Tactile Art Clubs feels how to felt.

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(photo description: Eight members of the Tactile Art Club are covering styrofoam egg or ball shapes with many thin layers of colorful wool. Some people have on gloves and others are working with bare hands. Everyone has a 16oz cottage cheese container filled half-way with warm water, a nylon knee-high stocking and a bar of Ivory soap in front of them.)

 

Tactile Art Club members at the Colorado Center for the Blind learn how to felt wool. This activity was organized by Linda and Bill Truman. They not only went out of their way to conduct a very fun class they also wrote down the steps so that you too can try your hand at this art form.

by Bill Truman

Felting a Christmas Ornament (Ball) or Easter Egg

Materials and Supplies:

Styrofoam form (Ball or Egg)

Approximately one-half ounce of carded wool (preferably Merino)

One (1) nylon pantyhose stocking

Container/bowl for hot water

Plastic food concessioner gloves (optional)

One (1) bar of soap (preferably pure soap without moisturizers or fragrances like Ivory)

String/twine (fine, smooth, not rough; if making an ornament to be hung)

One (1) 5 inch rug needle (for stringing the ornament)

Towel (facial or hand towel) or paper towels

Instructions:

1. Lay out the materials and supplies on a table or flat surface in front of you in a manner with which you are comfortable.

2. Choose a base color for your project and, if adding a secondary color, the complimentary color to your base.

3. Hold the base color wool in your non-dominant hand tightly.  With your dominant (right or left) hand, pull off a shank of wool about 8 or 9 inches long.  (Note:  the width of this type of wool is generally standardized at approximately 1 ½ inches wide.)

4. Before beginning to apply wool to the Styrofoam form, rub your fingers over the ball or egg and familiarize yourself with the feel of the Styrofoam texture.  When you have completed the initial wrapping process, you should not be able to feel any of the “bumps” from the Styrofoam through the wool.

5. With the shank of wool in your dominant hand, pick up the Styrofoam form in your other hand.  Hold the form with the palm of the hand down.  With the thumb of the non-dominant hand on the bottom of the form and the fingers on top, place the end of the wool under the index and middle finger of the non-dominant hand and hold tightly to the form.  Pull the wool towards you, gently stretching and wrapping the wool around the form so that it overlaps the beginning place.  As you do so, the wool should be “thinning” as you go, so as to create a wispy covering around the form.  Repeat this process, continuing to pull and wrap the wool into strands, occasionally changing directions until the entire surface of the form has been covered.  Do not be concerned if the wool “breaks” away from the form.  This is normal.  Just begin again as above.  When you have used most of your wool, stop and feel the form to locate areas which may remain uncovered and apply wool to these “bumpy” areas until all are completely covered.  Remember it is better to err on the side of a little extra wool, as the wool will shrink during the felting process.

6. When the form has been thoroughly covered with wool, set it aside momentarily.  Here you made decide to add a secondary color wool.  If adding a second color, simply create bands of the color in the same wrapping manner as above.

7. When application of wool to the form is complete, pull the nylon stocking over your dominant (right or left) hand until the fingertips extend to the closed end of the stocking.  Spreading your fingers as wide as possible, place the form into the palm of your dominant hand (like a baseball glove) with your non-dominant hand and gently close your fingers around the form.  Using your non-dominant hand, turn the nylon stocking “inside out”, i.e., off your dominant hand, in order to enclose the form inside the stocking.  Be careful not to shift or dislodge the loosely packed wool on the form.  Once secured inside the stocking, tie a slip knot at the open end of the stocking immediately behind the form so it cannot move around in the stocking.

8. Next, fill a container or bowl with hot water.  The water need not be scalding, but should be as hot as can be comfortably tolerated by the fingers.

9. Dunk the nylon-covered form into the hot water.  Rotate the form with both hands to ensure that the entire form has been saturated.  Then set aside.

10. Wet both hands and thoroughly lather up your hands with soap.  Pick up the form and begin to distribute soap gently over the entire surface of the form.  Continue gently working soap around the form without applying pressure to the form at this point.  Too much pressure may cause the wool to slip and shift.  Rotate the form around in the palms of your hands, making little circles as you go and keep distributing the soap for about five (5) minutes.  If the form begins to feel a little dry, add a bit more water with your fingers from the water container.

11. Next, begin gently agitating the surface of the form with your palms, applying slight pressure and changing the angles of contact, circling back and forth, around and around.  Continue this process for approximately four (4) minutes.  At the end of this process, the wool will have begun to tenuously adhere to the Styrofoam form.

12. Gently remove the nylon stocking from the form, ensuring that the nylon is not catching or sticking to the wool.

13. Feel the form to make sure that no shifting has occurred in the wool, and that the form’s entire surface remains covered by wool.  When satisfied, begin transferring the form between the two hands/palms (slapping), as if forming a meatball.  This process will flatten any areas of wool which may be uneven or sticking up.  Once done, begin agitating the form between the two hands with greater pressure using the palms.  Continue for several minutes, then squeeze out any excess soapy water.

