Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Natalia Tcherniak

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.”

A photo of the artist, Natalia Tcherniak. Canadian artist, cyanotype artist. Mental health through art. 
Talks about mental health for art.

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.

Natalia Tcherniak, Snakarchitecture.

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.

Sketch work.

Mental health and the arts.

But often it just remains a sketch in a sketchbook, because it has already said everything it needs to say.

Cyanotype. Blueprint. Blueprint Jam. Mental health for art. Architecture informed art.

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.

Cyanotype. Blueprint. Blueprint Jam. Mental health for art. Architecture informed art.

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.

Natalia Tcherniak, Japan street. Watercolor.

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. ?

Text reads:
We are not alone; we are not in a vacuum. We exist in a network of relationships, visible and invisible,conscious and unconscious. We connect directly and indirectly to other people, things, concepts, events,places, and everything around us. If lines were drawn to represent all the connections, they would comprise a pattern so dense, it would be solid, a Connective Tissue. Overarching theme in my work is a search for orientation. I explore methods of defining position within a Connective Tissue, creating new frames of references, mapping new readings, adding layers to the tissue. I strive for multiple readings as I explore my own psychological construction assembly and the dystopian urban environment I call home.
Circular image that graphs out Natalia's relationship with burlesque, art, architecture, and theatre. BioGraph concept created by the artist.

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.

You can see more of Natalia’s work on her Instagram @nattchbob or in the second issue of The Shallot. It is the cover piece!

The Shallot Volume 1, Number 2. Natalia's art is on the front cover. 

Cyanotype on wood.

The Journal advocates for mental health through the arts. The power of art for mental health.

More work visible on the website – BlueprintJam!