If you know us, you know we love all things handmade and animal related. When the two merge? Magic. That’s how we feel about Dani Ives’ work! Dani Ives is a fiber artist and workshop instructor whose felt creations make us absolutely swoon. In her words she likes to ‘push the boundaries’ of needle felting to create realistic paintings. That’s just want she does. She makes incredible wool paintings of nature, animals and sometimes even donuts! She lives in Arkansas with her husband, Brandon, her two dogs and her cat! We sat down with her by the power of the internet and asked her a few questions about her process and what’s coming up for her in the coming months!
Stitch People: How did you get started with wool painting?
Dani Ives: Getting into wool painting was a natural progress from sculptural needle felting. I began my needle felting journey with cute 3-d animals and then pincushions and jewelry. Then I decided to flatten it all out one day and I worked on a picture. Felting in that way, using wool as if it were paint, was filling an artistic gap for me. I fell in love
Stitch People: When did you know you wanted to turn your wool paintings into a business?
Dani: Haha, when I started amassing cute wool animals! When I started offering pet portraits, I knew this would be a sustainable way to support myself. The demand was (and still is) crazy. I’m so grateful for the support folks offer me.
Stitch People: It’s so good to hear that the demand is still crazy! That’s great! With that being said, though, what would you say was the hardest part about starting your business?
Dani: The hardest part is building an audience that cares about what you do. There’s so much self-doubt, especially as an artist. It’s so important to find the folks who want to support you, and to let go of the people who don’t want to support you. It’s important to have a thicker skin with all this social media, and people just flinging their opinions about…ha!
Stitch People: How long do you think it took you to find that audience and that support?
Dani: There was a point a couple years ago when my audience growth really started to accelerate. I feel like from that point, I’ve had a pretty strong “support group.” But even after that growth, to feel comfortable about having a strong audience and letting them support me probably took about 6 months.
Stitch People: It always seems like in the long run, artists support other artists. Who are some of the artists and creatives that have supported you along the way?
Dani: Yes, definitely. And instagram is such a weird world. I met some of my real-life friends from Springfield MO via instagram–the girls behind Culture Flock clothing, Summer & Brittany, and Kendra of Kwanalee Art, and Jessica of Jessica Blackburn Art. I adore them all to pieces. And I know they’ve always got my back.
Stitch People: Who are some of your favorite creatives?
Dani: lol, I have to pick?…..
Stitch People: As many as you want!
Dani: Let’s see…so I love the dioramas of Allie May Kiphuth (@alliemaykiphuth). The tiny worlds that she creates are so beautiful and enthralling–I can’t get enough of them. Emily Jeffords’ paintings are always beautiful and so inspiring. And the embroideries of Emillie Ferris are insane. And she is the sweetest!!
Stitch People: We’ll have to check them all out! They all sound great! Can you tell us more about your creative process and where you get your inspiration?
Dani: So before jumping into the full-time art business, I was an educator at a zoo. I actually have a biology degree and a Master’s in Conservation Education, so I got to take small critters to schools and teach kiddos and inspire adults to love animals and take action toward conserving the environment. I will always love animals and nature, and I’m sure they will always continue to be a part of my art, whatever medium. With wool, it’s a very natural transition to portray animal fur, so it’s a win-win! I also love spending time outdoors, I love hiking and discovering beautiful scenes and miniature worlds (like little toadstools on a mossy rock), so I love translating those into my art. Nature will always fuel my artistic fire.
Stitch People: So earlier you mentioned Instagram being a weird world. We use Instagram a lot to connect with people, and meet people often! Can you tell us a little bit about how you use Instagram with your business? You’ve got such a wonderful community over there!
Dani: Instagram is a huge platform for my business. I post almost everything I make over there, and it’s where I get to meet so many of my creative friends. (Like you!) If people like the work that I post, they tend to stick around. Which is great for when I have commission openings or collections that I’m ready to release. There’s usually always a willing audience on IG.
Stitch People: I don’t know if this is public knowledge yet, but I bet everyone on Instagram is going to be so excited about your online felting course that you’re launching! I know I am! Do you want to tell us a little more about that?
Dani: I am SO excited about this new course, Felt With Me. I’ve been teaching in-person workshops for over a year, but of course I can’t reach everyone everywhere. So many people have asked me to travel to their cities (and countries!) wanting me to teach. With an online course, everyone has access to my techniques for wool painting.The course will be available on September 30! And here’s a secret: early access is available to folks who sign up at FeltWithMe.com. This course is great for complete beginners to intermediate level felters, and walks students through multiple projects, with step-by-step video tutorials. It’s already getting rave reviews from course testers, and I can’t wait to get it out to the world!
Stitch People: That course sounds like a blast Dani! So excited!
Dani: I’ve been wanting to make it for so long–and it’s finally happening. Of course now, I have ideas for more courses! Haha!
Stitch People: For my last question: Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about jumping into starting their own business?
Dani: Building an audience is important, but it’s more important to do what you love. Running a business is not easy. Working for yourself is not easy. Learn as much as you can about the business end of things, and do as much as you can for yourself. And be yourself, because that’s what people will love and support you for–authenticity is key.
* all photos provided by Dani Ives.