Nix + Gerber - the movie!

Lori and I are so excited to share this short documentary by Nol Honig and Robert Hall of The Drawing Room. What began as a random email inquiry from Nol has ended in a wonderful short film about me and Lori as we constructed the model for Living Room. A more detailed description of the ‘making of’ can be found in an earlier blog post called “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Bruce”. 

Thanks so much to Nol and Rob for this priceless time capsule of our working life!

CategoriesStudio Life

Here are our collection of rulers. This isn't all of them, just the ones we grab the most often. It’s fair to say that Lori and I have different attitudes when it comes to outfitting the studio with the necessary supplies or equipment. I forever have my father’s voice in my head asking whether the item(s) in question are a “need or a want”. It is burned into my brain and I can’t escape it no matter how I try. This internal debate takes up a good deal of my time as I have sometimes agonized over a $2 pack of clay. Pick it up, walk away, second guess myself and put it back. Repeat. It’s just sad. Lori, on the other hand, had no such training as a child. She is from the land of “if one if good, five is better.” There may be some other philosophy mixed in of “life is short, why waste it looking for that one thing. Just get more of them, because hey, you never know when might need a whole dozen of them, and boy won’t you be happy when that day comes and you will have more of that thing than you will ever need”. Or something like that. Over the years I have learned to pick my battles, and that is one I usually give up on pretty quick because my reasoning is often irrational. “I don’t know, because…” never won me many debates.


So, it is with great pain that after fifteen years I have admitted out loud, more than once, that boy, I sure do appreciate having a great supply of ______________ (fill in the blank). And then Lori usually acts hard of hearing and she makes me repeat it. But it is true. Couple that with the frequent need for oddly shaped objects – “How will we make those miniature pendant lamps? Good thing we bought the 50 pack of tiny funnels when we were on vacation last year” – and our shopping cart overflow-ith.


These days, I tend to view this stockpiling as a necessary evil. Much of our working life now takes place when the stores are closed. Late nights, early mornings, holidays… you get the picture. And as we have taken on more commercial work, their deadlines are often quite tight and there isn’t extra time to run to the hardware store or order materials on line. Thank goodness we have the well stocked “art pantry”. Whether it is a wide selection of plastic tubing, balsa wood, HO scale figures, or fake fur, I have found it our studio when I needed it most.

CategoriesStudio Life

“Hi. You don’t know me at all but my partner and I would like to come into your studio/home for an undisclosed amount of time and document you and your process of making a diorama and subsequent photograph for use in a film we are hoping to make sometime in the future. We’re not quite sure about all of the details of the theme, but we’ll figure it out. What do you say?”  That is not the exact email that Lori received last spring, but it is the basic premise. And that is how we came to meet Nol and Rob, the film duo known as The Drawing Room, We did some research on them, and eventually said ‘yes’ to their proposal of filming us at work. It began with a basic meeting in our apartment. It just so happened that Lori and I were getting ready to start creating a diorama of our studio, which you may or may not know, doubles as our living room. They loved the idea of recording us building this tiny set inside of the actual place. It’s like the tv on the tv on the tv! What is real?

To fabricate the Living Room scene, we started with the bigger elements. The scale of the scene was determined by a chair that we had already made for an earlier construction. The walls and floor were begun, then we moved onto larger pieces of furniture-the work table, crates, flat files etc…  Most of that falls on Lori’s shoulders. She is much better at building and constructing props like this. Measuring and cutting and careful gluing end up making me batty because I inevitably read the ruler incorrectly, slice the wrong bit off, or spill the glue. Carving, sculpting and spackling all come more naturally to me.

As you can imagine, constructing the scene was a long process. Fitting in studio hours around our day jobs adds a lot of time. But, Nol and Rob were very patient and would come out to the studio every two weeks or so and document whatever was going on. Even our failed experiments. A whole afternoon was wasted as we attempted to vacuum form miniature plastic storage bins. Live and learn (and bitch and moan). They were also quite genial with the fluctuations in temperature throughout the summer. At one point it reached a mere 99 degrees inside the apartment. We were all quite stinky after this particular session. Lori and I generally dress (or don’t dress) for the heat, but we all thought it best if we made ourselves more presentable for the camera.

Merman in the living room.

