Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Little Victorian Curiosities

New little curiosities are in progress for my featured artist spot at the Little Loom House this Saturday, October 24th. I have been creating some little jewel-like fancies that are a more approachable option for those wanting my Victorian inspired alternative process photography. Each piece is a unique assemblage featuring my tintype work along with traditional 19th century ornamentation. 
Some pieces in this series are quite small but still demonstrate the richly appointed textures and iconic images associated with the Victorian aesthetic. Velvets, crystals, deeply stained woods and other embellishments make these assembled artworks bewitching objects that can connect us to the idea of magical thinking and therefore transform us. The object is simultaneously a talisman, a fetish, a devotional, a hex, an artwork. Some bit of the ethereal contained. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Memento Mori

Dead Like You
memento mori (Latin 'remember that you will die') is an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death.

Tragedy befalls us all at one time or another. In early 2004 a man I was seeing came off some medication too quickly and subsequently took his life. He was another causality of Prozac where a doctor failed to carefully monitor the shift in personality that happens all too often when someone quits taking this type of drug rapidly. Regardless of the reason, I lost a lover and friend and fell into a state of darkness in an otherwise happy time in my life. I was in grad school working on research and preparations for my thesis exhibition, (and paper) that would take place the following year, and was in a band that was enjoying some moderate success locally. I should have been sailing through life, but this tragic event made everything come to a screeching halt.

The 17-year cicada were back and making their mating calls throughout the day and night, only to die en masse at the end of the whole cycle. I would go and cry in the pool where I swam laps, and sleep on friends sofas, because I couldn't stand the constant reminder of death and being alone with my thoughts. There was more darkness to come.

For whatever reason there would be more suicides that year. People I knew were experiencing loss at an alarming rate. It was as if somewhere in our group of friends a time bomb of instability went off. People fell like dominoes.The fallout rained down on the dumbstruck living for weeks. I think there were at least five suicides total when all was said and done. 

During that time of mourning I developed a very serious case of some kind of gut sickness - I'm sure partially from stress. The illness made it so I could barely hold down anything other than the tiniest amount of bland food and small amounts water. I would have spasms and lay in the bathtub watching my lower abdomen literally pulsate in pain. This went on for a few weeks. It was unbearable. I knew I couldn't handle much more physical and mental anguish, so on some rickety precarious thread I started pulling myself back to the world of the living. Art was a big part of that.

Its weird when you start coming out of something that intense, sort of like waking from a strange and all-encompassing dream. The world seemed way too vibrant and somehow unreal.  I walked thorough days of exhaustingly bright colors and watched clouds shift from billowy ether to starlit dream skies, all the while pinching myself back into reality. I drank a lot and listened to music punctuated with minor chords, which was comforting in an odd way. In this I was able to channel my sadness into something tangible, something less abstract as mind-numbing sorrow.
Devil in Me

My work has always had an element of darkness, but here I wanted to express more vividly the chaos and turmoil I felt. I turned to my inks and started painting over some of my photographic images that resonated with me at that time. I had a feeling of having thousands of bees buzzing just under my skin and in my skull. The loose brushwork and invigorating movement helped to make my body and mind less jumbled. I made a lot of pictures like this. Some were terrible, some ok, but I slowly began to enjoy the process of creation again. This practice, which was so very different from my usual style and process, helped me to exercise the demons that were haunting me and come back to center.

At some point we resign ourselves to loss, and are able to return to some sense of normality. I eventually started seeing friends again. Our conversations were no longer on the dead, but rather what we were planning for our futures. I was able to move past my grief, and once again focus on my thesis research and playing music.

I was never a good musician, but the act of connecting with a group of people to make something expressive and energetic was a very good mental exercise. It further helped me to move past the tragedies that punctuated the early part of that year. I went to parties and had fun again. I healed from my sickness, and was back at the gym for regular workouts that didn't involve crying jags. I experienced the kind of release that happens when you have processed something big and all-consuming. I was able to see the world as real again.
Dreadful Resignation

It's hard to believe its been 10 years, but through these experiences I have become a stronger person. I miss my friend sometimes, and am still so terribly sad that he went to such a dark place that he wasn't able to get out of. I keep a copy he gave me of his favorite book, Dante's Inferno. I still haven't been able to read it, but I keep it and his final note to me as a remembrance of this time. A memento mori of sorts.  Sometimes when I feel low I take it out and remind myself just how bad it can get, and remember that things can easily transform to a brighter space if you can learn to transmute the poison. I also remember that we are all so very fragile, and that life can turn on a dime, so embrace the ups and downs as part of the human experience. That is richer and far more precious.

