Lessons from Andrea Graham

This week I had an incredible educating experience from one of my felting heroes, Andrea Graham. Andrea offers a web-chat workshop from her home studio in Kingston Ontario, a 7 hour course split over 2 days. As someone eager to elevate my work to a higher level, the fee for her course was well worth it.

In preparation, I’d been honing my felting skills. Needle felting one day, wet felting the next, making pre-felts.  While my first felting experience was with the wet technique, I was never quite as comfortable with it as when I started needle-felting. My in-laws had given me a gift certificate to New England Felting Supply and I had all sort of lovely new wools and materials to experiment with. The day before the workshop, I cleaned my studio thoroughly and set my computer up in the corner.

It almost sparkles!

10:30 Monday morning, my computer rings and we meet. It takes me a bit to warm up to having someone talk to me in my studio, but in no time at all we’re friendly and focused on the task at hand. Andrea starts her own pod, and I follow along one or two steps behind. She’s got lovely samplers as examples and when I want to learn how to add “fins” or a “ponytail” to my pod, she adds them to her own pod to demonstrate. The session flies by and we are both surprised to see the time. She suggests I start another piece before the next morning and I’m game. Fast forward 6 hours and I’m still working with cross-eyed gusto. Finally, with a stiff neck & back my husband lures me out of the studio with a beer. My mind is reeling with the possibility of future projects… the lessons I’ve learned in 3.5 hours are impressive.

8 hours later… 

Tuesday morning I am up at stupid-o-clock to get a head start on my projects. By the time, Andrea and I meet again I’m quite pleased with my accomplishments. She shows me her pod piece which has changed dramatically. “How long did you work on that last night?” I ask. “About an hour”, she says.  I know once I’ve been felting 11 years like she has, workflow will be concise, but in the moment I’m crushed by my ineffectiveness. What she has done in an hour, took me close to 8.

Jumping right in to the day’s lessons, we get to chat about our personal and artistic lives while smoothing out our pods. Impressed with her work already, I’m happy to get to know this busy mom of three. As a teacher, she’s kind, patient, and generous with her time & knowledge. Most of Andrea’s students nowadays are professional artists from all over the world. We discuss shows and sales and the frustrations & joys of each. I ask her if she herself takes classes anymore. She tells me she’s met and studied with most of the felters on her ‘bucket list’ and as she describes each artist’s work, I recognize the people, or at least the work of the people, she’s talking about.  I consider making a bucket list of my own.

Pieces after Day 1

As we work, I am astounded by the effort going in to making this seemingly little pod. Before now, I would have been satisfied with leaving the piece ‘as is’ at the beginning of the second day. And here I am, fingers sore and wrinkled from wet soapy felting for over an hour… still not done! I share my astonishment with Andrea. She tells me that she took a class with one of her bucket-list heroes, Jorie Johnson (whose book sits on my living room table!). Jorie is an immaculate technical felter. Whenever Andrea thinks a piece is good enough, she asks herself “Is this up to Jorie’s standards?” And if not, she’ll work it some more until it is.

So here I am, 2 days later. One pod is finished, the other… well… I thought it was done. It seemed good enough at first glance. But then the legs were weak, and the spikes were floppy. I asked myself “Is this up to Andrea’s standards?” and grinned.

I will posted finished pictures of my lovely new pieces once they are.

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