Employees Only: Mindzai Creative

Years ago, having recently relocated to Atlanta, I was out having a drink at MJQ when I first encountered live screenprinting hosted by Mindzai. The small manual press was being run by Jesse Jaeger who later became a friend of mine and coworker, and I bought a shirt that he printed on the spot. I have kept and worn that shirt in the years since and the experience opened my eyes to the Atlanta print service industry.

It was a couple of years later when I started following Mindzai on social media, and saw a post looking for an intern. I applied and worked as an unpaid intern for a bit which in turn led to me scoring a job there. It was a really defining period of my career and I’ve remained close with my former coworkers. Recently I swung by to take some pictures and chat with manager Susannah Caviness about what its like to work in art production.

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Susannah manages the Atlanta branch of the business, which means she fills a variety of roles. “I handle everything from print production, marketing, client relations… the normal day-to-day operations,” she told me. Additionally she organizes art shows in the art gallery space, a relatively new addition to the Atlanta office.

“We’re a really small business and rely on a very small staff to make things happen,” Susannah explained. “I feel fortunate to be surrounded by creative and like-minded people who want to push Mindzai forward.” The shop, currently located in O4W, caters to the local arts and small business community.

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“We also began another side of the business, Mindzai Apparel. It’s our own apparel line featuring work commissioned by various tattooers, artists, and illustrators, which has really taken off,” Susannah said, showing me the shirts on display in the gallery. They are currently running a design competition for their merch, so check it out! More info here.

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Mindzai uses their gallery space to sell the works of local artists including jewelry, prints, housewares and other cool stuff that Susannah comes across. The shop is open to visitors during normal print studio business hours, Monday through Friday from 10-6.

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Mindzai is owned by Scott Weatherwax who lives in Austin, TX who runs a Mindzai branch there. His affinity for the arts and his connections with the tattoo community across the country have helped to make the company what it is today.

“Mindzai started out as a recording studio,” Susannah explained. “Scott has a background in the music industry like myself, and that’s where Mindzai initially got its start. Clients began requesting things like CD duplication, then it became graphic design, which became mixtape covers. It just sort of snowballed into Mindzai becoming a print and design studio as well, and we’ve been running for almost 20 years now.”

“We dropped CD duplication services last year and began to see a steady incline and shift in products people requested. We now offer high quality art prints, screen printing, die cut stickers and the usual suspects like postcards and business cards,” Susannah said. Their fine art printing services and expertise in the matter are a godsend for many local artists who produce their own work.

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A mark of Mindzai’s success is their continued presence within the Atlanta art community. As a company, they sponsor artist-oriented events, maintain a presence at conventions and festivals, and are behind many of the companies and organizations within the communities they serve.

“I have always liked working with musicians, artists, and small business owners,” Susannah told me. “Underdogs, so to speak. I love any project where we can take someone’s vision and turn it into a tangible thing. Screen printing is one of my favorite aspects of Mindzai.”

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Mindzai currently shares the space with Odditees, a screen printing company. Print tech Philip Jaggar and owner Gary Stanton pause for a picture in the shop.

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The space houses an automatic and manual press, the latter being run in the background by Odditees employee Chris Snodgrass.

The company is not so mainstream, however, and they aren’t afraid to push the limits with content and curse words. I asked Susannah if she had any memorable experiences from the two and a half years she’s been working at Mindzai. “My favorite story is an Austin client who left the longest voicemail. We used to have flyers that said something along the lines of ‘No Bullshit’ on them. I guess he saw it and felt the need to call us, and specifically said we needed to get right with God and that our mothers didn’t raise us right. I saved it for the longest time, I thought it was hilarious.”

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Susannah and employee Lindsay Marr in the Mindzai office.

This Friday evening, February 6 Mindzai ATL will be hosting an Art Basel Recap show from 7-11pm. I’ll be there with my camera, and there will be free PBR, limited edition prints for sale from over a dozen artists. The shop is currently located in Thunderbox at 728 Ralph McGill Blvd, Atlanta GA, 30312.

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Susannah also wanted to say something directly to Mindzai’s clients; “a huge thank you to all our clients, friends and family who have stuck with us over the years and believed in our vision.” The building that currently houses the shop is slated to be sold which will cause a certain amount of change and necessitate a move, but Susannah didn’t waiver in her commitment to serve her clients. “Mindzai isn’t going anywhere.”

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The girls of Mindzai ATL.
Find out more about this badass local shop by going to their website, Facebook, following them on Twitter and Instagram, and come out to the show this week!
-Is

Employees Only: Videodrome

When I first moved to Atlanta in 2007 the internet had not yet fully surpassed movie rental shops. There was a Blockbuster on Ponce as well as Movies Worth Seeing, a small hole in the wall rental spot in the Morningside area known for more difficult-to-find titles. For a time, they were popular and thriving, however both of these spots have since closed in the wake of Redbox and Netflix.

