Laurie Russman of Neon Kitty Quilts has long been a champion for Aurifil thread. She worked with us as an Aurifil Artisan back in 2017 & 2018 and has been wowing us with her artwork ever since.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, she started with 50wt and has slowly worked her way through experimentation with a variety of Aurifil’s thread weights. She is currently on a 28wt kick and it’s been incredible to see the definition she achieves in her art as a result.
Thoroughly inspired by her pets, Laurie has long seen them as her muses, working through portraits, placing them within magical scenes, and doing her best to honor them through her art.
She reached out over the Summer in regards to a wonderful collaboration she arranged with Windham Fabrics in order to showcase their Lava Solids, prominently featuring her cats Jackson and Loki. We were smitten at first glance and delighted when she agreed to share a bit more about her process. Today, we’re thrilled to showcase Laurie’s Art History!
Hi Laurie! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us and share a bit of Art History. This isn’t your first time here on Auribuzz, but we’re aware that some of our readers may be meeting you for the first time. We’d love to start off with some Laurie history – how did you first get started on this wonderfully creative journey?
Like so many of us, I learned to sew from my mom; as I recall, some really scary garments… because after all, it was the 70s!! Fast forward a few decades, to when my daughter’s American Girl doll required a blanket, and my working-mother-guilt led me to say, ‘Ha, I can do better than a blanket!’ My research led me to The City Quilter in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood and I was hooked from that moment. With a career on Wall Street, I had never taken a single art class, but that moment of walking into a quilt shop for the first time awakened my long-dormant right-side brain.
The only skill I brought with me was that (invaluable) sewing machine experience, but my inherent curiosity of “what if I try this?” led me from traditional patchwork quilting to our world. I tend to plunge into new things, which can be a very helpful attitude to take while creating art quilts!
You dazzle your followers on a regular basis with your thread painting and quilting – how did you arrive at this technique? Where did you start?
I owe a debt of gratitude to Pokey Bolton because the seeds of my art quilt career were planted the first time I picked up an issue of Quilting Arts magazine. Each issue introduced new-to-me techniques, which I had the good fortune to try thanks to The City Quilter’s extensive inventory of notions and art supplies (and, most importantly, Aurifil thread!)
Having never taken an art class, the technique of raw-edged applique based upon photos seemed a natural to me; as the iPhone was introduced and photo apps became available, I was fascinated with the ability to alter images. Whether they made a photo more easily traceable or offered a wild neon filter to suggest a new palette, I was completely hooked. It was a technique I could employ while traveling on business – playing on my phone and iPad – and be ready to transfer to fabric and thread each weekend.
As technology got better and better, so did my sewing machines and my ability to ‘draw’ with my machine needle and thread. My experience as an Aurifil Artisan was a huge step, as I became familiar with different weights and varieties of thread. A pet portrait of a monochromatic Westie was a perfect introduction to every weight of cotton and Lana wool!
From this point on, thread palettes became as important to my process — sometimes more so — as fabric. Aurifil’s introduction of Color Builders was a fantastic way to build my stash (they make beautiful music with Windham’s Lava Solids bundles).
We’ve loved getting to know your pets through your posts and artwork. Can you tell us a little about the role your fur-kids play in your creative direction?
The ability to combine my love for these kids and my art crystallized when I created “Neon Kitty” in 2013 for Pokey Bolton’s special animal exhibit at that year’s International Quilt Festival. And so, my brand name was born, and portraits of so many cats followed. Jackson played an incredibly important role, though he didn’t realize it, when I included him in a small home-themed quilt as part of Janine Vangool’s look book for her first collection for Windham Fabrics. I was thrilled when they asked me to design 8 more and create a pattern for the fabric. This has led to a marvelous relationship with the Windham team through which I try to showcase their spectacular batik collections in art quilts.
Can you share some details about your latest collaboration with Windham Fabrics?
The art history series is a happy accident of 2 events: Windham/Anthology’s ‘Paint Splatter’ collection and the immersive Van Gogh exhibit during my summer vacation last year. I took one look at the fabrics and thought, ‘Aha, starry skies’, as the news travelled regarding the Webb Telescope’s incredible images of space.
