more costume extravaganza

There has been a request for close up photos of the costumes. Those are hard to come by... But here are some attempts and more photos anyway! If you click on the photos you can see them larger.
Spring and a few cold birds

Spring and birds dancing

Snow Maiden

Mardi Gras

the doomed love triangle

the poor fiddler is shy

the wise Tzar

a few ladies of the court

annual costume extravaganza

Yup it happened. The annual Russian school play. I didn't blog about the costume-making this year since it sort of happened on the fly and I didn't have time to take photos of the process. I also didn't make as many costumes this year as I usually do, my job was a bit more organizational.

None the less I wanted to share the costumes with you. No animal or fish heads this year, but still plenty of fanciful characters.

The play was Snegurochka/Snow Maiden. It's an old story that takes place in pre-christian Russia. It's been made into a movie, a cartoon, an opera and a ballet. Snegurochka is the daughter of Ded Moroz/Grandpa Frost and Vesna/Spring. She wants to live with the people and feel love. It all turns into an unfortunate love story with her melting in the end after she feels love....
Spring dancing with the swans

Grandpa Frost arrives with his snow minions

Snow Maiden with her father

Snow Maiden with her mother

Maslenitza or MardiGras 

Snow Maiden falls in love

The Tzar and his advisor

the village people

Spring dances with the flowers

slow art

Happy New Year! Wishing you all lots of love, peace and creativity this year!

I wanted to share the progress of my current XL artwork. I started it sometime in November, and if you follow me on Instagram and Facebook, you may have seen a few posts about it. It's truly slow art... it's quite large (for me) and is all hand-stitched so far. Thus the time factor. I am working on it in bits and pieces and sometime spurts of time. I take breaks to work on other art, some faster more immediately gratifying art. But I am really enjoying the pace of it.

This piece is a continuation of the experiment that I started last year with this piece. It's coming back soon from a photoshoot with Quilt National, and I cannot wait to see how it works with this new piece.

So here's how it's been coming along...
I cut out a very large paper stencil of a fire escape and traced in thread

audio books are great to listen to when I do this type of work, podcasts are great also

it started to look like this

the base is a very old linen bed sheet from my family, it might have even been used a drop cloth once as there are white paint splotches on it. I spent some quality time mending all the worn spots.

this is what it looked like when the stencil outline was done

then I started pinning bits and pieces of vintage lace to it


I intend to cut away some of the lace after it's stitched down

this is what it looked like at the beginning of the process. The idea behind all the lace layers is that I want it to resemble/represent a wall behind the fire escape

just lace didn't work, so the fabric scraps came out to play

this started looking better!

and better!

somehow it took on a spring like feeling... I don't think it'll stay...

this is when I got done layering my scraps and lace. Now I have to stitch it all down and cut away the excess so that the fire escape can be seen again

it's off the wall and on my dining room table, and I'm auditioning threads. Not only will they need to keep it all together for me, but they'll need to add color and texture
Stay tuned! I am trying to stick to working on it for at least an hour a day. I have lots of other projects that I have to be working on, but I don't want this to stagnate. Or keep taking up my dining room table....

city love affair again

This one took a while.... too many distractions.. too many new experiments... but I still loved it, so I finally finished it.

Presenting City Love Affair 4. My grandmothers vintage linen towel, a lot of vintage lace from oh so many sources, a TAP transfer, machine stitching and hand stitching. A portrait of a beautiful building belonging to a school I never went to, but might have if I had stayed in Russia.

sky and roof

not so little round window

lampwork

details details
City Love Affair 4 © Natalya Aikens 2016
So different from the rest of the work I am doing right now, but yet such a part of me still.

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
storytellers
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 
storytellers
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.

so much to do!

Autumn is such a busy season in so many ways. School activities are in full swing, holiday prep is in full swing. This year I had the opportunity to be in many exhibitions, so that means packing and printing labels and gallery sitting. I've been hard at work on my latest home portrait, it's almost done and I'll be sharing it in my newsletter very soon.

And now another annual tradition has crept up on me... Costumes for my daughters annual Russian School Christmas play! So among the finishing stitches on the home portrait, I have been sketching costumes, making lists of children and dreaming of how to bring my ideas to life. And I do mean dreaming. I been having costume construction dreams quite literally.... now I have to start stitching in real life though.