While they filmed, they asked us various questions about materials, process, our backgrounds, etc… We’d try to give them enough information that they could edit it down to what they needed to fit the eventual theme of the movie. And we’d get off topic quite a bit because we all got along so well. I think one of the most entertaining conversations involved the inevitable (?) zombie apocalypse. Get prepared people!

When we were about half way through construction of the scene Lori got another surprise email. A small museum in the region was putting together a show about artist’s studios called “Inside the Artists’ Studios”. The Bruce Museum is truly worth seeking out. Based in Greenwich, Connecticut, it gives equal prominence to art, science and natural history through its wide range of exhibits. A group of folks from the museum came down to Brooklyn to see what we had going on and were pleased that Living Room would fit their plan for the exhibit. They were interested in showing the diorama as well as the finished photograph too.

Normally, showing the diorama is not even a consideration. The scenes are built for one viewing point. In fact, many of the objects inside the dioramas are only finished on one side to look good for the camera. In the past Lori has made an exception regarding showing the models when it is for educational purposes. (She was part of the “Otherworldly” show at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York in 2011 that featured artists who use models/dioramas for their work) This show would also fit that criteria, so she accepted the invitation to participate in the show.

Knowing that we would show the model, and it was early in the process of building it, we finished the pieces a bit more that we normally might when building it strictly for a photograph. What that means in practical terms is objects were finished in the full round and Lori actually scanned all of the books and cd’s in the living room so that the text and/or artwork was legible. She literally spent days scanning and printing these things. She’s nuts! But, it all looks really good, so I can’t really complain about the time spent.

The one really great thing about re-making the living room in miniature was that if we had a question about the size, scale, or color of anything, we could just go look at the original. One of the questions that the guys asked while filming is did we take reference photos of the living room before  beginning to work.? We did not. The model is not what the studio/living room looked like on one very specific day. It is more of the overall look of the space showing the items that tend to not change over time - the work tables, chairs, shelves. When asked how we would recreate a very complicated object, I told him the truth—I’d leave it out of the scene! Why make myself crazy and take up a ton of time on a non-essential thing.

The Living Room diorama is packed and ready to hit the road.

To prepare the diorama for transportation to the museum was another matter. We constructed it in such a way that the walls could be taken apart and packed into the car flat. Everything that could be glued down to a surface was secured (i.e., all of the items on the tabletops were glued down). Items on shelves were held in place by cardboard taped across the opening (I really did not want to re-shelve all the books and cd’s). Items that needed to remain loose (like chairs and light stands) were packed into small boxes and labeled for easy unpacking on site. We caravanned with the guys to the Bruce Museum. They also filmed us installing the diorama. It was a very long day! A large framed Living Room was hung next to the diorama. A large Subway flanked it on the other side which balanced the whole area quite nicely.

It took some time to get everything into place.

Almost done installing!

Rob gets up close and personal with the model.

Filming the filming.

Finally opening night for the show rolled around. Rob came up to film the opening too. The show featured two other artists who have worked with artist’s studios as subject matter- Joe Fig and Richard Haas. Their work was incredible and very different from Lori’s . It was a great crowd, very well attended! One guy we met had been an actor back in the day and had done some acting on “Peewee’s Playhouse”. Wow!

As for Rob and Nol’s film project, who knows. We’ll do some more formal interviews and leave it in their very capable hands to bring it to fruition. On the face of it, just saying “yes” to some random guys might seem a little crazy, but that is how we have met some amazing people and become part of some great projects. Can’t wait to see how they pull it all together!


The show at the Bruce Museum runs through March 9, 2014. The museum will have a panel discussion with the artists on February 19.



For two days last week we had a French (Canadian) occupation of the studio. A film production crew came down from Montreal to film us building the diorama for Chinese Take Out for the series, “How It’s Made” on the Discovery Channel. They filmed us in the various stages of construction, from basic cutting of foam to taking the photograph with Lori’s 8x10 camera. Lots of repetition of tasks from different angles and close-ups. Four gentlemen made up the crew -Pierre, Luc, Pierre-Luc, and Pascale- and they were great! Very funny and highly skilled, I think they really enjoyed filming the models. A welcome break from large warehouses and big machines perhaps. We filmed in the studio most of the time, but also on the sidewalk in our Brooklyn neighborhood, near the local Chinese restaurant that inspired the scene. For two people who don’t really enjoy being photographed, filming out in the ‘hood was not much fun. Lots of lookie-loo’s! They finished up the filming by shooting the finished photograph on exhibit in the gallery.