So that was a downer...
Here's some happy little painted butterflies from that time to bring the mood back up. Cycle of life, man. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Sky Goddess
Copyright 2013 Mary Yates
In recent years I have disconnected with my sense of the mystical and have been wondering why I allowed myself to be distanced from the things that nurture my soul. In combing through some recent illustrations however I saw that my spiritual side was indeed still very present in my work and now I am contemplating these images as a sort of meditation. I know I tend to lean toward some of the darker aspects of of my interests in my work, but truly the idea of cosmic harmony and a connection to spirit is something that is never very far from my thoughts. I could go into process here, which is my tendency but instead I want to talk about some of what moves me and makes me create the work I do, both dark and light.

I've always felt that there was magic in the world. The breathtaking beauty of the seasons and shifting changes in nature are where I think whatever you want to call god exists. The harmony that is present in the movement of the tides and the shifting, undulating cycle of life plays a tune that invites us to dance with a greater mystery. If you pay attention you will find this presence in the forest, the ocean, at a mountain top, or in the works of art and music that move you to an emotional response. With the idea of this movement of life we must understand that just as the blossoms in spiring inspire us so to does the passing of a life. The decay allows for the eventual rebirth of what is the essence of spirt and embodies how we are all a part of a larger and more complex living thing. We should come to trust this and to find comfort in the vast array of experiences the universe has to offer. This is without conclusion because all of these things will continue to grow and change and nothing will ever be quite the same again so we should embrace the experience of the moment at hand.

This post is dedicated to the memory of a friend. Trust the Unknown.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Victoriana and Historic Process Ambrotypes

Loosing Identity: Digital Studies for Ambrotype Triptych
Copyright 2013 Mary Yates

The Finer Things:
Digital Study for Ambrotype
Copyright 2013 Mary Yates
To create this work I used a marriage of modern and historic techniques. My Ambrotype is a late 1800's photographic process similar to the tintype with the main characteristic difference being the use of glass instead of metal as the support material for the emulsion. These ambrotypes were created using what is known as the dry-plate method which became fashionable after the earlier wet plate method. Early photographers viewed dry plate as a breakthrough because it made for a less temperamental process with similar visual qualities. The process starts with image capture using a DSLR camera. The images here are from staged studio shoots as well as gathered from the Museum of Natural History in Berlin. I'm a big fan of theater and that is reflected in the Victorian props and costumes used for the photographs. For me, the paradoxes of the private vs public and social restrictions in Victoriana fit well with the exploration of gender and identity and the photographic process itself.
Shadow Self
Digital Study for Ambrotype
Copyright 2013 Mary Yates
Ambrotype is a direct positive process so I first printed these images on a transparency film to use in the exposure of the plates. The glass is thoroughly cleaned and then a thin coating of gelatin is applied and allowed to dry. Next, a layer of silver nitrate photo emulsion is heated and poured over the gelatinized plate. Once the plate is dry it is exposed using a direct positive contact printing method. The plate could also be exposed using a large format camera though that is not the process I use. Once the plate is exposed it is processed in a reversal developer that develops only the lighter areas leaving the dark glass exposed to form the shadow values in the image. The last steps involve applying a UV inhibitor and clear lacquer to protect the surface of the plate.
One of the qualities I love about working in the ambrotype process is the way the photograph becomes a dimensional object. Working with stained glass and the mounting materials which include velvet, antique photo cases, or repurposed frames allows the photograph to acquire weight and assert itself into physical space. This creation of an object that can be considered "precious" or "finer" also seemed interesting when juxtaposed with then non-traditional subject matter.

The Gentle Art of Taxidermy II
Digital Study for Ambrotype
Copyright 2013 Mary Yates

Friday, March 15, 2013

Bourbon and the Moon

I am thrilled to have been asked to create the cover photo illustration for the LEO Bourbon Issue! Not only am I connoisseur of the wonderful Kentucky made spirit (for a list of my favorites look lower in the post) but I got to have a lot of fun and creative freedom with this. 

