When his daughter was born, San Rafael, Calif.-based artist Jackie Huang began to hunt for a unique collection of toys for her to play with. After searching for months and not finding what he was looking for, he came to the decision that he would create his own stuffed animals — bringing them out of his imagination and into the world as needle-felted creatures that he could share with his daughter.
In the four years since then, Jackie has expanded this idea into a collection of needle felted creatures that he sells in his Etsy shop, called Woolbuddy. Alongside the Woolbuddies he makes, he also sells equipment, supplies, and kits for people to make their own Woolbuddy creatures, and he has an instructional book coming out in September called (appropriately enough) Woolbuddies. Learn a little bit more about the man behind the wool in the interview below!
One project you are particularly proud of:
1. The project I’m really proud of right now is my 10-foot needle-felted dinosaur, which I will be bringing to the Bay Area Maker Faire this month. I wasn’t sure that my team and I could pull it off, but we were definitely up for the challenge. After a couple of different attempts we succeeded, and in the process we’ve learned so many great new techniques.
Two mistakes you’ve learned from in the past:
1. I make mistakes here and there, but I learn from them. My first attempt at the 10-foot dinosaur was a flop, it was not strong enough and way too labor intensive. I recognised my mistakes and I came up with another technique, which is the dinosaur you will see at the Maker Faire.
2.Trying to do too many new projects at once. Instead I have learned that it’s better to focus on the details of one project at a time.
Three ideas or projects that you’re excited about lately:
1. I’m super excited about my new book coming out this fall with Chronicle Books. It’s called Woolbuddies: 20 Irresistibly Simple Needle Felting Projects. The book features many of the Woolbuddy characters and their stories, along with a tutorial so that you can make one too. They are currently available for pre-order.
2. I used to work at Lucasfilm as a 3D story artist, and working among such an amazing and inspiring group of artists was one of the greatest experiences in my life. As a tribute to the Star Wars series, I created my favorite character, R2-D2, in felt. I’m so excited that he will be featured this month at the upcoming Nucleus Gallery exhibit, “A Saga in the Stars; A Tribute to a Galaxy Far, Far Away.”
3.At the moment I have a new Woolbuddy project in the works, I’m creating a series of new needle-felted dragons characters in different shapes and sizes.
Four tools you love to use
1. Pen-style 3-needle felting tool.
2. The felting mat made from 100% wool, that I invented.
3. Rubber thimbles to protect my fingers.
4. My new 5D camera.
Five people or things that inspire you
1. The illustrator Rebecca Dautremer. I admire the great composition, color, and textures she creates in her work.
2. Delphine Durand is another illustrator that I admire. I love the characters she designs and the fun little stories she creates for each of them, especially the smaller side characters.
3. My daughters Mia and Shana, I love to watch the pure joy they get from just playing. They are also my #1 Woolbuddy fans and their pure reaction to new designs can be very helpful.
4. Participating in fun events like Comic-Con and Maker Faire.
5. The Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Museum of Glass in Seattle. Most people think glass should be small and delicate and put on a shelf, but his work is breaking this common misconception. His work inspires me to challenge myself and break the mold of how wool is typically used.
6. The new animated movie, The Croods.
Okay, so that’s six inspirations, but they were all so good! We asked Jackie if he would share a tutorial with us, and so he put together this video of how to make one of his favorite characters, the Japanese anime character Totoro.
How-To: Needle-Felted Totoro