This years play is "The Little Hump Backed Horse". I gleefully ran to my kids home library and dug up the book from my childhood, I have always loved the illustrations in it. We watched the cartoon version just get up to speed! We have yet to watch the ballet, but that I'd want to see in real life...

So I thought I'd share a few of my sketches here. They are of the more fantastical costumes that will be a challenge to construct...
the Little Humpbacked Horse and the three beautiful horses

the Moon and the Sun and the Firebird

the Fishes

the Tzar and the Tzar Princess
I'll be back with in-progress pictures of this motley crew in a week or so... You can also follow my progress on Instagram.

afterglow

If you are a subscriber to my newsletter, then you have already seen my latest artwork. I am delighted to share it here now.

In my previous blog post I shared the progress of this piece. Now I will share the details of the finished artwork. I thread-sketched the lower portion with the buildings and the street, and hand-stitched the sky. I was inspired by own photograph of a street scene in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was just after sunset and the sky was still glowing orange, threatening clouds just started floating across the sky, the street lights went on....and everything glowed.
irregular hand stitches in the clouds
thread snippets in the lights
city meets sky
pavement
Afterglow © Natalya Aikens 2015
Most textile art is hard to photograph and this piece presented an extra challenge due to the shiny plastic and the sheer chiffon. So really, you'll just have to come see it in person!

Afterglow will be a part of a group exhibit with my circle of art friends (Kristin LaFlamme, Vivien Zepf, Deborah Boschert and Robin Ferrier) at the Etui Fiber Arts Gallery in Larchmont, NY from June 2nd to June 30th. Hope you will be able to join us for an artist reception on Sunday, June 14th from 2 to 4PM.

in progress...

I have been hard at work in my studio. In June my art will be a part of a five person exhibit, I'll have more info to share soon. Meanwhile here are a few pictures to show my progress on the piece for that exhibit. The inspiration for this piece is nighttime in St. Petersburg, Russia....looks like I am heading back to my heritage for inspiration once again!
My base is a square piece of vintage linen, perhaps a small tablecloth in it's former life
I layered brightly colored plastic bags on and basted with small stitches in yellow thread
This is what it looked like after I finished basting
Then I thread-sketched buildings on clear plastic. I was trying to be really sketchy!
Here they are on top of the bright plastic, I did use a bit of gray for the pavement
A close up
Then I started layering navy lace scraps over the plastic. These will suggest night time clouds
Here's my night sky in progress, some navy silk chiffon was involved
Now I'll be basting the lace pieces and adding some hand stitching
My goal is to have this piece ready to share in it's full glory in my May newsletter which will be out mid month. Stay tuned!

framed

I totally adore the ladies in my local fiber arts group. I don't get to see them regularly due my kids schedules, so I really cherish the meetings that I do get to attend, and the exhibits that we put on together.

And we do have a wonderful new exhibit coming up in May at the Mahopac Public Library in Mahopac NY. We have been exhibiting in their lovely third floor gallery for so many years now that it feels like home. Please join us for the opening reception of "We've Been Framed" on May 10th from 2 to 4PM. Everyone had to create an artwork that would fit into a frame. All frames where painted the same navy color to unify all the artwork. I had a preview at a meeting recently and it is a wonderful variety of styles, techniques and imagery!

Here's my work for this exhibit. I inadvertently seem to have gone back to St. Pete Lace series and created this piece using thermofax screens on color catcher sheets and thread painting. The screen printed imagery is from my photographs of many many wrought iron railings of St. Petersburg, Russia and the eloquent words of Alexander Pushkin. And the thread painted man is an Atlant who holds up the entrance to the Hermitage.
head...
legs...
torso...
Atlant Spb 3 © Natalya Aikens 2015
Hope to see many local friends at the exhibit! 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....

playing dress up

Things have been crazy around these parts...No time to blog, just sewing sewing, sewing... and some gluing, cutting and painting too. The final push before Sunday's performance.

Here are a few Instagram shots that I have shared over the last several weeks as I have been working on the costumes for our Russian School play "Tsar Saltan". You can read about the design stage here.






I'll share photos of everything in full glory next week and then it's back to artwork! Wish me luck!

holding up

That's what this guy does. He is an Atlant and together with the others Atlantes he holds up the entrance to the New Hermitage.

