fire escape love story

I love fire escapes. There. I've said it. Wait. I may have said it before. Well it's true. I do love them. Let me count the ways. I love their graphic lines, their rusty or sleek texture, their negative space, the layers upon layers of straight lines, the angles.
research...

research...
 I love interpreting them in stitch. Large, small and medium.
detail of Iron Spine 4 (snow dyed pine thread on plastic)

detail of Iron Spine: Hot in the City ( embroidery thread on plastic and thread snips)

Iron Spine xs2 (variegated thread on plastic)

details of Urban Towers (embroidery thread on plastic and fabric over repurposed containers)

detail of Green News ( thread over newspaper and plastic)
And extra large of course.
in progress Iron Spine 6XL

in progress Iron Spine 6XL

Quilt National visit redux

It's nearly a month since I have returned from a whirlwind trip to Athens, Ohio for the opening weekend of Quilt National 2017. What a fun weekend it was! My friend Gail was my copilot as we let Waze guide us along the roads of NJ, PA, MD, WV and OH. The routes were all very scenic, but we had no time to stop for pictures, we had a destination to get to!

I have to say that as much as it was a thrill to see my art hanging in this prestigious exhibit, it was even more of a thrill to commune with all the artists who were there!

There's nothing better than hanging out with fellow creative souls. Sharing ideas, techniques, trials and tribulations and just basking in each others company. I was delighted to meet all the artists that I could, and wished every single one could have attended!

Here's the gallery view with my piece, Iron Spine 5XL hanging between work by Paula Kovarik and Kit Vincent, and then followed by Amy Meissner and Kerri Green

Here's moi talking about my work.... apparently I talk with my hands....
The powers that be took videos of the two minute talks that each artist gave about their work and when those videos become available I will gladly share where they can be seen. I always find public speaking rather nerve-wracking, but I was told that I spoke well and made sense. What more could I ask for?

Upon my return home, there was a lovely surprise in the mail - SDA magazine wrote a bit about the exhibit and used my art to illustrate it! So cool!
I'm still reliving bits and pieces of conversations that took place. So much to consider and enjoy remembering!

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.

XL

I just scrolled back through my blog entries to see when was the last time I mentioned about this large piece that I have been working on.... February! Geez, how time flies... I thought that perhaps I have mentioned it since, not here, but I did on Instagram.

Perhaps I wrote about it so few times because the progress on it has not only been slow (hand-stitching!) and also in fits and starts. Weeks went by between bursts of activity as I pondered where to take it next. I layered imagery of my beloved fire escapes one at a time, slowly, in what turned out to be a slightly abstracted composition.

Late last night I took the last few stitches and declared it finished. Haven't taken any official pictures yet, I intend to do so next week, so meanwhile here is a whole slew of closeups! Presenting a peek at Iron Spine 5XL.










It measures 77"x 51". The base is an old linen sheet that has served my family so well that it's threadbare in spots. ( I have a few more of those rescued for future stitching.) It has layers upon layers of repurposed plastic bags stitched to it by hand, a few dryer sheets, and some vintage lace. I've used a variety of threads: rayon, linen, cotton and paper pine which was snow-dyed eons ago.

Believe it or not, I cannot wait to get started on the next threadbare sheet..... I think I know exactly what I want to do to it!

Hanging with Horace

I have the pleasure of exhibiting my art in a lovely historic house which used to belong to Horace Greeley, who was the former editor to the New York Tribune among his other accomplishments. This exhibit is part of a town wide endeavor by the Northern Westchester Artists Guild. It'll be up the entire month of June, so please do pay a visit if you're in the neighborhood.

I am considering myself very lucky to have this exhibit venue as my architecturally inspired pieces are a perfect fit. I have hung most of my City Love Affair series in the two story home. The City Love Affair is my affair with St. Petersburg, Russia, and the romantic architecture fits right in here.

Here a few pictures of my pieces spread out among the historical displays on the first floor:






Upstairs is a whole lovely blue gallery which is now filled with all the large pieces in this series. It is like having a little retrospective!