Lori in deep discussion with film crew.




Kathleen shows them how it's done.


Pierre, Pierre-Luc and Luc on the mean streets of Brooklyn.


Luc films the photographs in Lori's show at ClampArt.



A rose between two thorns- Kathleen, Pierre, Lori.


Just because we can... took some footage of the still assembled Living Room diorama.

Big thanks to our new friends for all their hard work. We’ll post when the episode is ready to air next spring.

CategoriesStudio Life

I saw online that yesterday was " Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day". This intrigued me because I love pinhole pictures! I did some research and learned that this is an international event designed to celebrate the art of pinhole . Cool! What I love about this type of photography is that they are one of a kind, usually a bit wonky, and (at least from my own experience) you never know what you will get until you develop the image. Froggy friend from Botanic Garden.


Lori sent away for a small pinhole camera a few years ago on a whim. It's small, about the size of your fist, and can be used with a tripod or just set on the ground. We've taken it on trips and done our share of not-so-great landscapes and still lifes, but the most fun we've had with it is photographing our dioramas.

After Lori takes the final 8x10 image, I set up for pinhole pics. I keep the model set up the same, but I will move the lights a bit as necessary. The thing I like most is that I can put the camera inside the scene and get a totally different viewpoint from that of the 8x10 pic. Given the scale of the models and the size of the camera, you often feel like you are standing inside the scene.

Washers and mural from Laundromat -day.


Up close with critter from Laundromat -night.

Unfortunately we've only scanned a few of the pinhole images we've taken over the years. We don't do them for any other purpose but to entertain ourselves. I hope to find the time to make my own pinhole camera(s) one day. Until I do, here are a few from the archives.

Detail from Fountain.

Signage from Church.

Map Room

Work table in the violin shop.

Looking up the giant tree coming through the floor of the library.

Space suite made of polymer clay.

Raccoon critter in a box.

What's a card catalog?

Big W, Mission accomplished. The mall is secure.


Wash and set.


CategoriesStudio Life

We had a great guest come to the studio last week.  It was Mark Alice Durant, who is the mastermind behind the blog Saint Lucy.  Based in Baltimore, Saint Lucy features Mark’s writing on photography and contemporary art. He’s made art and written extensively on art for many years, as well as teach. In preparation for his visit, we spent some time on his blog and were amazed at the range of artists he showcases and variety of issues he discusses. The reason for his visit was to interview Lori for his “Conversations” section of his blog. (Luckily we still had some dioramas set up!)  After a tour of the studio, they sat down to talk. It was fun to be a fly on the wall and listen to the interview. They covered a lot of topics and I feel sure the final result will be a great read.  In the meantime, see what he’s been up to at . You won’t be disappointed.

CategoriesStudio Life

The year has absolutely flown by and a blog update is long past due! Good blogging intentions lost out to day jobs, studio and commercial deadlines, family, and travel.  No excuses, just fact. But, where exactly did the time go? Finished panel with stripes. The goal was to have it look like the walls of an older style subway car, like the B train.


Truth be told I can’t remember what the heck we had going on at the start of 2012, other than a continuation of projects from 2011.  Lori had begun constructing the set for the Subway image the later part of 2011.  It was a large set, necessary to include details like the striped wall covering –shiny/matte striped aluminum. Lori painstakingly layed out, taped off, and then used sandpaper to create the matte stripes.  The seats were carved foam, coated in spackle, then painted. Aluminum rod acted as center poles and was bent to become handrails.


Subway seats-step 1. Glue together rough cut pieces of pink foam. Use hot-wire then sandpaper to shape.

Subway seats -step 2. Cover seats with spackle then more sanding. Repeat 2-3 times as needed to get the desired shape.


Subway seats -step 3. Careful taping then painting to get the right look.

Lori has long been fascinated by the walking sand dunes of Namibia. That is what led to us dragging  300lbs of sand up to our apartment. How much did we actually use to create the sand filled interior of the subway car? A wee fraction. But you never know. If we’d just picked up a little bit of sand initially, we would inevitably had to go buy more.  It was entirely a fluke that Hurricane Sandy hit in late October, just a few weeks after the scene was completed.  All told we worked on Subway for about a year, off and on.


