among the wild is one domestic

The Feral Cat
10407927_10204499024746198_8125045016618442358_nCarolyn captured a feral kitten she’s calling Feisty. The white cat was small but wild; with patience and know-how Carolyn helped the kitty become healthy and now it’s learning trust. Feisty will be ready to make his way to a good home soon.

After weeks of working with the cat Carolyn wants to introduce the feline to another person, and at her request I spend an afternoon working in her studio. I manage to spill Feisty’s water and food but in general the first visit goes well. After another visit the kitten appears to recognize me. I have a decent sense of cat anatomy,  and between that and Carolyn’s cat behavior knowledge – Feisty settles in my arms. I am like a tree limb – as he hangs in relaxation.


The bones
Carolyn’s studio is like a research lab for animal study. Organized along the shelves are  skeletal bones and mummified critters that she has found and collected. Here are the newest additions – a series of bird bones she has cleaned and preserved in small transparent boxes – they’re magical.


Raven skull.


Raven bones

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And then there’s the artwork …
Will you be drawing Feisty? I ask Carolyn after my first visit with him. I don’t really draw domestic animals, she answers. I’m amused because that one day I would not have described the kitten as domesticated.

While in the studio I note all the animals on the walls, staring at us that afternoon. Here are only a few of them.


Bear – Bear


Baboon – Baboon


Monkey – Monkey

There’s all the Preservation series as well.

IMG_6598 IMG_6600Current work – a graphite on prepared paper drawing – sits on the table most of the time we are in there. Feisty sits nearby it.


A lead pencil next to a rendering of a very small bear.


I don’t ignore the cut outs of animals of all sorts – that are arranged in bags and boxes.


On my visit last week I mention to Carolyn I want to blog about the 3 dimensional and 2 dimensional activity that makes up her studio right now.

Of course it includes Feisty, the now truly one domestic creature among all the wild ones.


All of Feisty’s taming and progress is posted into Carolyn’s Facebook page and will continue until he finds a good home.

I mentioned I am familiar with cat anatomy. I spent last summer studying and making numerous works about it. This summer I learn more about animal behavior and the creation of trust. One cannot help but consider human behavior and how we treat the most vulnerable among us, it says so much about us as a people.

“If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them and what you do not know, you will fear. What one fears, one destroys.” – Chief Dan George, Tsleil-Waututh Nation

If I ask you to give me the connecting thread that moves through Carolyn’s studio, what would your answer be?

carolyn and the creatures

You know – Carolyn represents the Creature. I’ve made it clear that her laborious process fascinates me. I was in her studio several times the last few months. I took early shots of a Javelina progressing.


Glossy print stage of Collared Peccary or Javelina. 


He gets photoshopped into the woods.

The tracing below, I caught on Dec 11th. The end photo I got in the gallery, last week.


The enlarged photo-shopped composition gets transferred to drawing boards.


The Collard Peccary sits detailed into his spot on the composition.

I also catch the Musk-Ox on Dec 11.  At the time, I focus on the dense, black-inked area of tree branches in the center. The Ox silver tracing sits to the side waiting to come alive. In the  final stage the ox becomes primary in focus.



And below is the work on the wall in the gallery. It’s large, consequently this photo doesn’t do it justice. It holds 20 creature representations (if you count a couple of skulls).  I’ve heard Carolyn call them out several times now. There are sheep, goat, hawk, 2 javalinas, zebra, white deer, deer mount, mule deer, antelope, owl, squirrel, coatimundi, road runner, quail, musk-ox, crazy goat with beads, 2 skulls (sheep?), and pronghorn. If the blog allowed I’d tag them so you could know right where they are. It’s part of the enjoyment of standing in front of the real work. Some show up obviously, while others come into sight by surprise. If you get a chance to hear Carolyn talk about her work, take it. She weaves everything together with intelligence and amusement.

Preservation Woods

Preservation Woods
Acrylic on 10 prepared acid-free foam-core panels
80 x 160 inches

You know, I’m interested in anatomy. While my focus is mostly on human, I love animal anatomy as well because from that point of view, we connect.

Recently Carolyn generously loaned me some of her animal anatomy books. The one cat book in the background is mine. I pull the books out across my desk, go through them, think about drawing, then put them away. While I appreciate the loan, what do I do with the inspiration?

IMG_3737Yesterday the three of us discussed how we might be influencing each other. The few animals in my work are abstract and symbolic. My cat appears in one work, a snake and a frog in another. My inclusion of an animal and its anatomical structure is very different from Carolyn’s focus. Carolyn renders taxidermy, in a realistic manner, in a constructed natural setting. Reread that last sentence.

I don’t know about focusing on animal anatomy more than I do at this point. While the books excite me, for now animal is Creature, and Creature is Carolyn.

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!!


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.

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)

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.

in carolyn lavender’s studio

I get my fix of “looking”  before I focus on what Carolyn Lavender is working on. There are lots of cool things organized into this studio.

Carolyn collects objects.  The round container (above) makes me wonder why the characters are set aside. There’s rhyme and reason in all the nooks and crannies of her space.

The work titled Woods/Gifts is a small drawing Carolyn shared a glimpse of, in an earlier post. It’s what she is working on now. The delicate,  graphite drawing sits on her studio table still unfinished.

She’s gathered various object creatures, photographed and photoshopped them into woods, and created a narrative. I think storyboard as I connect and layout all the elements.

She tells me about the animals in the composition.  They’re all … things that Ted gave me, she clarifies.  I hear the what and when of each, they take on personal character. Ted Decker and Carolyn have been friends for over 20 years.  Ted, an independent curator, will carry this drawing in his own personal luggage, to exhibit – in Rio. She has a deadline, and it’s just around the corner.

We go over her process which I find totally complicated and completely interesting. I ask her to repeat things several times because I can’t seem to focus and catch it all.  Part of it is that the studio space is visually stimulating. The other part is that her work is labor intensive.

She’s photographed each of the animal objects and placed them (Photoshop) into other photographs of the  Stehekin woods. (Carolyn is originally from the Northwest.  We’ve had great conversation about our very different backgrounds.)

You can see at the very top of the image (above), a quality print of the scene she’s created. She had a number of reject prints that didn’t work for one reason or another.

She follows with making a tracing of the entire composition. The tracing is transferred onto a prepared piece of drawing paper.  While she draws, by her side and used for continual reference, is a copy of the print.

All her materials are on the desk and include the molding paste to prep the paper, the graphite pencils and the final varnish spray. I want to note that she preps a good quality paper on both sides with molding paste. I hold one, it’s got good weight and feels substantial. I am not a thief but I consider becoming one with the paper in my hand.

Because her process fascinates me I decide to pull together elements to the drawing she last completed.  It exhibited here in Phoenix and eventually it will be on its way, along with a few others she’ll start on next – to Washington – for a 2 person show. Carolyn is busy.

Notice again the same process play out: objects, photos, Photoshop, print, trace, draw.

The graphite detail in the trees is intense and wonderful.  She does say she doesn’t feel like she’ll be drawing this way for too long … I am feeling a little boxed in [by all the textures].

Before I leave we discuss what she’ll be doing for our exhibit.  She’ll be working with a bit more freedom.  And in one case much, much larger. There will be creatures.

Detail from
“The Woods – Fabrication”, 2012 11 x 30″ graphite on prepared paper.

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.