Rider and artist finds equine inspiration
Dr. Kim Aikens prefers to walk on the wild side; or, rather, with the wild side.
OK, actually, both.
“You can use one of the nudes,” she offers, as we look around her home photography/art studio for examples of her work to accompany this article.
The nudes are of her, accomplished with a remote clicker on her camera, embracing one of her horses. They’re part of a collection, her latest project of photographing women bareback — and we’re not talking just about the equines.
“It’s very much about the relationship with the horse,” Aikens says. “None of these women would’ve posed nude otherwise, except they said they would with their horses.”
That passion and connection with her animals inspire Aikens — a life-long equestrian, award-winning dressage rider, internal medicine physician, photographer, painter, digital artist, mom and wife — on many fronts, starting with her photography.
Her foray into mixed-media art stems from her skills behind the lens. Aikens’ preferred photos are commanding in size and depict the wildness of animals: Horses charging at fences that can’t possibly hold them in, rams connecting in a Wyoming landscape, antelope herding on the prairie.
It’s the horses, though, that are her enduring love. They are at the center of her expanding repertoire of artwork that is as much primitive in focus as it is technical in creation.
Not only an adept and bold photographer – sometimes running with a herd while shooting — Aikens is also an avid user of digital technology and is an expert in both Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter. Often, she’ll take one of her photos, download it into her computer and use an electronic tablet to “paint” over it on her screen. The program allows her to mix colors and experiment with different effects, and once she’s satisfied with the result, Aikens prints the canvas from her Epson 9800 printer that can accommodate sheets of paper or canvas up to several feet in width.
“Because I have this printer, it allows me to experiment,” she said. “I will print and print until I get the version that I like.”
To look at the final images, it’s natural to think they are handpainted oils. While some purists have scoffed at her for using digital tools, for Aikens it’s an approach the self-taught painter can use to exact her skills while offering a new take on artistry. The programs allow her to create a wide variety of images including her traditional photos, digital collages and original digital paintings. She hopes to take it another step into the technological future and begin printing curtains and other fabrics and wallpaper.
The technology does have a downside: Having enough archiving memory. She’s looking to install four one-terabyte drives to help with the time-consuming task of a perfectionist who shoots thousands of photos.
“There’s this huge tech piece, plus the artistic piece, plus the business piece,” Aikens says, adding with a laugh, “I should go back into only practicing medicine!”
Like medicine, horses have remained a lasting interest. Aikens started riding at age 12 and perfected her abilities in dressage over the last 20 years. A professional rider, she had hoped to continue advancing through the competitive levels, but those plans are on hold. Last fall, Aikens had a hip replacement operation and hasn’t been able to ride since.
This winter, she sent two of her horses, a Danish warm blood and a Trakehner, off to a trainer in California. As she recovers, she’s working on her artwork, technology upgrades, archiving, and longing to get back on her four horses, two of which are kept at the Bay Harbor Equestrian Center.
She has been able to satiate her wild side some. During a trip to Wyoming this past winter, she spent hours photographing bison, antelope and rams, finding herself at one point enveloped in an elk herd. That familiar rush of wildness returned.
“I would drive around and look for the animals, it was blizzarding,” she says, “and again, it gave me that same feeling of being in the moment, of being in the wild.”
See her work
Aikens Imagery - www.kimaikens.com
Some of Aikens’ pieces are on display at the Crooked Tree Art Center in Petoskey and Gallery on Main in Bay Harbor. She accepts commissioned work as well as offers printmaking services for photographers and artists.
Aikens lives in Petoskey with her husband, Dr. Peter Levanovich.
What she uses
• Nikon D3X
• Adobe Photoshop & Lightroom
• Corel Painter
• Four, one-terabyte internal drives with 16 gigs of RAM
• Epson 9800 printer
Now all she needs is a computer that can handle her images and their large size so she can print wall-size photos, curtains, etc.