Iron Spine Aloft

Iron Spine Aloft billowing on the front lawn of the Rye Arts Center
A few blog posts back, I spoke about seeing plastic trash flapping in the trees along the roads in my travels. I have reinterpreted that imagery by creating a public art installation, made from plastic, that is gracing the front lawn of the Rye Arts Center, strung between two trees. Iron Spine Aloft can be seen as you drive by the arts center until the end of April. Feel free to stop in and enjoy it up close. Make time to go inside and see Fiber Now: Textile Artists on the Cutting Edge, in which five of my pieces are presented alongside the works of eleven other talented fiber artists. Do email me, if you're in the neighborhood. Perhaps I'll be able to meet you there and we can talk art, stitching, texture, recycling and the circle of life. You can also join me for two BYOB workshops that I'll be teaching on March 21st and 28th.

I am hoping to continue creating large-scale public art installations created from repurposed plastic. I am working on a series of proposals to further this endeavor. Raising public awareness about the excess of single use plastic in our society and the problems of litter in our environment are at the forefront of my art practice. If you know of an institution to which you think I can submit such a proposal, please let me know. I welcome your input.

I have posted a few videos of the installation on Instagram and Facebook for your viewing pleasure. I'll be posting more in the near future, as well as a more substantial video detailing the creation of Iron Spine Aloft from start to finish, which I will post on my YouTube channel when completed.

Iron Spine Aloft detail

Iron Spine Aloft detail

something different

My friend Jane always challenges me. She's very good at it. Come to think of it... I think she might be responsible for planting the seed for all my 3D artworks.

And here's the latest one. Jane provided the wood block, as she's good with power tools also. And I covered the wood block with my art. I repurposed some older work that no longer felt right, used up some scraps from other pieces, added a ton of hand stitches. I'm pretty proud of what came to be. It's kind of raw and different and mine at the same time.

Urban Tower (three views) Natalya Aikens © 2016

Urban Tower Natalya Aikens © 2016 

By the way, you can see Urban Tower at the Nest Arts Factory until November 15th.

the little hump backed horse

Hello! long time.... Happy New Year!

As you might imagine life has been busy. The projects in the pictures below have consumed my life for the past two months. It was fun, challenging and hard work. And now it's done. Here's proof (in order of appearance on stage):
Ivan and the magical horses
Magical horses again
Ivan and the Little Humpbacked Horse find the Firebirds feather
the bazaar scene
The Tzar arrives
the Tzar and his Attendant
the Firebirds dance
and dance some more
I love this blurry image of the Firebird being captured
The Tzarina Maiden
the Moon and the Sun
the Fishes
Fish begging forgiveness from the King Whale 
more Fishes
The Tzarina Maiden with her Prince Ivan magically transformed 
my favorite colorful players
how adorable are they?
and for good measure the Moon and the Sun again...
That was a lot of pictures I know, hope you enjoyed them, I could have posted many many more! Here's the English version of the story if you would like to read it.
Now off to clean up my studio and make some art!

Oh and I must confess... I stole all these pictures from my friend Ekaterina who painted the fish heads and horse heads for me. I have an excuse! I was back stage helping with costume changes! And she did give me permission. Really.

craven lane

My latest home portrait is ready to be shared! I shared it on Monday with my newsletter subscribers and as promised sharing more close ups on the blog today.

As you all know, I love the new challenges that come with each home portrait. The challenge with this one? Card stock was an adventure to stitch through! And this portrait was comprised mostly of wedding cards... I was delighted to stitch through the lace from the wedding dress and enjoyed figuring out the stitch shorthand for the stucco texture of the house.

Here are a few detail shots followed by the full image...
the diamond windowpanes
frosting like edge by the window
stucco stitching
roof shingles and the maid of honors words
wedding day blessings sky
top of the front door
Craven Lane © Natalya Aikens 2015
Hope you have enjoyed following along! Whose home will be the next portrait? Hmmmm....we'll see....
And now back to costumes!

a wedding present

I am starting work on a new home portrait this week. The best part of each and every home portrait to me is just how different each one is from the previous one. Not only are the homes different, the materials different, but even the reasons for the portrait are different. This one happens to be a wedding present. Newly married, newly home owners, embarking on a wonderful new life together... What could be better!

