  I started a computer file that I named, "Floral Felts" with interesting photos I took myself in our garden or found on the Internet that would make good future paintings.  You can also search the Internet for photos that interest you.  However, you need to be sure the photo you want to use for a painting is copyright-free and/or royalty free.  To do this, just google "Royalty Free Images" and a whole list of places to get images will pop up on your screen. 

I searched the internet for Oleander flowers and here is a photo I found that I used for the "Oleander" wool painting.

Oleander Photo
I needed to figure out just how I was going to execute this idea.  I have found that wool doesn't work well if the shapes are too small in a painting.  The wool itself needs to be able to be wooly or soft-edged without looking muddy or losing the visual impact of the idea.  For a good example of this compare the small version of Bottle Study to the larger version, also called Bottle Study and you will see how much better the same pattern responds to the larger format.

Small Bottle Study 23" x 18"

Large Bottle Study 24" x 36"

I put the image into my image-editing software and started to crop it several ways until I was satisfied I had an image I could use as a pattern.

Next, I studied how other artists create white flowers and I was astonished at how white flowers are many colors other than white when they are put into a painting.  Here is an example of a rendering of a "white" flower.  It is anything but white.

I began to manipulate the colors in my image editing software to see which "non-white" I was going to use.

I opted for the pinkish version.  Then I increased the contrast in my image editing software  to accentuate the lights and darks so I could distinguish them better.

I was ready to begin creating the pattern so I printed it out on a plain piece of copy paper at 81/2" x 11." 

I used a piece of overhead transparency film like the one one pictured here.  You can purchase these at any office supply store or online.  You can use any clear plastic film, such as clear tablecloth plastic you can get on a roll from Walmart or any fabric store.  As long as it is clear, thin and will take a permanent marker, you can use it for this process.  I actually bought a roll of this so that I can have it as long as I want for making patterns, but I also have used the tablecloth plastic at times.

Sheets of Transparency Acetate

Roll of Transparency Acetate

I placed the tranparency film over top of my picture and outlined all the major shapes with a permanent Sharpee marker.

Pattern Outline with Permanent Pen

I happen to have an overhead projector from my quilting travels before I used Powerpoint to teach and this is what it looks like.  You can get one of these at a reasonable price because the technology is considered outdated with digital projectors nowadays.  Ask your local library, church or school if they have one to sell at a used price.  You can also purchase them at office supply stores.

Overhead Projector
 Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the pattern at this stage, so I am substituting a picture of another flower pattern I was developing at the time.  I cut out a piece of flannel a little larger than the finished size of the project to allow for shrinkage, and pinned it up onto a wall.  I put the projector onto a tv table and positioned it so that the image would project onto the flannel at the right size.  If you move the projector closer to the wall, the image is smaller, if you move the projector farther away, the image is larger.  There is a focusing wheel on the machine to sharpen the image well enough so you can see the lines and draw them. 

Projecting the Image
Line Drawing on Flannel
I use children's washable markers to draw the projected image into the flannel because they are so easy to work with.  They come in many colors, they will draw a dark thin line on any fabric easily, they wash out easily and they are very cheap from any store carrying childrens art supplies. 

I have found that the best way to create a wool painting is to create it in pastel first because pastel looks like wool, more than paint or marker or any other medium.  Here is a pastel sketch on pink children's construction paper.  I used pink to see what a pink underpainting would look like but the paper wasn't rough enough to hold the powdery color of the pastels.  Much of it fell off but I was able to spray it with a fixative spray for pastel paintings and use it as a guide for which colors to put where on the flannel background.
Pastel Sketch
The first step was to lay down the pink underpainting with wool needle felted to the flannel.  I could see right away I was going to lose site of my pattern lines on the flannel if I felted over them with all one pink color, so I used slightly different pink colors for the petals, leaves and background.  I created the Oleander painting and was immediately unhappy with it.  It was too flat, too boring, too not what I thought it should be.  The center details just disappeared in an anemic flower painting.  But I didn't know right away how to fix it. I think it was all too light with the pastel colors.  I was trying to be "Shabby Chic" and for some reason that never seems to work for me. 

First Edition
I took a picture of the first edition and printed out several copies of the photo on plain copy paper. I looked at the original photo, and the one with the accentuated lights and shadows and began drawing in more details on the photo with colored pencils to see what it needed to look more realistic. 

Colored Pencil Tweaking

I decided to put the blue Peace Fleece background right up next to the flower petals and leaves and eliminate some of the pink background halo around the edges.  Then I added white on top of the lightest areas and used a dark purple in the shadows.  That was just what was needed - very light lights and very dark darks.  The center details became more pronounced and I liked the result. 

I added thin layers of white alplaca over the lightest areas and introduced thin layers of dark purple in the shadows.  I added more layers of wool to the green leaves and I was pleased with the overall result at the end.

Second Edition
I still haven't finished the edges of this painting or mounted it because it has been travelling with me as a sample in all my quilt travels.  I will mount it on an artists frame, like the large Bottle Study and put it into the Birdsboro Art Show in October. 
I hope you learned how to create your own patterns quickly and easily.