STYLE: Copeley Designs owner and artist Kelly Aiken

Paint murals is not just a creative outlet for Kelly Aiken. It’s a physical one. “I used to be a gymnast so maybe that’s unconscious,” she says. “I come in so physically. I don’t exercise – that is my training. “

The 31-year-old owner of Copeley Designs creates commissioned paintings and murals in private homes and commercial spaces across Charlotte. She specializes in gold leaf, a centuries-old process of gilding in which she applies gold hammered into thin leaves to the surface of a painting. “It controls the uncontrollable, that’s why I love it so much,” she says. “It’s a tough medium to work in. It’s made of metal, but it’s so thin – it’s light as a feather. “

J5a8195When Liberate Your Palate founder Tamu Curtis opened the South End Cocktailery last summer, she commissioned Aiken to add gold leaf to a floral mural she painted with artist Amber King. Curtis loved it so much that she hired Aiken to add gold lines to her classroom walls and design a gold martini glass logo. “Large formats are what I love,” says Aiken. “I’m getting a lot messier, and I love that. I usually make a mess in my studio, but now I’m out in the world making a mess. “

Aiken first looked at the gold leaf technique about eight years ago after a customer found it through her Etsy shop. She asked Aiken to create a painting and asked how she could “highlight” it. “I saw gold leaf and thought I could try,” says Aiken. But she admits it took her a while to learn to manipulate the gold foil and master the gilding glue. “It took me a long time not to let it start; It’s a chemistry. “

It’s also a mental escape for Aiken, who lives with a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder called dermatillomania, a skin-picking disorder. “Gold leaf is keeping my hands busy, so I can’t do that,” she says. “I started painting a lot for my sanity. My mother died of suicide when I was 3 so I’m doing it for her. Art is my therapy. ”

J5a8116Aiken says she instinctively reached for pencils and brushes as a child. She studied architecture at the University of Virginia and got a job with a company in Boston, but she knew a desk job wasn’t for her. When she met her husband, former NFL player Danny Aiken, the couple followed his career from Boston to New York before settling in Charlotte. “I was able to change my path,” she says. “When I got creative again with my hands and no longer on the computer, I was much happier.”

In 2016, they welcomed their daughter, Copeley, who inspired Aiken’s company name. She continued to paint and won a design competition in West Elm in 2018. The furniture and home decor chain sold a number of their abstract prints that appeared in their July 2019 catalog. “It helped me a lot,” she says, “but now I prefer to be an original artist and not mass-produce my work.”

Aiken grew her business through social media, and more clients hired her to paint gold leaf murals in their homes. She has done ombre accented walls, flower toilets, and gilded murals. “I have two different lists for my commission prices,” she says. “I have customers who only want 24-carat gold, but most people choose faux gold when they see that I’ve mastered not tarnishing.”


Aiken, who specializes in gold leaf, makes commissioned paintings and murals in homes and commercial spaces across Charlotte.

J5a8425With gold leaf growing in popularity, Aiken has built a fan base with her TikTok tutorials and SkillPop courses teaching amateur painters the process. She also added a collection of bracelets to her brand, which was sold at the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Boutique Shop in Camp North End last year. The 8 millimeter gold cuff bracelets are each decorated with miniature Van Gogh-style paintings and sealed with resin.

In May, Aiken will have her first solo show on mental health at Artisan’s Palate. “With my dermatillomania, mirrors are my worst enemy,” she says. “I had to change some habits to make sure I didn’t. So my next show will be about mirrors – I’ll add gold leaf to mirrors. “

Since her success with West Elm, Aiken has donated a portion of her proceeds to the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation and continues to speak to her students and followers about mental health awareness. “Art always brings me back; It gives me a little control over my surroundings, ”she says. “I tell my SkillPop courses, even if you’re scared about painting, at least you’ve made something cool out of it.”

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