Those who’ve been here before know I usually put up knitting or crocheting projects on Friday, but I’ve decided to branch out to another form of fiber art today: needle-felting.

Megan Nedds makes realistic sculptures of animals and birds using needle-felting techniques. Her creations have wire armatures that allow them to be posed in many different ways, adding to the impression that they are alive.

Siri the Cheetah, by Megan Nedds

Siri the Cheetah, by Megan Nedds

Edgar the Raven, by Megan Nedds

Edgar the Raven, by Megan Nedds

Nedds taught herself how to needle-felt, although she has taken a class or two to help her refine her skills. I’ve done a little needle-felting and am in awe of her skill. I love the amount of detail and expression she achieves in her pieces. Those baby elephants look eager to play.

Kara and Chloe the baby elephants, by Megan Nedds

Kara and Chloe the Baby Elephants, by Megan Nedds

Katie the Chipmunk, by Megan Nedds

Katie the Chipmunk, by Megan Nedds

Dakotah the Gray Wolf, by Megan Nedds

Dakotah the Gray Wolf, by Megan Nedds

Nedds sells her work on Etsy and you can contact her there to get a commission done, but the place to see more of her work is The Woolen Wagon on Facebook. Check out the photo album “Meet The Animals” to see all her creations. Scroll down the main page to see process photos that show the underlying armature and just how much work it takes to create these enchanting creatures.

Several people who have seen my sketchbook have commented on my graphic drawing style. I’m astonished to learn I have a style at all. I just draw what makes sense to me.

When I took a drawing class in the 90s, the teacher kept nagging me about my non-existent backgrounds. I drew an object or figure with no setting at all and despite the teacher’s nagging, continued to do so. I did the same with my recent assignments for Sketchbook Skool. The only exception was my kitchen drawing, which was hyper-detailed because that was the point of the exercise.

Backgrounds are overrated. (The note is wrong. Actually, it's a small glass sculpture by Cleo Dunsmore Buchanan; Drawing by Kit Dunsmore)

Backgrounds are overrated. (The note is wrong. Actually, it’s a glass sculpture by Cleo Dunsmore Buchanan; Drawing by Kit Dunsmore)

Drawing an object without a background is not a mistake, but a choice. I draw what catches my attention, what I notice, what feels important to me. That is how I discover my style, my voice.

There were more chairs, more people, loads of stuff beyond what I drew, but this was the part that caught my attention. (Drawing by Kit Dunsmore)

There were more chairs, more people, loads of stuff beyond what I drew, but this was the part that caught my attention. (Drawing by Kit Dunsmore)

Be brave. Do what feels right. Make choices. Do not let anyone tell you it’s a mistake or that you did it wrong. As long as it was your intent, then it’s all right, even if you don’t like the results. You are allowed to say, “That didn’t work.” Just remember, it’s not a mistake if you did it on purpose.

I love snow and I hate snow. I love how peaceful the world feels as it’s falling. Everyone hides inside and waits for the storm to end and we wind up with a world that looks new and magical in its fluffy coat. Unfortunately, I don’t tolerate the cold well, and all that whiteness eventually gets on my nerves. It doesn’t take long before the dreamy, peaceful landscape seems barren and dead. I need some color to help warm me up.

When I lived in upstate New York, the darkness of the winters would weigh me down. My favorite antidote was color therapy: I’d spend my lunch hour at my favorite quilt store, wandering through the rooms, absorbing all the colors displayed on the shelves of fabric. I’d usually go home with at least a fat quarter of something new to play with, but the real benefit was being exposed to color to counter winter’s white, black, and gray.

Thanks to the internet, you can get color therapy without leaving the house. While I was soaking up the beautiful colors in other people’s projects, I realized the things I found were too cool not to share.

Part of my color therapy is just working with bright colors myself. Recently, I made some more crochet owls using Bunny Mummy’s free pattern. While I think the pattern is really cute, I was pretty sure smaller would be even cuter, so I dug out scraps of sock yarn and got to work. I’ve included the owl I made using worsted to give you an idea of the size difference.

Owls

A brightly colored project that made me smile, Graziela Leah’s DIY tea cozy uses an unusual crochet stitch. Click through to see some pictures of how the crocheted chain that goes up the side of the pot is made.

DIY Tea Cozy Leah

Another rainbow project that caught my eye was Rocky Char’s knitted equalities cowl. A simple idea with colorful results.

equalitiesCowl

Also for knitters, I found Nikki M’s stranded colorwork. She’s making a scarf full of different patterns in order to practice the technique. Smart!

colorwork

Perhaps the most elegant dose of color I found is this knitted shawl by Mollie and Claire. (I think Claire did the knitting; Mollie is apparently a dog.)

