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Megan Cleland :: Portrait Artist Extraordinaire

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

Meet felt :: feutre canada member, Megan Cleland, a self-taught artist with a passion for fibre and creating. Her story begins in Australia, when she and her husband purchased a farm that include 500 fine wool merinos. Inspired by the incredible fibre, she began felting, spinning, and weaving.

In 2009, when she returned to Canada, she began to combine her love of portraiture and needle felting. She feels, “Painting with wool to create realistic portraits and landscapes has been a natural progression from watercolour and pastel with exciting results. It’s more organic and has a warmth and texture that makes the viewer want to reach out and touch it.”

The switch from amateur to professional has been a recent decision. A decision driven by the tremendous response to her gorgeous work.

Megan’s work is in private collections in France, England, Australia, Canada, and the United States. She has exhibited at the 2019 Uxbridge Celebration of the Arts, and Elements of Creation, at the Elora Centre for the Arts, Elora Ontario.

A well-established and popular instructor she has taught at fibre festivals like Twist Fibre Festival, Woodstock Fleece Festival, and Almonte Fibre Festival.

Recently we had the pleasure of talking to Megan, who is currently working on a portrait of a 96 year-old lady and her German shepherd.

What are you working on now?

I am currently focused on completing commissions of needle-felted portraits. I have several dogs and some people to complete. When those are done, I have a photo of some fungi in snow attached to tree bark. I really want to tackle this because it challenges my skills as a felting artist. It will be 18″ x 24″.

How did you start felting?

I was a portrait artist before switching to fibre as my medium. I was a stay-at-home mom and I used watercolour, pastel and graphite as my mediums for my commissions. I am self-taught and learned using lots of books on drawing people. I remember the first portrait I ever did was a horse head when I was about 10. The teacher thought it was good and I kept sketching. As much as I wanted to take art in high school my parents thought I already knew how, so they didn’t want me to waste a subject on art. A lot of my learning was trial and error.

I married an Australian and moved to Sydney in 1998. We bought a farm in 1999 and this farm came with 500 merino sheep. My love of fibre was rekindled and I started spinning and knitting. I started knitting and felting hats and played with wet felting.

Fast forward to 2008 and I moved back to Canada. Facebook was gaining in popularity as a way to show your work. I started seeing work from felters making 3-D sculptures, and a lightbulb went off in my head. I wanted to try using wool as a medium for my portraits. Huge learning curve, because at that time there really wasn’t anyone doing portraits in fibre.

Wool is not paint. It is a solid, not a liquid, so blending for colour is totally different. blue and yellow doesn’t give you green. I also found the stabbing concentrates the colour. Once I figured it out I started challenging myself to create different textures that would look realistic and 3-D, while remaining totally 2-D. I want people to think their portrait is going to blink or move or evoke an emotion.

Tell us about the challenges of working with fibre?

At first it was challenging working with fibre because I was learning how to get it to do what I wanted. Colour was a big issue and I did a lot of dyeing to get the colours I wanted. I used both natural and acid dyes. I find the natural dyes give me a really organic colour. I also dye in variegated so I get a huge range of colours that basically all compliment each other.

I love how fibre is so tactile and forgiving. If you don’t like something, just pull it out and use something else. I use wispy layers that you can see through and by building up those layers, I can achieve that 3-D look with depth. I currently have one room with shelves on three walls full of wool and other fibres. the fourth wall is stacked with totes full of wool for my hats and other felting endeavours.

What are your ambitions for 2021?

My ambition for 2021 is to continue to experiment with ideas and we are hopefully moving up to cottage country in Ontario by the fall. I would love to have an artist retreat and continue to teach my felting in several different forms. Other than that I will continue to fulfill commissions and stay healthy.

To find out more about Megan: visit her In The Line of Fibre

Follow her on FACEBOOK You’ll love her work!

Of course,  there’s even more to see on Instagram, so visit her here:

Thank you, Megan, for taking the time to share your work with us. We appreciate it.

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