And yet, a single movie rental shop remains and thrives in the new digital era: Videodrome.

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I’ve had a long standing relationship with this small movie rental shop. The iconic building is located at the corner of North and Highland across from everyone’s favorite gas station, Buddy’s. The shop has seen me in many different phases of my life. There were hungover days, groggily fumbling for a Mystery Science Theater that I hadn’t already watched a million times. There were first dates, films for class, girls nights, sick days, the whole lot.

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The place is an institution, a tribute to the love of film and cinema. Their selection is massive, with genres that vary from specific to broad. New movies are added to their collection constantly, featured on their main wall before being worked into the general shelves. Behind the desk and on the counter sit an army of figurines amassed over the years. The collection is perpetually changing and evolving over time as pieces are added, broken, or go missing.

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The clerks use a system of paper tickets in addition to their computer to keep track of the ever growing and evolving movie selection. I dare not estimate how many movies sit on their shelves. I feel certain that I would be wrong no matter what number I guessed.

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Walking among the tightly packed shelves, it’s easy to lose track of time. Old movies play on TVs suspended from the corners of the room, and people quietly mill about browsing titles. The clerks have always been incredibly knowledgeable, most of them having worked there for many years. There is something truly magical about this place.

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While there I spoke with Matthew Owensby, resident “Videoman” and newsletter editor. He has been working at Videodrome for 10 years and he took some time to talk with me and show me around the place.

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I asked Matt why he thought that Videodrome persists throughout the lean times in Atlanta unlike so many other shops that have fallen before. “I’d say our location has been a big factor. We’re on a very visible corner. Our parking lot sucks, but at least people know where we are. Our store is pretty cozy too. People like coming in and hanging out.”

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There’s also something to be said for the impact that their community ties has had to their business and praised the crowd of regulars who frequent Videodrome. “Our customers are great, and it’s rewarding to provide lots of cool folks good stuff to watch.” This is, by the way, absolutely true. Anytime I have had questions about movies, needed suggestions or generally wanted to talk to someone about film or cinema, the folks behind the counter here have been the most kind and helpful.

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“It’s nice when famous faces drop by, too,” he said, showing me pictures and memorabilia on the wall. “Peter Fonda and Bill Paxton stopped by and said hey this year. B-movie icon Wings Hauser was kind enough to reach out to us and send us a care package of autographs and stills a couple of months ago.”

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“Woody Harrelson came in and rented some stuff once,” Matt said, laughing as he recounted the memorable story. “Nice guy, dressed in about 80 percent hemp. He hung out and talked for a while. The weird thing is that we all pretended he wasn’t super famous famous actor. We knew who he was, he knew that we knew, but we all just had this weird, stilted conversation that danced around the subject entirely.”

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I asked Matt what genres or areas of the shop that he would recommend checking out, and he listed the film noir section, documentaries, and cult/horror. “All of our sections have lots of sub-sections, which make it easy to get sucked down a genre rabbit-hole.” Yeah, no kidding.

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Matt took me behind the counter and into the back room where they store the DVDs. The quantity of films really becomes apparent here, seen in the volumes of discs stacked tightly on shelves in the small but tidy space.

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In addition to housing an extensive array of films, the shop plays an important role in the artistic community at large. Populated by avid film lovers who are more likely to have seen David Lynch films than David Spade movies, the space is a refuge for film and art enthusiasts. They sometimes sponsor film-related projects like Buried Alive, and their presence can be seen during events like Streets Alive when their parking lot becomes a party destination.

It was an honor to get a backstage tour of this Atlanta legend, and I highly suggest stopping in sometime yourself. See their website for more information, like them on Facebook, and definitely sign up for their newsletter to hear about new films that are coming out.

617 N Highland Ave NE
Atlanta, Georgia
404.885.1117
Open 12-12, 7 days a week

Creative Spaces: Erin McManness

A few weeks ago I went to visit Erin McManness at her home in Decatur. The charming second floor apartment was decorated on nearly every wall with art. In a workspace nestled into a small corner of the kitchen, Erin sat down and spoke with me for some time about her work and life.

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Erin McManness adds details to some typography in her sketchbook.

The cozy space has several work surfaces, plenty of storage, and hanging displays nestled under the desks. Pinned on the bulletin board were print samples, sweet notes and funny doodles. A selection of textiles hung from a screen divider in the corner, and lining the tabletops were bins of special occasion cards ready to be sold.

