About carolyn

Visual Artist who lives and works in Phoenix, AZ.

subtle variation

Mary Shindell Studio Visit: March 28, 2014


Mary Shindell talking about her newest drawing project.

Mary Shindell talking about her newest drawing project.

I haven’t been to Mary’s studio in a while, so I arrange for a visit.  Mary has two spaces, her home space and her shared warehouse space.  She has been drawing, so this takes place in her home studio where things are clean and climate controlled.  Before I greet Mary, I first need to greet Zsa Zsa, who has a very big grin on her face.

Mary's studio companion, Zsa Zsa the french bulldog.

Mary’s studio companion, Zsa Zsa the french bulldog.


In Mary’s studio I check out some of the things she keeps on hand.  Like myself, Mary is a big studio nester.  It functions as a cocoon of creativity, and the work space is littered with objects, past works, sketches, images, and art supplies.

Some studio treasures on display.

Some studio treasures on display.


Many things are familiar, but there is always evidence of fresh activity.  Today I see that some of the furniture is moved and there is a large in-progress drawing filling her drawing table.

View of studio with in-progress Moon and Estrellas drawing on drawing table.

View of studio with in-progress Moon and Estrellas drawing on drawing table.


I recognize that this is one of her satellite drawings, the title referring to the straight down perspective.  But this drawing literally makes use of satellite imagery of the Estrella Mountains.  Chosen because they are local, but also for how great they look from above.  This imagery is being combined with hand mapped moon drawings that pre-date satellites and are available for public use.  The drawing becomes an unconventional landscape where the land and the moon are collapsed into each other.

Detail of in-progress drawing, Moon and Estrellas.

Detail of in-progress drawing, Moon and Estrellas.


One of the first things I notice is that Mary is using symmetry in this drawing.  This is a great reminder of how far back our relationship goes.  I was fortunate to see Mary’s impressive 1978 MFA show at Arizona State University, where a number of the drawings were symmetrical.  Here is a drawing from that general body of work.

Mary Shindell   Brown Drawing,  30 x 22"  1976

Mary Shindell    Brown Drawing, 30 x 22″ 1976


The symmetry she is using now is for the purpose of segmenting the drawing in modular units.  This could have been done in the computer, where a section could be drawn and then easily flipped or rotated to create matching modular parts.  But Mary does not want the sections to be so exact; she is looking for the subtle energy that will be created by the slight variation that hand drawing creates.  Where this drawing will end up is still open-ended.  After the hand drawing is completed, it will be scanned and worked in the computer.  Where it will undergo steps with the idea of continuation.  Where maybe there won’t be an exact end, just pauses.  This is an influence of working on the computer where visual information in the layers of past pieces is easily used to start new pieces.  Here the process will stay contained within one piece.

Moon and Estrellas, in-progress on Mary's drawing table.

Moon and Estrellas, in-progress on Mary’s drawing table.


But Mary is playing with one more element of variation in this work.  Along with the natural variation of hand drawing she is introducing the hand of another artist.  Mary is drawing one side, and her studio assistant, Pere, is drawing the other.  In their close working relationship, they are playing off each other as they make subtle decisions as to what to emphasize and how to draw from the sources.  In some areas Mary has taken the lead, but in other areas Pere has worked ahead and Mary responds accordingly.  The differences in their two hands isn’t immediately obvious, but does add a subtle discordancy to a drawing that a viewer would assume was drawn by one person.  As the first phase of what will become a multistep digital drawing, this is just a path to something else.  It will be an artwork that plays with the differences between pencil drawing and digital drawing.  Mary doesn’t know exactly where this is taking her, but does know that it will become her January show at Five15 Arts Gallery, Phoenix.  Opening reception will be January 2nd, 2015.

gift of time

Sharon Lavender in the role of studio assistant.

Normally I spend many hours alone in my studio.  During a deadline I become hermit-like, while my friends, family and my husband tolerate my absence.  I have received help in the past, but there isn’t a lot for someone else to do.  A lot of my work consists of personal drawing technique.  The format of this piece allows for a helper.  Monica donated a day to me and now, my mom Sharon, has been putting in hours.  In fact, she has calculated that it will be 75 hours, done over 11 days.  I am fortunate that she has been able and willing to do this.  And it is such a switch, since studio time is usually time spent away from family rather than time spent with them.  There has been lots of family talk to go with the art making.


Mom’s hands while she transfers my lines on to a panel.


Preservation Woods photoshop sketch.

Here is the complete image, which will be transferred on to 10 panels for a total size of 80 x 160″.  Thanks Mom!!


the unplanned

Carolyn Lavender speaking at Golden West Gallery talk.    Exhibition: Nature, Natural, Simulated- Jean Vavrek, Carolyn Lavender    Stehekin, Washington, September 2012.