I admired his physique and took a picture. Yes I did. He's made of granite, very strong. I chose to manipulate him in Photoshop and print him on a dryer sheet. Then he needed a few stitches in silk thread....
holding up my mantle


Atlant Spb © 2014 Natalya Aikens
And now he's in my Etsy shop ready to hold up your mantle.... ;)

cathedral in the sky

That's not what this cathedral is called, but that how I came to think of it as I worked on its portrait. I took the photo that I used as my guide against the bluest brightest of skies. You'd think that would make for a great picture. It does. Because not only is the sky blue, but the cathedral is blue too. With white trim and golden domes...

The cathedral that I'm referring to is St. Nicholas Cathedral in St. Petersburg Russia. Otherwise known as the Nikolsky Cathedral in Russian and also as the Sailor's Cathedral as it was the official cathedral of the naval regiments of the Russian navy who were stationed near. It also has a personal significance to me, my dad was baptized there. He was born in 1941 during the blockade of Leningrad and this cathedral was one of the few that functioned during that time.

Starting with some details, here's my portrait of Nikolsky Cathedral:
one golden dome
a golden edge
an entrance detail
another golden dome
Nikolsky Cathedral © Natalya Aikens 2014
Did you read my birthday newsletter yet? If you haven't yet decided which of my pieces is your favorite, do add this one to the list. And tell me about it so I can enter you in the drawing for my gift to you on my birthday, December 17th! Thanks for playing!

little art

I have been waiting to post about a finished artwork or two. But it seems with all the seasonal craziness I cannot finish any artwork of a decent size even though I have a couple close to being done... So I figured I'll post about this little artwork (only 5"x5") which has a destination.
can you guess what material I'm using?
silk thread and wood
just a little bit of stitching

Choir Lace Spb © Natalya Aikens
This piece came about from my experiments earlier this year and further experiments preparing for this little video. The image that I worked with in it, is from my photograph of Choir Singers bridge and it's shadow in St. Petersburg, Russia. You might recognize the motif as I have used it in many earlier pieces. Oh and Spb stands for St. Petersburg.
I mentioned earlier in the post that this piece has a destination. Yes it does! And if you're a subscriber to my newsletter, you'll find out about that destination when you receive the newsletter later this week! I love a good tease.....

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!

photogenic

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 finish line

I can see it from here! I have been very slowly stitching away on this small portrait of the St. Nicholas Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia. Now it's a question of how much is too much and how much is not enough?

This started as a wool sweater that I pounded, ahem, felted into submission, to make it as flat as possible without loosing texture and pattern. I then strategically sprinkled thread clippings and tiny swatches for an indication of color and machine stitched the outline of the cathedral. All that went fairly quickly. The next part, the hand stitching part, is the slow part. I want the portrait to have a loose sketchy quality to it, almost like a quick watercolor sketch.

Here are a few close ups to show you where I am:





What do you think? Am I achieving the sketchy quality?

city love affair 4

This artwork is still in progress.... It took a spring and summer hiatus, because other artwork took precedence and truthfully I wasn't too happy with how it was coming along. Now it's back out on my design wall and I'm hoping soon it will tell me what type of stitches it wants.

Meanwhile I thought I'd share a few Instagram photos I had taken while stitching on it.







back to school!

Are you tired yet at looking at only Wordless Wednesdays here? I am! Summer is very busy around these parts with kid excursions, camps, travel and all other things that summer with children entails... But now it's back to the school routine, the after-school routine and back-to-the-studio routine. Woo hooo!!! As much as I enjoy planned and not, spur-of-a-moment and crazy activities of summer, I also love the dependability of routine.

So back to our regularly scheduled programming here, aside from WW. I have a few blog posts planned to share some delightful sights that I saw over the summer and I'll also fill you in on the goings on in my studio.

If you are ever in upstate NY, north of Albany, I highly recommend a visit to this little gem of a museum. Located on the grounds of the Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Monastery, (which makes you feel as though you are in the Russian countryside) it's actually geared toward the non-Russian speaking visitor. The museum contains wonderful artifacts of representing four centuries of books and art in Russia. I thought I'd share with you the few that really captured my attention.
a detail from the Book of Gospels circa 1575...handwritten....
Book of the Twelve Great Feasts from 1825, also handwritten...
Gold-work detail from a Regimental Standard 1875
more gold-work from the Standard
Gorgeous cover of a book titled The Tzar's Hunt 1896
detail of gold-work from an Epigonation from the late 20th century
exquisite gold-work on a Shroud from the late 19th century
Hope you enjoyed this little tour of Russian history..