Artist Natalie Featherston specializes in trompe l’oeil, French for “fool the eye”. She paints directly from life in oils, constructing detailed models for her paintings using found objects, vintage photos, paper cutouts, embroidery and beads. Natalie’s paintings give a fresh, modern interpretation of the time-honored genre of trompe l’oeil, moving far beyond simple objects hung on a wall designed to trick the viewer. Her technical prowess draws people into an invented realm of humor and whimsy, where storytelling and narrative feature prominently. That moment when the viewer realizes what they thought was real is actually a painting is why Natalie paints- to delight the viewer and share a secret just between themselves.
Natalie Featherston is a contemporary realist painter specializing in trompe l’oeil- a French term meaning literally “to fool the eye”. Her work is inspired by the Dutch Masters and combined with a modern sensibility, where skill and execution of the painting pair with humor and whimsy. The Chicago Sun Times has described her paintings as, “Artful beyond just illusion and trickery, they are truly masterful still lifes made with both craft and wit.” Ms. Featherston’s paintings have received numerous awards from some of the most distinguished art organizations in the country, including the Art Renewal Center and the Salmagundi Club. Her paintings have appeared in The Artist’s Magazine, American Art Collector, Southwest Art, and Fine Art Connoisseur to name but a few of the publications that have featured her work. Ms. Featherston is represented by fine art galleries across the country, and her paintings are sought after by notable collectors including Toni Morrison, Danielle Steele, J.J. Abrams, and Alice Cooper.
How has your relationship with art changed over time?
I’ve had a career as a painter for almost 25 years, and as I’ve gotten older and more experienced, the biggest change has been how I feel validated as an artist. When I was younger, external validation was vitally important to me — how others saw my work, how others responded, and what their thoughts and feelings were. Connection with the viewer is still the reason I paint. But, my relationship with my art is focused more on internal validation now. I gravitate towards subjects and narrative I find personally rewarding, and I’m less driven to paint for ‘others’ or just to make sales. Lots of times I’ll start a new piece thinking it’s too far out and won’t connect at all, but for some reason those pieces tend to resonate the most.
Where do you find inspiration? What drives your work?
Inspiration is easy to find if you keep your mind open to it. I have an inspiration board in my studio that’s plastered with ideas: little cartoons on napkins, a weird twig I found on the ground, scribbled down snippets of song lyrics, a flyer from a gourmet pizza place with a fortune teller on it. Almost anything can inspire a painting. I have ideas I’ve saved for years that percolate on the board, and then come to life when they’re ready.
One constant about my work is that’s it’s driven by storytelling and narrative. Something has to happen, or be happening, in each painting. Elements have to interact to create a story. I also love whimsy and humor, and try to combine all those things to make paintings that are uniquely my vision.
What is your favorite part of your process?
I only paint from life, meaning that every piece I create was painted from a live model in my studio. I love making the models — it’s the only purely creative time I have, as painting the pictures that result from them take a long time and can be a bit of a chore. I never hold back or worry how I’ll paint something when I’m composing — everything is on the table. With some of the collage pieces I’ll set them up and let them sit, making small changes over weeks. On occasion they come together in one sitting, but that’s pretty rare. Once I get the glue out it’s done — that’s the final model and the one I’ll paint from without deviation.
What is the one thing about your art that our audience may not know?
I’m using the same answer twice, but what people may not know about my art is that all of my pieces are painted from life. With the developments in technology and photography, many artists use manipulated photos as reference. I’m not anti-photo; I believe however you make your art is the best method for you and I’m all for it: you do you! As it turns out, I’m just a bad photographer, and I really love sitting in front of my model and observing nature in the first person. I like to experience what I’m painting in real time and in real life, not filtered through a photo and a step removed from initial observation. My teacher, Michael Aviano, used to say, “Art is nature filtered through a personality.” I know it makes me horribly old school, but I still work the same way he trained me — from life.
What does your dream piece/project look like?
There’s a solo show I’ve wanted to do for years called “Pure Heroine” that would be all trompe l’oeil collage paintings of strong, invincible women, mostly with a dark twist. Some would be mythological figures, like Medusa or a gender-bending Icarus, and others are characters showing their power and beauty by triumphing over adversity. It’s about revealing your true nature — that dark, powerful thing you keep hidden, a secret face that few see. I have some plans and sketches and quite a bit of it is on my inspiration board, just waiting until the time is right to let those paintings out into the world.