Subway seats attached to back wall of model. Lori fine tunes the dirty and rusty finish.


It stinks when you have to adjust that one little thing and you can't reach it from the outside!


Quality control officer Merman giving everything the once over!

Part of the “off” time was the opportunity to work with our Four Story Treehouse buddies  (Joe and Vincent) again on a short video for the new BBC America series, Coppers.  This was the first original programming by the American wing of BBC and the idea was to create a video that would bring viewers up to speed historically with what was happening in the Five Points area of New York City in the 1860’s. It was decided to focus on the draft riot and its’ effect on the country, highlighting the anger it created between the different classes and ethnic groups.

Laying out streets and wooden sidewalks for Five Points model. Daisy is keeping the board in place.

Early stage of alley. Buildings are all scratch-built. A rare, hovering giant squirrel looms in the distance.


With little time to do research and build the sets, about 1-1/2 months, we got to work. We planned some specific camera shots, knowing basically what would be needed to tell the story. Lori and I have also learned that there is a lot of improvisation on set, and do our best to offer a variety of possibilities. You can check out the finished product on the Four Story Treehouse website - .

Lori takes test shots of buildings.


Birds-eye view of alley set up. Laundry is cut up dress shirt from the thrift store, hanging from piano wire.


On set, shooting Five Points model. Director Vincent Peone plans his next move.


Getting ready to shoot. Cue the fog machine!



CategoriesStudio Life

See the video now.


This past fall we were invited to be a part of an exciting and memorable project. Our new good friend, Joe Sabia, was putting together a team to create a video about sustainable sushi. Inspired by a conversation with chef Kristof0r Lofgren of Bamboo Sushi in Portland, Oregon(theU.S.’s first certified sustainable sushi restaurant), he wanted to help Kristofer’s efforts to spread the message about the need for better commercial fishing practices. Joe has a background in television and video, and is a passionate and skillful storyteller. His talents seemed like the perfect fit for Kristofer’s message.

From the beginning Joe imagined this “story of sushi” to be told using models, and luckily for us, word of mouth and some internet searching led him to Lori’s website. He liked the possibility of using the models to create another world and appreciated the detailed nature of Lori’s photographs. The whole idea of making miniature sets for somebody else to work with was intriguing as well as scary. We had never worked with other artists like this, but it is a great cause and also seemed like the end result could be something pretty special. The project would definitely push us out of our comfort zone and interrupt our usual studio production, but it would also be a good opportunity to move our skills to the next level, both in terms of what we could physically produce and also what we could offer a client commercially in the future. (Always afraid the “art” might dry up, we are perpetually trying to nurture our other options.)

Ideas were discussed and a general storyline was hammered out. We then drew out a storyboard (first time for everything) to further refine the narrative and provide a shot sequence. It was decided that Lori and I would build 5-7 sets, each illustrating a step along the sushi path – from the fishing boat all the way to the restaurant table. The specifics were left up to us. So, we retreated to our respective corners to get to work. Knowing that the ‘detail work’ would fall to me, I started reading up on the world of sushi fishing and commercial fish markets. Lori started making lists and sourcing materials to begin building the structures we would need. Thank God for the internet!

Now, the beauty of making dioramas for Lori’s photographs is that she knows exactly what viewpoint she wants to have from the outset. All the elements of the scene are then made with that viewpoint in mind. Backs of structures are often unpainted or unfinished because we know that the camera will never see it. But, building dioramas for someone else to film, not knowing what crazy angle they may want to shoot or what close-up they may take, was quite nerve wracking and made us (me) overbuild the scenes even more than usual. One of my biggest fears, was them wanting to film a particular shot and not being able to do so because what I had made was not detailed enough or somehow incomplete or incorrect. For example: I made numerous fish of various species, but I tried to make sure that they would be from the same part of the ocean (mostly- I got really tired near the end). That the type of  fishing boat we depicted, and the method of catching fish, were in line with the type of fish and by-catch I sculpted. That the tables and storage containers were appropriate for the type of market. It got a little crazy at times with Lori saying “What does it matter if the blah blah blah blah?” and me answering “That’s not how it really would be, that doesn’t really yada yada yada” and then some strained silence for a while. But we managed…

