My Art Studio by Laura Lee Burch

Louie keeps me company in my studio.

It took a long time to finish my studio, after we bought the 150+ year old Ottoman-era property in the ancient port city of Jaffa, Israel; we had to design the space and then rehab it with the help of ancient architecture specialists (architects, engineers, builders and carpenters) because the building is historic and required many special details in its restoration. The building has been many things over the years but it’s original purpose was as a barn.  The building is located in Shuk Ha Pish Pishim (the flea market); in ancient times herders kept their livestock in the area below our apartment and slept in the rooms that are now our house. The herders sold their livestock in the market that still exists today albeit with a very different look and feel!  The flea market today is a very hip and gritty place with many bars, restaurants and boutiques.

There are 2 outdoor spaces in our house now but years ago the rooms were built around an indoor courtyard, a very common feature of Arabic architecture.  The rooms are designated by the vaulted ceilings, one of the most striking features of the house. 

Ottoman architecture, vaulted ceilings

It took us a little more than 3 years to rehab our home in which my studio is located. My art studio has a mid-century modern look; it contains 8 large storage cabinets with transparent backs so you can see the stones behind, a card catalog for storing tiny supplies like threads, tape, felting supplies, knick-knacks etc., two mid-century style tables, my aquarium of turtles and a little sofa. There were two niches in my studio (we don’t know what they were for); I now use one as a storage area and one as a bathroom.

I keep my wool, fabrics and finished sculptures in my storage cabinets.

I have a mid-century style handmade, walnut sewing table and a  matching taller table with my computer on it; this is where I felt because all my wool is in the cabinets behind me. As I sit and work I can watch my turtles in the aquarium that separates my studio space from the rest of the house. Louie and Shmoopy (my dogs) often visit me in my studio, Shmoopy is currently banned from the studio because she has eaten too many of my felted pieces; she jumps up on the table and cabinets and steals them.

My sewing table has an inspiration board behind it. I have many memories stashed inside the studio; the chair was my grandma Burch’s sewing chair.
Sewing has been a handed-down activity. From my grandma Burch and from my mother to me, from myself to my daughters.
My father made this wooden tool chest when he was just starting his career.

 

 

 

I’m holding Alice’s needle felted flamingo.
Needle felted-embroidered mask.

I’ve added many family heirlooms in my studio; they give me inspiration and they are reminders of quality, old-world craftsmanship. My fiber-art is needle felted, many times with embroidery, beads or textiles  incorporated into the work. 

Studio before:

Studio space before: stucko walls and ceiling.
Studio before: small space made into a bathroom.
Studio before: space during demolition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studio before: Second cubby hole, now used for storage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studio after the walls and ceiling were sandblasted and the cement floor was layed.

Friends-needle felted dogs

needle felted dogs
best friends

I took a photo of these two dogs (the original, real live dogs) in India. They were sleeping at the base of a monument, one was using the other’s rear end as a pillow and they were the most raggedy dogs I’d ever seen…but they looked happy.

doggy friends
Let sleeping dogs lie.

It took me a week to make this sculpture, working on and off between the girls’ end of the school year activities. I find these two dogs sweet, I think the black and white cow patterned dog is much older than the blond dog, maybe she’s the mother. My girls look at the original photo and tell me that “everyone needs a butt for a pillow”, oh silly girls!

sleeping dogs
May I use your butt as a pillow?

As I felted these dogs, I thought about friendship and how a few very good friends are a gift and that the simple things in life are the best.  These dogs brought many nice things to  mind as I felt, felt, felted away.

everyone needs a butt for a pillow
sleeping dogs detail

Dog Stories-needle felted pets

needle felted basset hound
He ain't nothin' but a hound dog.

