a plastic tree grows in Armonk

Last September, at the Armonk Outdoor Art Show in Armonk, NY, a community art project was started. The organizers of the show wanted a Hands On Art project for the attendees, I wanted to conduct a community art project that used repurposed materials and both wanted to emphasize the need to reduce the use of single use plastic. The stars aligned!

I chose the symbol of the Armonk Outdoor Art Show as our image and a local framing shop prepared our plastic canvas.

I sketched the tree outline on the canvas; cut out leaves from green plastic bags and squares and rectangles from orange, red and yellow plastic bags.

For the two days of the show visitors happily participated by gluing and stitching pieces of plastic on to our canvas.

I took the canvas back to my studio at the end of the show and added more plastic leaves and background pieces.

Several stitching sessions were arranged at the local library where the show attendees and volunteers were invited to come and stitch the details on the tree.

I returned the canvas to my studio again for the finishing touches.

And finally this weekend, in conjunction with Earth Day, the Armonk tree was revealed! It will be installed in the lobby of the North Castle Public library for all to enjoy. This is the library whose programs are funded by the Armonk Outdoor Art Show.

Please enjoy the photos of the progression of the tree:

The tree is being worked on by the show attendees.

The tree is being worked on by the show attendees.

Now it’s starting to take shape!

Now it’s starting to take shape!

More progress..

More progress..

At the end of day two.

At the end of day two.

One of the library stitching sessions.

One of the library stitching sessions.

A detail of the final product.

A detail of the final product.

Another detail.

Another detail.

A bit of the background detail.

A bit of the background detail.

Tah dah! The Armonk Tree!

Tah dah! The Armonk Tree!

a tree grows in Armonk

Wow! Sometimes that's the only word that can be uttered. My reason for the word in this case, is that I am amazed and grateful that so many people loved to participate in a hands on community art project!

I was delighted to organize a collaborative art piece created with reclaimed and repurposed materials at the Armonk Outdoor Art Show. Thank you to the Friends of the Library, who collected materials and provided the space, thank you to the volunteers to helped visitors to the Armonk Outdoor Art Show participate in the project AND thank you to those visitors who took the time to stitch on or glue on a piece of plastic and help our tree grow!

We're hoping to schedule a stitching day at the North Castle Public Library in Armonk in the near future, so that interested collaborators can come help me put finishing touches on this artwork.

Meanwhile please enjoy the photos from the project and stay tuned for further developments!
This is how our tree looked on Saturday morning at the beginning of its journey.
By Sunday morning it was well into its transformation!
And here it is by the end of the day Sunday! Wow!
The following are pictures taken by our talented photographer Ilene Africk, of all the hands which made the art!


documenting the process

Why? Why do I use the materials that I use for my art?

I have always thought the answer is obvious. But lately I have been giving it a lot of thought, talking about it with other artists, and I have discovered that it's maybe not so obvious... and I am not sure if I can always speak about it clearly.

The basic answer is that I like my materials. I like the way they behave, I like the way that they feel, I love what I am able to achieve with them. I also love that I am creating something beautiful out of trash. I love that I am keeping even a tiny amount of plastic out of the sieve that is the local recycling process. And maybe somewhere out in the ocean, one less little or large aquatic creature will have one less bag to strangle itself in...

I have decided to start documenting my process. And in writing about it, maybe I'll make clear to my collectors and even to myself what it is exactly that goes into loving my materials and why I feel it's important.

In the last few weeks I have spent quite a bit of time communing with these materials of mine. I need to prepare quite a bit of them for future artworks and that meant a lot of time with scissors in hand. The plastic supermarket shopping bag seems so pedestrian. Yet so graphic. I am cutting apart all the graphics, the lettering. Only to put in back together again in completely different ways. This, below, is my pile of large-ish letters.

I have also been sewing plastic netting to vintage linen. I am in the process of trimming away the excesses now to reveal the lines and I just could not throw away the trimmings. For now I am gathering them in a container, one day they will tell me what to do with them.

On my walk with the pup one day a couple of weeks ago, I spotted these plastic bags. Trapped in a tree and gently swaying in the breeze, there was something beautiful about them. Yes they are trash, yes they are polluting the area... and yet... 