And we kept working. We knew we had about four months to get these eight dioramas made. (Thankfully the deadline got extended!) Some were very direct and contained. Others were sprawling and involved a lot of smaller elements. We would email in-progress images to keep Joe in the loop. By now a director of photography/cameraman was also on board, Vincent Peone. He visited the studio with Joe and had a lot of great ideas for how to shoot the scenes. We met a couple times during production of the dioramas, and each meeting left us feeling even more excited about the project. This was Lori and my first big commercial job and we really wanted it to go well. Previous jobs were much more short term, a couple weeks at best. This job was proving to be a real test of our stamina, both mental and physical.

One amazing sidebar to all of this work was an excursion to Montauk to get a close look at commercial fishing. Through chef Kristofer, we were able to meet Michael Dimmock, who is head of an awesome company, Sea to Table. They work with fisherman to get their catch into the hands of chefs in the most direct way possible. Because of their efforts fishermen get a fair price, and chefs and restaurants get insanely fresh seafood (it usually arrives the next morning) to prepare for their customers. It’s a beautiful thing. Michael gave us the insiders tour where we got to see boats up close, watch fish being processed and packaged for quick shipping, and just witness a completely different way of life. It was fantastic!

Back in the studio, shooting day approached. By now the dioramas were taking over the majority of the available space, with elements stretching into four different rooms of the apartment. Joe and Vincent came for a final pre-shoot visit and we took them through each set. Most of the discussion was about transitions from scene to scene, lighting possibilities, special effects, and figures to populate the scenes. Figures, argh! We had been able to find scale model figures to work on the fishing boat(s) and in the market scenes. We had not prepared for populating the restaurant scenes. Lori and I make no secret that figures are not our strong suit. My attempts at sculpting them have been arguably passable. Knowing that we couldn’t make the little people, the only option was to find them. Thankfully, Lori is a tenacious shopper and she quickly located resin figures of the correct scale that we could make work. By ‘make work’ I mean saw off the legs of about half of them and modify to make them seated rather than standing, grind away unwanted elements, and repaint. But they did work, and they really made the scenes. We were as ready as we were gonna be.

We thought we were as ready as we could be. It was 9 am on a Saturday. Lori and I made finishing touches on the dioramas while the guys got set up. It is just a whole different world. And so much stuff! Fancy camera, lighting systems, dolly set up- we had just enough room, and no more. Hard traveling cases and extra gear filled the kitchen and bedroom. The back half of the living room/studio became the main shooting area. That area was dominated by the “ocean expanse” complete with boat shaped cut-out so we could switch out the two different fishing vessels –one using traditional fishing methods, the second using sustainable methods. All of the shots requiring this set were done first. It took all available personnel and some innovative problem solving to create many of the visual effects. Vincent truly transformed the sets with creative lighting and energizing camera shots.Working on this smaller scale was a new and long awaited experience, and his enthusiasm really shows.

Because setting up the equipment was so involved it was decided to keep the camera in place and move the sets for shooting. Once the boat was removed, the “ocean” became the perfect table to host the other scenes. The dock scenes were filmed next, followed by the two different restaurant scenes, and then the trawling net. Throughout all this, Joe kept a watchful eye on the script and worked out the time required for each shot with Vincent. Lori and I both felt like we didn’t want to watch the raw footage. We preferred to be surprised by the final edit.

By early evening we had exhausted our initial filming area and had to move all the camera equipment and lights to shoot the final models. This market area consisted of three separate models side by side representing different aspects of the commercial fish market experience, from very large, high volume market to a smaller, more intimate space at the end. We wanted each model to be distinct as the camera panned across the interiors. Style of architecture, color, and lighting were crucial in achieving the differences in the spaces. These three models had taken the most time to build due to the amount of detail. And so many fish! Yikes!

Creating movement within the scenes was as important as effects done with the camera. We took advantage of every opportunity, whether it was a rocking boat, drifting clouds, or rolling mist on the water (cue the fog machine). Some are more obvious (check out the hefty rod leading the fish through the trawling net), others a bit more subtle (well placed fishing line opening the hatch or a hand just out of frame pushing a forklift). It was about as low tech as you could get, but so much fun! But I think it was  in the same spirit as the models themselves. A little bit wonky, but it still made sense.

