Sunday, February 10, 2013


Spent my little free time this hectic January working on "Clownhide" --felted wool on canvas (20"x20").  Funny, it wasn't what I intended to start the year with but I found an old piece of six pointed wet-felted fabric I'd made last year and decided to play with it.  I don't generally think to document the stages a piece goes through, but I do have a few phone pics to share as this one came along.

Generally when working with wool, it is dyed first.  This was the second time I've experimented with combining wet and dry felting in this way, all in white, and then "steam dying" it after the sculptural work is completed.  You can see the points, except the chin are left flat and that is what the whole wet-felted background originally looked like.  Then I begin building up the 2.5D/3D facial features in the center. This is another example of what I like to do with raw wool, right off the sheep, minimally processed and uncombed.  The effect is non-realistic, slightly surreal and leaves intact an essence of the sheep that makes these pieces seem more animalistic and alive. 

The wool starts out very loose and on a piece this size, to make all the detail work sculptural and dense takes a LOT of hours with the felting needles.  This third picture, still in white finds all the detail coming together, including the eyelide and eyebrow work that overlay the full 3D orbs of the eyeballs.  One gory little trick to note is that the eyebrows are not only full locks of wool, but they still have sheep shit in them.  The crustier parts of the sheep, I'd need to comb that stuff out, but by only gently cleaning the locks with detergent and boiling hot water and not combing or agitating them, the tips still are crusty and stiff with sheep shit. Sure, it's sterile after the cleaning process, but it might gross out the squeemish to know that it is an intentional part of the sculpture.  The reason why is that it gives a texture and character that looks really cool.  And also, those particular crusty locks will take the dye in a more complex and interesting way.  The eyelashes are my favorite part of this piece.

A bath to neutralize the PH
OK, I didn't photograph every stage.  The actual dyeing process I would have needed someone else to shoot because I'm all gloved up and under the clock.  After the piece was sculpted I soaked it in a mordant and then suspended it above a steam bath I made out of a large aluminum turkey pan on the stove.  Then all the dying is hand drizzled.  This is a lot harder than just making the piece out of different colored wool in the first place, but I love the effect.  After I'm done dyeing and the colors have set, the piece has to have the PH neutralized, so the clown gets a bath in the sink.

Finally, I sewed the dried piece to canvas painted with acrylic.  I'm not certain how successful aesthetically this is, but there was a reason.  I did a similar type of 2.5D wool "hide" piece called "Baphomet" and it was nailed to wood, reminiscent of animal hide nailed to the side of a barn.  I'm not sure why I'm fascinated by this practice. . .it must be something I saw as a kid.  So, in this instance with "Clownhide" it seemed that canvas could be made into a visual and tactile representation of the big top circus tent.  Where else would you hang the hide of an evil clown?

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