February 7, 2015
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 148th Birthday
Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867 in a log cabin in the “Big Woods” of Wisconsin. Her beloved Little House books, chronicling her family’s hardscrabble journeys through the American frontier, stand as a notable achievement of early American literature. The television series based on the books—a staple for viewers in the 70s—brought legions of new fans to her work.
When we were invited to commemorate Wilder’s birthday with a doodle, we were thrilled. It was a natural fit, since we’re the creators of a board book series that abridges classic novels in just twelve words and twelve images. Our illustrative process combines needle-felting, scale-model set-building, and photography.
The first step in creating the doodle was to make figures of Laura and her older sister, Mary, through needle felting. Needle felting is basically sculpting with wool, and the process is labor-intensive. It requires stabbing loose wool (called “roving”) hundreds, even thousands of times with a barbed needle, which entangles the fibres and makes the wool firm enough to hold shape. Our felt figures are built around a wire armature that makes the figures easy to pose and re-pose.
After the general body form is created, details such as facial features, hair and clothing are added. While the body is made of roving, the clothing is cut from pre-felt (pre-made sheets of soft wool) and needled onto the body.
After we made the figures, we turned to the set. Because we didn’t have a prairie landscape at hand in Vancouver, Canada for location shooting, we had to create our own artificial landscape by needling loose wool onto a sculpted styrofoam block. Craft grass was glued to the front of the set to help add a sense of depth. Here’s Holman creating the faux prairie.
We would have been remiss if we didn’t add a little house on the prairie (and a covered wagon) to complete the scene. Here’s Jack building a log cabin out of twigs, milled wood, small stones (for the chimney), and hot glue.
After the figures, set and props were completed, we began some test photography indoors to sort out general composition.
Then we took our set outdoors on a clear day for real sunlight. Here’s a shot of an early stage of the outdoor set-up. The January sun was very low in the sky, so the set had to be tilted to create a less wintry angle of light.
Our goal when creating images is to illustrate “in camera” as much as possible. However, in this case, it wasn’t possible for us to create clouds in the shapes of letters in camera. So when the outdoor shoot was complete, we took the best photograph and added the clouds digitally for the finishing touch.
The doodle of Laura and Mary running joyously through the prairie, with the iconic “little house” in the background, captures for us—and hopefully for millions of others—the essence of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her literary legacy.
Posted by Jack and Holman Wang, guest doodlers and the authors and illustrators of the board book series Cozy Classics and Star Wars Epic Yarns.