Quilled Great Horned Owl
A tale of two quilled great horned owls.
A client contacted me several months ago to make her a great horned owl that was destined to be donated to a local organization. I thought it was a great opportunity to get some of my work on display in a high-traffic public area, so I agreed to the commission.
This was by far the largest quilling I have ever done. It is about 10×12 in size on an 11×14 background. It’s set inside a 16×20 shadowbox frame.
So let’s see…
I started off making just one owl. It was the first time I had seriously quilled since February when an injury forced me to put down my quilling tool. I had completed the Goddess Mandala the week before as a sort of reintroduction to quilling – to get the juices flowing.
I began the owl on the right first and I got to about this mid-breast area and decided that I didn’t like the chaotic look of the breast quills since I’d forgotten to kind of line them up and had just been plopping them in to make the color pattern look random. I didn’t think ahead to the fact that it would also make the grain of the feathers look random too. Oops.
So I ordered a new batch of paper (double the amount this time) and when it came in, I began the owl on the left. I already knew what I’d do different and this included putting fringe around the eyes and adding a contrasting color to the outside of each quill.
I also used graduated brown paper to form the breast area. I like the graduated paper but I didn’t think it matched the brown tones of the regular quilling paper that Quilled Creations sells. I wish it was less red and more brown. Oh well, you can’t have it all unless you cut it yourself and I’m not prepared to do that.
In the end, I think that for everything I don’t like about one, I like how that same part came out on the other. It’s pretty amazing how two identical quillings can turn out when they are finished.
Per request from Sheryl, I have added additional detail regarding the creation of this owl.
Step 1: Research
The first thing I do before creating anything is to research photographs on the web. This gives me the opportunity to choose the right pose, right angles, right features and “combine” them all mentally into the “perfect” subject.
Step 2: Sketch
I use 140lb watercolor paper as a background for a few different reasons. First, it allows me to use copious amounts of glue without causing any sort of distortion in the paper. If you use regular paper or cardstock, you will often get areas of the paper that wave because the water in the glue changes the way the fibers bind with each other. Using watercolor paper prevents this. Your paper stays flat no matter what and it will give lasting results that stand up to all sorts of problems like humidity, etc. Second, watercolor paper allows me to fix boo-boo’s and woopsies. No one is perfect and sometimes I will add a quill to something and realize that it would look better if I moved it elsewhere. Or sometimes a color doesn’t work or shape, etc. With regular paper, once you glue down, you’re locked in. With watercolor paper, you have the ability to undo these types of mistakes and misplacements. I also apply my glue to quills using a paint brush. To remove a glued down quill, all I have to do is clean my brush and apply a lot of water to the offending quill until it releases. This takes a little work, but with any other paper, it would ruin the background. Watercolor paper will eventually release the quill without damaging the fibers of the paper. If you wait for it to dry and then begin working on the area again, it’s almost like new. I only recommend this technique in areas that you will be covering again in case you brush too hard or some of the dye in the paper bleeds onto the background.
So, sketching… You don’t need to be an artist. All I do is create a rough outline of the important areas to use as a sizing and proportion guideline. It helps me keep my quills in check. If I’m quilling onto an area that I’ve drawn on and am worried that I will be able to see the lines, I erase the lines just before quilling onto that area.
This sketch made the owl slightly smaller than 11×14. It’s important to allow for some white space between the edges of your quilling and the border of the paper, and also account for the extra 1/4″ of overlap the mat will create. Making a quilling too large and pushing it up against the very edge of the paper detracts from it’s end quality (in my opinion) I always try to leave at least 1-2″ of white space between the edge of where the mat will lay and the edge of the objects I’ve quilled. This goes for everything I make, monograms included. I learned my lesson early on with two beautiful quillings that I thought were more important to make as large as possible without realizing how awful they’d look with just a sliver of room between the quills and the mat. Leave space, your eyes and customers will appreciate you for this!
The first part of the owl I made was the eyes. It was important to get them in the proper position as well as the proper size. In this case, I thought it looked better with slightly larger eyes, so these eyes extended over my original sketch. I made the eyes with tight coils. I used a black for the center. In this case I think it took at least 2-3 full strips (of the quilled creations strips which are around 18″ long, I think). Then I used 1-2 full strips of white, then several strips of a metallic yellow, then more black until I achieved the desired size. Sometimes when I made eyes I wind them up and realize they need to be larger or smaller so I unwind them and remake them.
The Main Feather Structures
Once the eyes were placed, I built around them using regular quills shaped like curved teardrops. I used dark grey for the beak, rust for the cheeks and beige for the forehead. I also glued together a few black strips to separate the face from the forehead. I used these strips to attach the fringes later on. People often ask me about patterns and measurements, and I always say the same thing. I don’t measure my strips. I use fractions based on the total length of the strips. In most cases, I am used Quilled Creations solid quilling strips and they are roughly 18″ long. So this is what I do. I figure out how large I want the main quills to be and create a few test quills with various fractions of the 18″ length. For this owl I needed the feathers to be big looking so I think I used half or full strips for each quill. This produced a quill that was roughly 1-1.5″ long. If I needed something smaller, I used 1/2 strips, 1/4 strips, or 1/8 strips. You can do the math to determine what that means in inches, LOL.
For the body, I continued using the same size quills, but I wrapped them with an opposing color. So if I used a beige for the quill, I wrapped it with 1/4 of a strip of dark brown for contrast. I varied this pattern slightly as I went along.
On this owl, I did the breast in solid quills, using smaller ones at the top and larger ones as I worked down to the belly.
On the other owl, I used graduated brown paper from Quilled Creations. Those strips are shorter than their normal quilling paper and I cut them each in half to make the quills. This gave the breast a different look, though I didn’t think the browns in the two-tone paper matched the browns in the solid quilling strips paper very well. The regular brown strips are more “brown” the two-tone/varigated browns are thinner paper and they have more of a reddish tone to them.
The Long Feathers
For the long feathers at the tips of the wings I had to use a comb instead of quills. I think that combing is a much better way to represent flight feathers and tails and other bird parts. For these particular flight feathers I blended together two shades of brown as I looped them over the comb. Because a comb is only a few inches long, in order to produce the length of “feathers” necessary for this owl, I had to pull the entire combed section off the comb and replace it higher up and start over. I don’t know if I can explain this fully. Basically it just allowed me to continue combing and lengthen the already combed section. Each of these used quite a few strips of paper to get it to the right length. If it looked too short and I was running out of paper length, I would glue new strips to the ends and let it dry before continuing to comb.
On the other owl, the long flight feathers were not made using a comb. They were made with a modified wheat ear. I made these by taking several strips of paper and bending them in half without making a crimp in the center part, leaving it rounded. Then I pull the ends of one side back until it separates all the strips into even sections. Then I glue all the ends together and place them. One day I’ll get around to making a video showing this technique.
I hope that gives a better idea of how I created this owl. Please stay tuned for my next owl which is being made with an entirely different technique than either of these two and the results are just spectacular!