Oksana Kokovkina has always had a passion for creating and a love for dogs. Now a professional embroiderer, she prefers to work in miniature because small pieces are intimate and magical. You have to come in close to get a good look and really see the art.
Tell us a little bit about you and what you do. What inspires you?
I am an artist, doing embroidery for more than 12 years. I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, but the last 10 years I live in Vienna, Austria. I studied performing arts management and theatre studies, but in my case genes took over.
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There were architects, book illustrators, theater and cinematography artistic directors in my family, I was really bored and uncomfortable in a theoretical and administrative role, and I did not feel fulfilled. Now when I embroider, I am happy.
Why textiles? Why embroidery? How did you get started?
Why textiles? Textiles for me are tactility and warmth, as well as variety of textures and colors, and their unexpected combinations. When I started working with textiles, embroidery became a necessary element of my work. At first I used it mostly for decorating, and then it became my primary tool.
The idea of brooches appeared almost by chance, I needed a brooch for my dress and so I embroidered my very first brooch, which I unfortunately never managed to wear, but this was the beginning of my makiko brooches.
Why dogs? Tell us about the special dog(s) in your life.
I like to depict animals, any of them, while I rather like to listen and observe people. Thus I only embroider or draw animals. Dogs are my love, my friends and incredible creatures, almost the only ones who are able to give warmth and love to anyone in any situation.
My first dog, an Airedale Terrier, Aina, had lived with us for 12 years. I often think about her, about all those happy and curious moments from my childhood next to her. When I didn’t have a dog, my friends or my husband had a difficult time with me.
It was impossible to go for a walk together. The moment I could see a wagging tail on the horizon, my attention was fully given to a dog. It would seem that I wasn’t listening to my companion, but just observing the dog and simply could not stop doing that… Even now walking our dog, I have the feeling that I am much more interested in passing dogs than her.
Does your dog sit still long enough for you to sketch a pose?
Our dog Businka (which translates as Bead) is from a shelter from a neighboring country. She is an amazing dog. She has been with us for 5 years and we have never seen any manifestation of aggression towards a human. If she doesn’t like something, she tries to avoid a possible contact, but she never even growled at a person.
She doesn’t like to pose very much, although it seems she already understands when she is being photographed. I also embroider portraits of other dogs from photographs sent by their owners. The more photos they send me, the better I can imagine what a dog looks like in real. Some customers show their dog or cat on Instagram. This is a very good source for me. It gives me a better opportunity to explore my model. Also owners usually try to post unusual or funny photos of their pets, exactly those, where one can clearly see their character.
What is the biggest takeaway you want readers to gain from your book, I Love My Dog Embroidery?
I would like people to not be afraid of being creative, but instead dream, improvise, draw, and embroider more. There is no right or wrong drawing or embroidery. Each of us has our own inner world and view of reality. Thus I am very glad that 6 other artists worked with me on this edition, as each of us has an individual style and handwriting, which contributes to the book variety.
The embroideries in your book are small in scale. What do you like about miniatures? Do you work on larger pieces, too?
I love miniature, and I am rather petite myself 🙂 although as a child I worked rather with a larger format. The walls of my room were lined with paper so that I could paint on them. Apparently then I satisfied my thirst for large-scale paintings.
Miniature for me is something intimate, touching and a little magical. At the exhibitions I often observe how works of a smaller size make the viewers stop in order to come closer and concentrate a little more, and right at that moment this intimate effect appears.
Has your style always been so whimsical? What other styles of embroidery do you enjoy?
I think so, it has always been like that. This style is a continuation of me. Sometimes I try something different. For example, I did a botanical collection – quilts and hand embroidered pictures with selfmade naturally dyed fabric. There I had more work with the colors, and the works were very gentle. Nevertheless, something touching, ridiculous or amusing is almost always present in my artworks. I will probably never be able to create cold, scary or too-serious objects.
What does your studio look like? Where does the magic happen?
Now all the magic happens at home, on a working sofa. I rarely work at the table. I only sit at it if I need to measure something, cut or use the sewing machine. Finding a good room for a studio is difficult and at the moment it is more convenient for me this way.
What is your favorite storage tip for your creative supplies?/Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Fetish of almost any embroiderer is a transparent plastic organizer for threads and here I am not an exception. It is really very convenient and beautiful.
Also I always have several types of textile glue for different purposes and an aquamarker for fabric. I can’t start working without it. There is always a supply of needles. I use rather small thin needles and they often break.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
Crime series or audiobooks are mostly playing on the background while I work. Sometimes looking at the brooch I can remember what kind of murder detective Poirot revealed when I made this cute little doggie. 🙂 Music as a background doesn’t work for me. I have to immerse myself completely into it or sing and dance when I listen to music, and I even envy those people who can work to the music.
Do you use a sketchbook? How does that help your work develop?
A sketchbook helps a lot. If ideas come unexpectedly, I try to capture them immediately in order to catch and remember the image and sensation. Also it is impossible to design images without sketches. An A5 notebook is the most convenient format for me.
When you begin to create, do you have a finished product in mind? Or does the work evolve?
It varies. Sometimes I imagine finished works, already in the form of embroidery, and it is even difficult to sketch them on paper. Sometimes there is a kind of theme and images are born in the process of drawing or embroidering.
How do you make time for creating? Do you have daily creative rituals?
I am happy and I feel good if I manage to work every day, but this is not always the case. If I work on a project or an urgent order, I spend all day embroidering only with a few breaks for food and walking my dog. Otherwise my favorite working time is in the evening.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people – or do you think creativity is a skill that people can develop?
It seems to me that every person is creative from birth, everyone in his or her own way. The main thing is to understand your creative essence and then it might become a profession or lifelong mission.
I really like to observe people who are passionate about their work, regardless of the profession. It is exciting and very beautiful. And if you’re talking about handmade or any kind of art, then I can recommend everyone not to be afraid, try everything you want, evolve and unfold. Doing any kind of art helps to develop and understand yourself. It gives you self-expression, universal therapy and relaxation at the same time.
What are your earliest memories involving your own creative expression?
Drawing was always one of my favorite activities, when I was about 9 I had my first active period of knitting and embroidery, since then all knitting skills have long been lost, but embroidery has returned and took roots.
What’s next for you?
Right now I would like to make more distinctive portraits with a certain story. As for the future, past months I am working on a collection of funny hats with embroidery and appliqué. There is also one idea for an embroidery project, but it will not be about dogs, something very strange… I am very curious to make it happen.
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Interview posted January, 2019.
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