It’s Called Monkey Balls or Osage Orange

Carolyn brought me a beautiful gift last week. It was this spiky pod.


A gift from Carolyn

A gift from Carolyn


I later photographed it and took it into Photoshop and Illustrator. I made it into what Adobe calls a symbol. It is a digital instance. I make them a lot, and then I sometimes use them in a layer or texture or I like to take these instances and make them into something out of context.

Pod as texture

Pod as texture

This pod will become some sort of hovering celestial body in my drawing of the moon and the Estrella Mountains and then become part of my user-defined library, my collection of digital instances.

Hovering Pod

Hovering Pod


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.

Light Test

Before we delivered the show I had about a week of wiring and testing to make sure the suspended sculpture would work. Each piece is fabricated so that the electrical cord runs up to the ceiling and over to a LED driver which will also be mounted on the ceiling. The wiring process was interesting and Pere, our studio assistant, became better at fiddling with the drivers than I was. We celebrated every time one would light up which prompted Mitch Fry (we share studio space) to comment that we are cheap dates. He knows how to use electricity but for me it’s just that electricity is like magic-difficult magic.

At one point I had to call the lighting manufacturer to ask a question and he asked if I was a licensed electrician. I told him “no I am an artist”. In a somewhat huffy tone he told me that the first thing that should have happened is that I should have been connected to the entertainment division. He helped me anyway and it turned out they had sent the wrong drivers.

Everything worked we packed it up and took it to Mesa. Fingers crossed.

Testing the light at the studio

Testing the lights at the studio.

After testing the pieces were  wrapped to go to Mesa

After testing, the pieces were wrapped to go to Mesa.

Pere, studio assistant, with a finished sculpture.

Pere, studio assistant, with a finished sculpture.

how things are looking

All three of us have been members of artist run gallery spaces. Mary is still a member of one. Having done it numerous times, we’re each  familiar with installing exhibitions. Though we’ll have input, MAC basically takes care of most of the work. Marco Albarran is the new gallery specialist / preparator. Mary and I are pleased to hear the news, we’ve both worked with him.

Quick rundown on progress: Mary (Nature) is complete with her mountain. The printers will install it  – just after the New Year. Her sculptures are ready, and the lighting is getting finalized. Carolyn (Creature) is finishing up her very large work. Today her and I went over photographing artwork. I am (Man) cleaning up the edges on my painting and my smaller drawings are still at the framers, I’ll be picking them up next week. Most of the work gets delivered by the 11th of December and the show opens exactly one month after that.

We imagine what the space might look like. Do we have enough work? Will it flow? Leave it to Mary to make a clean and detailed model of the North Gallery.

model from aboveI did it 2 ways, begins Mary – one with Carolyn on the south wall, Monica on the north – and the other way around. Take a look, our work is just so synergetic in this space. I was just mocking it up to see about spacing so don’t look at the placement order just the size and scale, she says. Also I can mock it up with your work  intermixed which I am happy to do if you want. 

model M on n. wall model M on S wall

model C. on N wall

Carolyn responds with how wonderful it is to see the model ... the scale of our work together seems really great. She’s also clear, she prefers her work be on the South wall. I’m good with that. She continues with how much she loves the way Mary’s piece fits the back wall … so impressive. I agree.

model C on South wall

I feel we need to move Carolyn’s and my large works to the front of the space, to even out  activity. My wall seems busy, maybe one larger work or two small ones go out into the entrance space.

model 3jpg


Mary adds:  I think I will move two of my suspended pieces in toward the center – they are a little too close to your pieces. When I ask about what she might show out in the entrance area, she’s still thinking … I could maybe show my inside of cactus drawing flat. 

The conversation ends with someone saying … This is a powerful show at least at
1/2″ = 1′ !  

Earlier Tiffany communicated some cool news. Come back, we’ll fill you in.

a fine day of work

Every time I ask Carolyn about her process she goes through the various steps, from my point of view, rather fast. I can never put it all together. Recently she asked if I could help her transfer an image to an archival sheet of foam board.  The image above is called Preservation Woods. It’s what she is transferring.

