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Tutorial of the month - How to make a pet portrait

If you're wanting to learn how to create life-like portraits of your pets with wool, then this tutorial from Sarah Vaci will show you how! 

Felted pet portrait of dog

What you'll need:

  • Fabric base such as wool felt (available here from World of Wool)
  • A photo of your image printed on card or paper.
  • Dyed wool such as merino wool tops (available here from world of wool)
  • Needle felting foam pad (available here from World of Wool)
  • 40 Gauge triangular needle (available here from World of Wool)
  • 2 wire dog brushes (optional)

Step 1:

Transfer your image onto the felt by either:

  • Creating a cardboard stencil to draw around.
  • Printing your image in reverse and use an iron-on transfer pen
  • See image 1, which will show you what your drawing will look like.

Step 2:

  • Start felting thin layers of wool to fill in areas of colour.
  • I prefer to use wool like pastel and build up the layers.
  • Using thin layers prevents needle-hole marks appearing.
  • See image 2, which shows you how to start adding your fibres.

Step 3:

  • Start to add highlights and darker areas.
  • Colours can be blended by layering, carding with brushes or in your hand.
  • Always think about contrast - does an area need to be lighter, or does the adjacent area need to be darker.
  • View image 3 to watch your portrait come to life!

Step 4:

  • Define edges by twisting thin strands of wool.
  • Felt the ends and pull the wool taut as you felt to create a defined line.
  • Go over any edges that have become tainted by neighbouring colours or go over any small highlights that have become covered by adjacent wool.
  • See image 4 to see how your finished pet portrait will look.

Now your portrait is complete!

Sarah has also provided us with some great tips to use when creating your pet portrait.

  1. Don't start too small - especially if you're working on portraits! It's extremely hard to make teeny tiny dots and lines! I have worked on 6" x 8" felt such as this portrait but found eyes and detail really challenging at that size. My preferred size is 8" x 10".
  1. Choose the backing that works for you! I began with regular wool/acrylic mix 'craft' felt which works fine but have recently moved over to 100% wool felt and thick prefelt from World of Wool. The prefelt can be trickier to frame but allows far more detail to be added and worked over. Some artists use tweed and linen ( I have yet to try those!) so experiment with what you like best! I generally use white or off white so I can trace my portraits on easily with a thin felt pen, also bolder colours may show through lighter wool colours.
  1. Which needle? Most often I only use one needle - the 40 Gauge triangular needle and sometimes the 40 gauge spiral (although this can leave more visible poke holes) and the gold tip 42 gauge which I use right at the end for very fine detailing.
  1. How to get rid of poke holes? Build up your layers gradually - adding thin layers and slowly overlaying more. I often gently brush the tip of my needle over my art and felt at a very slight angle to cover holes. Your fingernail could also work! Some artists also wet felt their work.
  1. Use contrast to enhance your picture where relevant to add drama! In this portrait I used a very bright green background and bright green on the eyes to really bring out the shape around the eyes for a more dramatic look.
  2. Shading and blending - this is the secret to making your art look 3D. I usually start with a base colour depending on the darkest and lightest parts of my portrait and slowly layer other shades on top in delicate mesh-like tufts. I used tiny pieces to build up shading around Beau's folds, I sometimes pre-blend wool using 2 dog brushes but usually blend on the art itself using layering.
  1. Use thick and thin lines to add definition. I twist wool in my hand, or felt the end of a tuft and twist as I move the wool where I want it to go - eg. to create a circle for an eye. It's also worth practicing tiny lines for areas such eyelashes or chin hairs such as Beau has above or the eyelashes in this eye. I used very thin lines to define the lower lid.
  1. Reviewing your art - it can be hard to see what needs improving when you are working closely. I often take photos of my work and use a layout app to compare to the original photo. Sometimes I hold my art to a mirror which can give a very useful different perspective on my work.                            
  1. Make sure your foam is firm! Using old foam (with too many holes) will not provide the resistance you need for felting small details.
  1. Reinforce any details that get 'lost' as you go along. There is a temptation to think "I've finished that section" and move on. I constantly review parts of my art and go over them again, making the blacks darker, reinforcing dark lines around eyes or white highlights that may have got lost under other neighbouring shades. I also look for balance in my work, making sure ears and eyes look similarly dark or light and symmetrical.

Thank you so much to Sarah Vaci for sending in this tutorial for us to feature and sharing her ten tips with us!

Let us know if you have created a portrait of your pet using this tutorial and show us your pictures on Facebook and Twitter, we’d love to see them!

We are on the hunt for new and interesting tutorials to feature on our website and in our forthcoming newsletters, so If you have a tutorial that you would like us to highlight, please contact andy@worldofwool.co.uk

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