By Gina Malone
Haywood County artist Tracey McCracken Palmer named her Fines Creek workspace Bonnieblink Studio—‘blink bonnie’ meaning ‘a beautiful view’ in Gaelic. Like any artist, she has a deep appreciation for natural beauty and strives to capture, in her felted wool paintings, all that she sees around her.
“Nature inspires me daily and I feel so lucky to have been born and raised and to still live here in these beautiful Great Smoky Mountains,” she says. “I walk with my dog every day and take photos of scenes that I feel would make a good felting. I’ve also been known to pull off the road to take a photo of a scene that calls out to me as I drive around the beautiful countryside between my house and Waynesville.”
Tracey grew up with a sister and parents who encouraged her creativity. Her mother was an accomplished seamstress and her father had taken art courses in college and created artwork that the family still treasures today. “Growing up, I spent many hours playing in the creek and cow pasture at our house in Clyde,” she says. “I was a tomboy and followed Daddy around the barn and farm, and have always loved being outdoors.” She began drawing early and, while in elementary school, a birthday present of a sketch pad and soft and oil pastels set her to playing with colors in art. “I remember doing a pastel of our crabapple tree with them,” she says, “and I loved the smell of the oil pastels especially.” She took art classes every chance she could throughout school, immersing herself in independent painting for three hours every day in her senior year of high school.
After graduation when she went to work and married, she says, she could never seem to move beyond painting as a hobby although she did show some of her work at Haywood County Arts Council events. “I knew there must be some other medium out there besides my paints and pastels, something that would awaken that drive in me and inspire and challenge me to create with passion,” she says.
In 2013, she came across the felted landscapes of Scottish artist Moy Mackay. “She had just published her first book so I got it and learned her method of layering wool and wet felting landscapes,” Tracey says. “Since then, while I still use her basic method of felting, I’ve also developed my own techniques to create my own style. I took to it right away and found that this was indeed the medium that I had been looking for my whole life.” Her work was accepted at Twigs and Leaves Gallery and, in 2015, she was juried into the Southern Highland Craft Guild. In 2017, with the support of her husband Kim, their families and close friends, Tracey began devoting herself full-time to her art.
“When I first started felting, I did mainly landscapes, but since have added faeries, foxes, sheep and owls, and have just finished my first cow up close, and am currently working on my first mermaid,” she says. “There is no end to the many ideas I have for future feltings.”
Attentiveness to nature serves her well in her creations. “The change of seasons and weather each hold their own magic for me and are a constant source of my creativity,” she says. “Sunlight on pastures and mountains, shadows and light dappling through the leaves on a tree, rocks and water and clouds inspire me. Nature and her many moods and inhabitants sing to my soul and I strive to share those feelings in my felting.”
Her process involves layering colors of pure dyed wool on top of a layer of undyed wool to block in the scene with some detail. For embellishments and particular elements such as flowers and waterfalls, she uses tussah silk, silk noil, sari silk and wool nepps. She then wet felts the piece with hot soapy water and works it, pressing, turning and rolling repeatedly in a piece of bubble wrap for hours until the friction binds the fibers together, creating felt. The soap is rinsed out and the piece allowed to air dry.
After it dries, she adds more details with needle felting, a technique of using notched needles that push additional wool fibers into the felt. “The notches grab the fibers and tangle them with the inner layers as the needle enters the wool, adding detail and depth,” she says. “Needle felting, while being the most time-consuming part of a time-intensive art form, is easily the most exciting part of my process,” Tracey says, “and it never ceases to amaze me how just a tiny bit of wool either added or taken away can completely change the essence of a piece.” She also uses hand carders to mix different colors of wool for shading and highlights. Because her finished pieces are susceptible to being damaged by touch, Tracey frames them behind glass with a spacer that leaves room for the fibers to breathe.
She often creates commissioned pieces and loves the challenge of creating something for others that will become special to them. Last year she created a scene of Looking Glass Rock for a wedding gift from the mother of the bride. “After the wedding, I received the sweetest message from her daughter on my Facebook page stating that she could see the exact spot where he had proposed,” Tracey says. “That brought tears of joy to me, knowing that I had created something special that they would cherish for the rest of their lives.”
Felting is an art that appeals to the senses. “I love everything about creating my felted wool paintings—the smell and textures of different types of wool and even picking out wee bits of burrs from some of the batts,” Tracey says. “I also love seeing the changes that occur each time I wet felt a piece, and I still learn something from each one about how to best layer the colors and use the different types of wools to achieve what I want.”
To learn more, visit BonnieBlinkStudio.com, call 828.276.7277 or find Tracey on Facebook at Bonnieblink Studio ~ Tracey McCracken Palmer. Her work is displayed at Twigs and Leaves Gallery in Waynesville and at the Southern Highland Craft Guild Gallery in Biltmore Village. Her work will be shown at the Craft Fair of the Southern Highlands October 17–20 at the U.S. Cellular Center.