We finally wrapped around 11 that night. It had been an incredibly long day and everyone was beat, but also very pleased with the raw footage. Lori and I were so glad our part of this project was complete. Now the others could work their magic. It would feel strange to go back to the artwork and leave the sushi project behind. It had dominated our studio lives (and regular lives) for such a long time. We couldn’t wait to see the final video!





A few weeks ago I received an email from the art director of Wired magazine, inquiring if I would be interested in a quick editorial illustration. I was recommended to her from a fellow diorama artist Thomas Doyle. Thanks Thomas! I owe you one. The project was a photograph to accompany an article on the end of the Harry Potter franchise. The last Harry Potter movie arrives in theaters this July 15. I jumped at the opportunity after hearing what kind of image they were looking for, a miniature funeral scene atop of one of the books, or the stack of books. When I read this description, I immediately had a picture in my mind of how I wanted it to look. But this doesn’t mean my idea matches their idea. So after consulting with Kathleen, she sat down and started making sketches. I went to work on procuring the needed art materials, because there is always something I don’t have ready to go in the studio. Sketches are great because it helps nail down what I’m able to do in the studio, and the magazine gets an idea of what I can deliver. Alice Cho, the art director was fantastic in expressing what they were looking for, yes to the creepy tree, no to the coffin idea, yes to the grave dug out of the book, no to the tombstones. It’s taken me several years to figure out what questions to ask. The single most important thing is to not get too married to your original ideas because they will change throughout the process. I’m being hired to give them a certain look, the “Lori Nix” look. I’m not being hired to create high art.

After we got the green light we headed off to Barnes and Noble in search of hardback Harry Potter books. We then took a ruler and eyed how large the creepy tree should be, and also what scale figures would work best standing around the grave. I started immediately making the tree form out of wire, lots and lots of twisting wire. After two days of wire twisting, the tree was ready to hand off to Kathleen. We knew how we wanted the bark to look, twisted and old. The perfect material is called Magic Sculpt, a two-part epoxy clay that hardens in three hours. The beauty of this stuff is that it’s non-toxic and easy to work with. Thank you Complete Sculptor. The next day I went off to the day job and Kathleen began to carefully put on the epoxy. It’s a slow process and not to be rushed. Three days later the tree is done, hardened and ready to paint. Let me just say right now how happy I am the magazine wasn’t looking for leaves on their trees.

Next come the figures. We’re not very good at sculpting people without them looking really cartoony. What we can do is modify an already static one. Unfortunately we chose an odd scale of figure for the scene, bigger than O scale 1:45, smaller than G scale 1:22.5. We like an in between scale at 1:32. Unfortunately, not many figures come in this size, but the ones we find can be modified to our needs. I’m just thankful the local railroad hobby shop has a great selection of figures. Thank you Red Caboose.

Now it’s time to create the grave in the book. With this project I treated myself to a new Bosch jigsaw, the perfect tool for the job. It emotionally hurt me to cut into the book, but after a few quick runs of the jigsaw, a nice rectangular hole was left. I took the loose pages and punched out leaf shapes to create a literary dirt pile next to the grave. Kathleen worked the figures over with super matte paint, giving one of the figures a Gryffindor scarf. Kathleen’s part of the process is finished, now it’s up to me to create the sky, model the lighting and start photographing.

This project was quick from start to finish. Friday I was emailed about the job. Sketches created over the weekend to arrive at Wired electronically on Monday morning. Received the thumbs up Monday afternoon and immediately started sourcing materials. Wire, epoxy and figures were picked up on Tuesday. Kathleen works on the tree for the next four days. Yes it takes that long. Sunday evening all parts have dried and we begin to set up the scene. I shoot late into the night, experimenting with light, fog machine, camera angle and more light. I get to bed around 1:30am but toss and turn all night because I don’t feel like I’ve achieved the best shot just yet. Monday morning I send Kathleen off to her day job and I go about rearranging the lights and background and start fresh. I like what I’m seeing so I send jpegs to Wired. The only thing that’s saving me is I’m on New York time and Wired is on California time. The four-hour time difference is keeping me from freaking out. I wait for Alice to say yes or no to the finals. She replies with a request to make one simple change. I’m on it and within two hours I have a final image uploading to California.

