Discovering a Visual Shorthand: The Making of The Cartographer’s Dilemma

Discovering a Visual Shorthand: The Making of The Cartographer’s Dilemma

I’ve written how hesitant I am to explain the art pieces I create. However, this past year I have become more comfortable participating in conversations about my work.

While being on-hand during the hanging of the current show, I enjoyed a spontaneous conversation with Abel Floris, owner of Desert Signs and Graphics, and the artist responsible for creating the vinyl lettering for the exhibition. He was curious about my process; in particular how I came to create The Cartographer’s Dilemma (TCD). I summed up the amount of work that goes into each TCD sculpture into a few sentences. I wasn’t trying to be deliberately coy, I was simply eager to hear more of his thoughts on the pieces currently hanging in the show.

After my brief answer, however, Abel replied with a comment that arrested me with enthusiasm. I can’t recall his exact words, but the gist of his comment went something like, “…and just like that, you came up with the idea for the piece.” It wasn’t just the explanation on the concept behind the artwork that he was looking for, but the journey behind reaching the final presentation!

I had to search through my grey-matter data banks, reaching back through fifteen years of memories.

So here we go, time to share The Cartographer’s Dilemma story with you.

Cartographer's Dilemma Sample 05

Texture Detail

Between 1998 and 2002 I was employed at Monaco Labs and Video (now named Monaco Digital Film Labs) in San Francisco. For the first couple of years I worked as a film to video operator and sound synch technician. A huge majority of my time was spent in the “tape room”, a behind-the-scenes sort of machine room crowded with an assortment of video decks and telecine machines that work to transfer colorized film footage onto several video tape formats simultaneously.

The Tape Op Room

The Tape Op Room

For an aspiring film maker this was a fascinating place to work, even if my daily tasks seemed repetitive and somewhat monotonous. Yet, it was during this monotony that my creative mind would often get to explore.

Keep in mind, this is during a time in my life when I wasn’t very interested in being an artist. Making films and making music were my passions. That’s not to say I wasn’t technically artistic. From an early age, I had a talent for drawing and building small intricate objects and models. Developing and incorporating these talents into a career just never excited me.

Color Pastel Samples

Color Pastel Samples

I suspect the issue had to do with content, specifically the lack thereof. I never had anything to say through drawing, painting and/or sculpture. I could produce a near photo realistic rendering of a picture, but I couldn’t create a drawing born solely from my imagination. My mind was too busy exploring creativity along the lines of narrative structure and expression. For me, a single drawing was a moment arrested, and my satisfaction was dependent on seeing what followed next. That’s why I love animation. I appreciate the craft behind the illustrated moment, but it’s the narrative progression and context that resonates the most with me. So, what I’m saying is that during my childhood, an overdose of Saturday morning cartoons made me an impatient person. (I love you Mom!)

Where was I?

Oh, right; my job at Monaco Labs.

During those long intervals while waiting for video decks to record the digitized film footage, I would catch myself fidgeting. Every friend and loved one of mine would testify to my constant drumming with my hands. I was and will always be a drummer.  The tape room isn’t a quiet place, not when all the video decks are recording. The small speaker from which I would receive instructions from the colorist didn’t have the cleanest audio either. In this environment, drumming was simply too distracting, even for a drummer!

I’m not sure what instigated what I’m about to describe, but at some point, my sans drumming impulse to fidget lead me into a habit of rolling masking tape into long dowelesque forms. (a new word born!) The early formations were reminiscent of Moisture Vaporators found on Tatooine. But it didn’t take long for the tape sculptures to evolve into much more complex forms. I rolled the tape dowels adhesive-side out so that they would stick to other surfaces. I stuck the single tape constructions onto each other. Then I stuck those more complex formations onto the shelves and walls throughout the tape room.

Paper Tape Sample

Paper Tape Sample

After about two months of this activity, one of my co-workers took notice of my creations and warned me that our boss might object to my wasting company resources in such a manner. When I went to take down the sculptures, I noticed that a good portion of the tape’s adhesive had broken down and that the dowels had started to unravel in ringlets. Also noticeable was that a considerable amount of dust had accumulated on the sticky structures. I was disturbed to see how much dust was floating in the air, but obviously not disturbed enough to leave my job.

Fast forward five years later. I was back in college exploring my capabilities in becoming a producing studio artist. My desire to be a film maker had been stalled after working on a film project in Toronto, ON, and I was searching for a new way to apply myself while relying on my inherent talents and creativity. Although I was excited to rediscover my proficiency in drawing, painting and sculpting, I was still having a hard time finding inspiration to drive me to produce any meaningful artwork.

Then, The Ultimate Matrix Collection DVD box set was released. To spare you a movie review, I’m just going to say that I really enjoyed all three films. I agree that the movies aren’t perfect, but the full story arch was, and still is very intriguing to me. When the box set was released for sale, it included a hefty collection of supplemental material, including a documentary centered on the philosophy that inspired the movies. This documentary in tandem with a Myth and Legends course I was taking during that semester are what inspired me to pursue an associate’s degree in philosophy.

Philosophy exposed me to a wealth of ideas and questions, new ways to perceive the world, and more importantly, new ways to understand what forces shape my perception.

– concluded in part 2

Charcoal Still Life

Charcoal Still Life


Color Pencil Drawing

stipple dot self portrait

Stipple Dot Self Portrait

first sand and clay version of TCD

the first materials study of The Cartographer’s Dilemma