Artist Focus: Karen Nicol

Artist Focus: Karen Nicol

from March 20, 2021

What do textiles, geography and animals have in common? At first glance, not much, but Karen Nicol - an embroiderer whose reputation is well established in the fashion and art world - has managed to combine thousands of different elements to create delightful works of art, full of the most colourful details, notably in her latest series of maps of cities and continents. Multicoloured fabrics, printed vintage photographs or tattoo motifs: everything becomes a pretext for bringing to life in her maps the fauna, flora and landscapes that form the geography of the places that inspire her. With clients ranging from Givenchy and McQueen to celebrities such as Rooney Mara, the King of Qatar and the Pope, Karen Nicol has amazed the world with her expertise and imagination.

Her inspirations come from everywhere, and Karen Nicol seems to collect visual references like a magpie. These then unconsciously feed into the amazing palettes of elements that can be enjoyed using mixed media. It may be the bark of a tree or a wrought iron railing in a museum. Other times, inspiration can come from the surprisingly varied and unique materials she finds at flea markets. "The research for the maps can be quite intensive, it's about weighing up the elements, shapes and images that will go together, taking an aerial perspective and drawing on the rich traditions of cartography."

Her creative process begins with initial sketches and drawings, which she enlarges to the chosen scale. Embroidery is like painting with thousands of colours, patterns and textures. She works mainly on an old industrial embroidery machine called the Irish, a remarkable machine that very few people can use. You can draw freely with it, but you move the 'paper' rather than the 'pencil', which allows you to draw on the fabric with an immediacy not possible by any other means, and to create textured patterns worthy of a painter. What she wants to share? "I would like to share my pleasure in recreating the familiar shapes of the great countries of the world. I use the surprisingly diverse shaping qualities of my chosen medium and transform these snapshots into colours, patterns and textures to make pieces that evoke memories."

View all of Karen Nicol's work