Lynn Comley, aka UpandDownDale, learned the basics of felt making and then began experimenting with incorporating other fibers to create interesting textures. Her works are inspired by the photographs she takes on her journeys and walks with her dog. You’ll find Lynn working on several pieces at the same time.
How did you find yourself on a journey with wet felting and stitching? How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
I guess you can say I stumbled across feltmaking eight years ago after visiting Wirksworth Art Festival near where I used to live in the Peak District National Park. Wirksworth is an interesting little town nestled in a steep sided valley in the middle of England. The town is full of history with quirky houses that hosted artists for the weekend to sell their work.
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It was here that I came across feltmaking for the first time and was intrigued. I found a six-week felt making course where I learnt the basics. Then progressed on my own by experimenting with other natural fibres incorporating them with the wool to create interesting textures. Applying free motion machine embroidery or hand stitching added a whole new dimension. Stitching into a piece of cloth that you have made yourself was exciting, I was well and truly hooked!
I knew from the outset that I wanted to create framed landscape pictures, textile art that represented my local landscape and the joy that I got from living in a beautiful environment. I guess it was my way of wanting to share this emotion that nature is wonderful and should be celebrated.
A few months after the initial feltmaking course and encouraged by an artist friend, I applied to exhibit my work with Derybshire Open Arts. I was terrified at what people might think, but completely blown away that over thirty pictures sold!
It grew quickly from there, I registered my UpandDownDale business, developed my website and online shop.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
Oh, let me think….! My earliest memories are probably from art class at school, there were paper shortages in the UK in the mid 1970’s and I clearly remember drawing on the back of old rolls of wallpaper. I was probably six or seven years old, and the teacher chose my picture to be hung in the school corridor. Funny how little moments like that at school stay with you. I always looked forward to art lessons at school, though funnily disliked sewing classes, as the teacher was mean and used to pull your work out and make you start again!
I had a creative childhood both my parents were creative and encouraged me to draw and paint and take photographs. We used to holiday a lot in France and would visit galleries to see work by French impressionist artists through to palaeolithic cave paintings in Lascaux!
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs? How does your environment influence your creativity?
My felt and stitched designs are influenced from my natural environment. Primarily the landscape, from areas in the UK where I have lived, the Peak District National Park and now the North Yorkshire Coast.
Since a child I have always taken photographs of things that excite me, things that I find beautiful, such as the changing light on a landscape or hedgerows that change with the season. So, I always have a big database of photographs to refer to, some examples are on my website. These photographs often spark ideas for new work. More recently I have been focusing on the smaller detail within the landscape, such as moss and lichens or limpet shells found on the beach.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
I will always revisit landscapes. North Yorkshire is a beautiful and varied county it encompasses my daily life so much it is hard not to be influenced by it. I especially love the natural flow of the fibres with wet felting, there is a natural flow and softness that seems to mimic the contours and lye of the land.
However, it is my moss, lichen and limpet studies that I return to most often. Over the years I have been making felt, it is the time taken with hand embroidery that I now find the most satisfying. Some of the larger moss and lichen studies accrue over 50 hours of stitching time.
During long winter evenings I really feel a connection and empathy with the subject matter. The work becomes important to me. I do not intend to create exact facsimiles of the subject, more a representation. I prefer the freedom, the journey that my needle and thread take me on. So, I never map out marks or make lines with a pen, my designs just develop as I stitch, placing the next stitch where I see fit. It feels liberating working this way.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
Probably that is a question for people that buy my work. In truth I do not know!
I do feel truly blessed that a large percentage of my work goes to buyers in North America. Perhaps it is the Englishness of my work, or maybe buyers feel the same connection with the subject matter, the storytelling and empathy with the subject. One thing that is apparent is how much fibre arts are appreciated as a skilled artform in North America and Australia. It always feels special when someone resonates with your work.
I was excited in 2022 that one of my limpet studies was featured on the front cover of the Australian e-magazine The Digital Cloth. It’s not often that a beige felt image makes it onto a magazine cover. So, it felt like a little triumph for the humble limpet shells that I have an affinity with and feltmakers in general!
How do you know when a piece or project is finished and needs no additional work?
An artist friend once said to me “consider space”. It is equally as important as the areas we choose to occupy on the canvas. So, I always consider space. It is however difficult sometimes to know when to stop, especially when you work without the guidelines of an intentional design as I do.
I usually hang a new piece of work on the wall and ‘live with it’ for a few days. Walking into a room and seeing it again with fresh new eyes helps. I also quickly take a photo with my phone and look at the image on the screen and analyse it.
Popping a mount board (matboard) over the work is a good idea too, framing work often elevates it to another level.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser? Do you visualize your finished work before you start it?
I’m most definitely a planner that improvises!
You kind of need to be with feltmaking, the fibers move during the wet felting process, when water, soap and friction are applied to the wool, it distorts as the fibres interlock, there is shrinkage too during the final fulling stage. This is ok, as it often reveals unexpected but pleasing details once the felt has dried.