ShawlMollieandclaire

Do you need color therapy to get through the winter? What do you do to get it?

Compassion: the deep feeling of sharing the suffering of another, together with the inclination to give aid or support or to show mercy (American Heritage Dictionary)

When I was 26, I visited the site of the World War II concentration camp in Dachau, Germany. I don’t usually visit war memorials or battle sites, but I was living in Germany at the time and felt compelled to visit at least one camp while I was there. During my travels, I’d seen signs all over Europe of the catastrophic damage done by the bombing although fifty years had passed. Europe has not forgotten the horrors of World War II, but I was afraid that Germany had.

ArbeitMachtFrei_web

The gates to Dachau Concentration Camp

My German acquaintances were unwilling to talk at all about what had happened during the war. Any mention of Hitler resulted in a reference to “that crazy man” and an abrupt change of topic. I was worried that the suffering and horror were being ignored by the very people who had been duped into participating in it, so I went to see for myself one of the places where Jews, homosexuals, and many others were confined, abused, and killed by the Nazis.

The compound at Dachau is still there, although most of the buildings have been razed to the ground, leaving only concrete curbs to mark the foundations of the barracks. Critical landmarks are still there: the wrought-iron gate with the motto “Work makes you free” on it, the prison-style barb-wired fence, the door marked “Shower” that led to the gas chamber, and the brick ovens used to burn the bodies.

Crematorium, Dachau Concentration Camp

Crematorium, Dachau Concentration Camp

The museum at the site proved to me that not all Germans were turning a blind eye to their history. I only remember two things about it now, but both are burned into my memory.

One was a photograph of a pile of shoes. The cloth and leather shoes were tattered and crushed flat. The pile was the size of a haystack. It was just shoes, shoes of the victims of the gas chamber. No statistic or analogy got across to me the number of lives lost, let alone the number of lives affected, as that single photo did. The worn, dirty, discarded shoes were poignant symbols of destroyed lives. I cried when I saw it then, I cry just thinking about it now.

The other photo was a picture of the camp officers. It came after the gallery of photos of the camp when it was in operation, of skeletal prisoners digging the pits they would be buried in. It came after the mountain of discarded shoes. It was like a class picture, a group of twenty men in uniform, only more informally arranged that you would expect from either the military or the Germans.

The photo wasn’t very big. I leaned in close to look at the faces of the men who had overseen such horror and suffering. I saw boys — young men who looked so young it was hard to imagine that they were over 20. They could have been a group of students from my own college, members of a fraternity or sports team. Their eyes were bright and their smiles were warm, genuine. One young man was turned towards the others, laughing, as if someone had made a joke just before the picture was snapped.

That was when the true horror of the holocaust hit me. Most of the men who hurt and killed millions of innocents were just people, like the boys I’d known in college. Ordinary, every day human beings. Somehow, they had come to do these terrible things to other humans. Their ability to feel compassion must have been dead. How else could they walk through the camp where they could see, hear, and smell the suffering of others, and continue to participate?

The humbling lesson I took from Dachau is that there are monsters in the world and that in the right situation, I could be one of them. Even when people act like monsters, they are still human beings. They love and hate, dream and suffer, struggle and die, just like the rest of us. Remove our sense of compassion, and we are no longer human.

1000speak buttong

Today over a thousand bloggers are posting about compassion and how it can change the world. In the month since I  signed up to be part of 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, I have been thinking about compassion, what it is, why it is valuable. The more I’ve thought about it, the more complex it seems, and the more difficult to cultivate. To achieve true compassion, we must overcome our tendencies to make assumptions about others, to judge others for any reason, to dismiss or minimize the trials another person faces, or to distance ourselves from the harsh realities of life. All these tendencies are strong in me and it takes awareness and effort to push them aside, open my heart, and just listen to what another has to say without criticizing or arguing.

Most of all, compassion requires self-acceptance and humility. We have to look beyond another’s skin color, clothing, religious beliefs, political positions, and actions, and see a human being with experiences and emotions as rich and deep as our own. That is no small task.

We all have value. We all have challenges. We all have weaknesses. We all need love and understanding. We must work to feel compassion for every member of the human race, or we open the door to misunderstanding, abuse, murder, terrorism, war, even genocide. It’s up to us.