Unfortunately I could not reach them to take them off. But they inspired me, as did that scene in American Beauty of the plastic bag dancing with the wind. 

And I love this quote from the script : "Ricky Fitts: It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing and there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes." 

So yes, I'm going to dance with some plastic bags....soon.

Back to the graphics of those plastic bags - I am also cutting out all the verbiage. It talks about how to recycle this bag, or where the store is located. I am interested in only the graphic nature of those lines. And I have amassed piles and piles of long and short, skinny and fat ribbons of plastic lettering. They will be my brush strokes...

And then there are pieces of plastic that have no graphic value to me. Or color value, or they are just in a awful shape and would not hold up to torture by stitching. Or I don't like the feel of them and don't want to use them in my art.

Those bags, and bits and pieces, and small hard plastic parts that get thrown in the trash and then quite likely wind up in the Pacific Garbage Patch; all those things, I am stuffing them into rinsed and thoroughly dried containers.

Those containers eventually become 3D buildings. Sculpture if you will, stitched sculpture. On their own they are very light, stuffed full of plastic they are still light, but have a bit of sturdiness to them. Enough to keep them upright and not blow away in the breeze.

I hate styrofoam. Yes hate is a strong word as I always tell my daughters. But I hate styrofoam and avoid purchasing anything in it. But sometimes it's inevitable. Especially if someone well meaning gives me something in styrofoam. I have discovered that if it's clean and dry, I can break it apart and stuff into my containers. That puts it to good use.

Most of the plastic bags come from my own household. I have been saving them for years, before I knew what it was that I wanted to do with them. Since I have started using them for my art, several friends have sent me their own collections. At the moment I have more than I can use for a long time. I now do grocery shopping with reusable bags and very rarely bring plastic bags into my home, and yet still have so many to make art from...

Since I have started filling the empty containers with rejected plastic and bits and pieces, I have become aware of how many of them there are! How many I have thrown into the trash, not even the recycling over the years... and I think of how many have found their way into the ocean. That thought saddens me.

Besides An Inconvenient Truth and the Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, see The Plastic Ocean and see what we're up against...

Here's how I used those strips of verbiage in a recent piece, Iron Spine 8, 12"x12".

trying to do good

I have been thinking a lot about what I can do as an environmentally and socially conscious artist and human. It is not enough for me to be using materials which, when not properly recycled, are destined to be trash that pollutes our waterways and makes its way to the Pacific Trash Vortex.

While I am still trying to figure out exactly what I could be doing, I can be helping already. And so can you. I am making a pledge to donate 25% from the proceeds of the sale of the artwork above to Riverkeeper, New York's clean water advocate.

It seems appropriate to me that the first artwork I will be selling to support clean water efforts is TZB Span. It depicts the old Tappan Zee bridge, which spans the Hudson River from Westchester county to Rockland county. It'll soon be gone as the new bridge is being built right next to it.

Let's help Riverkeeper keep the Hudson clean for us all. Every little bit helps. Thank you. Follow the links to see and purchase the art on my website or just click here! This piece is $650, so $162.50 will go to Riverkeeper. There is a $10 shipping fee. It's not much, but it's a start! Together we can make a difference!
TZB Span, 8"x8" © Natalya Aikens 2017


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the US. I have many people to be grateful for this year... but here I thank all the readers of this blog! Thank you for clicking, scrolling, reading and commenting! I appreciate that you take the time out of your busy day to stop by... I appreciate the thoughtful and kind comments and suggestions that you leave here!

Thank you!! and happy Thanksgiving to all!

in the mail

I shipped off my piece today for the SAQA Auction 2016. Hope it raises lots' of money for this organization that helps provide so many opportunities to artists.

My artwork is a further exploration of fire escapes that I just can't get enough of. I'm calling it Iron Spine 3. The back ground is comprised of re-purposed plastic bags, machine stitched in the skyscraper architectural theme. The fire escape is hand stitched from various ribbons and cotton embroidery floss.

Iron Spine 3 © Natalya Aikens 2016

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.

saturday snapshot

...or several... This spring I indulged in something slightly different from my usual oeuvre.

