Artist Dawn Waters describes her work as “sugar-coated bundles of detail and slight oddness combined to make unpainted paintings that are arresting and uncanny.”
Waters paints with fiber and much of her work incorporates three-dimensional felted flowers or other dimensional element. Her portraits can deliver powerful and poignant messages, such as her depiction of the Afghan girl who appeared on the cover of National Geographic in 1985. Her work also evokes her humor, pop culture and occasionally her political slant.
“Think Martha Stewart and Snoop hanging out, making unexpected things happen,” she says.
Waters says she began creating art relatively late in life after a career in advertising and working as communications director at Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts. She was introduced to felting on a trip to Amsterdam. A friend taught her the basics and she focused on creating wearables.
Waters says she had never seen a portrait made of fiber and wondered if she could create one, even though she had no art training and had never attempted a portrait. Her Chihuahua was her first subject. She continued to work on portraits, finally creating human likenesses with fiber and a felting needle.
“It’s like tattooing,” she says, “but with wool.”
Waters now lives in Gulfport and creates her art in her home studio. She says she often chooses subjects with a sentimental attachment, or a face that she cannot resist replicating. She creates with wool and other fibers, such as silk, hemp and alpaca, using either a wet or dry felting process.
“Wet-felting is when you agitate the fibers with warm soapy water until they meld together – a time-intensive, strenuous process. This is how the flowers are made and it’s the process I use to make scarves and wearables,” she says. “The dry felting method, otherwise known as needle felting, is when you do a lot of poking with a felting needle, which is a special barbed needle.”
Her intricate portrait of Frida Kahlo is a mix of the two processes. Frida’s floral crown and shawl were wet felted; her face was needle felted.
“I use only dyed fiber to create the faces, and poke many thousands of times,” she says. “There is no paint applied and nothing is glued. The finished product is felted wool.”
Waters says the amount of time it takes to make a felted painting varies greatly.
“I’ve made animal portraits in as few as three hours,” she says, “and some portraits have taken several weeks.”
Waters recently began working with paint and mixed media.
“I’ve noticed how working with each medium has informed the other,” she says. “The possibilities are endless.”
Waters has received numerous awards for her work since she began in 2017, including a first place award in Fearless Fiber at the Carrollwood Cultural Center in Tampa. She’s received awards of distinction at the New River Art Juried Biennial in Blacksburg, Virginia; Fiber Art Now magazine and Contemporary Fiber in Florida at Florida CraftArt in St. Petersburg. Her work has been featured in Outsider Art Magazine and on the Summer 2019 cover of Fiber Art Now.
Her work has been exhibited at galleries, museums and shows in New Orleans, New Jersey and Atlanta. Locally, her portraits have been shown at Mize Gallery and Florida CraftArt in St. Petersburg; Art Center Sarasota and Brenda McMahon Gallery in Gulfport.