Like many of our members I follow a few felt makers on Instagram and Facebook for inspiration. One Artist that caught my eye recently is Valerie Wartelle. When I saw in the spring that she was attending a Royal horticultural Show with an Artisan felt stand thus marrying my two loves of craft and plants I was inspired to make contact. I asked Valerie a few questions about herself and her practice.
Tell us a little about you as a person?
Brought up in France and French Polynesia, I enjoyed a loving childhood with my two siblings, French father and Scottish mother. My mother involved us from an early age in all kind of making, sewing and cooking. Therefore as a teenager you would have found me happily making my own clothes and involved in varied creative crafts.
Somehow predictably, on completion of my schooling, I left France to study in England – I attended an art foundation in Essex followed by a BSc Textile Design course at the University of Huddersfield (then Huddersfield Polytechnic) where I specialised in Knitwear.
Then followed a 10-year period working in Manchester as a knitwear designer. Whilst I loved it, I felt the need to bring my IT skills up to the 21st century and in 1999 returned to University to take a Masters in Interactive Multimedia Product Development- such joy to be learning again! Strangely I then worked for over 13 years for my Local Authority mainly with Elected Members, and barely touching a thread or knitting needle.
How and when did you start Felting… what is your experience, tell us a little about your journey with felt?
I was introduced to needle felting during my studies, though I must admit never explored it further. It was not till many years later that a friend showed a few of us how to wet felt. I remember the event well – a rainy Autumnal Sunday afternoon and more specifically finding myself utterly spellbound by the wet felting process…
Move forward to 2012 when I finally tackled my first wet felting project, slowly reacquainting myself with my love of colours and textiles. I initially made design products, such as notebook covers, laptop covers, scarves; but it wasn’t long before my interest solely focussed on mark making, textures and colour.
I quickly realised I needed more time to dedicate to my new hobby, and resolved to compress my working week onto 4 days. I started showing pieces at local art events, received good feedback and in September 2014 decided to take the leap and establish myself as a full time artist.
I now have a studio near my home in Halifax in an old Mill – it’s a lovely space if a little dusty and unfinished, but has plenty of light, and critically some heating!
Tell us about your process from conception to creation?
My inspiration comes mainly from the rural environment – sometimes from a collected object (pebble, fossil, and grasses), sometimes a photograph, and lately more often than not a drawing or sketch. Whatever triggers my interest, I draw on its colour, texture, form and light… curious about how to translate it using wet felting.
Understanding the craft and behaviour of materials is very important to me, but so is the manipulation of fibres as an expressive art form. I love the properties of wool and I feel it lends itself well to the dramatic and moody landscapes we have here in Yorkshire. I start with a pre-felt, which equates to having a blank canvas, and I apply fibres in fine layers in a painterly way. I enjoy bringing in other elements (fabric, thread, printing…) to create depth and transparency within the composition. The analogy with painting is significant, making the viewing inquisitive and challenging people’s perception.
What currently inspires you?
Currently I am experimenting with working BIG… size and weight brings a new set of issues to have to resolve along with working flat, working wet and with shrinkage. However solving issues is to me intrinsic to the creative process – it is by seeking out solutions that I achieve small breakthrough. The organic and at times unpredictable response of the medium will keep me curious and engaged for some time to come.
Thank you Valerie for taking the time to respond. Your story is inspiring. Valerie plans to exhibit at the Knit & Stitch show, Dublin in 2020. You can find more information on workshops she runs and her work at her website below.
We at felt makers Ireland plan to keep in touch and perhaps link up with Valerie to run a workshop in the future.