During my six-week Sketchbook Skool (SBS) drawing class, I kept recognizing that things I know about writing also apply to drawing. Are they universal creative process rules? Maybe. That these two activities I love have so much in common surprises me. Here’s what I’ve learned about writing and drawing:

1) Lock the Inner Critic in the closet when it’s time to create. The Inner Critic’s job is to edit or evaluate finished work. If you let her weigh-in while you are making something new, expect trouble, loads of it. I’ve learned to write a shitty first draft (Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, p. 21 ff.) as fast as I can to get something down while my Inner Critic is looking the other way. Otherwise, I stumble over my words and spend more time fixing things than writing. It turns out that I need to ignore my inner critic when I’m drawing as well. During the first week of class, I kept freezing and felt anxious all the time. A note from the teacher helped me let go of my expectations and just draw.

Maybe it will suck, maybe it won’t. Maybe you will master it, maybe you won’t. Let’s suspend these sorts of judgments and just explore… I think that’s the only reliable path to making art that fits you. And making art that fits you is the only art making that matters. — Danny Gregory

2) Stop worrying about quality and focus on quantity. Lots and lots of written pages lead to some that are worth polishing and sharing. The same is true for drawing. I gave myself permission to “accumulate pages, not judgments” (Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way, p. xv), and it suddenly got easier to draw. I stopped hoping for a masterpiece and just tried to get something on the paper. Without practice, I can’t improve. I have to be willing to make messes. I have to write to write and I have to draw to draw.

3) Warming up helps. A few paragraphs in my journal or a quick gesture drawing before I start can help me to shift my head into the proper space for creating. Taking time to warm up may improve the quality of the work that follows. It definitely makes it easier to do.

My first two tries of drawing my husband were really warming up. I got it when I turned the page sideways and tried again.

My first two tries of drawing my husband were really warming up. I got it when I turned the page sideways and tried again.

4) Daily practice helps. Writing or drawing daily keeps the machinery well-oiled. It’s a sort of extended warm-up. Too many days without a pen in my hand, and suddenly I find my task seems impossible. I’ve forgotten how to put words together or how to translate what I see into lines. I must struggle through a rocky period of starting again in order to get the flow back. Better to do a little whenever I can and stay in shape to create.

5) Trying something new helps. Applying someone else’s rules to my creative work can strengthen and broaden my skill set. This is harder for me to do with writing than drawing, but it works in both cases. Being willing to experiment allows me to see in a new way and to learn. I may learn that I don’t want to do it that way ever again, but even that is useful information.

6) Stop worrying about how long it takes. Writing novels takes me a long time, something I fret about constantly, though I try hard to accept that it takes what it takes. If I persevere, I will eventually be done. (Or dead. But I’m hoping for done.) In the last Beginnings class, Tommy Kane challenged us to take a long time on a single, very detailed drawing. This was a huge challenge for me because my fear that “it will take too long” has kept me from drawing for years.

My 4-hour drawing of part of our kitchen. Full of mistakes and lessons.

My 4-hour drawing of part of our kitchen. Full of mistakes and lessons.

My kitchen drawing took four hours. Before the SBS class, I wouldn’t have dreamt of spending that much time on just one drawing. But as a student, I’m willing to try something new (see #5) and I benefited from it. I noticed things I’d never seen before and I learned a lot about shadows. Sure, I made mistakes, but I was able to produce an interesting drawing despite that. It gives me hope that the time I’ve spent on Rapunzel will translate into a rich and detailed book, even if it isn’t a perfect one.

7) Work on things you love and are drawn to. In my college creative writing class, I was told that science fiction was not serious literature and that I needed to write about real life. From that point on, my stories for class were horrific. I hated the modern settings and wound up hating my stories. (My professors hated them, too.) Now I write fantasy: fairy tale adaptations, stories with magic in them somewhere, alternate realities. I deal with real life problems in unreal worlds. Filling my stories with what I love keeps it fun for me. Our drawing assignments had us drawing things I wasn’t at all interested in, like buildings, but I treated them as experiments. When I go back to re-visit the exercises that intrigue me, you can bet the subjects will be things I love: animals, plants, and the toys I keep on my writing desk. The things I love make the best material because I want to spend time with them. I enjoy doing the work, even when it goes wrong.

I discovered during class that I really enjoy drawing animal toys that I own. I can't wait to take another shot at this stuffed kitten using a different technique.

I discovered during class that I really enjoy drawing animal toys that I own. I can’t wait to take another shot at this stuffed kitten using a different technique.

The similarities between my drawing and writing processes have me thinking that creativity is creativity is creativity.  While the creative process can vary from person to person, there are some aspects that may be universal.

What do you think?

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