Hopefully I'll see some pictures from the opening reception soon, but meanwhile here's the artist in situ..

leap day

How can I resist making sure that there is a blog post here on leap day? I can't!

So a little overview of what's been brewing lately:
steadily stitching away on my extra large project
mending my favorite jeans boro style
embroidering a chinchilla for a friend
paint therapy happened (an old collage got thoroughly reworked many times) (just for the fun of it) 
I got the fieriest little doily in the mail from Amy Meissner
I rediscovered the lichen rock in my back yard... in the sunshine...
All these pictures are from my Instagram feed. Take a peek! Happy leap year!

something old, something new...

I've started a very large artwork. As a matter of fact - it barely fits on my design wall. But it feels right.
Several years ago I brought home from Russia all of my grandmothers' linens. And I do mean all! Doilies, embroideries, curtains, towels and lovingly mended bedsheets. This piece started on one of those bedsheets. Actually that's not true. The first part of it begun almost two years ago on a plastic drop cloth. I stitched a huge fire escape to hang in the window of my solo exhibit, you can see it in the background of the first photo in this blog post. After the show was done, I didn't know what to do with it. So I conducted an experiment and hung it out on the deck for a few months. It held up well. Then I put it away.
This month as I pondered about what to start on in the studio, I pulled out a mended striped bedsheet and hung in on the design wall. And then I remembered the fire escape! I pulled it out, trimmed away all the excess plastic and pinned it to the sheet. The sheet and the fire escape are speaking to each other. I have started stitching it down by hand with a snow dyed pine thread that I tamed a while back.
I'm not sure where this is all going, but in my mind it's all making sense. There might be a lot of mending involved in this eventually, there may or may not be doilies involved eventually... Stay tuned!

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!

magic monday

I haven't been in my studio since I finished Spruce Street. Life got in the way. But I haven't stopped thinking about what I want to do once I got to the studio.... Here are a few things that caught my eye during the thinking stage.
beautiful bouquet
sunset lighting up newly minted leaves
a fabulous chandelier
And today I did get into the studio. For just a little bit....
a start of something new.....
Now full steam ahead! There is much to be accomplished....

spruce street

And now for the reveal! Presenting Spruce Street home portrait... A portrait of a home and a memory. This house was a sweet childhood home... and now it's time to move on, while preserving the memory of a joy-filled home and a wonderful place to grow up.
I had great ephemera to work with, from hand dyed vintage linens, to upholstery fabric and birch bark! I agonized about how to include that birch bark without destroying it. I think I have succeeded. A book page with a tree was perfect for representing a magnolia and a multitude of trees surrounding the house. Vintage linen took to hand-stitching beautifully to become the azalea filled front yard. Plastic mesh made the most perfect grass and the final step was the suggestion of the red maple tree ready to bud. A maple tree with a wonderful long history that started with a young girl and a seedling...



A bit of a surprise from me was the inclusion of mom and dad in the portrait...
Spruce Street © Natalya Aikens
I am honored to have been a part of preserving such lovely memory. Thank you.

almost

I have one more major step to go before I finish the Spruce Street home portrait. And since I have not been very good with updates, I thought that I'd share a few close ups now before the final reveal.
so happy to have played with vintage hand dyed linen in the flower garden
tree printed in a book transforms into tree in portrait
I do so love birches!
some stitched rocks on the chimney
more azaleas from vintage hankie
I think I will be ready for the final reveal by the end of this week. If you'd like to be first to see it, sign up for my newsletter as that's where it will be seen first. Thanks for following the home portrait updates!

thinking.....

I've been preparing for my upcoming workshop at Hudson River Valley Art Workshops. And as I was going down my check list, I decided to take a peek at my page on their website. One of the images that is being used to promote the workshop is right below and is one of my favorite old pieces.
St. Pete Lace 1 © Natalya Aikens
It struck me though, that my ways of using Photoshop for my art has changed dramatically in last couple of years. And come to think of it so has my way of using vintage linens and recycled ephemera. So I took a little tour of my portfolio, and then my research and work in progress files, and pulled out a few things to share here.