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I first encountered Erin and her work during a group art show at Mindzai. I saw several of her illustrative and fantastical portraits in group shows at the gallery. The rich colors, depth of story and composition of her pieces drew me in, and I have enjoyed seeing her work throughout the last couple of years.

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Originally hailing from Baltimore, it was a series of decisions that has led her to live in Atlanta. “I refer to myself as a northerner,” she told me, and her loyalty shines through in her fervent support of Ravens football. “I bleed purple,” she said.

In Erin’s family, art has always played an important role. Her grandmother was an oil painter, and her father is an artist by hobby. She told me of days when she would go with her father and sister to her grandmother’s house with a blank canvas and that they would all paint together.

“The great thing about painting is if you mess up, just paint it white again and start over,” Erin remembers her father telling her. These painting sessions were important to her not just because she enjoyed the act of painting but also because it brought her close to her father and grandmother.

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Erin holding one of her father’s paintings, at right a note of appreciation pinned to her inspiration board.

She also spoke of the influence of watching Disney movies during these painting sessions. “I love those old Disney movies because they have the animation, but they also have the matte painting behind them,” she explained to me, “because at that point it was too much to animate what was going on in the background.” This struck me as quite the sophisticated observation for a child of only 8 or 9 years old. After all, I had watched all these same movies, and yet I wasn’t sure I had ever given much thought to the process.

“There’s this great scene where the little mice are running around her skirt, but her skirt is just this beautiful painting in the background. I just loved that… they don’t make movies like that anymore,” she said rather wistfully.

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Past design samples and sweet notes from her beau pinned to Erin’s board.

Erin’s mother is also encouraging and enthusiastic about the arts and has been for her whole life. She is a preschool teacher, and Erin told me about many times when she and her sister would act as guinea pigs for her mother’s craft projects. In fact, it was her mother who pushed her to pursue visual arts long before she considered it seriously herself, and eventually had to admit that her mother had been right about that all along.

As a teen, Erin had fallen in with the theater kids at school, and any time that she was not on stage she would be drawing endlessly in her sketchbook. Erin became known as the artsy kid, even among her creative theater friends.

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“I actually did musical theater for most of my young life and I went into my undergrad as a musical theater major. I took a scenic painting course as part of the theater requirement, and I started realizing that I really loved that class,” she said.

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Hand-cut gift tags.

Erin attended Messiah College as a studio art undergraduate student in Pennsylvania. “For some extra money I had started doing commissions and drawings of peoples’ online role-playing characters,” Erin said, “and I realized that I liked doing that way more than I liked doing my scenic painting work.” After graduation, Erin spent a brief period working at Messiah in various administrative roles.

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Erin relocated to LA and began pursuing fashion design. There she worked for several well-known and well-respected designers, coordinating fashion shows, traveling domestically and abroad for special events, and fitted models during exhibitions. The work took her out of her comfort zone and was a good experience for her, but after some time she found herself wanting something else out of life.

“In LA it’s like if you’re not trampling, you’re being trampled,” she said of the year or so that she spent there.

Erin moved several times more before settling down. First she went to Philadelphia, then spent some time in New York City, then headed back to Baltimore. During this phase she worked a variety temp jobs at places like doctors offices. “Everyone was unhappy,” she said of her experiences in that world.

“I realized I couldn’t really get a job doing what I wanted to do- I wanted to work for myself, I wanted to do illustrations, and I wanted to have my own business that was illustration based. I decided I really needed to go to grad school,” Erin said. “SCAD was my top choice, and I got in! The rest is history.”

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I asked Erin about the difference between being a student at Messiah and SCAD. As an undergraduate student at Messiah her education consisted of a rather strict, formal training in classical arts and fundamentals like oil painting. There, the bar was set by accuracy, and “the best painting was the one that looked most like what was actually there in real life.” The skills she learned in draftsmanship and drawing during her time at Messiah have served her in many ways throughout her career, and the art history education she received greatly influenced her work.

“I’ve always been a decorative person,” she said, indicating an affinity for the style of art nouveau. “I’m not a minimalist, as I think you can tell.” She gestured to the floral and dreamy paintings around us and laughed.

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Later, as a graduate student at SCAD, Erin felt that the standard of achievement as an artist had shifted. She found that “the most successful illustrators break rules, rendering wasn’t king anymore… it wasn’t about how well you can draw, rather it’s about the idea.” She told me of encountering several classmates and friends, like Barry Lee, whose styles she found enviable at times. “I’m still trying to break my own rules about art,” she said and spoke of her desire for aesthetic perfection in her work.

