Ten tips to improve your 2D needle-felted art (portraits)

I have been producing 2D needle-felted 'wool' paintings for a few years and often get asked the same questions - so I hope my tips help to answer some of those!

1. Don't start too small - especially if you're working on portraits! It's extremely hard to make teeny tiny dots and lines! I have worked on 6" x 8" felt such as this portrait

but found eyes and detail really challengingat that size. My preferred size is 8" x 10". 

2. Choose the backing that works for you! I began with regular wool/acrylic mix 'craft' felt which works fine but have recently moved over to 100% wool felt and thick prefelt from World of Wool. The prefelt can be trickier to frame but allows far more detail to be added and worked over. Some artists use tweed and linen ( I have yet to try those!) so experiment with what you like best! I generally use white or off white so I can trace my portraits on easily with a thin felt pen, also bolder colours may show through lighter wool colours.

3. Which needle? Most often I only use one needle - the 40 gauge dark blue tip from Heidi Feathers and sometimes the 40 gauge spiral (although this can leave more visible poke holes) and the gold tip 42 gauge which I use right at the end for very fine detailing.

4. How to get rid of poke holes? Build up your layers gradually - adding thin layers and slowly overlaying more. I often gently brush the tip of my needle over my art and felt at a very slight angle to cover holes. Your finger nail could also work! Some artists also wet felt their work.

5. Use contrast to enhance your picture where relevant to add drama! In this portrait I used a very bright green background and bright green on the eyes to really bring out the shape around the eyes for a more dramatic look.


6. Shading and blending - this is the secret to making your art look 3D. I usually start with a base colour depending on the darkest and lightest parts of my portrait and slowly layer other shades on top in delicate mesh-like tufts. I used tiny pieces to build up shading around Beau's folds, I sometimes pre-blend wool using 2 dog brushes but usually blend on the art itself using layering. 

7. Use thick and thin lines to add definition. I twist wool in my hand, or felt the end of a tuft and twist as I move the wool where I want it to go - eg. to create a circle for an eye. It's also worth practicing tiny lines for areas such eyelashes or chin hairs such as Beau has above or the eyelashes in this eye. I used very thin lines to define the lower lid.

8. Reviewing your art - it can be hard to see what needs improving when you are working closely. I often take photos of my work and use a Layout app to compare to the original photo. Sometimes I hold my art to a mirror which can give a very useful different perspective on my work. 


9. Make sure your foam is firm! Using old foam (with too many holes) will not provide the resistance you need for felting small details.

10. Reinforce any details that get 'lost' as you go along. There is a temptation to think "I've finished that section" and move on. I constantly review parts of my art and go over them again, making the blacks darker, reinforcing dark lines around eyes or white highlights that may have got lost under other neighbouring shades. I also look for balance in my work, making sure ears and eyes look similarly dark or light and symmetrical. I had to be careful this dog's eyes didn't get 'lost' amongst all the dark tones so I repeatedly went back to reinforce them.


Next time - my 5 favourite wools for 2d felted art and portraits - coming soon!

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  • Thanks for your great information

  • Your work is amazing! Thanks for sharing your tips and techniques.

  • Thanks very useful z

    Kate Kenwright

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