I enjoy commercial work. It always challenges me in unexpected ways. For a small time, I get to live outside of my head and inside someone else’s and create images that I would never create for myself. I also use these opportunities to work with new materials and experiment with new approaches. The secret to this success was asking the right questions, being flexible, and keeping the outcome on a realistic timetable. Short deadlines can really release the creative flow. And I honestly thrive under deadlines.

CategoriesStudio Life

I was asked by the New York Foundation of the Arts to participate on an expert panel for their “Artist as Entrepreneur Boot Camp”. The panelists included Lenny Pickett, the musical director of Saturday Night Live, Andy Hunter, Founding Editor of Electric Literature, Dave Shroeder, Musical Director at New York University and Mark Golden, founder and CEO of Golden Artist Colors. We were asked to speak about our entrepreneurial skills  as well as how we got to where we are now. The audience consisted of about 60 artists from a variety of backgrounds including painters, musicians, dancers, playwrights, actors and writers. The goal for the participants was to learn how we the panelists make a business out of what we love to do, and hopefully help them create goals for themselves.  

As each of us spoke and answered questions, several phrases kept repeating themselves, such as serendipity, say yes, and be nice. So how does one go about creating serendipity for themselves? The definition is  “the faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident, or better yet, when someone finds something that they weren’t expecting to find. This happens when you pretty much say yes to every opportunity or favor asked of you. You never know when something will turn into something greater. I’ll give you a couple of examples which pretty much describes my professional trajectory. Back when I was still wet behind the ears and fresh out of graduate school, I applied to a group show at a non-profit art space several miles away from Columbus, Ohio. The exhibition was reviewed by the local art magazine and one of my images was published to illustrate the show. The local art magazine like my work and asked if I would like to submit an image to use on the cover. I definitely said yes. This magazine was picked up by an artist who lived in Georgia, but was obsessed with his home state of Ohio. He liked my work and sent it to his friend in Houston, Texas who happened to work at a gallery. She then sent it to her friend who was opening a gallery and was looking for artists to show in his new space. By submitting to a small arts space in small Ohio, my work traveled to Texas and landed me in my first serious commercial art gallery. From here my exhibition record had grown over the years and now I’m exhibiting at commercial galleries across the United States. What’s my secret? That I tried to participate and I said yes along the way.


Serendipity comes to those who try. You can’t hide in your darkroom or your basement or garage and expect to be “discovered”. It doesn’t happen this way any more, nor did it happen like this very often in the past. Sometimes when you try, your payoff doesn’t come right away, but rather further on down the road. This is why you need to be nice from the get go, and not fake nice, but sincerely nice. Here is story number two about serendipity. Trying to get my career off the ground, I’ve participated in several portfolio review events in cities such as Portland, OR and Houston, Texas and even in my own city of New York. My first portfolio review event took place in Portland, Oregon and it was called Photo Americas (now Photo Lucida). Again I was still pretty wet behind the ears. I sat a goal for myself not to have great expectations but to get my work before professional eyes and try to create a little buzz behind my name. This was in  2001. It was a whirlwind of new faces and new names. I met quite a few photographer there that I’m still friends with and in contact regularly. Several of the reviewers included Barbara Tannenbaum for the Akron Museum of Arts, Gail Gibson from G. Gibson Gallery in Seattle, Diane Barber from DiverseWorks in Houston, Texas, and Amy Gillman from MOCA Cleveland. From this first portfolio review I’ve become friends with Barbara, I’ve had an exhibition at DiverseWorks and I’m represented by Gail’s gallery. This past year, nine long years later, I receive an email from Amy Gilman, who in no longer with MOCA Cleveland but now at the Toledo Museum of Art. She remembered my work all these years and has curated me into a five person show around the theme of Small Worlds. Nine years later and serendipity is still at work.


I hope the participants in the NYFA Boot Camp got as much out of the panel as I did. I enjoyed hearing the other panelists tell their stories, as well as answering audience questions. Just remember, you gotta participate, you gotta try, you should be nice and you should say yes. You just never know where the path will take you.





