Needle Felted Otter Sculpture

Title: “Ollie’s Gone Fishing.”

Ollie’s had a great day at his favorite stream, hauling in the plentiful trout. His basket is full, and another fish dangles on the hook. Settled on the log and kicking up his heels, he tucks into a hearty meal.

“Aaaahhh the good life; cool water at his feet and a tasty trout in paw. Otters have rather tubular bodies, but the skeletal and muscular under structure can be spotted. Ollie sits hunched a bit, and you can see his bent spine / shoulder blades / wrinkles in his long tail / and a pooched belly (YOU bend over and you’ll have the same – with wrinkles! lol).
Ollie’s so hungry he bit a big ‘ol chunk outta that trout!

A skillful fisherman, he treasures his hand hewn oak fishing rod and reel.

Light shimmers on water meandering past Ollie’s toes, as he rest amidst the cattails and pebbles on a mossy river bank. I knocked crumbly bark off the wood base and smoothed it, feeling the exposed underside better represented the surrounding ‘ground’ for this sculpture.
With less reflection on this photo – one can see the rippled wool and silk ‘water’ and wool slubs that create a rocky shore. And, look at the cute wee otter toes!
Comfortably seated upon an old fallen log – made entirely of NATURAL BROWN wools: Columbia,, CVM, Black Welsh Mtn, Blue-Faced Leicester and Shetland
Otter’s entire body is made almost wholly of Black Welsh Mountain wool. The core and musculature are the black portions of the fleece- which has a crinkly texture that needle felts so well. The sun-lightened brown tips were trimmed off the black fleece and blended to become the otter’s brown coat. Tummy is lighter Columbia wool.
Ollie’s fishing hat is carries a selection of tempting fish lures. The hand and machine stitched hat is wet felted of natural grey Merino wool, raised locally in Oregon.
A short walk outside my door there is a grand oak tree. I collect and save fallen twigs for carving into walking sticks or ~ in this case ~ a fishing rod. Even thin oak twigs remain strong, and with nice grain, knots and pleasing gnarly bends. Fun to carve.
The trout is a blend of grey CVM & Merino wools and sparkly fiber, with glass eyes.

Ollies fishing basket ~ also known as a Creel ~ isn’t made of traditional wicker. I wanted the look but lacked time or inclination to learn basket weaving. Impatient for instant gratification and rapid progress, I stepped up my invention points by managing with materials on hand. Natural Hemp cord to crochet the custom sized basket, and tinted it a bit splotchy for a well worn appearance. Glove leather being thin and flexible made up basket trim and strap, plus net handle. Basket has hinged lid with traditional hole for fishing net. Wool fish have glass eyes.

Ollie had been delightfully fun to create, even though it’s a great deal more work to build a larger 16″ tall sculpture – requiring many days of long hours needle felting and attention to the myriad details. But honestly – those details are SUCH fun! I laughed with glee when I figured out how to make my own fish basket.

CREATIVE PROCESS: Currently I am captivated with what I’m calling my “Tree Stump series;” all ideas formed around the use of a tree stump setting + an anthropomorphic creature. That and a series of “WHAT IF..?” questions to help form their creation.

Example: WHAT IF a forest creature was sitting on a tree stump? Ideas are ping-ponged back and forth: badger…. raccoon… squirrel… oh hey an Otter! And we’re off into flights of imagination.

Q: Okay why would an otter be near a tree stump? And, what do otters do anyhow?” Eat fish and romp near water. So a river bank and WHAT IF the tree stump lay sideways? The mental image is now an otter seated on a fallen log at the water’s edge. This worked out well because the sculpture was already tall, and a log would seat the otter lower.

Q: How to translate this information to the viewer in creative and unexpected manner? WHAT IF otter becomes a fisherman, with fishing paraphernalia? WHAT IF he had a fishing pole? And, a fish dangling on line to give the sculpture some movement. WHAT IF… otter wore wading boots or a vest (both ideas rejected). Or a hat? Yes, a hat could be fun, with fish lures on it. And a pail of fish? Nope. Make that a fish basket the otter can wear – bringing viewer interest up higher on mostly dark brown body.

Otter in progress. Black Welsh Mountain crimpy fleece makes up whole body. Fishing vest in paper towel template, but idea rejected. I want to see the shoulder blades, hunched spine and poochy tummy, unobstructed by vest. Move on to next ideas..

Q: How to show the water? It would be wet felted with wool and silk for shine… but then I experimented with various gloss mediums ON wool to see if it could represent water better with more light reflection, and WOW – fabulous results! Took 4 attempts, but do experiment because surprising good results can occur. I am very pleased with the watery appearance and that I thought to recess the water level lower than “ground” of river bank.

Q: How exactly to show the otter fishing? Holding pole? Napping? I finally decided to rest the pole alongside otter, who’d be fixin’ to take another big chonky bite outta his fish. Face scrunched up and sharp teeth showing. After all it’s been a busy day and an otter does get hungry!

Ollie will be making an appearance at Black Sheep Gathering 2019, in Albany, Oregon. However, I’ll wait to sell him at Oregon Flock and Fiber Festival in September. It’s hard to let go of one’s newest creation, so Ollie will keep me company just a bit longer, before I take him out to the next festival.

UPDATE: It’s now April of 2021, and a full year of Covid-19 pandemic certainly slammed a halt to all the festivals. This sculpture was supposed to go for sale at Black Sheep Gathering 2020, but nope. Didn’t happen. Ollie remains here at home, protected and on display….waiting in hopes a semblance or normalcy can one day return, and the festivals resume. How I miss them.

4 thoughts on “Needle Felted Otter Sculpture

    • I’m pleased you enjoy reading the details. I know I’ve found it fascinating and beneficial when other artists shared details of the creation process. Usually I find it fascinating to view their photos of the steps involved, and it satisfies my eager curiosity. Other times I’ve utilized tips and techniques they’ve shared as inspiration to build my own creations. It takes a village…and we all benefit.

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