Hey There! Happy Labor Day for those in the U.S.!! With this weekend, we are also looking at the passing of summer and the beginning of fall. It can be a bittersweet time, but for us fiber folks, it is an awesome time because it’s so much nicer to wear wooly goodness when it’s the air is cooler and crisper.
As you know, last month, I was at Yarnival in Placerville, California and amongst many talented vendors, one of my favorite fiber artists, Melissa Nasby of SoulFibre Studio was present. Melissa was launching her line of needle felted masks for the festival. You may remember reading her Featured Artist interview here last fall. I’m so pleased to bring you this update on what Melissa has been doing since we last checked in with her!
Spin Artiste (SA): Hey, Melissa! Thanks for joining us again to share with us about your masks. Let’s start with talking about the “mask journey”. What got you into felting, and particularly felting masks?
Melissa Nasby (MN): It seems like from the moment I was introduced to wool as a medium, I was excited to explore all of it’s possibilities. I began with a few very simple 3D sculptures which were fun but did not satisfy my need to do something “different”. I researched some other sculptural art forms that I loved and tried to achieve the same effect using wool. One technique that really intrigued me was Relief. This is most common in clay or plaster sculpture. I quickly fell in love with this style, and found my brain was very happy with this challenging perspective. I created 3 large pieces: a Big Horn Sheep, a Lion and an Eagle. These lead to my love affair with seeking the “perfect wool” to mimic the animals fur/feathers. Next, I joined the Needle Felters Workshop with Kay Petal, and that is when my creativity with this art form was really ignited. The talent of the artists, plus the resources on this site, combined with the feedback I received on my relief sculptures, lead me straight to the wonderful world of art masks. I can honestly say that out of all of my creative journeys, this one actually felt like I had finally arrived at my destination. There is something magical about masks and I love the rich history and cultural diversities that masks represent all over the world.
SA: Please describe your mask-making process.
MN: Sure! It is a six step process –
WOOL: For me, the process begins with the wool. I have always collected as many different types of wool as I can to appease my need for texture. The moment I see a certain fleece, I know what it must become, whether it is a lion’s mane, owl feathers, rat fur or the scruff on a billy goat’s chin.
REFERENCES: Next, I collect reference material, usually a combination of photos, sketches, cartoons and animations.
SKETCH: I then sketch out a template that I will draw onto a flat sheet of prefelt. This is my base from which the relief begins.
PRE-SHAPING: This stage is the most critical and difficult to explain as it is mostly instinctive. It involves the “pre-shaping” of the core wool. This is where you have to visualize your final shape and determine how much wool is needed. There is no recipe, it is a learn as you go kind of thing.
SCULPTING: Definitely the longest phase, hours and hours of sculpting the core wool until it is almost to the shape you desire.
FINISHING: By adding the finishing layer of coloured wool, I continue to sculpt, shape and shade the final shape. I then add any finishing touches like whiskers, eyelashes, teeth etc. If I use any pigment powders for shading, I will also spray seal the finished piece. Finally I add the elastic strap.
SA: You say you’re a lover of texture. How do you incorporate texture in your masks?
MN: Texture determines my masks! Perfect examples of this are the Creepy Old Man, the Rat, and Big Foot. The Navajo Churro fleece used for the old man’s beard is so realistic it is hard to remember it is from a sheep.
SA: If there is such a thing, how would describe your “average” mask client, and what do you find people usually use them for?
Some uses for my masks include:
- Armed robbery…Just kidding!
- Good old fashion make-believe
SA: You have such a variety of masks. Where do you get your ideas for each mask you make?
SA: You put so much detail and expression into the masks, they seem like true characters. I noticed you name the mask. What goes into giving them names?
MN: Thank you! Something I am striving for with my masks is believability, not necessarily realism. This is why I collect many resources including sketches & cartoons as well as real life photos. I often combine elements of each to make it my own. I also over emphasize one or two facial features like the nose or the teeth, therefore they really are “characters”. I usually name the animals very generally, as I want the adoptive parent to name it and love it as their own. Most of my fairies have names specific to the look they portray, like “Sorcha, the dark princess.” I feel that really adds to the character of the more whimsical masks.
