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.

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.


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.




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.