“I believe in conveying great ideas and conceptual ideas, but I also really believe in beauty,” Erin told me. In her opinion you must combine both a unique idea with accurate and purposeful execution according to standards of beauty and aligned with proper proportions. Erin’s clean, romantic aesthetic I could see displayed throughout the variety of pieces and products surrounding her in the studio space and serves to unify her work throughout the variety of mediums in which she works.

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Recently, living as a graduate and independent artist in Atlanta, Erin has begun to focus more on networking and online sales. A coworker introduced her to a website called Minted where you can license designs and win prizes as well as earn royalties on products that they create and sell. Instantly, Erin felt quite at home. She submitted a design for one of their contests and won first place. Since then she has introduced a variety of products and designs to Minted and the experience has proved to be a life-changing one for Erin.

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Several of Erin’s patterns that are available for sale on Minted.

“I think people really want the touch of the artist. They want to see the actual work- the handprint of the artist,” she said. “People really crave that connection.”

The connections she has gained from working with organizations like Minted have also allowed her an opportunity to meet a larger community of craftspeople and artists who make money from their illustrations. In addition to her flourishing social media supporters, Erin has now attracted the attention of a much larger audience within the online creative world through her connections with sites like this. She indicated just how important business growth is to her in this phase of her career, and talked for a while with passion about expanding through marketing education and networking with social media.

To see her work for yourself, check out her website, facebook, etsy, instagram, twitter, and Minted account. “I really love that stuff,” she said excitedly. Judging by her online presence and the success of her products, her passion is working out in her favor.

-Is

 

 

 

Creative Spaces: Barry Lee

It was a cold and rainy day when I made the trek over to visit my friend Barry at his apartment in Buckhead. From the outside it seems like just another run-of-the-mill cookie cutter apartment, but once inside I realized that this is Barry HQ.

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The living room/studio space walls are lined with artwork, both by Barry and also by his friends. The pieces he’s got are mostly from art swaps, and you can even find a few portraits of Barry himself on the wall near his computer.

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Originally from Nags Head, NC, Barry moved to Atlanta 5 years ago to attend SCAD Atlanta for illustration. Since his graduation in November of 2013 he’s become involved with many local organizations and art shows as a freelancer.

“I would describe my work as very quirky, and my aim is usually to put a smile on people’s faces when they see it. So, I usually have some form of absurdity in terms of how I work and what I do with my work.”

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“I like using really bright colors… I like really bright quirky scenarios. Very fluid movements, I often have separated noses in my characters… borderline cartoon-ish but also could work in illustration and fine art realms,” Barry said of his work.

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I first met Barry as an intern at Mindzai Creative where I worked. Right off the bat his paintings and portraits were a hit at the Mindzai art shows. It was easy to recognize his iconic works among the work of many others, even before I had put a face to the name.

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At the time, Barry was a student at SCAD Atlanta and many of his pieces were portraits of celebrities or movie characters. “It was a nice marriage between my love of pop culture and my personal art style,” he said of that phase. The celebrity portraits were indeed very popular and Barry used that momentum to begin selling and marketing his work to a larger audience.

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Barry’s first solo show was at the Octane Westside, and featured celebrity portraits. They were well received, and sold well, but afterwards he reported feeling that he was burning out on the portraits. It was then that he decided to branch out and experiment with other subject matter for his work.

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“I really wanted to kind of step away from just doing portraits because it was what people expected,” he told me. Recently, Barry was granted the opportunity to again have a show at Octane Westside. This time around, he decided to delve a bit deeper into his own life and story for inspiration.

Barry was born with a condition called Nager Syndrome, a rare congenital anomaly syndrome that has set the tone for his life. In his youth, Barry had experienced a good deal of discrimination from his peers in school because of his condition.

Partially because of Barry’s inherent love for art and partially to curb the bullying from his peers, he started making art for his classmates and bullies. “I wanted not to be known as the different kid but the art kid,” he said, and explained how creating art became his badge of pride and a way to avoid discrimination.

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Barry’s parents have always very much encouraged his artistic drive. “When I was like three years old my parents got me a little easel,” he said, and he was “immediately drawn to it.”

As a child, Barry would watch Muppets and Looney Tunes and draw them on a stack of computer paper in the living room. Those influences are still visible in his work today, and Barry’s affinity for cultural icons is evident in the framed records and homage prints hung around his apartment.

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In this series, called “Home is Where You Drown,” he explores the struggles and of growing up with this condition.

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Photos courtesy Matt McDaniel

“The work that I made a couple of years ago was very surreal, kind of dark, and very angry,” he told me. This time around, however, he created a personal series that was funny, odd, intriguing, and still very bright within the realm of his personal artistic style.

