From Photos to Felt: Making Art from French Regional Park

By: Nyssa Gesch

January 08, 2024

Category: Arts

Brittany Johnson has always created art, but the journey to recognizing herself as an artist took more time. It was a process that included watercolor painting, drawing, linocut, pottery and… baking.

In 2020, Brittany decided that she wanted to create less stringent and more realistic New Year’s resolutions. Simply, she wanted to learn something new each year.

The first year, she perfected baking a French silk pie. The second year, she refined her cake-decorating skills. And then, it was time for a change. 

“After those two years of food, I was like, ‘Food is just too much!’” Brittany says. ”Especially during the pandemic. Who is going to eat all of this cake?”

Side-by-side photos of the tops of two beautifully decorated cakes. On the left is a cake with strawberry roses, white icing and lemon rind on top. On the right, a chocolate cake with a wreath-like garnish.
Two of the cakes Brittany decorated in 2021 as part of her New Year's resolutions (left: September; right: December).  Photos courtesy of Brittany Johnson.

In 2022, with pandemic restrictions that made her feel like she was always at home, Brittany shifted her resolutions to nature.

“I think it really helps a person’s mind and body and soul to be connected,” says Brittany. “Living in the suburbs or in a city, you can go through your day inside. You can go to work, sit at a computer, commute in a car, be in your house. 

“But it does something different when you have the sun shining on your face. Your brain does something different. It slows down. It pays attention to these really subtle, beautiful things, like the wind through the leaves. The way that light shines on things differently.”

Learning in Nature

Incorporating the outdoors into her resolutions was natural for Brittany. She grew up exploring parks near her childhood home, including Baker Park Reserve, and that exploration continued in her adult life. 

A photo of woman smiling with a foggy field and forest behind her.
Brittany in nature while birding, a favorite outdoor activity during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Brittany Johnson.

For 2022, Brittany decided she wanted to learn more about the state she was living in, so she made her goal to visit a different state park each month. She enjoyed it so much that she decided to continue the park theme the following year, this time focusing on parks closer to her home.

“I thought, ‘What if I went to French Regional Park once a month and saw it change throughout the seasons?’” Brittany says.  

“And I don't ever really stop at something simple like that,” she continues, “So I was like, ‘What if I also took pictures when I was there? And did a felted landscape from that?’”

Brittany had recently begun learning the art of felted sculptures from a friend, but had never done a felted landscape before. So, for 2023, Brittany resolved to teach herself how to “paint” a scene using wool.

A photo of four creatures made of of felted wool.
Brittany started her felting journey by trying dry felting. She created these felted monsters in late 2022. Photo courtesy of Brittany Johnson.

The Artistic Process

For the first step, Brittany visited French Regional Park capturing scenes with her phone. “I just walked around the park and took pictures of things that caught my eye and I thought were beautiful,” she says.

They weren’t hard to find. “Nature has always been an inspiration,” Brittany says. “In my mind, it's the most inspiring thing. This planet that we're on: It's really incredible.”

A photo of a lake in summer, filled with lily pads and rich reeds, below a blue sky with white clouds.
One of the photos Brittany recreated with felt. French Regional Park in June 2023. Photo courtesy of Brittany Johnson.

After the pictures were taken, she sorted through them, picking out the one she wanted to recreate for that month.

The photo could be anything from her favorite scene to an image she knew wouldn’t be incredibly difficult to translate with roving. She learned early on what was challenging. “Details of trees are really hard,” Brittany says, noting that taking a photo from further away gave her the distance that would help her with her creative process. “Colors and textures were a lot easier than details.”

Recreating the Photo

To create the felted landscape, Brittany sat with the printed photo, a piece of felt and the wool (roving) of various colors in front of her. She first found the appropriate colors, sometimes hand-mixing different roving to create custom shades that worked for that month’s particular scene. 

Unlike wet felting, which uses soap and water to blend fibers together, dry felting uses friction. To make her art, Brittany presses the fiber into the felt with a barbed needle, poking the roving into the felt so that that the fibers mat together.

“You keep doing that over and over again, until it sort of adheres,” says Brittany, explaining how it’s similar to when a dog’s fur gets matted.

Photo of tools for dry felting on a table.
Brittany's setup and tools before she begins felting. Photo courtesy of Brittany Johnson.

Each 5”x5” piece can take anywhere from 20 minutes to, her longest one, 90 minutes. “It isn't even the best one, which is frustrating,” Brittany says, highlighting another lesson she learned: Effort and time don’t necessarily guarantee a better result.

But, these results are part of the wonderful process. “The first-ever felted landscape I did was the January one, which is… it's not good,” Brittany says. “And I think that's good that it's not good. Because we all learn. And people feel like, well I'm not, I'm not an artist because I'm not good at that.’

“No one's going to be good at something the first time they do it. If I were to analyze each individual one, it doesn't get better and better each time, each month. Some are better than others. Some pieces work better than others; some I blended better.” 

Brittany hopes that showing her entire series of work and the non-linear progression will inspire people to take their own creative leaps. All 12 pieces and their photographic inspirations will be displayed in the French Regional Park Visitor Center from January to March. “I'm going to show them all, for the sake of people seeing that it's a process and that they can do it, too,” Brittany says.

A photo of cattails in the winter on the left and felted art depicting the same scene on the right.
Side-by-side of Brittany's February photo and the artwork that came from it. Photos courtesy of Brittany Johnson.

The Next Phase

Though her goal was only for one year, Brittany isn’t planning on setting this aside.

“I do think that I'll keep doing fiber art. I like that it is relatively quick and that it's forgiving,” Brittany says, explaining that she appreciates how tactile the process is. “You literally grab the fibers and are pulling them apart and blending them together with your fingers.”

Photo of two felted landscape artwork pieces. The left one is of snow-covered evergreens and the right one is mostly of the trunk of a tree.
Two of Brittany's finished, felted landscape pieces. Left: January; right: March. Photos courtesy of Brittany Johnson.

Another reason to continue? Knowing she isn’t finished teaching herself.

“Getting depth has been really challenging. A lot of it feels like it's all on the same plane,” she says. “There are ways to do it that I just haven’t gotten down yet. I'll keep going because there's still more to learn.”

And today, when asked if she’s an artist? “I'm going to go ahead now and call myself an artist,” Brittany says. “Because I make art.”

See Brittany's Art Exhibit and Learn More About Felting

From January 15 through March 1, 2024, check out Felted Reflections: A Yearlong Celebration at the French Regional Park Visitor Center. The exhibit features Brittany Johnson’s felted artwork and her original photos.

From 1–3 PM on Saturday, January 27, 2024, meet Brittany at the French Regional Park Visitor Center to learn more about her project and try dry felting yourself.

Banner photo, showing a felted landscape piece in progress, courtesy of Brittany Johnson.

About the Author

Nyssa Gesch, a brunette woman, leans against a railing and has turned her head to face the camera and smile.

Nyssa Gesch is the web content coordinator at Three Rivers Park District. With a background in journalism, she enjoys writing, editing and collaborating with others to create content. She has an equal passion for the outdoors (especially when it snows) and loves being outside whenever she can, whether running, snowboarding, playing sand volleyball, backpacking or trying a new activity.


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