I have almost always had a dog in my life. The dogs I had as a kid were “working” dogs. My parents bought them to guard us and the house. They lived outside in dog houses that my dad made; they used to sit on top of the dog house like Snoopy.  My mom used to bring them into the laundry room when the weather got bitter cold or we took them into the basement with us when there was a tornado in the area, otherwise they were outside dogs.

needle felted dachshund
Let's play ball

As an adult, I bought my dog Quill ( a Chow Chow) for companionship. I lived by myself in Chicago and the furry company and extra security he provided were nice to have. I had him for 19 years, he became part of our family. We still talk about the things he used to do that made us laugh! One of my favorite Quill stories is from Chicago. He liked the very cold weather, but when we would walk in the snow, he would stop dead in his tracks and lift up one foot. He wanted the ice cleaned out from between his toes. After we did one foot, he would lift another foot to be cleaned. You couldn’t budge him till all the ice was cleaned out from between his toes! I bought him dog boots, but he hated those.

giant poodle
Needle felted Giant Poodle

We’d like to get another dog, but we’re taking a pet brake right now. The last few years of Quill’s life were hard. We think we might get a Bull Terrier; they’re supposed to be good with kids, loyal companions and good watch dogs.

needle felted dog
Needle felted Bull Terrier

I like to watch those t.v. programs that introduce the people who bring their pets to hospitals and old folks homes to cheer up the people. I know that animals are good for people because they’re easy to love and they give love back and they’re always glad to see you when they get home and they never criticize you. We bought my mother in law a little dog after her husband died recently; she now lives for that dog.

needle felting pets
Needle felted Rottweiler

I used to “read” the Carl book by Alexandra Day to the girls when they were little. Carl books have no words, just adorable illustrations showing the adventures of Carl the Rottweiler and “his baby”. These are some of my favorite children’s books!

wooly sheep dog
Needle felted Old English Sheep Dog

These dog sculputures arent’ toys, they’re art. They take 10-15 hours each to felt. Each dog is around 6.5″ tall x 10″ long\16.5cm tall x 25.4cm long. They’re needle felted from 100% wool and have posable legs. You can buy them in my Laleebu Boutique, here or here.

needle felted art
Needle felted Jack Russel Terrier

Famous dogs: Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Snoopy, Marmaduke, Astro, Benji, Odie, Clifford, Cujo…

Does anyone else have a good dog story?

Tel Aviv Graffiti, Expression Through Art

love birds, Tel Aviv graphiti

Why do I make art? Who appreciates it? How do I get my work into a gallery? Why didn’t I become a doctor? How many of my children’s drawings should you keep? These are all art related questions (more or less) that run through my mind.  

girl with pink hair, Tel Aviv graffiti

 I started collecting photos of graffiti; it’s really like walking through a museum, admiring or not the piece of art and thinking, “what was the artist really trying to say”. In university, I took several classes on this subject, they were called art history classes. What I gleaned from those classes is that many times you can not know what an artist is thinking or trying to convey just by looking at their art, you must read the artist’s own words. I loved that class because I found it interesting to see how an artist used symbolism or color or hidden meanings to convey their messages. I wished the Tel Aviv graffiti artists had written a few words to the side of their creations to help me figure out what they were trying to tell us.  

peeling lady, Tel Aviv graffiti

 When I ask the question, “why do I make art“, I think most people would agree that  creating art is a means of expression and communication. Some artists want to send a message or convey a feeling that is important to them, some of us want to inspire, educate, tell a story, document a place and time, some of us want to shock and others want to make pretty pictures to hang on the wall. But why do I make art? I think about this question a lot. I feel a need to create, I always have.  

red flower, Tel Aviv graffiti

I started creating as far back as I can remember, every one in my family was creating around me. I started taking oil painting lessons when I was ten years old; I looked forward to taking a class every Saturday like a kid anticipates Christmas morning. I loved being around my very talented teacher and learning, her studio was a little log cabin in the woods. I studied art all through school and I was good at it, people took notice and I had created an identity for myself.  As I entered university, I of course wanted to study art. I would have studied painting, but  even though my parents had no problem with my career choice, my father protested that I must study a form of art that I could earn a living from. His thoughts were: ” what kind of work could a painter of pretty pictures find?”  Dilemma.  

wall of graffiti, Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv

I started studying at Indiana University because it had a beautiful campus! They also had an excellent art program, but after looking at a few schools, the campus was the determining factor for me. I studied graphic design, also known as commercial art because my parents could envision what kind of a job I could possibly get with these skills. The I.U. art department taught me classic design skills but no real job skills like pasting up type. I met the mother of a friend of mine once at I.U., my friend told his mother that I was studying art and she asked me why I didn’t study something more ambitious and practical. That comment (insult) has haunted me for the last 27 or so years. Studying art at I.U. were some of the best years of my life because I was immersed in the world of art and surrounded by friends.