14. Next, re-wet the form with new hot water.  Again squeeze out any excess water.

15. Alternate between the transferring/slapping motion and the rolling agitation for about ten (10) minutes.  Add hot water and squeeze out excess when it gets cold.  Feel the form for any lumpy spots, slap down and add more hot water to cause shrinkage and felting.  If the form begins to dry out, add more soap with the hot water so that the wool can continue moving and felting.  (Note: Remember that felt is the result of hot water, soap and agitation.  Inadequate application of any one of these three elements may prevent successful felting.)  Shock fulling is the process of applying greater force to complete the felting cycle.

16. Finally, rinse the form in cold water to “full’ or finish the felting process.  Squeeze out any excess water with the hands.  Wrap the finished felted form in a towel or paper towels to remove all remaining excess water.  Set aside to air dry.

Addendum:

If making a Christmas ornament to be hung, this can be accomplished using a 5 inch rug needle and a smooth string or twine.  Thread the needle with the desired string and insert the needle through the center of the ball/ornament.  With the string extending from both the top and bottom of the form, tie a knot on the bottom and pull the string from the top until the knot is snug against the bottom.   Be careful not to pull too hard or the knot will penetrate the felt and Styrofoam form.

Once the bottom is secured, remove the needle and tie a loop about 2 or 3 inches above the top of the form.  Be sure that the loop is large enough to fit over the needles on a branch of the Christmas tree.  Trim any excess string from the bottom knot and top loop.

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Sensational BlackBoard: Quick Fix

Sensational BlackBoards

This blog is for fans of the Sensational BlackBoard. If you have ever had a drawing tear and you would like to know how to easily fix it, we have made a short video to show you how.

If you are interested in making tactile graphics but have no idea what we are talking about, you might want to check out the Sensational BlackBoard on our products page.

Here are other instructional videos that you might like to view. Please enjoy!

If you have questions or comments, please post them in the comments section below.

Nancy Cozart and the Indomitable Nine

Nancy Cozart, a Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired (TVI) for the Littleton Public Schools in Colorado, is one of those teachers who you hope is assigned to your child. She is generous with her time and thoughtful about organizing activities, not only for her students but for their friends and classmates.

Portrait of Nancy Cozart.

Nancy Cozart 

This January, I was invited to talk about how to use a raised-line drawing board to make art. The Sensational BlackBoard is a tool that offers a technique to make drawings with a pen and paper that can be felt as well as seen. There are nine boys who regularly get together to explore the secret code of Braille and also enjoy learning about alternative ways to go about everyday and special activities without using sight.

Five students sitting around the table exploring pictures with their eyes closed.

(Some of) The Indomitable Nine

I was invited to talk about art making. The first activity was to learn how to use the board.  Nancy said, “the first word my student who is legally blind said after his first drawn line using the blackboard was “WOW”.” I can describe and show you how to draw using the board but people don’t seem to really get it until they are able to touch the line and feel it for themselves. So, it is always fun to be there when someone discovers how drawing can become a tactile activity!

Ann Cunningham talking giving instructions on tracing a dinosaur picture.

Ann Cunningham

Engaging kids in activities that demystify the differences between people is a powerful technique to connect students. I was talking to a friend who said that she is still sad that when she was in grade school a child came to their school who had some significant challenges. But instead of teaching the children how to talk about it, they were told to ignore it. Unfortunately, that led to them ignoring the child too.

The young man holds up a picture of different kinds of lines as his first tactile drawing.

The Sensational BlackBoard in action

Nancy’s Braille Club is forging pathways to understanding that I am pretty sure all the students will be able to use the rest of their lives. When they think back on their classmates I think there is a good chance it will be with a sense of happy adventure.

 

Making Spaghetti Make Sense

I was asked by Colorado Ski for Light http://cosfl.org  to make a map of Snow Mountain Ranch, Nordic Center ski trails. Sounds easy enough. Once I had the map in hand, I realized this place is a rabbit warren of twisting trails crisscrossing through miles of terrain. I know making a map is a whole different kettle of fish from tactile art making but I felt up to the challenge.

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First, I needed to decide how many different trails people need to distinguish, one from the other.  Clearly folks need to know which trails are easy, intermediate and expert. Since the snowshoe trails and dog trails intersect the ski trails that would also be helpful to distinguish. Of course people need to know where the roads are too.

Once I knew I needed to create six distinct textures for the different paths, I decided to accomplish this by cutting all the maps out of poster-board. These trails would then be placed as an overlay on the low relief map indicating terrain contours.

I decided to use the smooth texture for the road. After a lot of trial and error, I decided to glue an embroidery thread to the middle of the dog trails. I then assigned a fabric strip with a distinct texture to the snowshoe routes because these often ran adjacent to the ski trails. The texture was distinct but subtle so that it would not distract from the ski trails.

