Monday, December 5, 2016

Needle Felted Plum Pudding Ornament - with Tutorial!

My mother needed a handmade ornament for the WA Quilters Christmas Party (not necessarily a quilted one). I needed my mother to write the family Christmas letter - so I did the ornament. And as a Christmas gift to everyone, I am posting a step-by-step tutorial on how to needle felt your own plum pudding here!

I posted these snaps as part of my Instagram Story - if you follow me on Instagram, do check out my Story, I post sneak peeks and all sorts of things in there!

Needle Felting a Christmas Plum Pudding Ornament

Step 1:

Use dacron toy stuffing (I'm using the filling from a cheap old pillow (well washed)) or core wool to create a ball the size you want your plum pudding. You can of course felt the whole ball in brown wool, but dacron is cheaper (and less tempting to moths). Felt the ball fairly firmly, you don't want it to shrink down too much further when you add the brown layer on. Make sure you move it around regularly while you felt, so that you get a nice even ball shape. I'm using a coarse (#32) needle here. 

Step 2:

Felt dark brown wool (this is corriedale wool) over the top of your dacron ball. You want to felt it very firmly so that it is all smooth. Start with a #32 needle, and move up to finer needle (I'm using a #40 spiral needle, but a #40 regular needle would be fine) so that the surface is smooth and compact.

Step 3:

Take some white wool roving (this is merino) for the icing. Take twists of the roving and lay them down the sides of the pud as drips - this way you can gauge how far the drips should go, aesthetically, before you felt them in. These twists will form a sort of map for where to add extra wool to build up the icing - you don't want it too thin or the brown will show through. I like to add extra wool at the bottom of the drips. When you've got the drips felted in, add extra roving to the top so that there is a smooth topping with no gaps. I used a #32 needle to start off the icing, and then smoothed them off with a #40.

Step 4:

It is at this point that you want to add your hanger. Take some string or ribbon of your choice - a nice thin ribbon is best, as it doesn't overwhelm the ornament itself. Tie a knot with each end of the ribbon to form a loop. Then take a needle and thread and stitch the knot down to the top of the pud, nice and firmly so it won't come loose. This can be messy, because we're going to cover it up.

Step 5:

Take some extra white wool and felt it over and around the knot, to cover up the fact that we didn't bother to do pretty stitching. 

Step 6:

Time for decoration! Use a #40 needle to felt tiny little red balls and green leaf shapes. Pick the leaf shapes up and turn them over regularly while you are felting them flat, or you will felt them into your foam. Step 6 of my Needle Felted Robin Earrings Tutorial gives more information on felting these shapes. Once you've felted the leaf shapes fairly firmly, you can trim off the edges with sharp scissors so that they are clean shapes. 
Felt the berries and leaves around the base of the hanger. It's up to you how many you felt, depending on how big you have made them, and how you want to arrange them. When you feel you've got enough, move on to the next step.

Step 7: 

I like Christmas tree ornaments to have a bit of sparkle to reflect the Christmas tree lights, so I took some glass beads - in clear, red and gold - and stitched them over the pud in a scattered pattern.

Step 8: 

As a final touch, I added some glitter - this is a frosty holographic glitter that I happened to see when I was delving in my craft cupboard and just couldn't resist. Sprinkle your glitter sparingly over the top of the pud, and then spray the whole thing with a light covering of fixative or hairspray, to help keep the sparkles in place. I'm sure they'll fall off eventually - although the texture of the felting will help keep the glitter on. I considered spraying on some adhesive, but decided against it - I didn't want a sticky pud!

Here are some more photos:

Here you can see that I added a single drip of icing on one side of the pudding.

Yes, it was a bit windy while I was taking photos!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Picking the Holiday Snaps

Here's my Colour Collective for last week. The colour, seasonably, was 'Scarlet'. I'd had good feedback on my Myrna pictures at the Expo I attended last week so I thought I'd do some more in that series. I'd been asked if I had any greeting cards of the series, and I thought I should make some up - and some seasonal ones would be a good addition to a range like that!