Here is the ephemera that I have been given to work with:
I printed out the scale version of the newlywed's castle
made a sketch. And I'm loving diamond grid window....
the pineapple wrapping paper references the diamond window grid nicely
I have some beautiful cards to work with also
and perhaps even the lace from the wedding gown...hhhmmmm....
Lot's of options. Now how to put them into a cohesive whole? Hopefully I'll have that figured out by the end of the week. Stay tuned!

spruce street

A new beginning. For a new home portrait. I am honored to be working on this new commission which will attempt to preserve a memory of a childhood home...
as usual I am in love with the ephemera put into my possession
brocade and burlap make me happy
a page from a book and old photos
hand dyed linens? what a treat!
lovely daisies and sturdy upholstery fabric
and birch bark!! yes birch bark! I'm so excited to stitch it!
shall I use the image with the flagpole just like the old photo?
or the one with the lamp post?
what about the glorious red maple?
or the lovely rock wall in the garden?
I have many many decisions ahead of me. Right now I'm fondling the fabrics, petting the birch bark and staring at photos. Something will start jumping out at me soon. Stay tuned!

The Tale of Tzar Saltan,

...of His Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatyr Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Princess-Swan.

How's that for a mouthful? That's the full title of Alexander Pushkin's poem that our Russian school put on for our Christmas play this year. Yes Christmas. Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on January 7th, and with all the holiday festivities and the coordination of other Russian schools plays, we got the last possible time slot... But that's ok! Gave us all more time to procrastinate (ahem) and put on a great show!

I am once again honored to work with such dedicated parents, super creative individuals, and professionals who all volunteer their precious time and donate resources, so that our children can learn about their heritage in such a hands on way!

Here are a few pictures...yes only 15... Too many for a blog post? Perhaps. I couldn't take any as I was backstage, so these are all taken by the artist who painted many of the backdrops and stage props. She shared 445 pictures with me (which means she edited out at least 100!) I managed to get down to 15 to share with you, my readers... edited down to show the costumes as best as possible.. enjoy!!!
three sisters singing by the window
The Tsar chose his Tsaritza
the wedding dancing entertainment
more wedding dancers
evil sister plotting
mother in law plotting
the three comic relief characters plotting
the people reading the order
the best shot we could get of the very fast moving bee!
black hawk fighting with the white swan
swan wings in action
swan princess revealed to the prince
the magical squirrel
the bogatyr of the sea and his army
people taking a bow after all is well again...

Phew... and now I'm off to clean my studio....

kings and queens...

Yup. It's that time again. Time to design and make costumes for the annual Russian school play in January. I took the last year off, but this year I'm back for another round...

This years story is The Tale of Tzar Saltan, of His Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatyr Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Princess-Swan. What do you say that we'll call it Tzar Saltan for short? If you click on that link you'll read the wikipedia entry about the poem by Alexander Pushkin. The whole poem is here, translated to English of course. And the famed composer Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov wrote the opera for the tale, here's the most famous bit of music from it. Of course if you'd like to see the cartoon version, that's here....

As one can see the tale is pretty famous, been done very famous people. We, the Russian school volunteers humbly accept the challenge....

Here are the sketches that I drew of the costumes. They are really more of an idea, an inspiration for the kids to see while they are rehearsing. The actual costumes will depend greatly on the fabrics and clothing available to us and may not closely resemble the sketches. But I'll try...
The Swan Princess and Prince Gvidon
The kite bird and Chernomor the leader of the sea bogatyrs
The three trouble makers

Prince Gvidon as a bumblebee and the magical squirrel
Tzar Saltan and his Queen
Wish us luck! The sewing marathon is about to begin!


Playing in Photoshop is something I enjoy doing. So when the opportunity comes up and it's a commission too, how could I resist?

The client liked the dryer sheet prints in my Etsy store, but wanted something a bit different. You want images from two of of the most photogenic cities in the world? That I have a special connection to? And you want me to play with Photoshop and dryer sheets? Where do I sign up?

I thought I'd share a few of the images that I have been playing with. These are Photoshopped creations from my own photographs. This is the mid stage of the project as they will now be printed on the dryer sheets and will look very different in the end.

a detail of St. Basil's in Moscow
one of the towers of the Kremlin
detail of the Choir Singers bridge in St. Petersburg
The Mariinsky theater
A side entrance to the Hermitage
Hopefully next week I'll be able to share the final project. Now back to the studio!

the farm

I am starting on my newest home portrait commission this week. I think I am really being challenged here... The subject is a wonderful old (really old) farm house in Vermont.