Jewish guys graffiti in Tel Aviv

In 1983, we didn’t use computers to create graphics yet at I.U. (creak, moan, dust blowing around) and I learned the basic hands on skills of the trade in future design jobs. I moved to Boston right after I graduated to live with a girl I had met studying in Italy and I looked for 3 years for a job related to graphic design and for three years I waitressed at Pizzeria Uno’s. Discouraged  by my new career as a waitress, I moved to Chicago, closer to home to find a graphic design job. After my first year in Chicago waitressing again, I landed my first real design job for a hardware and plumbing company in Chicago. I learned how to design and layout packaging and draw plumbing parts on a Macintosh computer-a very important skill for my future-really. From drawing plumbing parts, I moved on to laying out magazines, to typesetting labels (super boring and tedious) and illustrating for a cosmetic company, to freelancing, designing and illustrating all the printed materials for a hospital and technical illustration for a medical company in Chicago.  

sheep launch, Tel Aviv graffiti

I grew to hate working as a graphic designer, I wanted to be creative in a different way. When I wasn’t working two or three jobs to make ends meet, I was creating at home. I painted chairs and furniture for awhile and then I made sculptures and tiled them and somewhere in there I got married, kept freelancing (I had a gig illustrating for a children’s toy company-my favorite job so far) , had kids and then I started to make things for my children. We moved to Israel for my husband’s job and due to the lack of quality children’s products there, I opened a children’s boutique full of everything a child loves, designed and made by myself and a team of talented artists. After five years as a boutique owner, I moved my business to the internet and narrowed my creative focus. I now sew and needle felt toys and dolls for children and make one of a kind sculpted textile pieces.

type, Tel Aviv graffiti

Right now, I’m still an artist of utilitarian goals. I think that real expression is a future chapter for me, feeling free enough to express my valued thoughts and feelings through art will be an evolved ability for me. In the future, my art will take another path, just like life.

kissed a girl, Tel Aviv graffiti

The Ballet, my Muse

Emili and the Little Ballerina in white (needle felted)

 I love to make dolls and puppets more than anything else, so it makes sense that the ballet, my muse has inspired me to make needle felted ballerina dolls. Before I started to make the white ballerina doll, I watched the video: Etoiles, Dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet  by Nils Tavernier. It was interesting to listen to the thoughts of the young ballerinas, these dancers were living their dreams and their lives were only about ballet. They spoke in terms of their passions needing to be fulfilled, it was like they were addicted to their craft. I wondered how many people are able to experience something so overwhelming and meaningful in their lives. The ballet dancers spoke of a very ego-centric life and of the loneliness that went with it.

Needle felted Little Ballerina in white

 The dancers in the video were nimble, twisty and bendy in ways that I can only dream of being; these virtues attributed to the many flexible joints that I gave the Little Ballerina in white.  

needle felted doll parts/joints

 The many joints gives the doll the ability to move like a ballerina. If you hold her by the waist and jostle her, it looks like she’s dancing! 

The ballerina dances

To say “it’s my life (ballet), nothing else matters” , as one of the dancers stated in the video, is a profound statement. It makes me wonder about the line between throwing yourself into your work and the point where your work becomes you. It makes me think about how an artist, who is a parent juggles their priorities and how much self control one needs to have not cross the line of artistic passion, so as not to be consumed by it.

Needle felted Little Pink Ballerina, satin and tulle ballerina outfit

 The little pink ballerina has more movable joints than the little white ballerina (elbows and knees) which makes her more suitable as a marionette.

Needle felted V doll ballerina

The simplest of the ballerina dolls, I call this little ballerina a “V” doll because of her shape. The legs of this needle felted doll are indicated, but not made and attached separately like the arms. There are only three shapes needed to make this doll (circle, long oval, V) and four pieces (head, 2 arms, body). The tutu is made from a piece of gathered felt. This doll is a Waldorf inspired toy, made from the natural material, wool and felt.

face detail