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

continued from part 1

A Series Of Dilemmas

“Cartographers use an illustrative short-hand to describe geographical features of the real world. This short-hand form of communication is designed to allow the viewer to have an easy baring on the contours and layout of the area depicted on the cartographer’s map. Exaggerated color palettes, lines of various weight and solid fields of color all act as simplified yet concise forms of communication informing the map viewer of the geography depicted. Instead of focusing on the actual details of the full terrain, the user of the map can rely solely on the map to find her way around the area.
“Spoken and written language serves as a way to describe the real world as well. Words are used as a concise method to describe all the vast facets and features of the world and the ways in which we interact with and within it.
“However, are words also just another form of short-hand, simplifying or exaggerating how we see the real word? A culture’s vocabulary has such a huge impact on how it’s members regard the world in which they live. Could it be that the more complex and sophisticated our lexicon becomes, the more removed we are from simply seeing the real world?”

– as described on

The ideas and dilemmas philosophy introduced me to were the perfect concepts for me to explore through my art. Creating art wasn’t about making a thing, it was about exploring an idea. Visual art in particular become a new voice through which I could explore the world. During the process of building The Cartographer’s Dilemma (TCD), the individual elements became metaphors of the different aspects of the theme I was tackling. With regard to the completed piece, the more refined the artwork was aesthetically, the clearer the question posed by the artwork’s concept became.

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

The Cartographer's Dilemma

The Cartograper’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!
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Is The Osteodontokeratic Hammer Built Or Grown? part 3

One day I was sitting in the Palm Springs Art Museum, waiting for Calista who was attending a Leadership Coachella Valley meeting. I had some lined note paper, a mechanical pencil, a healthy dose of boredom and an eagerness to push the design of the ODK Hammer into something more exciting than it currently was.

Up to this point, the differences between each hammers’ shape was pretty extreme. I wanted to create an internal system or structure that they could all share. I imagined what the skeletal system of an organically grown Osteodontokeratic Hammer could look like. How would the bones fit together? How many bones would the hammer even need? Would there be areas or spaces for internal organs? Most importantly, how would the entire osteo-donto-keratic concept be distributed throughout the tool.


It’s uncanny how the very first sketch of a concept often ends up being the final design, even after hundreds of sketches have exhausted an artist’s exploration of the subject. So it was that the first sketch of the skeleton of the ODK Hammer became the structural system I would base the core shape of every subsequent hammer sculpture.

Mostly comprised of bones, the sketch included the antler-claw, a ribcage section, a small spinal column as well cartilage and ball socket joints to help absorb shock impacts. What was missing was a system that would suffer the blunt trauma in the use of the hammer’s head.


The business end of the hammer needed something special to express the purpose of the tool. I imagined that a great deal of scar tissue would accumulate in and around the impact area of the head. What the hammer needed was a substance that could be strong enough to withstand hard impacts. I’m not sure why the answer took so long for me to discover, but after mulling over my copy of Grey’s Anatomy for a day or two, the answer became clear. Teeth are the hardest elements of our skeletal system. Of course the hammer head would be reinforced by teeth, molars to be more specific.

In the time between discovering the fractures in the second set of hammers and Jonathan’s suggested solution, I decided to turn the sketches of the hammer skeleton into an actual sculpture (I guess I just needed to make things harder for myself). The challenge of pulling off the skeleton sculpture did help reignite my excitement for the whole project.

IMG_0766Each skeletal element is sculpted individually and assembled after the baking and painting process. Similar to the fully realized ODK Hammer, there are medium gauge wire frames to which each bone is sculpted over to give the pieces extra reinforcement.

The only thing missing from these versions of the ODK Hammer is a sturdy yet unobtrusive display stand. I’ve designed several different structures, but non of them really show off the sculptures in a flattering way. There’s always work to be done.

That pretty much brings us up to date with the whole project.

IMG_0875Ten full ODK Hammer sculptures will kick off the official production of the project. Five wall mounted fossil art pieces will follow next. Depending on the response from these pieces, five to ten full skeleton hammers will be created along with another five wall mounted fossil sculptures. Then, to wrap up the entire project, a final set of ten full ODK Hammers will complete the project.

If successful, I may eventually revisit the Osteodontokeratic project. I have a stack of sketches where I’ve applied the ODK concept to a large inventory of common tools, screw drivers, saws, wrenchIMG_0067es, pliers, files, e.t.c. However, as with In A Place, I need to make room in my schedule for new projects. Currently, I have a strong interest in further exploring The Cartographer’s Dilemma as well as an all new conceptual project involving the creation of a brand new species of life. Not to mention the continued production on my next two albums.


After sharing in this journey, reading how this conceptual art project evolved, I post the question to you. Is the Osteodontokeratic Hammer built, or is it grown?