Here's the image I made for Colour Collective:

I'd done three full-body pictures, but cropped them down for this piece. I also posted one of the full pieces as a second Colour Collective entry. The other two I plan to use for Illo Advent later in the month (when things get busier, as I know they will, and I don't have time to create something every day. I'm hoping to manage the first 12 Days of Christmas with new pieces, and then switch to a combination of existing pieces and one-off illustrations, rather than a series. I'll blog about my Illo Advent pieces once I'm done. I'd love to add some more Christmas Myrnas, but we'll see how I go). 

Here's the full piece of Myrna, unamused, in antlers:

Here's the photo that inspired this piece. It was taken last year, and even bribed with treats off-camera Myrna wasn't too happy about being put in antlers!

I also used one of my Myrnas to create a quick seasonal Twitter header. I realise I should change my header more often (it has been The Princess and the Pea since I set up my account several years ago. Oops!) and thought I should make a start with a Christmassy header (that I will have to change again at the end of the month. Start as you mean to go on, and all that.)

Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 on a Wacom Cintiq Companion 2. I suppose each Myrna took about an hour to an hour and a half to do, with a further half-hour to combine them into the snaps image. They were all created using Kyle Webster's China Marker and Gouache a Go Go brushes (two of my favourites), with the glow from the fairy lights created using his Big Watercolour Texture brush. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Gosnells Writer's Circle Writing and Self Publishing Expo

Belated post, December is always so busy!

I was invited to attend the Gosnells Writers Circle Writing and Self Publishing Expo again this year, and had a great afternoon after a bit of a slow start. It was 37 degrees outside, which I think tempted more people stay indoors with their aircon - but fortunately we were indoors with aircon too, it would be been horrible to be at an outdoor expo with the heat!

Here I am with my mother, who helped me to man my table. Behind my merchandise we are cutting out the jac paper halos for this year's Christmas cards. I'll blog about the cards later this month, but if you follow my Instagram or Twitter you will have seen snaps as I was working on them. 

You can also see my colouring book on display on the right of the table. I was selling the book on its own and also as gift packs with a handmade book bag, coloured pencils and bookmark. 

As it was a self-publishing expo I also had a form for people to fill out if they were interested in hearing more about working with an illustrator when self-publishing a book or picture book. I've worked with a number of self-publishers, and always try to give them as much help as I can. Having a form for them to fill out was a new method I was trying for getting in touch with them. I hand out business cards as well, of course, but it's so easy for people to mislay them. This way I was able to send out informative emails to everyone on the list, tailored to their specific interests, the day after the expo. I only got one reply (just a public service announcement here (and meant in the nicest way): if an illustrator has taken the time to send you a long email full of information, it is polite to thank them, even if you don't plan on commissioning them soon (or ever). They've taken time out of their busy schedule to provide you with that information and when you don't get back to them, they feel it was wasted, unappreciated time. I can't tell you how many people have contacted me directly, and yet never replied to my reply!) but I hope the information was of use. 

When we arrived to set up at the expo, there was a scheduling clash with the hall, so while we were waiting for it to become available, we wandered down to look around the Centennial Pioneer Park. We don't live in Gosnells, so we'd never explored it before. It was very hot indeed (already up to 37 degrees at 11am) but there was a lovely boardwalk by the river. Here are a few snaps:


And for those readers who have never been to Australia, here's a video - this is the sound of a hot day in the bush (and it can be pretty deafening!):


One last photo from the Expo, this time taken by my mother. She took quite a few, but isn't at all handy with the camera phone - every other one was out of focus!

Thanks for having me, Gosnells Writers Circle! 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Night is falling

This is last week's Colour Collective. The colour was 'Sea Blue', but I used it as a sky colour instead. I'd had a really stressful week, preparing for a small expo and panicking because there was a delay in printing and shipping the colouring books I was going to be selling (more on those soon, they're currently going through the process of being sold on Amazon, and I'll do a whole post on them when they're up) - so i was stressed and tired and just wanted to draw something easy. So I resorted to defaults - pretty girl in pretty dress. I tried to make it slightly more interesting, however, by turning her into the sky:

I recycled the background from an old illustration, so the two don't gel together as well as they should - but it was better than leaving her on a plain white background, and I was in a hurry! (Colour Collective time is 3.30am my time, so I usually Buffer my posts anyway, but this week I had to be in bed unusually early before the Expo on Saturday, so time was of the essence! =P)

This probably took about 3 hours, using Adobe Photoshop CC 2015 on a Wacom Cintiq Companion 2.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy

For Colour Collective's 'Gold' prompt I thought I really needed to do something Christmassy. To have 'Gold' so close to Christmas (even if it is still November)... I just couldn't pass that up. There's been lots of advertising for The Nutcracker around, so I used that as my inspiration. I've never actually seen The Nutcracker, but I didn't let that stop me!

The Sugarplum Fairy is generally (as far as I've seen) shown dressed in mostly white, a very pale and etherial being, but I wanted to change things around a bit. As she lives in 'The Land of Sweets', I was thinking it would be nice to have lots of chocolate and caramel colours (classier than candy cane red and white), and a generous helping of icing-sugar sparkles. There are various conflicting stories on what 'sugar plums' actually are: I grew up with my mother telling me they were actually prunes, and the internet gives me options ranging from sugared almonds to truffles of dried fruit rolled in brown sugar, to purple sugar-coated sweets to preserved plums. So lots of room for interpretation there! (that, or no one knows what they're talking about at all, in which case I can't get it wrong!) 


I chose to have a dark fairy for a number of reasons - dark skin looks so lovely against dull golds, it adds to the 'chocolate' theme, and sparkles show up beautifully, so she could have a proper dusting of icing sugar and look fabulous while rocking it. 

I took screenshots of Nina Kaptsova dancing so I could get a pose from the actual choreography. Here's the screenshot I used:

And here are a couple of progress shots:

As you can see, I flirted with the idea of an icy blue night-time background for a while, but in the end I decided to use as much gold as possible. I kept the background fairly muted to help her stand out.

I'm really pleased with how her tutu and wings came out - They were mainly created with Kyle Webster's 'Gouache Bonus Gritty' brush, on multiple layers with opacity lowered. Very easy, and I think very effective!

4-5 hours in Adobe Photoshop CC 2016 on a Wacom Cintiq Companion 2. I hear a new Wacom mobile tablet is coming out, and I'll be interested to see if they've fixed the myriad problems I've got with mine. A charging pin that works would be an excellent start....

Monday, November 14, 2016


I was in a bit of a rush with Colour Collective's May Green prompt, but, as is wont to happen, the finished result was far better, and far better received, than I expected. If only I could distill that for use in all my pieces!

I wasn't sure what to do for the colour until a throwaway line in the Terry Pratchett audiobook I was listening to mentioned hippopotomi. My brain went hippos > water > algae > plants > green. And there, in a nutshell, is my artistic process for this piece:

I'm really awfully fond of it. I don't think I've ever drawn a hippo before, certainly not that I can remember....

About 3 – 4 hours in Adobe Photoshop CC 2016 on a Wacom Cintiq Companion 2

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Algerian Girl

Every now and then I do portraiture demonstrations. People prefer to see portraiture being demonstrated, I find: they can see exactly what I am trying to do, and judge how well I am doing. If I'm illustrating only I know what it's supposed to look like! I've tried demonstrating illustration, but it never goes down so well.

This is one of my demonstration portraits. In previous years I've always done actors and actresses, but I saw a 19th century photograph of an Algerian girl and thought it was beautiful, so I used that. 

I started it for demonstration purposes in October 2015, and only finished it up in October of this year, so I could enter it in a show (I won first in portraiture!!). 

Here are some progress shots, all taken while I was working and posted on Instagram. Some of them are a bit fuzzy, I was quickly snapping shots with my phone between chatting to people, and the lighting was pretty poor:

1.5 hours in:

2.5 hours in:

3.5 hours in:

4.5 hours in:

That was the end of my demonstration time - after that I switched to needle felting.

Here she's almost finished:

Graphite on sketchbook paper 20cm diameter, 8-10 hours in total. If you'd like a rundown of all the materials I use in pencil portraiture, I have a list here.

Here's the original photograph:

Source: Matthew's Island of Misfit Toys


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