Some of you might remember this piece below. It's my pride and joy, especially since it made it into QN'13. I used Photoshop to help create it. Doesn't look anything like the image above, does it?
The City © Natalya Aikens
Yet I used vintage linens, paper and dryer sheets, just like in St. Pete Lace 1. Of course I also added plastic and oil paint sticks to the materials list here. In my archives I found the Photoshopped image of the very beginnings of this piece.
photoshopped collage
I used this image as my guide for constructing the final piece. It'll be one of the things I'll be discussing in the workshop. Collage is such an integral part of what I do and Photoshop is my number one tool in the tool box.

Recently I participated as one the invited artists in The 100 fundraiser organized by Virginia Spiegel. The artwork I created for this event relied heavily on Photoshop too.
Fire Escape Abstraction © Natalya Aikens
No vintage linens here, but just paper and two dryer sheets. No machine stitching either. Yes on the hand stitching though! This one relied on Photoshop in a completely different way than The City. While Photoshop helped me create the guide for The City, in Fire Escape Abstraction, Photoshop helped me create color and line. Of course the printer was important here too. Below is how this piece started.
a plain old NYC fire escape
I am so looking forward to sharing how I use Photoshop in my art. There is just so much to it! And all of it is very intuitive despite looking scary sometimes. 
some vintage linens from my stash
I'm also looking forward to collaging the Photoshopped images with the fabrics, vintage or not, that the workshop participants will bring. Maybe even recycled ephemera too! The best part of teaching a workshop for me, is seeing what my students come up with. I love when they learn how to use a new tool to create their artwork. And how that new tool helps them create in new ways. 

And because this workshop is five full days, we'll get to spend time machine stitching and hand stitching! I've never before had an opportunity to have the time to delve in so deeply into a workshop like this. Can you tell I'm excited? ;)

To sign up for the workshop go here. To read my interview on the InnSane blog go here.

Come play with me!!

done farming

A bit delayed, but now finished! All the holidays have have taken away from my studio time... luckily this client wasn't in a rush.

Here I present The Farm home portrait! Ta da!
a bit of grass grows by the porch...
pine branches hang over the roof...
a photo of the barn graces the sky....
The Farm © Natalya Aikens
Now back to the costumes, and then starting on the next home portrait! Phew....

back on the farm

I have been dithering... Shall I do this? Shall I do that? Couldn't make up my mind for quite a while. I am talking about the progress on the latest home portrait commission that I have been working on. Which picture should I use? I printed out two versions and made tracings of both. I put ephemera out in different combinations and put it all away. And took it back out again.
playing with tracings of layouts
And then... it happened.
I decided on the witches window layout
I started in with the scissors, there was no stopping now
an actual collage at the top for the sky
seeing how it works with the tracing on top
That was it, I made a commitment and stitched my outlines in white silk thread.
a bit of the sky view
the front porch view
Now I have to decide how to hand stitch it... I think I'll let it rest over the weekend....
 
this is the picture I decided to use



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!

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.







asphalt

Feels like I've been stitching asphalt forever...but I'm done now!! I think it was about two years ago  that I declared this piece finished. And then it hung on the studio wall waiting for a sleeve until it began to taunt me. It screamed at me. It wasn't finished it said. Do something! So I did. I took apart the finished edges and decided it needed its asphalt stitched. With thick metallic thread. That took a while, but that was exactly what it needed. And then it said it wanted to be wrapped around stretched canvas. So I did that too. And now it's really finished.

Presenting City Love Affair 3.
First a few details...
vintage lace curtain dipped in light gray blue dye, layered over vintage linen
machine stitched with dark blue thread and hand stitched with yellow silk
bits of paper deliberately left behind
walking on wet asphalt towards the light at the end of a tunnel
And now for the whole...
City Love Affair 3 ©Natalya Aikens
Do you understand the need for asphalt stitching? Makes sense to me...