My recent show in Stehekin, Washington is an interesting contrast to showing in the large metropolitan cities that I am accustomed to.  Depending on the time of the year, there are 70 to 200 residents in this small mountain community.  Our 2 person exhibition also included local artist, Jean Vavrek, which is only part of the explanation for the large attendance that gallery receptions receive in this community.  My guess is that maybe 50 to 75 people attended our gallery talk.  This is my third trip to this special place at the headwaters of Lake Chelan.  Last year I spent some time there with my sister, at her cabin, constantly photographing the woods everywhere we hiked.  I also took a snapshot of this stuffed beaver that is in the building that also houses the art gallery.

Taxidermy beaver in case, Stehekin, Washington

A few months later I used that beaver image in my drawing, The Woods- Preservation.

Eventually, Jean contacted me, and asked that I apply for a show with her.  I made some new work for the show, but also exhibited The Woods- Preservation.

And, when I did my portion of the gallery talk, it was fun to point out that it was actually “their” beaver in my drawing.  I think the preserved beaver was also enjoying the moment from his regular spot in the next room.  A little moment of unplanned.

The Woods- Preservation detail (The Stehekin Beaver)


Monica waiting for me to join her in the studio.

This shot reminds me of how I feel about my own studio.  It is a sanctuary that is created through artistic energy, work and ritual.  When you are invited into someone else’s studio they are sharing all of that with you.  This is something I never take lightly.

The beginning of a human back drawing.

This drawing began by tracing a woman’s body shape directly on the paper.  It is a portrait of an individual person.  Anatomy sources are used to insert an anatomically correct skeletal system.  Monica has discovered that the layers of back anatomy, yet to layered on top, are a lot more complicated than she expected.  This in-depth study of anatomy has created a heightened awareness of her own skeletal system.  When she moves her body, she thinks about the placement and movement of her interior anatomy.  This mind/body connection is also practiced with Monica’s ongoing study of yoga.  The beginning of this drawing is quite beautiful, but it is there to be built upon.  Monica documents the stages of these drawings, but is quite willing to let each stage go as she pushes through to reach the finished drawing.  The beginning is structured and accurate, while the end is a mesh of marks that show a complicated journey of exploration with the parameters of the subject.  There will be little or nothing left of this beginning stage.

Detail of male back.

When I look at Monica’s work up close I really get caught up in the detail work.  There is something powerful about large scale work that is just as interesting in the small details as a small work is.  It is an interesting contrast of what feels epic, and what feels intimate.

Monica’s hands, while she talks about her piece.

It is always interesting to watch an artist handle their work.  They are always so casual in doing so.  Others will always use extra care to communicate their respect for the work and the artist.  But artists often touch their art while they are talking about it, and enjoy showing how comfortable they are in doing so.  It can be really enjoyable to watch an artist do this.

Studio research materials.

Here we have the wonderful combination of book illustrations, artist materials, and productive activity.  I never tire of seeing the hints and clues of what goes on the studio when the artist is engaging in their isolated production.

Studio shot showing drawing of male back on easel.

This larger shot of Monica’s studio shows a bit of how layered, active and visually interesting her space is.  Like most studios the total space can’t be captured with casual photography.  The memory of my visit will stay with me tonight as I work (hide) in the privacy of my own studio.




deer days of august

There is a quietness and a heaviness to the August Phoenix heat that really works with my current drawings.  I am doing delicate, realistic graphite drawings of deer with no backgrounds.  I like the camera distortion in the one below.  These are deer that I photographed last summer when I was in Stehekin, Washington.

Carolyn Lavender Stehekin Deer 2– in progress

These very simple drawings are meant to show with my Woods- Fabrication drawings.  Pictured is a full size photoshop sketch for the next drawing.  This drawing will be full of bear objects inserted into a Stehekin woods scene.  I did see 2 actual bears when I was in Stehekin, but did not take photos of them.  Only one was close enough, and I was too busy being thrilled by the experience.  So, the deer will be my contrast.

Carolyn Lavender photoshop sketch for The Woods- Fabrication Bears and Stehekin Deer 1

These drawings will be shown in my two person exhibition with Jean Vavreck in the Golden West Gallery, Stehekin, Washington.  Show opens September 7th, 2012.  It is an interesting place to show, the only way to get there is by foot, boat, or plane.


Mary Shindell Studio Visit- 7-25-12

The main attraction of artist studios is the evidence of the active, thinking, and creative mind.  There is an inspirational energy, much the way a really great sketchbook feels.  Mary Shindell’s studio is a stellar example of this.  Her space is full of bits and pieces of things that represent past projects, planning for future projects, art supplies, tech gadgets, and collections of visual things.  It is the kind of space that is full of possibilities.  For instance, our conversation leads Mary to dig through some files and images.  Every time she opens a folder, or lifts something up, there is something that catches my eye.  It leaves the impression that there are endless amounts of interesting things buried beneath what is visible.

