Brittany Ruehle of Eaton Rapids uses wet spun cotton and a little paint to create creatures that once resided only in her imagination. As a child, she loved art and drawing. In college, she discovered her love for three-dimensional art and majored in graphic design. In 2017 she discovered a new medium, spun cotton, that grabbed her attention.
Using spun cotton is not a new art; it’s an old-world craft from Germany. Spun cotton Christmas ornaments were very popular in the early 20th century in the United States and are considered a Victorian art form. Cotton, soaked in glue and water, is wrapped around a wire armature. Many layers of wet cotton are added and sculpted to a particular shape, with many hours of drying time needed. When dry, the object is painted and other mediums might be added, such as glitter and glass eyes.
It’s taken a while to perfect her technique, she said. She likes to combine realism with whimsy in her creations. She especially enjoys creating items with a food theme, she explained, such as apple creatures, sugar cookie, or cinnamon roll characters. A slice of French toast with a pat of butter, syrup, and skinny little legs is a favorite, although no two creatures are exactly the same, she explained.
Food art is very popular, she said, and she was invited to display and sell her food-themed art at a Philadelphia gallery. Another invitation came from the same gallery requesting her advertising creatures, such as her take on the famous Keebler elf. Most of her work is small, just a few inches tall, but others, such as a triple-dip ice-cream cone, measure about a foot tall.
“Making these creatures during a quiet evening is my little escape,” Ruehle explained. She also works full time as an optometric biller and is the mother of two small children. Her daughters, Marley, age 4, and Lennon, at 21 months are her biggest fans. “Every creature gets much love from my girls before they are shipped,” she said, commenting on the durability of the spun cotton.
“It’s a creative outlet, offers peace, and is stress relief,” she added.
Each character takes at least four to five hours of sculpting time to create the appropriate cotton shape, then the piece must dry completely before being painted. Ruehle has developed a signature style in her work, with color and design, and she enjoys blending colors on her creatures. Most of her creatures have large round glass eyes that Ruehle creates herself.
Ruehle sometimes incorporates other mediums into her work. A most unusual piece involves the use of a vintage book with either a whimsical anthropomorphic bookworm or a mushroom popping out from the cover. This piece is then decorated with faux grass, moss, and dirt.
Ruehle feels that many artists, like herself, are “in a rut” this year due to the pandemic situation. The lack of craft shows and other places to showcase and sell their work can lead to depression. The internet at least provides some exposure in this situation, she said, although online sales have been down somewhat, also.
You can find Ruehle’s work on her website at leeloustudio.com and on Facebook and Instagram.