Needle felt artist Jules Bianchi has taken three creative passions – photography, filmmaking and needle felting – and created stop-motion short films that feature her felted characters. With an eye for detail and the patience and perseverance to get it right, Jules takes the time to perfect every step. She teaches stop motion filmmaking at a local college and takes commissions for her needle felted sculptures.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
I have always been a creative person. As a young child I liked to draw and at age 12 I discovered photography. With my own darkroom for many, many years, I developed my own negatives and made my own prints. I experimented with all kinds of artistic variations like Polaroid transfers or hand painting photographs with oils specifically made for photographic paper. I went to school to study film, but I ended up with a career in photography shooting weddings.
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After many years of that, I went back to school to learn videography. I took a few stop motion classes when I was there. During the pandemic all of my photography and videography jobs dried up, and I discovered needle felting by accident. My mother is very crafty, and I think it must be in my blood. I took to needle felting very quickly and started making mini versions of people’s pets as a side business. I think it was only a matter of time before I melded the needle felting and stop motion together.
We love the felted stop motion music video you made for children’s songwriter, Kelli Welli. How did that come about?
Kelli saw a short stop-motion video I put on Instagram about a girl battling a windy day with a balloon and reached out to me to create her “Five Little Ducks” video. I was instantly interested and jumped at the chance to make a longer felted animated video. Although we collaborated a lot, she let me have a lot of creative freedom in making it, too.
What inspires you to create?
There is a real sense of satisfaction in finishing a project and having something exist in the world that you created. With needle felting, the happiness my creations seem to bring people also gives me great joy. Much like when I was shooting weddings, there is something amazing about knowing you’ve created something that someone else will cherish forever.
Why needle felting and videos? How do those media best express what you want to communicate through your art?
Currently, those are my two favorite things to do! I always wanted to be a movie director when I was a little kid, but the videos I make tend to have me wearing every hat. While I like the shooting, I also like the editing. I love video (and stop motion in particular) because you can tell a story that could never be seen in real life.
Is there a part of your process you enjoy most? Why?
There are pieces of each part of the process that I enjoy. I like imagining what the final piece will be and figuring out how to put it together. There is something very therapeutic about needle felting and something very satisfying about editing.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
When I shot weddings, my work was very colorful and happy. I focus on bright moments and choose light and happy over very intense and dramatic. My needle felting leans toward “cute” over “realistic.”
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I do! We live in a house with a large basement. I have a room down there dedicated to holding my camera gear and felting supplies. There are two desks – one has my iMac and the other is an L-shaped desk with a work lamp where I do all my felting.
I’m still in the process of organizing/decorating it, but currently the felting area has a few shelves above the desk that hold several felted creations (including the girl with the balloon and the 5 ducks) as well as a hanging mobile that holds photos of me and my fiancé (left over from our engagement party!)
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
For needle felting, I really love the needles of FeltAlive.com. Hers have a large colorful handle – needles of different sizes have their own color. They are so comfortable and easy to use – My favorite needles so far! They are always on my Christmas list.
I use a felting mat I put together myself with a base from Hobby Lobby and wool mat from Amazon.
For photography and video, I have always used Canon and Adobe products. I especially love Canon’s new mirrorless system with the auto eye-detect. It makes shooting videos or photography with people or animals so much easier because I can concentrate on things like composition and exposure and not have to also worry about focus.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
I always have a scrap of an old sheet over the top of my felting mat. The needles go through it easily as I felt, but I can pull it up when I’m done and nothing sticks to the woolen mat below. This works particularly well with thinner elements like dog ears and bird wings.
To finish the edges of these thin elements, I have also used small pieces of very flat wood with the wool pressed between them. To get ears flatter, I quickly press them in between an old hair straightening iron!
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
Occasionally I have done this, but I get impatient and tend to just forge ahead.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
Before I had the office in the basement, I tended to watch TV while I was felting. Then I started a YouTube channel about it, so I actually filmed myself making a lot of the creatures, and I would talk through what I was doing. Lately I haven’t been doing that as much, and although I really like listening to music, I tend to have it quiet while I work.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
Definitely a bit of both. I have planned very meticulously before with storyboards and scripts. I’ve also done the opposite where I just start with nothing and see what happens. I think my work swings back and forth between those two extremes.
What was the biggest challenge that you encountered on your creative journey? What did you learn from it?
The biggest challenge is keeping up with the content demand. When I first started needle felting, we were in the middle of a worldwide pandemic. I had not much else to do, so I could needle felt every day. I started the YouTube channel because I wanted to keep practicing my editing skills, and I got a pretty good following on both my needle felting Instagram page and YouTube channel. But once the world started up again and I needed to make more money, it was very hard to continue my more artistic endeavors. I think I’ve learned that you have to manage your time very carefully – not saying that I have mastered this at all, just saying I know it to be true.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
Definitely both, but I think everyone is creative in their own way. I’m Ukrainian on my mother’s side and we make pysanky (extremely elaborate Easter eggs) every year. I routinely bring out all of the supplies and have friends over to make them with me. Consistently they tell me they are not creative and will not make good eggs, and consistently they make beautiful eggs. I show them the basics and give them various patterns they can choose to copy or not, and everyone manages to make really cool eggs every year. I think the more often they make them, the more beautiful they become – meaning that creativity is definitely a skill that can be learned.
What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?
The biggest challenge is getting paid something commensurate with the amount of time it takes to create whatever it is you’re getting paid for. The felted dogs I make are a good example of this. They are extremely popular, and I am asked over and over to make them for people. But the amount of time it takes me to create them versus what people are willing to pay for them makes it impossible for me to do them full time. The biggest challenge, therefore, is being better at marketing than you are at your creative endeavor so your art is perceived as valuable. (Think Picasso vs. a street fair artist who paints).
Tell us about your social media channels.. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I suppose the hope of all Social Media channels is that change of perception I just mentioned. If someone visits my Instagram stories or YouTube channel and starts to have a sense of the time/love/effort/education that goes into making what they are buying, hopefully they will understand its value a little better and be willing to pay what it’s truly worth.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I actually used to teach many, many photography workshops when I was shooting weddings and family portraits full time. Recently, I was asked by Portland Community College to be their Stop Motion instructor and just finished my first class there! I will be teaching a “DIY” video class there in the Fall and will be teaching Stop Motion in their Winter term. I have always loved teaching and would be open to doing more!
Interview with Jules Bianchi posted July 2022