“I wanted to do something out of the box, to take my humor and take the characters I’ve been creating and put them in an environment… I wanted to make them symbolic, and make them tell a story,” Barry said.

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Photos courtesy Matt McDaniel

“Half of my job as an illustrator is to tell stories and I feel like not many people can tell my story. I thought it was a really good opportunity to bring my story to a wider audience, and also to stretch my wings in terms of creating things. You know, to really create new worlds.”

For many followers of Barry’s career, this new body of work came as a bit of a surprise. Not many of his friends really knew about the struggles he has gone through, and so seeing it displayed so proudly evoked some conflicting opinions. Growing up in the digital age, Barry has done an excellent job of marketing himself and his work through social media for many years. This means also that many of his fans may never have met Barry in person, rather having been exposed to his work through Tumblr or Instagram.

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The response to this show was varied though mostly positive, Barry said. “‘I usually love your work- it’s so bright and cheerful, but then when I read these stories it kind of brings me down,'” people told him, “and I’m like- that’s the idea.”

Creating work that is approachable helps Barry to connect with his audience. “It either angers someone or it’s like ‘I get it’… I think a lot of people got it,” he said.

“I think that my work can translate to a lot of different backgrounds, and I think that’s something that I’m very lucky to have. I have people old and people young really responding well to my work,” he explained. “I want to really create work that resonates with everybody.”

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Not only does Barry intend to continue creating digital paintings, but he also aims to broaden his horizons and begin creating in new mediums, such as children’s books.

“I have a good feeling about where I’m heading,” Barry said of his career. “I feel like I’m finally getting into my style and into my groove about what I’m doing with my work.”

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There is no doubt that we will see much more from this artist as he continues to explore the limitations of his imagination and the cultivation of his artistic ideals.

Check out his online portfolio, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram to see more of Barry’s art. The mural from “Home Is Where You Drown” will be on display at Octane Westside for the forseeable future, so next time you’re around that area make sure to stop in and see Barry’s work for yourself!

-Is

Employees Only: Fallen Arrows

A few years ago I partnered with Fallen Arrows, a local print shop on Dekalb Ave. I shot photos of their products for their website as well as of their showroom space and it was during one of their parking lot parties there that I first saw Cousin Dan perform.

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I always had a great time, as you can see from these pictures of that Pimm’s Down, Hoe Cakes Up event.

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You can see more photos over at my Facebook page from that night. Fallen Arrows over the years has also had similar summer pool parties in their lot, and they have partnered with many local artists and friends of mine to make custom products. I’ve come to know the crew there to be friendly, helpful, and encouraging of local arts.

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Last week I stopped by to catch up a bit with Andrew Bellury and Brandy McArthur.

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In a tiny shop tucked away next to a neon sign shop and across from the MARTA line, a small industrious crew turns artwork into products for a variety of clients with the use of digital printers and heat presses.

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Fallen Arrows specializes in heat transfer process printing. Their no-minimum policy allows for people on any type of budget to turn their ideas into professional products.

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Print tech Marvin Figueroa runs the direct to garment machine & intern Sydney Blincoe applies heat transfers to shirts. Fallen Arrows internships are hands on and a great choice for anyone who would like to work in the print industry.

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“We do digital textile printing, we also do pretty much any type of heat application with our heat presses. We offer vinyl, sublimation, banners- on pretty much any type of product you could want,” Andrew told me as we sat at his desk. “What else do we do, Brandy?” he asked after rattling off a long list of products.

“Oh I wasn’t really listening…” Brandy said, turning from her computer where she was busy working during our conversation. “Anything your heart desires.”

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Customer Nick Madden talks with Andrew and Brandy about one of his designs.

The shop, a brain child of owner Tito Sands, has been in existence since 2007 and has been operating out of its current location at 840 Dekalb Ave since 2010 when Andrew joined the team.

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Throughout the years, Fallen Arrows has supported the local art scene by promoting artists through their product line, providing a variety of mediums for selling art pieces, and by opening their new exhibition space Phase A on Edgewood Ave they are creating a platform for artists to show their work.

“It’s a white canvas for any kind of art or pop up retail or party that you want to do,” Andrew said of the space on Edgewood, one of the more hip up-and-coming strips in Metro Atlanta. Recently the space hosted a show called Psyche, a collaboration of artists Edgar Lituma Soto, Kole Rose, and Sarah Balter.

This coming week Phase A will host Krampus Comes to Edgewood, a Black Friday/ Small Business Saturday sale. The event will feature art and wares by local artists and promises to be a great time. Come out to support local businesses and artists and to meet the FA crew for yourself!

