I’m happiest when I’m making something, especially when I can share it with my family and friends. This was true when I taught myself needle felting with hand-carded wool, making my baby daughter a felted pumpkin costume to wear for Halloween. Years later I made felted rooster and cat costumes—and dog and donkey heads—when my husband, our girls, and I dressed as the Musicians of Bremen. More recently I used the magical material to craft a D’Aulaires-inspired Thor costume for my younger girl.
These endless hours spent spinning imagination into reality (well, if you’ve ever needle felted you know it’s more stabbing than spinning) helped when I needed to take a break from another project a few years ago. I had been trying to make dolls to illustrate a fairy tale book, adding paper clay and costumes to artist’s armatures, but they weren’t coming out right. After enough nights of uncertainty, I decided to shelve the fairy-tale book for the time being. I started fidgeting with my colored wool. Before I knew what I was doing I’d wrapped it around some pipe cleaners. Using other materials and scraps from around the studio for clothing, hats, faces, and hands, I quickly realized I was making dolls without even trying!
Throughout a handful of long nights, I listened as these new dolls told me their story. What’s that? You live in the forest, where you sing songs and tend a garden? I’ll help you find your musical instruments, your spades, and your wheelbarrows. Your fully furnished home is inside a tree stump? I’ll teach myself papier-mâché and build it for you from some old paper bags. There are three more people in your family, as well as a neighbor mouse who stops by from time to time? I’ll stay up until dawn until they’re made.
And then one morning, it had all come together—the family, their woodland home, all their guitars and baskets and tiny plates of food. The crafting of this cheerful bunch and their world had been practically effortless. I set up different scenes and took photographs, calling the little family “the Stumpers” after their hollow tree home. Their jolly world had all the makings for a book about what it means to celebrate life and be joyous in one’s element. And because I’d made books before, soon enough I’d done that, too.
Practice and patience pay off, as does being true to who you are. All those hours spent needle felting costumes for my kids gave me the skill and confidence I needed to create this new cozy little family. And my career as a book publisher made it simple to bring them to life and share their story with others.
It would be easy to want to shrink down and step into the happy world of The Stumpers. But what’s lovely about being an artist is that we don’t get smaller. We expand. Those solitary late nights in the studio gave birth to something bigger than myself. My heart was singing just like the musical family living in their tree stump home. Our imaginations are huge, and when we nurture our skills through art, we build a space for our imaginations to live outside of us. The Stumpers is a story to read, to share, to enjoy, and to inspire. But to me it will also always be a reminder of the power of creation we all possess.
The Stumpers launches this weekend and to celebrate join author and Castle in the Air owner, Karima Cammell at The Stumpers Book Launch for a lively event with free admission and a special gift with every book purchase! Thursday, November 20th 5:30PM at Castle in the Air, 1805 4th St, Berkeley, CA 94710. Call (510) 204-9801 for more information.
Meet Karima Cammell
Karima Cammell is an author, painter, and book publisher. In 2001, Karima opened Castle in the Air, a celebrated shop, studio, classroom, and gallery which recognizes the internal life of the artist and all those who dare to live their dreams. Her books have won several awards including two Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards and a silver medal from the Independent Publisher Book Awards. In 2013, Karima was an honoree at the Berkeley Public Library Foundation’s annual authors dinner. She lives with her husband and two daughters in her native Berkeley, California.