In our Russian scouting tradition we have a wonderful little quirk that everyone loves. During the second summer in the older kids camp, they receive their forest name. It could be anything from an animal to a force of nature. Everyone awaits in anticipation and speculates what name they will wind up with. It's a tradition to embroider the name on your neckerchief, or stitch a patch on. I indulged my daughter and her friends and stitched a few names for them.
an arctic fox
a cherry blossom
a lyre bird
a waterfall
a white rose

The hole you see in each one is made with a hot stick from the campfire. It's burned into the neckerchief as they get their name. And looks like I'll have a few more to embroider in the near future...

100 ready for action!

My artwork for the FFAC The 100 Fundraiser to benefit the American Cancer Society is ready for sharing!

But first a few how and why's from Virginia Spiegel:

1 Day - 100 Artists - 100 Patrons - $10,000
Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Opens 10 a.m. Central

How The Fundraiser Works
1. On February 4, the first 100 people to contact me (Virginia(at)VirginiaSpiegel.com) beginning at 10 a.m. Central will be given a link to donate $100 by credit card directly to the American Cancer Society through Fiberart For A Cause.
To be fair to all, no e-mails time dated before 10 a.m. Central will be opened. I am not responsible for the vagaries of the e-mail system.
Please note your donation to the ACS will be credited through the Forest Lake Area Relay For Life. Why?
2. Each donor will receive an artwork from one of the 100 generous and talented artists. Assignments of artwork will be made using a random number generator by someone other than me. Artwork will not be shared here in advance, but may appear on artists' websites or other social media before the event. See our Pinterest board for previews of many artworks. Thanks to Deborah Boschert for maintaining the board.
3. The artwork may be any size as long as the minimum retail value is $100. Artwork smaller than 8x10" will be mounted to 8x10" or 9x9." The artwork will contain fiber and may or may not be stitched. The artwork may or may not be made specifically for this event.

3. Each artist will receive her/his patron's e-mail address to arrange shipping. Artwork will be shipped directly from the artist. Please note this is an international roster of artists. Please thank the artist for not only donating the artwork, but also shipping it to you.
4. Each artist would love to receive a low res photo of the artwork in situ from the new owner. This is not required, but the best photos may be shared here after the event.
Questions? Contact me at Virginia(at)VirginiaSpiegel.com
or here is a series of Q&A about the event.
If you would like to be sure your Request to Donate does not go in my spam folder on February 4, send a trial message today.
Special Note: Our goal of $10,000 will make Fiberart For A Cause's donations to the American Cancer Society a nice even one-quarter of a million dollars and FFAC will be happily retired.

Thank you in advance for your support!
Spread the word about "The 100"

And now for the artwork that I will be donating:

Fire Escape Abstraction © Natalya Aikens 2015
Image manipulated in Photoshop, printed on geesoed dryer sheets, layered with repurposed florist wrap and lightly hand-stitched. Measures 8"x10". Adhered to Ampersand hardboard, edges painted with acrylic paint.
Please help support this worthy cause! Thank you!

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....

100 beginnings

This is a beginning of a new artwork. It begins with a plain photo of a plain NYC fire escape.
This is step one. It consists of playing with the color to make the fire escape not so plain.
This is step two. Play with several filters is what happened here. Less plain.
Stay tuned for further not so plain transformations....

And a PS, a very important PS: THIS ARTWORK IS FOR THE 100 FFAC FUNDRAISER ON FEBRUARY 4th, 2015. Click the link for all the important details! I am very honored to be one of the 100 participating artists. Thank you.

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!


My experimentation with plastic continues, and here's the latest incarnation. I called it Cityscape and it is destined for the SAQA Online Auction this autumn. I'll fill you in on the auction details when they are available, but meanwhile take a look...
for a change I am combining fabric with thread painted plastic
sketchy thread painting
Cityscape ©2014 Natalya Aikens
My photograph manipulated in Photoshop; printed on cotton voile; layered on raw silk; thread-painted onto recycled plastic drop cloth with various rayon threads; and layered again. Measures 12"x12" and  will be available for a good cause this autumn... Thanks!

playing for a good cause

I had a bit of time this week to make some fun art. Fun because I haven't made something this small in a while and because it was in a completely different vein than any of my current work. But it had a good cause behind it too! I found out about it through Kristin and could not keep away. My daughters helped me choose my subject and here's how I went about it...

