Felt artist Sarah Leigh of Felti will be taking part in the 2018 Open Studio Art Trail, this November. We asked Sarah about her work, inspiration and how she started working with felt.
You can see Sarah’s work at 64 Livingstone Road on Saturday 24th November 2018 as part of the Open Studio Art Trail, Made in Kings Heath, alongside the work of ceramicist Katie Robbins and printmaker Emma Hardicker.
What do you create? I create sculptural felted work that plays on the relationship between wool and light.
Where do you make your work? Currently I work from a studio at home, although it’s not unusual for my work space to migrate to the kitchen table – especially in the winter months when my studio gets a little chilly!
What is your inspiration? I can find inspiration wherever I am, but nature particularly is a rich source of ideas – whether it’s a texture, a form or an interaction with light and shade.
What materials do you work with & why? I work, in the main, with a natural palette of carded wool fibres from breeds such as Merino and Icelandic. I spent much of my first few years experimenting with different fibres and understanding their unique properties – their malleability, readiness to be manipulated into a textural form, or a distinctive surface texture. I love how light can transform a felted piece, revealing nuances in the surface, or creating pockets of light and shade. Wool has a warmth that responds to light like very few other materials.
What is your creative process? A new idea might form while on a woodland walk, or flicking through the pages of a book. Often it will be one aspect – a particular curve or a texture that I can imagine translated into a felted piece. I’ll sketch a few designs and then produce a few small samples to test against a light source until I’m happy with the finish.
How do you go about creating your work? Once I’m content with an idea and how best to approach it, I hit the felting table. Sometimes work will involve producing a single textured sheet, other pieces will require multiple resists to facilitate layers, a hollow form or a single seamless piece. Wool fibres are then laid in fine layers and once soaked with a warm soap solution I can start the felting process, using lots of good old fashioned elbow grease.
Which aspects of your work do you enjoy most? I love the moment of feeling enthused by a new idea, experimenting with producing sample pieces and realising that I’m on to something! It’s extremely rewarding to visualise an idea and make it work as a finished piece of lighting.
Who inspires and influences you? Although they work in very different mediums, I love the work of environmental artists like Andy Goldsworthy and Chris Drury. I’ve always been drawn to their use of natural materials and their responsive relationship with the environment around them. Textile artists such as Gladys Paulus and Anna Gunnarsdottir produce very different, but equally impressive textile work, demonstrating the breadth of work that can be produced from the same materials.
Have you always been a textile artist? After completing a degree in Graphic Design, I worked in the advertising and design industry for nearly 15 years. Although I enjoyed the design processes and the industry environment I always craved a more tactile outlet for my creativity. Designing on a computer just didn’t sate my need to work more with my hands. I’d spend any spare time experimenting with paper making, printing techniques and mosaicking sculptures with reclaimed slate and copper.
How did you get started? After having my first child I decided to make the break and leave my freelance role behind me. As much as I loved spending time at home with a new born, I needed to carve out a little time each week that was about me and my creativity. Following a mixed textile evening course I realised that felt making was the perfect medium to combine design and tactility. Like many felt makers, I was hooked by the alchemy of turning loose wool fibres into a piece of fabric. There followed a number of years of developing my skills and experimenting with different fibres and techniques until it became clear that lighting was the ideal direction to take my practice.
Where do you exhibit / sell your work? Earlier in the year I finally designed a website – www.sarahleighartist.com which shows my homewares ranges, produced under the business name Felti, and which also showcases some of my new sculptural pieces. I accept commissions via the website and there’s also a link to my Folksy online shop.
What have you been making this year? I’m always responding to new inspirations and translating them into ideas in my sketch book. This year I’ve been making time to explore those ideas and hone them into new designs for lighting and sculptural forms. Earlier in the year I had several sculptural pieces accepted for an exhibition at the RBSA. That’s marked a new direction for my work – breaking away from more traditional lighting forms to create truly statement pieces that are more organic in nature. I’ve also been experimenting with combining other materials, from copper leaf gilding to stripped hazel branches.
What are your future plans? I’ll be exhibiting at the fabulous Textile Fair at Compton Verney on November 17th and Elmslie House in Malvern on the 18th. There’ll also be a variety of events local to Birmingham, including workshop opportunities (details can be found on my Facebook page). Over the next year I’ll be exploring new sculptural ideas and working on plans for an installation piece incorporating wool and light.