Bead Your Inner Animal

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Indigo Raffie, a sculpted beaded animal

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Indigo Raffie, a sculpted beaded animal

When six women, collaborators each and every one, agreed to build animal heads, I couldn’t fathom how a 3-inch Styrofoam ball could become anything, let alone the base for my animal.

Then another question presented itself: What animal would I conjure up? Eventually I settled on a giraffe after considering a cat, a cheetah and a dragonfly.

In spite of being completely out of my element, my first attempt at sculpting yielded a decent-looking giraffe head. Beginner’s luck, I thought. The curvature in its neck added movement, or reality, to its presence. I felt pleased.

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, beginning sculpted form

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, beginning sculpted form

Still, I had no real concept of how this “thing” could morph into an object of beauty. In the security of the group, I added form to its face, creating an overbite for the mouth and hooded eyelids.

Once again, progress. But this progress occurred in a group (safe!) setting. Left to my own devices, I was besieged with questions.

A batik print would enhance the armature, I thought. Some wooden beads could add to its African authenticity. But the project morphed to something else entirely as I considered options, talked them over with other artists, and collected pictures of giraffes.

Although I could not envision a blue giraffe, (read, “yet!”) I accepted the gift of a friend’s beautiful cloth from Mali, Africa and Indigo Raffie was born.

I proceeded to beadweave my giraffe’s spots. Beadweaving was easy, comfortable, enjoyable. From time to time I’d pin the cloth to check fit and placement of embellishments. And, of course, I’d continue beading.

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, embellishing Indigo Raffie

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, embellishing Indigo Raffie

One of the most startling changes happened when I painted its face – indigo, of course.

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, the face of Indigo Raffie

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, the face of Indigo Raffie

Remind me to tell another story of the problems I had because I chose an oil-based paint, rather than acrylic. Ahhhhhhh, the learning curve when you’re out of your comfort zone.

Because the long neck was unstable, I needed help to wrestle the material to a fit. Four arms were required. No picture. “Next time,” I muttered. But we posed her for a shot prior to travelling.

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Indigo Raffie gets dressed

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Indigo Raffie gets dressed

Home again, and “it” began to look like “her.” Finishing touches included fringing the mane, adding jewels to the forehead, earstuds to the ears, and a halter chain to the bodice.

In the picture below, Indigo Raffie waits for eyelashes.

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Indigo Raffie, sans eyelashes

©2013, Mary Ellen Merrigan, Indigo Raffie, sans eyelashes

The fact of the matter: this project was too much fun! It provided a definite blast out of my normal range of creativity. Yes, I’d recommend you try it.

How will you express your inner animal?