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Black Friday Nov. 28th 10am-7pm
Small Business Saturday Nov. 29th 12pm-6pm
Phase A 482 Edgewood Ave, Atl, GA 30307

The Fallen Arrows print shop is open 10am-6pm, M-F and you can learn more at their website, Facebook page, or by calling them at 404-635-6367.

-Is

 

Creative Spaces: Raymond Carr

If you’re anything like me, you may have wondered at one time or another what mystery lays behind this door in Inman Park. Raymond Carr_25I was lucky enough to get a chance to see inside The Workshop when I went there to meet with Raymond Carr, my friend and local puppeteer in the early hours of Halloween day.

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The space is a conglomeration of different things and areas devoted to different organizations. The tall ceiling features a few skylights that bring attention to the large puppets hanging from the rafters. Work areas can be found along each wall and recessed into every corner.

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There are buckets of spraypaint cans, rolls upon rolls of tape, and tools for woodworking as far as the eye can see.

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Hidden pieces of art poke out from shelves, lean over railings, and dangle from the ceiling. On any given workspace there are sketches, craft supplies and tools.

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Raymond met me and brought me around to the back of the building to see the giant, one-eyed robot speaker puppet he was finishing up for the Scoutmob Halloween Party at the Goat Farm later that night. The lumbering structure sat leaning forward, silver arms and legs splayed out around it on the ground underneath it. We spoke for a while about the difficulties of building this puppet in particular, including the mechanism sticking out of the back that would act as the suspension to raise the monster up and make it walk. He showed me the pulley system that made the eye move in its socket and made the mouth open and close, as well as gave me a run down of his loyal team of puppet masters.

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Back inside we sat down and spoke about his career. “I’m a freelance artist and I’ve been doing this since I was a kid,” he told me. Raymond is the son of children’s ministers who worked in a megachurch, and that is where his desire to create began.

Carr relocated from the West Coast to Atlanta, received his degree in film from Georgia State University, and interned at The Center for Puppetry Arts where he eventually became a puppeteer and focused on experimental puppetry theater.

The Center for Puppetry Arts is the largest organization dedicated to the art form of puppetry in the nation, and includes a museum, education center, and performance space. The center is located in midtown near Atlantic Station and is open 7 days a week. Click here to see their Facebook page, learn more about upcoming events, and check it out for yourself!

“That was my first real chance to experience a full time artist’s life,” Raymond said of the experience, which helped to set the tone for his career path. Later he began working in the film industry as a PA and then from there worked his way into the art department on local film sets.

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Raymond’s career took a leap when he became involved with a show called Lazy Town for which he spent a year living in Iceland. The production is an educational musical children’s television program utilizing a talented multinational crew and is a combination of live action, puppetry, and CGI animation.

In 2006, Raymond began working with a touring show called Walking with Dinosaurs on the North American tour. The performance was one of the largest touring shows in the world at the time. “It was like Springsteen, and then U2, and then us,” Raymond told me. The program is based on a BBC television series and incorporates 20 life-size dinosaurs designed by scientists and master puppeteers. It was a huge production with many moving parts, including 25 semi trucks and 75 crew members.

So there he was, 26 years old, traveling and living abroad for an international live performance with life-size dinosaur puppets, working as the head of animatronics puppetry for two years.  According to Raymond, the crew referred to the animatronics group as voodoo puppeteers because they operated remotely, he told me with a laugh.

I remarked that 26 is pretty young to have that much responsibility. “Yeah. It was a weird time because I was also the youngest person in my department,” Raymond conceded, “So it got awkward at times.”

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Upon his exit from the show, Carr returned to Atlanta and hit the ground running in film and production and started his own production company, Ninja Puppet Productions. You can see some of that work at their website and Facebook. With seemingly limitless energy, he threw himself into theater and film, and recently with his performance partner Raymond Tilton put on a large, successful theater performance called This Darker Life at the Goat Farm’s Gibson Yard in late October.

The show, a performance immersion devised from five original stories, was a coordinated effort with five artists. Among other challenges, Raymond spoke of the logistics that go into a performance that included aerial projections, giant puppets, multiple storylines and locations, and nearly total darkness. Structurally, the performance was unusual in that the 60 person audience sat on a platform in the middle of the room in a spotlight, and the audience’s platform itself rotated periodically to face different playing areas. The action occurred around and throughout the audience, and involved a cast of 10 people.

“That doesn’t really happen very often so we were all just sort of making it up as we went along,” Raymond said, referring to the lazy Susan aspect of the production. “When it works, it’s great… when it doesn’t work it’s just terrifying and awful,” he laughed. “It worked, fortunately, and it was a big success.”