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For the ski trail, I reserved Braille sized dots because they are the easiest to scan for with big sweeps of the hand. Once you zero in on the trails they are distinguished by the dot spacing. Easy trails have the dots one after the other, just a solid line of dots. The intermediate trails have about a 3/16 inch space between dots, and the expert trails have about a 3/8 inch space between.  By having dots assigned only to the ski trails, it is easy to find them and then by looking closer, it is easy to determine the trail’s ability level.

map detail

The starting place for all activities, the Nordic Center, was indicated by a big star, and the points of interest had a round indicator identified by Braille letters. The key to the trail names and points of interest and trail identifiers are on both sides of the map so that two people can look at the map together and easily access the information.

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Christine McGroarty, from Ski for Light, wrote: “The tactile map is wonderful. It was unbelievably interesting and exciting to be able to get a sense of how the grounds are laid out. I have skied at Snow Mountain Ranch for years and had no image of the grounds, but now I do. Over the course of the weekend, I and several of our other blind participants spent considerable time exploring the map. Our deaf-blind skier was particularly excited to be able to get a mental picture of how the grounds are laid out.”

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We would very much like to recognize the Englewood Lions Club for sponsoring the map.

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Creative Conversations

I like to see inspiration spread. Art is a conversation, it is complete when it is shared. If it sparks a creative response from another artist all the better. The classic poem Wynken, Blynken & Nod was written by Denver poet, Eugene Field, in 1889.

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In 1918, the mayor of Denver commissioned Mabel Landrum Torry to sculpt a larger-than-life limestone carving of the fishermen three.

Having fond memories of the scene I created an accessible tactile version in 2004.

Up in the sky four silver stars surround a man in the moon looking down on Wynken, Blynken and Nod in their wooden shoe boat. The boat is on a wavy ocean with silver fish looking up at the three. Slate moon, sky and waves, wooden carved shoe, bronze sailors, and silver leaf stars and fish. The steel net is covered in gold leaf.

Wynken, Blynken & Nod by Ann Cunningham.

And now in 2016, Team USA is following up with a grand scale 11’ tall snow sculpture in front of the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, complete with beautiful, dramatic lighting!

Photo credit to Richard Wunsch www.richardwunsch.com.

Team USA. As in the past, Mike Martino, Tom Queoff, and Mike Sponholtz.

A very large and accurate depiction of the slate bas relief sculpture described above, except that it is 11 feet tall and entirely made out of snow.

Wynken, Blynken & Nod snow sculpture in the day.

At night blue lights illuminate the sculpture while one red light is focused on the moon's face.

Wynken, Blynken & Nod snow sculpture at night.

It is nice to know when we become a link in a chain. I hope the snow sculpture survives until February 21, 2016 when I arrive in Wausau to dismantle Forest Folklore and WB&N  is shipped back to Denver.

Greetings From Wisconsin

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I have been having a great time in the North Woods of Wisconsin. I am not sure this is officially the North Woods, but it certainly is woody and beautiful. Charlie and I left Golden in a 16’ truck full of artwork and arrived in Wausau about noon on the November 30th.

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Andy McGivern, Joe and Dave, staff members at the Woodson Art Museum, pitched in and we had the artwork out of the truck and into the gallery in short order.

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Andy and I took a few minutes to decide how to turn this space into a fairy tale forest and then we got to work. Soon it was completely transformed.

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Installing trees,

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Installing trees,

By the end of the week we had the exhibit up and running and were ready to invite the public in to see and touch! I would like to invite you to go to the Woodson’s Facebook page and see all the wonderful images Rick Wunsch has taken for the museum.

The Woodson Art Museum is fantastic! It is a beautiful museum and I get to stay in the little house next door. This makes it easy and relaxing, that is once I get home each day. During the day it is quite another matter. We, the staff and I, are calling it “The 700,” referring to the 700, 3 to 6 year old school children scheduled to participate in art making activities between December 8th and the 17th. On the evening of the 17th, all the families are invited to the museum to view the walls covered with  1,400 works of art that the children have made. This is a photo of three days of work!

Woodson Children's workshop

A white marble ptarmigan is at the entrance of the workshop room set up for the children. 6″ x 6″ tin tiles line the walls from floor to ceiling.

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Hard straight lines express this child’s “grumpy.”

The project is to express emotions, we are focusing on grumpy and happy.
All the children are also invited to explore Forest Folklore. The exhibit has been getting a lot of exposure. Members Night kicked it off to a very good start and since then we have had many special interest groups, including children, teens and adults, as well as the regular museum visitors.
Remember to visit the Woodson Facebook page if you would like to see people interacting with the artwork. When I am taking pictures it is only because no one is around. When someone is at the exhibit I forget about the camera and talk to them!
This museum thrives under the direction of Kathy Foley and I would like to thank the entire staff and all the volunteers for making this exhibit and  residency such a wonderful experience.
Woodson Wolves in stiu

A wolf-pack is central to the exhibit. All signs are in large print and Braille.