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Artist Natalie McKean creates striking and gorgeous works of art that often focus on the intersection of the natural world and machines/robots. “Man versus technology has always been a favored theme of mine,” she says. Natalie favors a technique known as scratch art, which she describes as “kind of like an inverted pen and ink. You use a sharp metal tool to scrape away the black ink to reveal the white clay underneath. And once I have my image etched out I used colored ink on top.” She actually started out working in pen and ink, but found that she was filling in all the negative space with black anyway, so scratch art was a natural next step. For almost two years, she has been living out of her vehicle, traveling to festivals and fairs around the country with her art. When she was in New Orleans she picked up a canine companion, named Rowan, and now she and Rowan are back in her northern California hometown of Cloverdale, where she works out of her live/work studio. She makes a living off of her art, which she admits is “hard, but worth every bit of it.”

comingtobayareamakerfaire_2013Natalie will be exhibiting at Maker Faire Bay Area this year (May 18-19), so when you’re there, stop by and say hello!

One project you are particularly proud of:

1. My scratch art series “Robotic Aquatic” was really satisfying and helped me develop my etching skill.

Two mistakes you’ve learned from in the past:

1. I am constantly making mistakes. There are too many to count. And I’m not exactly sure if I learn from any of them, but I work it into whatever I’m already doing.

2. Ok, I do hold myself to standards that are a little too high and often take on too many projects at once. I’m now teaching myself to take a step back and breath every now and then.

“Angler Fish” by Natalie McKean (scratchboard, 2011)

Three new projects that you’re excited about lately:

1. I’m trying to figure out the perfect recipe for making your own scratchboards that is relatively easy and inexpensive but still of good quality. If all goes well I should be able to share my technique at this year’s Maker Faire.

2. I’ve been getting really into silk screening my own shirts. I haven’t been able to get too detailed with it, but I hope to get a lot better.

3. I am about to open my art studio up here in Cloverdale and I’m really excited to be able to have a space to create. (My car was getting a little cramped.)

“Guise” by Natalie McKean (pen & ink, 2012)

Four tools you love to use:

1. Scratch tool. There is nothing more satisfying than the feeling of scraping that metal pointed tip.

2. Colored ink. I use ink in place of paint quite often especially since it adheres to the clay of the scratch boards so well.

3. Brush tip pens. Ones that use Indian ink are preferred.

4. Spray paint. (Especially good for depicting nebulas.)

Five people/things that inspire you:

1. Music. I can’t think of a single piece I’ve ever done that didn’t get started from listening to some kind of music.

2. My mother. She has supported my art since the day I could hold a pencil and she never judged what I created, even the weird stuff.

3. Science fiction from all eras.

4. The kids I meet at different events who take interest in art and I can tell are going to be better than me when they grow up.

5. My art partner. Collaborating is effortless because he excels where I lack and vice versa. We have a perfect system worked out.

Natalie McKean’s website

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Hand-painted robot switchplate by Natalie McKean

“Roboctopus” by Natalie McKean (scratchboard, 2008)

Natalie works at her art studio in Cloverdale, Calif., while Rowan naps.

Laura Cochrane

I’m an editor at MAKE and CRAFT. I like hiking, biking, and etymology.


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