Stuck to the handle of this cart, is a magnet, which nicely holds all Mary’s metal pen nibs.

One of the first things she shows me is a motion sensitive light board.  She overlaps it with a digital drawing printed on plexi, and the blinking lights shine through the drawing.  It is nice the way the movement within the drawing is connected to the movement of the viewer.

I also spot samples and maquettes for a recently completed public art piece in Goodyear, Air, Earth, Water.  Public Art is challenging for all the obvious reasons.  The artist has to pair durability and safety with originality.  Mary proposed inserting a colorful terrazzo material into grooves incised in polished granite.  The results are colorful and bold graphic images.

Mary Shindell  Air, Earth, Water 2012

Mary Shindell  Air, Earth, Water 2012 (detail)

Mary Shindell  Air, Earth, Water 2012 (detail)

Mary shows me her ideas for the January show, both in sketch, and on the computer.  I am interested in her use of scale and ideas for addressing the space in a literal way.  She confirms that her ideas have been influenced by the Goodyear public art piece, where she had to deal with two 50’ walls and the center of a vehicle roundabout.  This also ties in nicely with the fact that it was a City of Phoenix terrazzo public art project that got Mary started drawing digitally.  She needed to do it for the project, and she found that she related to it for numerous reasons.  The step-by-step, layered process connected to her background in printmaking.   And working digitally eventually provides a massive vocabulary in tools.  Technology can be a mixed blessing.  It is not easy to work digitally, but Mary feels it is important to originate the art in the computer rather than to scan an already completed drawing.  It is the comparison of origination verses transferring.  Until it is printed out, the digital drawing does not exist anywhere else.

Mary works on such large files that, in the beginning, she had to suffer frequent file crashes and losses of her images.  While this is still possible, it is happening less frequently.  And a big advantage to the digital drawings is the way that a finished drawing can lead to the next drawing.  Just the way I might look through old sketches, Mary can open a file and look at all the layers separately.  The “click and look” process can suggest possibilities.  Then after some duplicating and pasting, she can have the start of a new drawing.

And this just the kind of thing that Mary’s studio is full of, possible ideas for future projects.

The sketch is the beginning of planning for a sculptural light piece.

studio moment

Carolyn Lavender Untitled (2003)- studio installation

Untitled is a piece that consists of 33 rag board panels that are mirror self-portraits, each with an animal on my head.  Usually my older works are stored away and only pulled out if there is a reason to show them.  But Untitled has been hanging out in my studio for a couple years.  I find this a little embarrassing when I show people my studio.  I feel I always need to explain why this piece is there.  After all, it is 33 portraits of me, and it is hard not to imagine that I sit in my studio regularly and look at all these images of myself.

Each panel was coated with multiple coats of Golden GAC 500, and though dry to the touch, was capable of sticking to stuff.  I found this out when I layered each panel with archival glassine and stacked the pieces for storage.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out that what used to be individual panels was now a fused block.  I carted that block around a few times as I moved studios, never knowing if it was really a piece of art anymore.  A couple of years ago, I finally consulted a conservation expert and she made the simple, simple suggestion of using distilled water to break down the glassine and separate the panels.  It took some labor to work the water into the space between each piece, but it worked.  So now this piece has been curing on my walls, and I will later store it with regular acid free paper and it will be fine.

So the other day I was in the studio drawing, and I paused to mull over what I might use to paint on for the large piece I am going to do for the Mesa show.  And while I was thinking I was looking at my wall of self-portraits.  I have been trying to decide this question for a while.  I don’t want stretched canvas, raw paper, wooden panels, or any of the other things I had thought of for various reasons.  Then I realized, because I was looking at Untitled, that I could line the wall with rag board panels, butted together, to create a large surface that I could paint on.  The other part of this is that the technique I used on Untitled was to paint on top of a layer of GAC500, which was later sealed under another coat.  This surface was completely enjoyable to work on.  I worked with sumi ink and gouache and was capable of wiping away anything I did with a wet rag.  It is really fun to do fearless marks like that.  I always thought I would love to work that way again and never have.  But you can be sure that when the new piece is de-installed, and ready to be stored, there will be no glassine to be seen.

Carolyn Lavender Untitled (2003)- detail of studio installation

in progress

Carolyn Lavender   Woods/Gifts in progress 2012

Carolyn Lavender Woods/Gifts in-progress detail 2012

This is what it looks like when I am working on one of my graphite drawings on prepared paper.  I start by scraping layers of modeling paste across the paper with a putty knife.  I like the way it takes the graphite and I can even scratch in tiny whites with knife blade.  The drawing will be well traveled, it is headed for The Space Between show at Largo das Artes, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.