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Natalie Featherston: Crafty B*tch

September 6, 2019 - Kelly Carper

Natalie Featherston “breathes life and whimsy into narrative” with her trompe l'oeil painting style and unique collage subject matter. For her solo exhibition, “Crafty B*tch,” Featherston creates imagined worlds where skeletons marry, rabbits play cards, cowgirls ride pigs and bigfoot exists. Each piece is painted from a model of crumpled paper and found objects that was meticulously crafted by the artist, mocked up in a sketch and finally translated in oil with startling accuracy. We asked the artist a few questions about her unique process and latest work for “Crafty B*tch,” which opens Friday, September 13th with an Artist Reception from 5-7pm. View the Q&A below:

First, can you briefly describe the process you go through to create your unique collage-style trompe l'oeil paintings?

Everything is sparked by inspiration - that can be a found item, like chunky turquoise beads, or a line from a poem. I like to make little notes or rough sketches of ideas for paintings on Post Its; one of the walls in my studio is covered with them. Once an idea gels, I start looking for imagery such as vintage photos or 18thcentury landscape paintings to use as the base for the collage. Next, I’ll source interesting things to add visual texture like cotton balls for clouds, beads, candy, seashells or sticks I find on walks with my dog. I revisit a collage model many times to try new things or switch them out; it usually takes several weeks until I’m entirely happy with the model. I paint from life, so once the model is finished and glued together I hang it on the wall and get to work making a drawing, and transfer the drawing onto a panel in preparation for painting. 

How did you come to the collage theme and what do you like about it?

I’ve been inspired by a lot of digital collage work, including embroidered photographs. I had the epiphany that I could make up a collage of my own and take it a step further by painting it. It’s like the ultimate trompe l’oeil, because not only are you trying to make the painting look three dimensional, you’re also trying to capture all the different textures. It’s so creative and challenging to find a way to tell a story through all these little glued down bits, breathing life and whimsy into a narrative.

For "Crafty B*tch," you've introduced a cowgirl theme, included elements of embroidery, and are using mostly female figures and subjects within your collage-inspired paintings. Is there a connection / underlying message there?  

I didn’t notice this until you pointed it out! But, I do think there’s a connection between embroidery, which has always been seen as ‘women’s work,’ and using it to embellish the image of a woman’s strength. For example, “Gunslinger” features a vintage cowgirl holding a gun. I wanted the embroidery to reflect her power, so I stitched a pair of pistols into the flowers and scrollwork -- you don’t really expect to see firearms in that context. I think it’s both humorous and poignant.

And then of course there are a lot of really fun and whimsical works. Can you tell us the story behind "I Want to Believe"? What sparked your inspiration for that piece 

I saw a bumper sticker with simple black outlines of a bigfoot, a unicorn and a UFO with the tag line “I Want To Believe” and thought it was hilarious! I realized that would be an incredible piece to make, turning it into a whole scene in full color with all these crazy textures: tin foil, jelly beans, plastic gels, beads and faux fur. I ended up making four different models for the yeti alone - I posted images of all of them on Instagram and called it the Bigfoot Beauty Contest. This painting was one of those pieces I loved seeing on my easel every morning. I even created a gold metallic glitter frame for the painting, which I think is perfect for the piece.

What's your favorite thing about painting in trompe l'oeil? What do you hope the viewer takes away from it?

My favorite thing is that moment when a viewer is suspended between reality and deception - when they discover what they thought was real is painted. It pulls people in, gets them to stop and look and wonder. I hope that they love the deception, and also enjoy the storytelling. I love making pieces full of whimsy, joy and humor, and want to share those feelings with the viewer in a meaningful way.

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