So yes, I have plan but adjust the design and improvise according to the final piece of felt.
How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule start and stop times? Or work only when inspired?
I am lucky that I can be flexible with creative time during a normal week.
If it’s a gloriously sunny day, I would rather be outside, walking my dog on the beach or in the countryside taking my camera to capture things that inspire me. Unless I have a deadline for an exhibition, then I will work frantically to produce a body of work no matter what the weather.
Rainy days are often my best creative days! Though we don’t get as many wet days here on the east coast! I always work on three or four pieces at a time, switching from development to felting, from machine or hand embroidery.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works? How does a new work come about?
Inspiration usually comes while I am out walking my little dog, Bramble. I usually take photos so I can remember the details of what I’ve seen when I get home. I find when I’m walking alone is the best time to think about future projects, mentally planning it out. I observe things such as a lovely view or moss on a gatepost and immediately start to think how I can interpret that into a piece of work.
I start with selecting a colour palette with my dyed wool tops (roving). Then also have an idea which threads or yarns I may use once the felt has been made. I have a huge stash of threads and yarns that I can choose from. I can never resist hand dyed wool or threads made by other artisan makers.
I start by carefully laying out three thin layers of roving, the top layer being the design, where I incorporate silks and other natural fibres to create interest and texture.
Wet felting can be quite physical, a lot of water, soap and rolling, so I listen to the radio or play music watching the birds on the feeder by my window. Slowly the felt is made and then left flat until dry.
The wool fibers move a little during the wet felting stage, so I adapt my designs a little to expose certain areas, leaving them without any stitch.
Sometimes I use free motion machine embroidery to create more texture and sometimes I just hand embroider into the felt. Sometimes I do both!
Do you think that creativity is part of human nature or is it something that must be nurtured and learned?
I think everyone is born with some degree of creativity. Every human is totally unique so their individual creativity will be unique too. Perhaps it is how we personally interpret and perceive ourselves within a creative environment or community. Some people certainly have more natural ability than others. But yes, creativity can be nurtured too.
There is no right and wrong with art, it’s how you as an individual interprets it, though skills must be learned to apply certain techniques.
What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have as compared to people who are not creative?
Organisational skills! I think most creatives are super tuned into their surroundings, things that perhaps influence them. Whether these are natural or urban environments, the ability to look, smell, touch, feel and imagine.
Having worked most of my life in a non-creative commercial business world and only turning full time to art eight years ago, I find organisational skills sets learned are not often the same in the art world! Dare I say that!
What do you learn about who you are through your creative endeavors?
Although confident in my previous career environment, I am still incredibly shy when it comes to exhibiting my work. Every time it feels like I am putting one of my children up there for sale, to be judged. It’s a strange feeling, one I know many other artists can relate to. That feeling though changes in an instance when someone buys the work, it is always a special moment, somehow an approval knowing that your work will be cared for and appreciated in its new home.
Do you lecture or teach workshops?
Intentionally I only run two workshops a year, currently at Scampston Hall Walled Garden in North Yorkshire, England. I love running the in-person workshops and am blessed that people travel from far and wide to attend. The workshop space overlooks the beautiful walled garden.
I restrict the amount of teaching time to try and get a creative balance that works for me. There is a huge amount of behind-the-scenes preparation running successful workshops and talks, which takes away from the act of physical creating. It is the process of producing new artwork that excites and drives me. For that reason, I do not offer online teaching either.
Where do you sell or exhibit your work?
My work is sold in the UK and internationally through my website. I also do a couple of exhibitions each year and an Open Studio event. I find this is the perfect balance for me, I still have plenty of time to enjoy my art and other interests.
I am a co-founder of Embracing Wool a group of independent textile artists who come together collectively to exhibit and showcase the versatility of wool when used as an artform. We like to exhibit in beautiful stately homes and gardens. An artist’s life can often be quite insular, so having a group for comradery, meet ups and planning exhibitions is lovely. I enjoy chatting to visitors explaining the process of feltmaking and offering advice.
I am not very competitive and do not feel the need to collect stickers or badges so rarely enter national exhibitions. For me it is the connection with nature through my art, working with natural products and the time taken over the work. It must be fun otherwise why do it! When my work resonates with someone, that is a wonderful thing.
Tell us about your website and social media?
I love having my own website it enables me to reach out to a global audience. I live in a part of the United Kingdom where there are virtually no traditional high street galleries. So having the independence of an online shop is crucial to selling my artwork at more affordable prices, avoiding high gallery commissions.
My portfolio page showcases examples of some of my larger works, but I am terrible at setting aside time to write blog posts. I send out quarterly newsletters, so if anyone would like to receive one you can sign up on my website. I have a new FAQ page too which attempts to cover general questions and providing an informative bank of information for people new to felting.
I’m primarily an Instagram user, it’s a great way to connect with customers and other creatives. Historically it has been a wonderful way of supporting other artists. Why not give me a follow and comment on a post telling me you read my article on Create Whimsy and I’ll give you a follow back!
Interview posted April 2023
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