SA: I know this may not be a fair question, but do you have a favorite mask?
MN: I do fall in love with each of them for many different reasons, but two really stand out to me: The Wolf and the Rat. The wolf was my first mask that I captured an expression on, and the rat because of his realism, he actually creeps me out.
SA: Your love for textures really shine through with your pieces; your texture work truly is amazing! How do you decide on wool as the base texture when creating your masks?
MN: As far as the mask world is concerned, latex and leather are the most common materials used. While both are very sculpt-able and beautiful in their own ways, wool offers a whole new mask experience.
Wool is lightweight and breathable, not to mention the eco-factor. People are shocked and delighted to discover that my masks are made from wool and fibre only…no forms or molds are used. The very nature of a wool mask guarantees that each piece is a true one of a kind. Wool speaks to us on a very organic level, and to see it used in this way really reminds us of it’s importance and versatility.
SA: What new mask are you currently in the process of creating?
MN: It’s Halloween already at my house, so next up is an ugly witch. I have not yet done a female face, so it should be interesting.
SA: It must take you hours to complete a mask! Which one has been the most difficult to make so far?
MN: It’s funny, because again it comes back to the wool. Some fibres felt better than others, so while some take longer in terms of sculpting like the Bengal Tiger and Big Foot, the more difficult masks were the Fox, Billy Goat and Skunk, as the wool I needed to use was much more difficult to felt with.
SA: What is the feel of the masks when wearing them?
MN: Very surprising! The masks are very light. I try very hard to work with air and density to make the masks as lightweight as possible. I also try to design most masks away from your mouth. I am very claustrophobic so I take that very seriously. I also want people to be able to drink or eat while wearing the masks. As far as the “heat” factor, I feel that these masks are considerably less hot than latex or leather. So not only can you wear one of a kind art on your face, but you will also be more comfortable doing so!
SA: In the beginning of your mask making venture you said ” I think I am really onto something new… these masks just explode my mind with possibilities.” What are your thoughts now over 30 masks later?
MN: I am still just as excited, as each mask I make is unique, I feel like I am always learning and breaking new ground. I continue to search for interesting textures that will lead to new masks. I am excited to explore more 360 degree masks, as well as venture into the world of puppets. I grew up pretty quickly and didn’t play “make believe” much as a child, so I think I am making up for some lost time! I am having so much fun with these, and my wish is for that feeling to come through the mask and into the new owner.
SA: If you were one of the masks which one would you be?
SA: If you could make a mask of any person in present time or history who would it be?
MN: I so badly want to make the entire cast of the show Community. I am a huge fan of the show, not just for the amazing entertainment and acting, but for the absolute creative genius’ writing, directing & producing that show. They inspire me, while making me laugh. The message I get from it…no matter the medium, take it to new heights, push the boundaries and let your creativity set you apart from all others.
SA: Thanks so much, Melissa!
Readers, more exciting news about Melissa’s masks — she’s just released a video series that demonstrates how to make needle felted masks using her techniques. Wow, what an incredible opportunity!! It is also an excellent tutorial that can be used to learn how to needle felt. This three hour series is available with “pay what you can afford” options. I cannot wait to watch it. Click here to get to the link.
Melissa has a second yummy thing to share with us — she has created a special coupon for Spin Artiste readers — Save $10 on a mask from her etsy shop by using the coupon SPIN10MASK. I’m wanting the unicorn…
And, finally, Dear Readers, Melissa has a BIG surprise for you…Melissa is going to make one lucky Spin Artiste reader very happy because she has offered to make a custom animal mask as a giveaway! To enter, please leave a comment below with suggestions for a Halloween-themed animal mask for Melissa to make for you. Extra entries for sharing about Melissa’s blog on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Just leave an extra comment letting us know you did. A winner will be selected at random after next Sunday, September 9th, 5:00 PM. Best of luck to all — you will love it — I know cause I have two of them!