First a bit of research on the Northern Fur Seal in words and in pictures. And then I thought I'd make my art out the very plastic bags that are harming the species. I downloaded a few pix and played with them in Photoshop until I found a pleasing shape. I printed it out and used the old fashioned pencil and tracing paper make a few shapes.
a bit of tracing
Then I gathered plastic bags in various browns and blacks and grays as those are the colors of the seal fur and cut out a ton of little seals.
plastic seal shapes laying about
I decided to use Styrofoam-like packing material as my batting. And started gluing down the plastic pieces in somewhat random fashion.
grays and blacks were the first layer
browns on top
Then I quilted the heck out of it outlining a few shapes to identify the seals. A bit of brown acrylic paint for texture and here it is, hard to photograph without reflections.. Itty bitty measuring at 7"x7" only. Twas fun!
Northern Fur Seal ©Natalya Aikens 2014


Just wanted to let everyone now that Monday afternoon at 2PM begins the annual SAQA auction. Tons of wonderful small art will be available to purchase for the next three weeks. My contribution will be available during the International Quilt Festival in Houston, October 31st to November 1st. Here is a very thorough explanation of how the auction works and in my case you'll even be able to bid in person.

My piece is called Emerald City and composed completely from recyclables.
translucent plastics
rayon and metallic threads
lots of straight lines
Emerald City © Natalya Aikens 2013
And while you have a moment, please check out the 8 That Create blog to read about my recent trip to see some monumental recycled art.

happy earth day!

In celebration of Earth Day today, I thought I'd post a new little piece I just completed yesterday. Appropriately for Earth Day I took the health of our planet into consideration and did a bit of recycling. This piece is constructed from recycled grocery store and newspaper plastic bags with machine stitching in rayon thread and hand stitching in silk thread.
Escape 6"x6"   Natalya Aikens©2013
Escape detail

Here are some interesting sights that talk about recycling and health of our planet:
some interesting numbers
some scary numbers
plastic facts
how to recycle plastic bags

How do you recycle in your home?

sadko part 3, the details

In this post I thought I would share a few close up details of the costumes, sort of eye candy if you will...

feathers rock! whether they are fake or real
chain-mail must glitter
the right lighting can make everything romantic
sumptuous fabrics make everything better
duct tape and hot glue rule!
the right color combination can make any swirl Russian
sometimes it's worth a trip to get the right fabric (Forest Hills = Little India)
This concludes my costume overview. Hope you enjoyed it!
And again I must thank my dedicated all volunteer team of mothers who are always willing to share their skills or learn new ones just so that all the kids can look awesome!

breast pockets

My friend Melly Testa had put out the call and tons of people answered. She is seeking  a physical representation of the women that we know, who made the decision not to reconstruct their bodies after breast cancer by way of making breast pockets. Melly was the only person I knew until it occurred to me ask about my maternal grandmother who fought breast cancer in the 60's in the USSR. And now I just learned another family history detail.

These pockets with Pushkin's poems are for my grandmother Elizaveta

These pockets with wrought iron lace details are for Melly and her iron will
The pockets are constructed of rust dyed and painted muslin, thermofax screened with Lumiere paints.

good causes

I have been a little remiss in reminding everyone that the SAQA Online Benefit Auction is already in full swing. Sorry. But I have an excuse: my piece will be on the auction block next week, September 24th at 2P.
Studio Art Quilt Associates, Inc. (SAQA) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote the art quilt through education, exhibitions, professional development, documentation, and publications. The funds raised through the Auction are critical to supporting SAQA's exhibitions, catalogs and outreach programs. So please join in supporting this important organization. Thank you!
Vladimir Cathedral available at the SAQA Auction on Sept. 24th
While we're on the subject of good causes, here is another one: St. George Pathfinders of America is close to my heart. It is a Russian scouting organization in the US that does a tremendous amount of good deeds for children of Russian heritage here. I have belonged to it since childhood and now my daughters are enjoying its benefits too. Their Annual Autumn Ball is on October 5th and I have donated my artwork for the Silent Auction. So if you are there in your ball gown or tux, please give them your support! Thanks! Спасибо!
okoshechko/little window 38 at the silent auction on Oct. 5th