Carolyn completes a composition in Photoshop. She does the math and grids the work to enlarge it. In this case, the finished work is quite large – 13.3′ x 6.6′.  Her left brain processes as well as her right brain.

She photo copies the parts – 16 – 10 x 8″ sheets per panel, and creates a template, the template is traced on the panels.There are 10 – 32 x 40″ panels. Each one is prepped with 5 layers of matte medium on either side.  Once tracing the composition is complete,  painting begins. The mediums she plans to use include gouache, graphite and ink.

I arrive to her studio, thinking I can shoot footage and pull together a video for our blog. Everything you see in the video is shot within the first 20 minutes of our morning. We continue for another 7 plus hours to complete a panel. She maps out the copies while I trace them on to panels.

The title of the work is Preservation Woods.  It will be 80 x 160″ – which is 13.3′ x 6.6′ – when completed. There are 10 – 32 x 40″ panels and it takes 16 – 10 x 8″ sheets per panel.

I don’t know if you can see the outline transfer of the animal above, it’s light, silvery, and delicate. The dark edges might be the result of my lack of experience with graphite powder. The ram you see is the upper left quadrant is only 16 x 20″, a very small part of the overall composition.

Just watch the video, it goes quick (about 4 minutes) and is enjoyable.
The day passes quickly and several things get completed.

1000 holes today!

I am having fun making the art for Creature, Man, Nature. It is moving along quickly – I must have drilled 1000 holes today! – Mary Shindell

I caught up with both Mary and Carolyn.  Everyone is right in the flow of things. Carolyn is prepping panels to complete her drawing, Mary is drilling parts for her sculpture, and because I have drawings that need frames and canvas that needs stretching, I’m heading to the framers.

The variety in our working habits – is as interesting to me as the variety of our work. Here are some of my favorite photos I shot for Mary’s video. She’s not kidding when she says she drilled holes all day.

making a prototype and a video

Mary Shindell with her prototype in hand.

 prototype  n.1.
An original type, form, or instance serving as a basis or standard for later stages.

Mary’s stuff – on top of work table.

Today the plan is to  build a prototype and figure out how to stabilize the form. There’s a lot of technical stuff to yet work out, Mary says after introducing me to her assistant – Pere.  It’s the start of building Mary’s 3D forms.

Mary uses words like LED and high-lumen count. She talks about optical fiber being soft and flexible, and emitting light from the side, see the line, she says, as she cups the fiber in her hand. The other fiber she notes is stiffer and emits light off the ends. She talks about wattage and voltage. At one point she explains to Pere how she got a measurement by  multiplying pi by 2.5.

What do you call yourself Mary? I ask – Are you still a drawer?
Yes! Always.
A printmaker?
Yes, a computer generated print – maker.

She pauses and states – I’m a multi-media artist, and right now I feel the momentum in my work is in the installation. 

I take photos and at one point it feels right to shoot film footage. There’s lots of activity. Because filming was not in the plan, I don’t have a microphone with me. Better quality sound is not an option.  I think to dub other sound into this, but in the end, I don’t.

Truth is, while I’m asking lots of questions, I am in fact removed from activity between Mary and her assistant. So keep in mind while you watch the video – observation, in silence – feels right. When I really want to listen and hear what they are saying, I mostly notice the many sounds inside the studio.  Note how noisy the video gets at certain points.

The studio belongs to artist Mitch Fry. Mitch and Ray (his assistant) are talking, cutting and drilling, a short distance away.  Maybe I hear a compressor and now and again, the traffic. So while you look at the video and you can’t hear Mary talking and you’re only getting bits of what they say, know that is also true for me. It’s real.

Mary will return to her drawing and in time a colorful, desert/olive-green print will go inside what is now only the white, paper-lined tube seen here.

Enjoy the process.  I did.