Recently, Raymond also did some work in San Francisco for Dropbox, creating an online recruitment video using puppets. For that campaign, the company interviewed their employees about what it was like to work at Dropbox and then he built puppets based on their mannerisms and features. Unlike the majority of his work, this was building characters based on real people. It would seem that in the line of work that Carr ascribes to there are always new concepts, new ideas, and new challenges.

I also asked Carr about his experiences within the puppeteer community in Atlanta, noting that he was one of the few people I knew who actively worked in that field. His response and breadth of knowledge at once surprised me and was exactly what you would expect from someone like Raymond.

He told me about the variety of roles for puppet workers, including those who like himself work in “muppet style… which is what you’d consider traditional style puppetry,” as well as children’s performers, the puppet slam network, puppetry for film and television, late night adult puppet shows, the Dragon*Con puppet track, and the local theater community such as Dad’s Garage whose performances often incorporate puppetry.

“We’re a pretty tight-knit and inclusive community,” Raymond said.

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You may have seen SpeakerBot at the Goat Farm this Halloween, or maybe you ran into the hulking Space Man from last year’s celebration or during the Lantern Parade, or perhaps you’ve seen some extra large marine life puppets hanging around the aquarium- however you come across Raymond Carr and his work, you’re not likely to forget the experience.

Check out his Facebook page and website to keep in the loop about upcoming events and performances!

-Is

Creative Spaces: Ann-Marie Manker

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On a Thursday morning in late October, I left with my camera and walked the few blocks to visit Ann-Marie Manker at her house in Inman Park.

The building is quite grand, situated comfortably back on the lot with a comfortable and wide Southern-style porch that had been decorated for Halloween. Upon my unlatching of the gate my presence was announced by two pups barking wildly inside. I was greeted at the door by Ann-Marie who welcomed me and introduced me to her furry friends. Inside, the house is just as airy and regal as it would seem from the outside, and I found myself having to reign in a bit of slack-jawed wonderment. She led me past shelves laden with knick-knacks, piles of art books, and down the hall to her studio.

The studio itself is very bright with two walls of windows. There are several working areas, including an easel in the corner, small table in the middle of the main space, computer table, and then a more formal painting desk at the end of the room in front of windows that face out into the green backyard. At once it’s both calm and yet also a busy space, filled with her own work as well as pieces by other artists, books, art supplies, and trinkets.

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It’s one of those spaces where every wall and every corner holds something noteworthy. I’m sure that each item has a story and a relevance. Some of the items that she pointed out in particular were totems of her studio, as she referred to them. This included a pair of nunchucks hanging amidst paintings and a rainbow colored shell which sat in the middle of the smallest table upon entering. She explained to me that it would never feel quite right there without that shell on that table, and that in fact there were limits to what else she would allow to be on that table. Though to outsiders these might just seem like objects, to me this indicates the sacredness with which she regards her artwork and process.

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We sat together for a while and discussed her career as an artist.

Manker grew up in Southern California, and I asked her about her beginnings as an artist. “I actually feel like I got a late start, I started in high school,” she explained. “I can’t say that I was a young child and knew that I was going to be an artist. It took a while.” It was one fateful art elective that sparked her passion, and she has been making things ever since. The path wasn’t always a clear one, but each step has brought her closer to her goals.

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“I kind of didn’t know exactly what to do because- I knew I had to create art, it felt like it was a curse. I couldn’t not paint- I had to do this thing. But what career could support me doing that? So, I guess I went the practical route thinking that teaching would be the way to support my art because I would have summers off and be around art.”

It was a conscious choice, and an important one, to leave LA and move to Atlanta. “It’s a long story, but I picked Atlanta. I felt like as an artist and a teacher I could survive here on my own, financially, all by myself. Versus I felt like if I stayed in LA I’d be too dependent on my parents or it would be too expensive. I needed that freedom, that autonomy from them,” she said.

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Ann Marie attended the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where she received her bachelor’s degree, then moved to Atlanta and attended Georgia State University first for teacher certification and then later returned to State to pursue her MFA. For several years she taught first at public high school as an art teacher before transitioning to teaching at the collegiate level first at GSU, then the late ACA, and now at SCAD Atlanta. In total, she’s been teaching for nearly 20 years, and I asked her of the impressions of being an art teacher in those three very different environments.

“I had wonderful experiences at all the places, but SCAD definitely has the resources and funds to have an awesome studio environment for the kids,” she said. “In high school it was really more about classroom management and discipline, and you would go to work every day for those few art students who were really there to do art. That was your focus.”

Surely, teaching at a school like SCAD would be in some ways more rewarding because the students at a prestigious private art school would be more committed than students at public schools, right?  “You get all kinds of students, even in a place like that,” she explained. “And you know, really just in life, people born with raw talent, there are fewer of those than the rest who just have to work really hard to get there.”

