In the Artist Spotlight series of blog posts, The Layered Onion highlights an artist in the community. We’ll get a chance to learn more about each artist and their work. In this post, we are featuring Natalia Tcherniak (she/her). Natalia Tcherniak is a cyanotype artist, alternative photographer, sketch artist, and has referred to herself as “cyanotypical.”
Natalia is a visual artist, theatre set designer, alternative photography printmaker, and occasional burlesque performer. She is also a licensed architect, working on mixed-use and healthcare projects across Canada.
Natalia did a Q&A with The Layered Onion, talking about her art:
What first drew you to art?
I grew up in a fairly artistic family, but because it was comprised mostly of architects, visual art has always been regarded as a “side” to architecture. Not until my last years of high school did I fully separate art into its own discipline, and not until my early 30s did I choose to pursue it as a second career.
How would you describe your artistic style?
Since I work in many disciplines, I don’t have a word to describe my style. A piece’s style is dictated by the media that I use – cyanotype is one, architecture is another, painting is a third, and that is different from what I do in my sketchbooks. It changes to adapt to the medium and the intent.
How do you decide where to start when you sit with a piece?
Almost all my creative process starts in a sketchbook. Whenever I have an idea, I write it down, draw it out, in whatever form it takes. As it starts to develop, it informs me of what shape it is going to take – whether it’s going to be a cyanotype print, a painting, a mixed media collage, or an installation. I look at the sketch and decide what the most important part is that I need to translate into “a final piece,” and I start there. For example, a long piece in the making was “Self-Section,” where I was investigating what my soul would look like if it was a wall construction assembly. I started by developing a language for it, and eventually, it became a cyanotype.
But often it just remains a sketch in a sketchbook, because it has already said everything it needs to say.
Are other parts of your life reflected in your creative work?
Inevitably a lot of my work is influenced by architecture, which is what I have been trained in. In a way, my artistic practice started as a form of rebellion against the architectural practice: something that is not bound by the same rules as my professional life.
How does mental and emotional space play out in your work?
I often do art therapeutically. Whenever I am in an emotionally challenging situation or a poor mental health phase, I turn to my sketchbook and try to put pain down on paper. I live inside my head, creating headlands and mindscapes.
Why cyanotype? How does this technique work? What draws you to it?
Cyanotype was invented as a way of reproducing technical drawings, and has evolved since then into a vast practice of alternative process photography. The technique, for me, consists of two major aspects – application of the medium (the sensitizing solution) and overlaying the negatives for exposure. This combination I see as painting with photography. It provides a platform for so many layers of intent and communication: the brushstrokes look like something violently exploded, while the reproduced image of a map is so strict and orthogonal. I feel like the cyanotype process has a large volume of potential.
What draws you to multi-media cyanotype?
One of my main themes in art (and in life) is the idea of existing “in the multiple realms,” trying to get a thing, a concept, a piece, to work on more than one level, serve more than one purpose. And since the cyanotype process already has that inherent quality of being versatile, I am curious to stretch its boundaries further. That’s why I experiment with different substrates, negatives, etc. – to see “what else can it do.”
What other mediums have you worked with and do you enjoy?
Ink wash, acrylic paint, watercolour, and stamping.
I really love the BioGraph on your About page. Can you tell us more about that? What does it help you express? I would love to know more about what cyanotypical means to you. ?
BioGraph came from the idea of making a biography in graphic form. I like mapping and diagramming, so this was an exploration of how to visually represent many aspects of my life in time and place – how to map out my existence. Also, admittedly, in the end, it looked like a bacterium under a microscope, and now “bio” has a very different meaning.
Cyanotypical is a play on the words “cyanotype” and “typical,” as in “typical detail” or “typical [construction] note.” In the architectural world, typical is something that is very common, ubiquitous, and easily applied to multiple things, the opposite of “unique.” While cyanotypes in general and the cyanotypes that I make are unique and atypical, they are also commonplace for me, so I chose to use this oxymoron.
Anything you’d want to add or answer about mental health that I didn’t ask?
I think what is not being talked about enough in the artistic community, or in general in the world, is how inconsistent the creative process can be and how much of a struggle it can be just to keep it up. I am sure we all go through periods of artistic blocks and creative droughts, but what I am still having a hard time coming to terms with is that it can last years. And during those “lost years,” the biggest challenge is not to give up, and to fight self-doubt and self-deprecation, to have faith that despite not creating all the time, you are still an artist.
More work visible on the website – BlueprintJam!