Studio Visit With Lucy Aiken

This past weekend we visited artist Lucy Aiken, who recently received her BFA from VCU's Painting and Printmaking Department. She now works in her studio at home in Henrico County, VA.

MG- Have you been working in this studio since graduation?

LA- No, January 2014 I started working in the other room in the house because it was cleared out, and I had to move out of Merit Studio on the painting floor. I moved all of  my supplies into the room around the corner and I thought that was going to be where I was setting up. This room still had two couches and a bunch of furniture, so  I have only been working in this space since September; but I've been working in this house for a year now.

MG-Nice, could you walk us around your space?

LA-Of course! Right now the painting that I’m working on is a commissioned piece, and it’s currently in the under-painting stage. So paints are here, I try to keep them away from the fibers and fabric – I work in acrylic, so there are no fumes or anything. I keep all of my drawing utensils, tools and hardware in my top corner shelf; and then it moves down to paint and my extra fabric is beneath that. My quilting stashes of fibers are upstairs in a large bin, since there’s just so much of it. And then every artist has little things on the walls- I narrowed down what I had from VCU and only put up the more important things. This is a photo of my grandparents from 1974 so that’s becoming more important to the space. I keep my prints and drawing materials closer to my painting area, and I have a shelf of my art books and the drawers are filled with sewing notions. So this is the embroidery and sewing area. 

MG- Is it an unusual change going from a fine arts program to becoming involved in more commercial work?

LA- Yea, it’s pretty hard I didn't know how to start when I left VCU. I knew what resources I had and how amazing they were. Though I just felt overwhelmed by the amount of choices I had; and I still feel that way. I still question, whether I want to paint? Do I want to be a printmaker? Do I want to be a fabric designer? A quilter? I don’t know. I could do it all, but what would I accomplish. 

MG- What have you enjoyed doing the most so far since school?

LA- Getting back into embroidery, definitely.  With what I’m working on now I’m just kind of playing around but I really like the feel of the embroidery on canvas. The shapes are a weird mix between floral decoration and science fiction. I like the nastier parts of nature and to make them look beautiful, but not the cliché idea of beauty. 

MG- Can you speak a little more about your interest in incorporating scientific elements into your work? Is that something that is still a thread in your work?

LA- Yes it has stayed with me. Actually I have this book that I bought in 2009 and it really started everything for me. I got it for a Lithography class, and I was just amazed at these drawings of the parts of flowers. I don’t do it as much anymore, but when I was little I would go out and dig around and pull plants apart, and it was really the shapes in these drawings that started it for me, and I haven’t let it go. It’s gone into my paintings, my prints, and within my embroidery. I've appropriated some of the drawings, but I've had them in my head for so long eventually I didn't need to look at anything. I can just think back to a shape. But I have common threads, like the micro, macro, natural forms and what those mean as far as sexuality, intimacy, death and renewal. 

Do you think about them scientifically or are you more focused on the formal structure of the flower to start?

LA-,I've tried to think about them scientifically, like to categorize them or define them, but it just kind of hinders the work, so it really has just been based on form and color. 

MG- Do you think about them scientifically or are you more focused on the formal structure of the flower to start?

LA- I've tried to think about them scientifically, like to categorize them or define them, but it just kind of hinders the work, so it really has just been based on form and color. 

MG- Are you still showing any work from school or have you moved pass those pieces?

LA- I've been in two other shows since I graduated- one was with Washington Printmakers Gallery and the other was at the University of Richmond for a print show.  I feel like now that those shows are out of the way, I've used up all of the work that I made in school. Now, I’m really cracking into a new body of work that I will be able to apply to shows with in the summer and fall. 

MG- Being that you and your boyfriend share this space, do you guys ever clash while working the same space with one another? For instance, are there ever times where he’s practicing his music and you’re working on a painting and you feel distracted?

LA- If he comes in here to play and I’m reading somewhere else in the house then I will come in here and work as well. I like to play music while I’m working, but if he plays his live music, it’s all the more inspiring. We like being in here together; we probably spend about 8 hours a week in here with one another. He hasn't invited his band over yet, but I’m excited to see what that would be like. 

MG- Do you mix your colors based off of the one you see in the flowers you’re looking at, or is it more intuitive?

LA- Color is definitely intuitive. If I see something, I might try to copy it, but chances are ill paint over it; or I’ll add a neutral- I've really been into browns lately. I also like to keep a record of all the colors that I mix in case I need to mix it again. 

MG- Do you give yourself set times, like a schedule, for when you want to be in your studio?

LA- I should, but I don’t. I work at Mellow Mushroom in the kitchen and I do that about 30 hours a week. I'm also a part-time instructor at a quilting store in Mechanicsville. So I don't have much free time, and if I’m in here it’s usually mornings or nights for an hour at the most. Which is a shame, but now that I’m out due to my injury, and I’m going to be out for another week, I’m really excited to get some things done. Now I've put parameters around my work, and I’m trying to discipline myself more. 

MG- Yea, I think many artists have that problem with trying to balance a studio practice with working a full-time or part-time job.

LA– Oh yea, it’s back breaking work and I can’t even go in and do something else while I’m injured because I’m standing for 8 hours. But with working in my studio, I can’t lose it, I can’t fall off. Applying to the shows that I got into this year and being a part of them, going to the openings, and talking to the other artists is really motivating. Yes it’s motivating to go to other people’s openings but when you’re at your own and you’re forced to talk about your work, it’s like I have to keep this up. This is what I want to do. 

MG- I noticed the Ryan McGinness piece on your wall- 

LA- Yea! When I was in high school, all of my work was stencil shapes; and I would do a portrait and cut out each layer and spray paint the portrait onto glass. So Ryan McGinness’s work is really important to me, because I’m familiar with that way of working in those simple shapes.

MG- Do you ever consider mixing fiber and paint, or print, or do you prefer to keep them separate?

LA- Let me show you. So this is a fiber and print piece, although I’m ripping it apart right now. This was a piece from 2010 in one of my first Litho classes. And I took all these sewing notions- cut out lace and quilting pieces- and inked them separately and printed layers and layers and made these fabric pieces. For the critique I made it into a quilt, but I’m going back and ripping it all apart because I actually know how to quilt now and I want to do something more with it. 

MG- Do you enjoy having different things going on at once? I feel like you’re working on like 20 projects.

LA- Yea I am, I have to. With the time that I have, having many things going on is good for me. Like my grandmother’s yoyos will probably never go anywhere, but it’s sentimental to me and I like doing it. They might mean something in 20 more years, but it is informing the other work I’m doing right now. The florals and the fabrics that are on these yoyos are informing me about the florals and the patterns that I’m drawing in my sketchbook. So it all makes sense together, but I’m not expecting all of them to become finished shown pieces. 

Be sure to check out Lucy's work in our current show This Is What Is Not along with her artist website. Thanks Lucy!