Here are my ingredients:
the farm house
pictures of the farm house through the seasons
some lovely old linens which will be delightful to stitch on
some modern lace that depicts farm houses
remnants of a dream catcher, will be dealing with some dry rot here, must find a solution!
old buttons, fake leaves and flowers
wall paper remnants and seasonal napkins
And then which image should I choose? I am enamored of them all!

the side view with the barn buildings visible?
the other side view with the witches window?
and that fabulous texture of the barn!
Where o where do I begin??? Stay tuned!

friday in the studio

Yesterday I did a bit of organizing in the old studio, and if you follow my artist page on Facebook, you might have seen this shocking post: Somehow I have seven (7!!!) artworks in different stages of completion... usually it's not more than 2 or 3. Guess I'd better get to work!

OK, so the "shocking" part is tongue firmly planted in cheek. But I am a bit overwhelmed by the seven. The problem is that I like all of them enough to continue working on them. How do I prioritize??? Aaack!

Thought I'd share a few peeks here:
1. This piece called Electric Spring debuted at my solo exhibit, but I deemed it unfinished this summer and have been adding tiny stitches ever since...
2. This is Early Spring and and the story is the same as above... adding sparkly French knots...
3. I started this Cathedrals piece back in May, progressed a bit and stopped due to general life craziness.
4. This is the beginnings to the companion piece to the above. Ahem. Subject is chosen and materials are gathered. That's it.
5. This is the fourth in the City Love Affair series. Shockingly I last reported about it in December! I have done quite a bit and probably shared more photos on Instagram, but haven't worked on it since spring. Sad I know.
6. This is a companion piece to one I finished a few weeks ago, but was too busy to share, but I promise I will soon! Both pieces are the next reincarnation of this piece.
You might have noticed only six photos. That's because I'm saving the seventh for next week.... That's right - a cliffhanger!!

oh the treasures!

I received a few treasures in the mail recently. Technically they are not for me, they are for the new home portrait commission that I just started working on. I'm calling this one Buckingham Road. And here's what I have to work with:
wedding veil, sheet music and a passport page
a piece of vintage embroidery, sentimental tweed and twigs
a few bold brights
simple yet sophisticated upholstery fabrics
clear prints, textural weaves
I'm loving the angle shot of the house
the front is great with that white picket fence
oh and the rhodies! I might be forced to embroider those!
I am playing with my layout options and planning the hand stitching. Will share the developments soon!

mystique of plastique

Regular readers of this blog probably already got the hint that my current art material obsession is plastic. Yup. Your basic plastic bag from the super market, grocery store or the shopping mall. The idea came to me after reading lots of bad news about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (aka Pacific Trash Vortex) and the general bad recycling of said plastic bags. So I figured that since I can't trust the recycling company to get the plastic bags to the right place, I'll use them in my art and that way I know exactly what happened to them and hopefully instead of polluting our planet they will be beautifying someones wall.

I have been very happy experimenting with this new material. I have certainly saved oodles of money not buying new fabric! But I have always loved transparency and translucency... and with plastics, well there is much to play with!

So I am delighted to tell everyone that I will be teaching a workshop on how to translate your favorite image or photograph into a small plastic art quilt. Please join me in New Jersey for the Create Retreat this July!

And now a few photos to entice you:
raw  material
works perfect for my architecture series
works great for flowers too
peony close up anyone?
berries ala plastic art quilt?
Hope you'll help with my recycling effort!

unexpected abstraction

Quite unexpectedly I created an artwork of abstraction. I've done this once before (and realized that for some bizarre reason I never shared it here), but it was much more deliberate last time. This time it just kind of flowed out of me. They do say that art is therapy, so perhaps I work working on my inner demons... heh..

The challenge was to create a work of opposites for an exhibit with my fiber arts group. Wide ranging subject that can be interpreted in a myriad of ways and I can't wait to see what everyone else has done. I chose what I thought was the straight and narrow interpretation - black and white. I wanted to create an architecturally inspired grid and do it in black on one side and white on the other of this reversible piece. The grid got more and more complicated. And then I was compelled to fling some paint on it. OK, not fling, but use vigorous movements with my hands and a sponge. Thus the sides got reversed. Is it still black and white? Which side is black and which side is white? I don't really know.
black detail
black detail
Black. Natalya Aikens©2014
white detail
white detail
White.  Natalya Aikens©2014
Oh and in case anyone is wondering about my materials, it is all recycled plastic shopping bags and rayon thread. Black and white of course. Measuring 52" inches tall and 18" wide. See it in person at the Northern Star Quilt Guild special exhibits section on May 3rd and 4th in Katonah, NY.

radio silence?