I then became mildly obsessed with Van Gogh and read books and watched two movies about him, learning about his (long-suffering) brother. Suddenly it occurred to me… the blue Paint Splatter colorway looked like the sky in his piece, “The Starry Night,” while the cypress tree resembled an image I had of the boys in which Jackson sat tall, looming over Loki. AHA! My boys in the worlds of famous artists… what fun! 🙂
Did you know how beautifully Jackson and Loki would fit in and how did they contribute to the process (aside from the obvious quilt inspection!)
I sensed their forms would work given the contrast — tall vs rounder, dark vs light, smooth vs fluffy. They were, of course, invaluable contributors to the stitching process, providing careful supervision of thread selection and thread painting.
We’d love to hear more about each piece, in your words – how long did each piece take… how did your artist research help to inform the finished piece… how large is the finished artwork… What fabric/thread combo did you use for each?
The series has actually suggested itself! Each piece is roughly the size of a fat quarter and took 1-2 weeks in the studio (actual execution time). I find it interesting that Aurifil 28wt played a different role in each: amplifying the fabric’s night sky, then playing a leading role against muted fabrics, and finally blending disparate pieces to help honor the Impressionist paint style.
The second piece honoring the founder of Art Nouveau, Alphonse Mucha, happened after I attended a terrific exhibit of his art at Louisville’s Speed Museum. As I looked at the women in the vintage posters, I immediately thought… I could see the boys here…but what an interesting color challenge. Mucha’s favored palette is a world away from my usual vivid clear hues; thanks to the perfect shades of thread from Aurifil and muted tones from my stash of Windham’s Lava Solids, it was a joy to create.
As I worked, I referred to Mucha’s work for ideas on use of line, flowers, and swirl motifs, and Googled fonts popular a century ago to help with historically-appropriate lettering. The floral headdress on Loki’s head honors frequently-seen garlands in Mucha’s vintage posters, and was particularly fun to stitch! “Studio des Chats” used nearly every weight of Aurifil cotton: my new fave 28wt for most of the stitching (which really took precedence over the fabric here, unlike the Van Gogh piece), 50wt for fine details, 40wt for some background and (rare for me) 80wt for the micro-stipple around the letters.
After finishing this piece, the next artist hovering in my mind was Claude Monet and honestly, who is NOT in love with his use of color? The first step, again, was to pull two palettes: possible Lava Solid batik fabrics and possible Aurifil thread colors. Honoring Monet presented challenges in design and execution — fiber art is a far cry from the painting style of the Impressionists. I decided upon a lily pad pond and a Japanese bridge as the design element on which the boys would sit, and that they would assume their real-life fur colors so as to not compete with the garden. So far, so good– the challenge was depicting the evanescence of light on water with my media. Aurifil thread came to the rescue here as I blended the edges of greenery and water with strokes of multiple color, then stitched the water in the foreground with at least six different pastel shades of 28wt (and added some daubs of iridescent acrylic for fun).
Would asking you to pick a favorite be like asking you to choose between Jackson and Loki or is different and each to choose?
So hard! I am proudest of the Mucha Art Nouveau piece because the design is original (inspired by Mucha of course) and it contains the most threadwork.
What is coming up next for you? You always have something magical up your sleeve. Is it something new with 28wt? Something entirely different?
My experiments this Autumn will combine my beloved 28wt with 12wt… more to come on that! The Art History series will travel next to the world of Paul Gauguin, while my Joy Quilt Project series will revisit our “Advent Calendar” concept for my teaching sessions at Open Studios in IQF.
Finally… a little birdie (aka Facebook) told us that you’d be attending Quilt Festival this year! Is this your first time, or are you returning? What are you most looking forward to?
I cannot wait to see old friends! It’s also the 10-year anniversary of the acceptance of “Neon Kitty” into the show! I’ll be teaching in Open Studios and cannot wait to show folks the process of how beautifully 28wt and Lava Solids combine. Be sure to come find me!!
Thank you again – we’ve been swooning over the Art History series and we’re pretty sure that our readers will be, too!