I've been incubating this idea for a while: blending stories from the farm with the process of creating wool paintings. Without any further explanation I'm just going to jump right in!
I'd like to introduce you to one of the sweetest ladies on the farm. Polly was on the dairy line when I learned how to milk goats in 2020, and has always felt like a special friend to me. Like the kindest goat auntie.
We know she was born in 2o17, which is when she came to Lum Farm as a kid. She grew into a personable and docile mama, and often looks as though she is the nap nanny, with a handful of kids from many does gathering around her to snuggle.
This year, she had her hands (hooves? teats?) full with her own set of triplets. They were a trio of rascally black-coated kids, a tad shy of us humans but playful and a very entertaining channel on goat tv, as I think of it. Every morning after milking I would find Polly and her kids snuggled in the same spot in the barn. It became my morning tradition to quickly visit them and assure them of their adorableness before I moved on to other chores. I could not stop myself from taking photos, every time.
Sometimes when goats have multiple kids, they aren't sure they want to take care of ALL of them. While Polly was a snuggler of babies in all numbers, she only really wanted to count to two when feeding them. We noticed that one of her triplets wasn't growing as robustly as the others. She was a scrappy little girl, though, and very game to try whichever udder was swinging within range.
We began bringing Polly Pocket, as we call her, onto the milking stanchion with the mamas so she could have unfettered access to the milk bar. She was very much willing to work with this arrangement, and grew accustomed to this routine (dare I say entitled). Each morning she would meet us at the gate and we'd scoop her up and deliver her to her. breakfast. Nowadays she is weaned, but still hopeful to be scooped any time a human is near.
But back to Polly the elder. When she's not on the milk line, Polly is usually stationed up a the Petting Zoo, because she is just so calm and patient. It appears she has that settling effect with human kids as well as goat.
If I ever feel out of sorts, sometimes I will go to the barn and sit with Polly, as I find her presense so calming. One afternoon I was struck by her profile, and snapped some photos on my phone. I was just learning to paint with wool, and wondered how accurately detailed I could get in a portrait. Polly was a perfect model.
And so we'll move on to the process of felting Polly's Portrait!
I began with a line drawing from the photo above. The goal is to give myself a general template to transfer to the wool painting. I'm learning that the best way to get the drawing to be stable on the "canvas" is to transfer it to interfacing and then stitch the interfacing directly to the backgound.
Here I'm using the age-old window-as-lightboard method to transfer my line drawing to the interfacing:
After stitching the interfacing to the felt, I poke through the interfacing with the felting needles to tack down the outline of Polly.
At this point I'm just laying in blocks of color.....
Does this take a while? Indeed it does. But at this point I'm in the zone and pretty happily working away with music or a podcast in my ears and lots of worries and determination about whether or not I can pull this off.
Once the general layout is felted in, I remove the interfacing and work on layering on the values... dark, mid, light. It goes a long way to giving the portrait depth. At some point in any piece, I think "Oh, this is NOT working." But I remind myself that it usually does, and work past the phase where it looks nothing like what I intend.
Eventually it comes together, and I face the fact that I must also figure out the background. I want to portray the texture of the wood, and imply the bedding hay without having to felt every. single. stalk. Luckily, both of these things can be achieved via lots and lots of layers of color.
At this point I wasn't sure if I was finished or not. A wonderful songwriter (I think it was Slaid Cleaves) once said that you don't ever finish songs -- you abandon them. I feel the same way about paintings. It's so easy to over-work things, and so hard to know when to stop.
It turned out i wanted to darken up the wood background behind Polly, so I went back after a few days and worked on that. In the end, I was very pleased with the likeness I could achieve of the sweetness and spirit of Polly! (Tip: never underestimate the significance of a well-placed eye highlight!)
This piece has already sold (though cards are available), and I love knowing that it is in a home on Orcas Island with a family who can swing by the farm and visit Polly once and awhile. And I know that there are more portraits of Polly in my future -- perhaps from one of those dairy barn photo shoots snuggling with her triplets. Polly and I will put our heads together and figure it out.
Thanks so much for reading this very first post all the way to the end! I hope it was a sweet spot in your day.... just like Polly! I'd love to hear what you think.