Needlefelting is the craft of using industrial-strength felt and sharp pointy things to make 3D sculptures. I interview the needlefelting progeek, Leticia, about her craft and business.
1. How did you get into needlefelting? How long did you do it as a hobby before making a business of it?
Oddly enough, while I was getting my degree in Fine Arts I always avoided the sculpture classes. But the classes were mandatory, so I had to take them eventually, near the time of my graduation – and I discovered that hey, this isn't bad after all! After I graduated I tried making stuffed animals and failed astoundingly. Then I saw something on the internet about needlefelting, and started reading about it and watching videos before taking the plunge and buying some supplies to try it out on my own. It had all the charm of fiber and the malleability of clay, plus there was no sewing involved. The first thing I made was my favorite animal, a hyena. And after a few more experiments in felting, I decided this was pretty much what I wanted to do with my life.
2. You seem to be quite knowledgeable about animals. Tell us about how you thought to combine your passion about animals with your crafting skills.
When I was little I wanted to study animal behavior, and consumed books and documentaries about animals all the time. This interest has accompanied me all my life, but while I was in college I tried to distance myself from it to focus on learning to make less figurative art. Later, I thought about it some more... there are a lot of truly fascinating animals in the world that are either unpopular or unknown, and this may just be because not enough people are talking about them. Take, for example, the hyena. How many people know that it is more of a hunter than a scavenger, and that the females are larger than the males, and that they live in clans with very meticulously defined hierarchies? Probably a lot less people than the ones who think they're cowardly thieves. So this gap needs to be bridged. I’d like for people to know about how axolotls can regenerate their brains, about the millions of specialized appendages in sea urchins, about the thousand-plus different species of bats and how important they are. The needle felting is my way of doing this, making all these animals accessible and putting them in the spotlight. When I make a non-commissioned cretur, I add a little companion card full of facts that I find when I research the animal, plus a watercolor. My hope is that if people know more, they might help more.
3. Is this something you are currently doing as full-time work, or do you plan to do so in the future?
Up until very recently, I used to have a part-time job as a studio assistant for an established artist duo. It was great, because I've learned what it takes to be a professional full-time artist. It's a lot of work! They moved away a month ago, so now Cretur Fetur is my full time job. It's really rewarding so far, because I get a lot more time to dedicate to creating, and the feeling of accomplishment when I finish a piece that I’m proud of keeps me going.
4. What kind of social media tools did you use to promote yourself? Which of these did you find to be most and least effective?
I'm actually pretty terrible at this. I have Twitter, a Facebook page, a Deviant Art account, a Flickr account, a Tumblr, and a blog, all of which I often find myself neglecting. At least I take turns neglecting them, so when I haven't updated my blog in a while there are probably new pictures on Flickr, for example. I try to at least stay consistent on Twitter and Deviant Art, since these are the ones where I have the most one-on-one conversations with people. I like talking to people individually rather than aimlessly addressing the void.
5. Would you say you've cornered the market on handmade 3D needlefelt animals? ....Actually, I'm guessing you have. But please tell us about the advantages (or disadvantages) you have over someone working in a more traditional medium making regular jewelry or cell-phone charms.
Hahaha! You flatter me, but no, I don't think so. I hope to, one day! But there are lots of other needle felters I admire who make awesome realistic animals and I consider to be on a higher technical level than me. My favorite advantage of this medium is the possibilities. It's pretty new, kind of unexplored, and there are all kinds of things you can try with it. The texture is great for making furry animals, and being able to dye it any color gives you a limitless palette to work with. The main disadvantage is the difficulty in achieving volume. I mean, each one of these things takes forever, and then you sell it and it's gone, and there's no pattern or mold so you just have to do all of the work (except maybe the study sketches) all over again. My Etsy shop is frequently sad and empty. Plus they are pretty much just sculptures, and they can't really be used for anything other than displaying. Although, I do have some projects in the works for jewelry! Maybe cell-phone charms too, why not!
6. Your portfolio consists of mostly bats, octopi, axolotls, and... well, you're not making puppies and kitties. Does featuring unusual animals make it easier or harder to make sales?
I thought it would be harder, but it turns out that unpopular animals have some fans, and those fans are VERY dedicated. When you're really into something obscure, you get excited when you find someone else who is too. Also, even though I try not to make my sculptures cute, they somehow often end up that way anyway. And that attracts people who are drawn in by the cuteness and the unusual medium, and then they poke around and maybe learn something new about hoatzins or springhares. Maybe they find a new favorite animal. That's the truly satisfying part of my work.
7. Because you tend to deal in making unusual animals, do you find that your clientele are more demanding of anatomical accuracy?
Surprisingly, no. I am my own toughest critic in this regard and I strive to improve with every piece. I think maybe the general lack of anatomically accurate bat sculptures, for example, tends to make people more lenient towards someone who is at least obviously trying. And when someone who works in bat conservation notices that I have bothered to count the number of fingers on a bat’s foot despite this making it harder to construct, I think they appreciate it a lot.
8. I see on your blog you have an article on animal rights. Please tell us more about your use of your needlefelt-animal-focused blog to raise awareness about animal rights.
Well, I figure once you raise awareness about an animal properly the awareness of its rights should follow naturally, ideally. The blog post is just a summary of notes I took at an animal behavior conference earlier this year, regarding the psychological aspects of abuse and neglect. I don’t intend for it to be an opinion piece or a “this is wrong and we should do something about it!” kind of thing, I just like to put information out there. This is directly opposite to how I handle arguments about politics.
9. Any comment on the spelling of your company name? Does the creative spelling help you to stand out and does it ever make it harder for people to find you?
At the time I had just read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, wherein the word “creature” is spelled “cretur”. Being a Mark Twain fan and liking the charm of this word better than “creature” or “critter” I adopted it and folded my hands in wondering anticipation to see if anyone would spot the reference (I don’t think anyone did, I am really bad about awkwardly putting references out there and then fretting about how no one is getting them). I seriously have no idea whether this has positively affected my marketing; I can even see how it would affect it negatively. On the plus side, if I had named it “creature feature” no one would be able to google it ever. So it is at least unique in spelling, it rhymes, and Mark Twain.
That’s hard to quantify but I guess the most unusual one would be the earwig. It was commissioned by a guy for his girlfriend, who I assumed to be either an insect enthusiast or an entomologist, until she commented on my blog that he had given it to her as a Christmas gift because she was terrified of earwigs. She said it was memorable, at least, so that’s a plus! And hopefully now that she has a giant squishy soft-edged earwig she’ll be more fond of them, by association? Or maybe they’ll make her think of Christmas.
Right now I am putting all commission orders on hold for a while until I can get my footing on this whole ‘full-time job’ business. So, for the rest of the year at least, the best places to get creturs would be my Etsy shop (http://creturfetur.etsy.com), The Odd Luminary (http://theoddluminary.com/), and on October 14th, this year’s Plush You! at Schmancy in Seattle (http://www.schmancytoys.com/blog/plush-you). If you don’t find any creturs you like at any point in time, be patient – I’m stabbing as fast as I can!