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Work has begun on the next diorama. (Can’t give out many details, Lori is very superstitious about talking about scenes in progress). But the division of labor is in place. She is plotting out, cutting, sanding, assembling (with a little swearing for good measure) the bones of the piece. Progress is always slow-ish at this stage because hard decisions are still being made: scale, where will the line of focus be, how high will the camera be, and how will light get into the final scene. The lighting issue is pretty key because that is what really transforms this small diorama into what appears to be (hopefully) a real space. And it’s much easier to figure that out now than after all the details are glued in place. The other tricky issue is how much floor and ceiling is needed. It is always more than you think, as it needs to extend towards the camera several feet beyond where the rest of the detailing ends. Additions almost always happen and random patches of blue on the walls and ceiling of the studio prove that figuring out how much sky/background is needed is also difficult. But once these issues are decided, there will be a brief window of time where in the space of a day, the basic structure will all come together. That is a very good day!

While Lori works on that, I’m working on detail elements. For this scene that means some lighting fixtures and wall decorations. These things are the slow-pokes and have to be started early so when Lori is ready to place them, they are complete. This scene will have some paintings, so that is where I’m at. Theme and composition are left up to me, within certain parameters of course. We try to personalize these elements, using photos of friends and family, or objects that have some meaning to us. As far as portraits go, if it ends up looking human I’m pretty happy. Getting any sort of likeness to the original subject would just be icing on the cake. I’ll confess that one painting I’m attempting is a trompe l’oeil still life. (The term is French for ‘deceive the eye’ and uses realistic painting to create the illusion that objects appear to be 3-D). My painting will have items related to my grandfather. So, we’ll see how it goes. I’m still in the planning stage. My painting background is limited (in college I did the minimum to get by) but it has improved over time. As long as I have reference, I generally do ok. And if it stinks, I’ll try something else, no one has to see it. I take comfort in the fact that in the final photo, it probably won’t be much larger than a stamp. And it may be in shadow. Or be covered with a wash of paint or dirt. A lot of trouble for such a small thing? You bet. But this is how we roll.

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In the world of model building, time moves slow…..very slow. It takes anywhere from a month (when we have our shit together) to fifteen months (when we get sidelined by other projects, usually commercial projects) to finish a scene. Therefore Kathleen and I will be posting weekly instead of daily. Not much happens in the day to day except a little gluing, a little painting, and lots of attention to two needy cats. When a scene moves along at a quick pace, it’s usually because I know exactly what I want in terms of the color palette, the layout of the scene, the details. Our quickest scene was called “Vacuum Showroom” and we did it in a month. It also helped that a deadline was looming. The hardest part for me is deciding exactly what I want. Too many times there are too many options. I’m kind of a deer in the headlines when confronted by more than three choices.  

I usually find inspiration on the subway commute to my day job in Manhattan, and it usually happens when the subway emerges from the depths of Brooklyn and climbs uphill over the Manhattan Bridge. Something about the darkness to bright light hits me in the head and opens my mind. I get a literal brainstorm. I immediately transcribe my idea to my phone, then send Kathleen a text message with a great, new, astounding, earth shattering idea. Even though she doesn’t reply, I know she is sighing heavily. If I still like the idea a week later, and still like it two years down the road, then I know it’s worth building. I start the research process either with Google, or better yet, books (remember those?). The absolute hardest part of the diorama process is figuring out the color palette. Sometimes I know this the minute I see it in my head, but most often I’m that deer in the headlights again, trying to figure out if the scene should be predominately green, blue or brown. Too many options! And it’s especially difficult when doing research, I see a space that I love, but when it comes to making it in miniature, I can’t seem to shake what I’ve already seen, and I can’t break free of that impression. I really hate this. Therefore it’s best for me to conduct research from afar, again through Google or through books.


The current diorama Kathleen and I are working on I have been mulling around in my head for five years. It’s gone through several revisions, and now we’re finally bringing it to life. We work to each other’s strengths. I come up with the big idea and the color palette. Over breakfast, we drag out the sketchbook and start drawing out the physical space, the position of the camera, and make a list of details we want to fill out the scene. I go home and start fabricating the walls floor, ceiling and architectural details. I set the scale. Kathleen gets the lucky task of fabricating all the nitpicky details that I don’t have the patience to do. She’s pretty darn fearless in this department. I ask for a mastodon, and within a couple of days she had gone and carved me a mastodon out of foam.

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