That's what it feels like on this blog doesn't it? I know the wordless wednesdays are not enough to keep you interested. But really, I promise, there is art happening in my studio. Just that it gets overwhelmed and interrupted by family and other life obligations..
3D dottiness
Even though this year I took a sabbatical from the Russian school play, somehow I wound up stenciling letters and numbers onto capes for the Middle School play and sewing hooks onto tutus for the ballet school. How do these things happen to me??
I've been working on a myriad of art projects in the studio. There are two that I can share right now, both are not finished. If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen my Olympic French knotting? (tongue firmly in cheek) I have finished all the knots, the next stage is more felting, I think I'd like to felt some of those knots to get the effect that I am after. It's about experimenting here!
the not French knotted area
French knotted wall
The next piece is also all about experimenting. An opportunity came up to do a 3D piece for an exhibit and who am I to say no? I am very excited by a chance to try something new and the theme is right up my alley too: Architectural Elements! I wanted to see if I could combine nature (twigs and wood) with a feel of the city. I manipulated my photographs in Photoshop and printed them on silk organza. Then I hand stitched the glass in the windows with a few fine threads to give an illusion of shimmer.
sheer and shimmer
And now I find myself wrapping the twigs in thread and unraveling the organza.
I might be going slightly mad as I am also weaving spider like webs... Not sure where this will take me. Perhaps Arachne is guiding me? Stay tuned!
weaving webs


That's the status of my latest home portrait! Phew! This one asked for a LOT more hand stitching than I initially expected, thus the longer time frame. Well, that and life's interruptions too. But it is done and here for viewing and on it's way to it's owner very shortly. A few details to share first:
loved this handwritten quote
house arches
it takes a special person to live with a legs statue in the garden
it was a lovely diversion to stitch so many flowers
The owner of this home provided me with any wonderful fabrics and papers. In the end I am glad that I chose to use more fabrics than papers as it made the intense hand stitching much easier. She also provided me with a gazillion photos to choose from for the composition, winnowing them down was challenging. So many photos of the luscious gardens that I just had to include as many flowers as possible and thoroughly enjoyed stitching them.
Memphis 2013© Natalya Aikens
To see the evolution of this home portrait click on the Memphis tag below the post or click here. To see other home portraits in progress click here. To get your own home portrait visit my website for the details.

Thank you for coming along on this journey!

hand stitchin...

I am back to being fully immersed in hand stitching here. It's like I had to get that big piece and all the machine stitching out of my system in order for the hand stitching to start flowing freely... Silly huh? But that's how it goes sometimes.

So here are a few close ups of what I am working on now, the next of the home portraits.
main house front windows
main house front door
studio siding
As soon as I am done with the siding, I'll be moving on to the gardens. It's been a very long time since I've stitched any flowers, so I am really looking forward to that.

fast fashion

I heard about this research on NPR and then saw the video... it captivated me. As a former designer for the mass-market fashion industry I can relate - cheap clothing+fast turn around=big headache. Take a look for some interesting numbers and if nothing else then the fun doodles.

How does this relate to my art you ask? Well, more and more the materials for my art are becoming recyclables. Right now I am working on a piece that will be composed of 100% plastic shopping bags, except for the thread, as I haven't figured out how to use recycled thread yet. So this video really spoke to me, the fashion industry produces an incredible amount of waste... what can be done about it?

Perhaps someday the discarded clothing that used belong to me and my family will become material for my art. That'll just make the tiniest dent in the pile.....
PS here's where to go find out more about the people putting this together.

I changed my mind

Yup. As soon as I published my last blog post, I promptly changed my mind. Glanced again at my abandoned plan for a layout based on the planter picture, glanced at my multi-multi-multi-patterned layout and it just felt wrong. So I pulled out the photo with the planters again, pulled out my ephemera, this time concentrating on the less patterned items and thought things over.
I simplified
chose larger patterns
examined with the tracing paper overlay
refined some choices
chose a variegated thread to stitch with
and stitched.
it felt right this time
So glad I changed my mind. I got to use the hand dyed fabric that I loved so much, the wonderfully aged napkins and still used the doodle pattern papers too. Now I will do some extensive hand stitching to help define different areas, perhaps some oil sticks or paint will come into play.
choosing hand stitching thread
how to stitch while still letting the pattern show through?
Now I will take my time with one of my favorite processes, the meditative hand stitch...