Gladys Paulus - Felt Artist
How long have you been a felt artist, can you briefly describe the process
I made my first piece of felt in 2005, library book in hand. I was instantly hooked and have been experimenting with the medium ever since, initially as a hobby, now as a full time artist. I feel I have really only just scratched the surface of what is possible with this medium, and I am excited about exploring beyond the boundaries of what is ‘traditional’ feltmaking.
There are two types of felting: wet felting (the traditional method involving water) and needle-felting or dry felting (a method adapted from industrial-scale felting, incorporating barbed needles). I am a wet felter.
Wet felting is an ancient practice, and is thought to date back to Neolithic times. At its most basic, wet felting involves laying out layers of wool fibres, wetting them out with water (nowadays we add soap too), and then rubbing, rolling and kneading the wet wool until the fibres start locking together. The more rubbing and rolling is done, the stronger (denser) the felt becomes and the more shrinkage will take place.
To felt a three-dimensional hollow item like a mask, you have to create a ‘resist’ first. This resist is cut out from a thin sheet of impermeable membrane (I use foam underlay for wood flooring), which is then wrapped in wool layers, wetted out and felted with the resist inside. The resist acts as a barrier and stops the two sides of wool felting together, creating a pocket in essence. When the felt is cut open and the resist is removed you have a hollow object, which can then be stretched, shaped and shrunk into a specific form.
For my mask making I have adapted this resist technique, in order to be able to create all the facial features in one seamless piece of hollow felt. It means I spend a lot of time calculating, planning and designing the resist before I even reach for any wool! These techniques I now teach regularly to other feltmakers all over the world.
Where do get your visionary inspiration from?
I don’t know about visionary, but I think the initial drive to make masks came out of being exposed to a certain kind of imagery throughout my childhood in a mixed race household (my father hailed from Indonesia, my mother is Dutch) and a fascination with ‘magic’. When I was little, my grandfather told me stories of ancestral spirits, objects that could protect the family, and other unexplained phenomena from his former life in Indonesia. These stories made a big impression on me. He was Catholic, but managed to integrate quite a few animistic beliefs into his faith. I consider myself quite practical and pragmatic, yet there is another side to me that is curious and open to all possibilities.
It depends a lot on the complexity and detail of the design, but an average animal mask takes about 4-6 days’ work. I would say that is the minimum time I spend on a piece. Most pieces take a lot longer!
What's your favourite piece you've ever created?
Once a piece is finished, I tend to find I am ready to move on from it pretty much straight away. The
attachment was in the thinking and dreaming it up, the letting go was in the creation of it. It’s a bit
like falling passionately in and out of love… and I am currently in love with the work I am creating for my first solo exhibition!
What was the last thing you designed?
An ancestral costume consisting of a type of suit of armour, made of felt and charcoal... I don’t want to say too much about it; I’m keeping things firmly under wraps until the exhibition opening.
Do you have any hobbies?
Gardening, reading, going for walks, wild swimming, listening to music, but I don’t really have much time for these at the moment.
What are you currently listening to?
Awaken my Love by Childish Gambino, Shedding Skin by Ghost Poet, and some classic Kate Bush
What's your favourite colour?
Up until recently I would have answered green, but for some reason I want to say blue.
Name 5 things that you can't live without...
Herbal teas, wild swimming, sun on my face, good connecting chats, my studio
What's next for Gladys Paulus felt artist?
I was invited by my local art gallery to put on my first solo show (scheduled for Sept-Oct. 2017, so I am currently in the process of creating a body of work for this that builds on the world view and notion of ancestry and magic.
For the show I am making a series of ancestral healing costumes, rooted in the shamanistic idea that to heal oneself, one has to heal one’s ancestors first. I have carried the seed for this idea ever since I started making felt, but it was triggered again by the recent death of my father and last remaining grandparent. Through making these costumes I am processing my grief, but also hope to bring to light some of the stories and events that shaped my ancestors and therefore, by default, me. These stories are very personal to my family, but touch upon some very universal themes and issues that are as relevant today as they were then.
In order to free up time to make the work for this, I have put aside my other commitments and income-generating activities and I am enormously fortunate to have the support of a lovely an
interactive little group of patrons through my crowdfunding page. Patronage starts from as little as $1/month, and there is plenty of room for more patrons to join!