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Not only is Manker a professor at SCAD Atlanta, she is also an exhibiting artist and member of the local art community. Becoming a part of that world was a mostly organic process, she explained. “My experience basically out of grad school- I just started showing and everything sort of snowballed from there.” Manker is currently represented by Susan Bridges at Whitespace gallery, an agreement that she didn’t anticipate but has proven to be a very good fit for her.

It was not only being a participating artist in spaces run by other people that boosted her career, however. Ann-Marie also became involved with running a space herself.  “In 2000 I opened up an alternative art space called ArtSpot and that propelled me into the art community which was fantastic. I met curators and artists, and I just knew everyone and organized shows… It was incredible.” She spoke of the successes and struggles of maintaining a gallery in what is now the Sampson Street Lofts.

“In 2003 we won best alternative art space in Creative Loafing,” she told me. “It’s funny now that 10 years have passed because when new people arrive into the art scene they have no idea that was something that I did.” Additionally, Ann-Marie played a role in the first year of Kibbee gallery, wherein she assisted the owners Preston and Ben with curating and maintaining the space.  We spoke about balancing multiple pursuits. “I always feel like the art space and my involvement with running a space is what gets sacrificed first,” she said, explaining that she would always need to work and make money and that she would never stop doing her own personal artwork.

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“It doesn’t sound like you’re ever going to stop making art,” I prompted. “No, no,” she laughed, “it’s in my blood. But I do think about making changes. Like for instance, I always think of Matisse when he got older… he started doing different kinds of work because he had problems, and I have carpal tunnel now which I haven’t really addressed. I’m like, should I start painting bigger? Looser?”

As it turns out, Ann-Marie has set her sights beyond the 2D artwork she has been known for in the past, and is looking to try new mediums. “I really, really want to get into some sculpture, like textiles and maybe even some video,” she told me, before showing me some work that inspires her by sculptural artist Nick Cave. I swear her eyes sparkled as she told me excitedly that he will be coming to Atlanta next year.

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“African ceremonial costumes are what really inspire me,” she said, “because when you put on an outfit it’s like you become a conduit for the higher source… humans can’t pass judgment on their peers but once you put on this costume you become a judge that can get after criminals… but I’m not going from a criminal route, I more so want to create kind of a demon monster type person.” I don’t know exactly what her new works will look like, but I imagine they may incorporate some of the pastel colors and sweet sentiment in dark scenarios that are represented in her current textiles and paintings.

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When asked about how she has weathered feelings of negativity or doubt, she told me, “I’ve always been very goal driven. I remember when I was in my twenties that I had this little piece of paper that I kept in my nightstand and it was what my long term goals were. And it was: to teach art, to be an artist, to teach college, and the only thing I have not achieved was to teach abroad. Like, a study abroad program, which I actually could do that if I wanted, but I’m just in a position right now where I’m so happy I wouldn’t necessarily want to leave my animals and husband for too long.”

What a wonderful problem to have, I thought, and I can see why she would feel this way.

You can see Manker’s work in person this week, November 7th, at SCAD ATL’s Open Studio exhibition and view some of her work online here.

-Is

Introducing – The Blog!

Welcome to my blog, here’s what’s up with me these days…

Recently I’ve begun working on a few long term photography projects. My time working for newspapers has ignited ideas about generating content, and I find photojournalism to be a refreshing, eye-opening experience. For a long time, and through a couple of iterations, I have been formulating ideas about chronicling the people and places in Atlanta.

I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of the art community for nearly the entire time I’ve lived here. Never before had I witnessed a place so vibrant and full of people making things. Not only that, but the community welcomed me and has continued to encourage and inspire me. The art scene is passionate, well-respected, and here unlike so many other places I have been you can find many independent artists who make their living simply by creating things.

It’s marvelous. And I want to talk about it.

Throughout the winding years of my early 20s and by virtue of many late nights at bars, internships at local galleries, and classes at Georgia State, I have come to know many remarkable people. In speaking with my friends and getting to know them both virtually and in person I’ve come to hear many amazing stories and I have been intrigued to learn more about them, their art, their path, and the community as a whole.

In the style of photo essays I seek to find and highlight some of the most influential members of our local artist community. In some cases this will mean interviewing artists in their natural environment to see where they create their art, as I think there’s a special magic in any place that fosters a lot of creativity. I will also be visiting local businesses that I think are interesting and noteworthy to snap photographs and highlight cool spots in my community.

Stay tuned to see some of my favorite people and places that make Atlanta my home. Also check them out in the cross-posts on my Facebook page – http://www.facebook.com/portraits.by.isadora

Thanks for reading!

-Is