Cover for Leo Weekly Bourbon Issue - March 13, 2013
Cover for Leo Weekly Bourbon Issue - March 13, 2013

As many of you know, I have always enjoyed the aesthetic movements of the late 18 and early 1900s and this illustration embodies everything that I love about that sense of history coupled with modern interpretations. My visual inspiration comes from the old pictures from the 20's women sitting on papier-mâché moon studio props. There are a lot of these images around so interpreting a classical image concept presented in a modern medium struck a cord with me. 

For a great post showcasing some of these historic moon images, visit: Moicani – L’Odeonie

Scroll down from some of the better historic photo examples.

Once I had conceptualized the image and thought about how I would do it I started to think about who my moon woman would be. I not only wanted a woman who would put up with my fussy photo shoots, but also one who embodied a 21st century sense of “modernism”. A woman who no holds barred represented strength, style, and push this beyond a cheesy holiday park souvenir to something that spoke to the strength and grace that I observe in the great women I know.

Woman in the Moon
Bourbon and the Moon - photo illustration sans text

Almost immediately I thought of Alysen Waterson-Davis who is a former member of the roller derby team DCRG, an army accountant, photographer, and mother. The reason I emphasize finding the right person is because I have always seen the model/photographer relationship to be one of collaboration. I have always felt that that was key to having a good photography session. If you can't get in sync with the model or he or she doesn't get the vibe of the narrative the photos are going to be crap. 

I'm very happy with the entire process. Every element of this fell in place and I have gotten great feedback on this cover so I wanted to share a tiny bit on my process and the art of collaboration. Its been a grand time from start to finish, so thanks to the LEO and Alysen for the inspiration.

That Bourbon List:

Truly there are a lot of Kentucky Bourbons, and there are a lot of varieties these days (small batch, single barrel, special age, etc. etc.) The ones listed below are just some of my favorites of what I've had recently. Give them a try if you get a chance.

  • Black Maple Hill - super delicious, peppery and rich - very small batch currently out of stock everywhere I've checked but if it comes back around Get Some! and then invite me over.
  • Bulleit 10-year - nice oak and slight spicy vanilla taste - this are smaller batch too but you can find them. Their regular verity, simply called Bulleit, is quite wonderful too - spicy rye ultra smooth
  • Elijah Craig 12-year - slightly more floral than the previous - easy to find and affordable!
  • Other delicious bourbons:  Blanton's Single Barrel, Four Roses Small Batch, Booker's, Knob Creek, and Pappy VanWinkle if you can find/afford it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Views of Detroit

We will be back in Detroit soon for Maker Faire. I expect it to be less dreary than the winter cityscapes pictured here.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Preview: UltraPop Too Old For Toys

Ron and I have been in a creative tizzy getting ready for the Too Old for Toys show at UltraPop. We have some awesome paper toys that we guarantee will provide hours of fun! Take a look at these previews of my Big Cat Pirate toys:

Ron made some completely different kinds of paper toys including imagining the two of us - here's the little version of me:
Lots more to see, so come to the opening and have some Birthday Cake too! Yeah, it are our birf-day too - we have to share. Show opens: Saturday, November 5th at Ultra Pop - located at 1414 Bardstown Rd. in Louisville, Kentucky in the heart of the Highlands.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Wrestler Rudy Switchblade Portraits

Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved
Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved

Copyright 2010 All Rights Reserved

I had the opportunity to take studio portraits of Ohio Valley wrestler Rudy Switchblade. I love these formal digital portraits and had a fantastic experience of working with someone who is so good at emoting. He was a pleasure to work with and I'm looking forward to continuing to work with more wrestlers. See you at the show Rudy!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Back in the Darkroom at Last!

I've been slacking, lazy even, not practicing my wet darkroom skils. I love digital photography to express myself - particularly for color work, but I really have been missing the process of creating silver prints in the wet darkroom. The luminous quality of these black and white images far surpasses the tonality that similar digital prints can achieve. So I'm here, fixer stinking on my hands, making some contact sheets and getting ready to print some enlargements.
Now for the geek stuff: This set is a made at a botanical garden with a Nikon F camera with a Sigma 16mm fish eye lens. The film is my absolute favorite B&W - TriX 400. Sorry TMax - I don't believe the hype, I'm a tried and true fan fan of your older cousin.
So I'll keep you posted, but I'm psyched by the contact sheet's making me a bit giddy or maybe it's the fumes...maybe I need to stand closer to the exhaust fan!

Monday, November 29, 2010

New Kittehs!

I've been working on some new cat prints for the Madpixel store. Since I love Sushi and it's all my old cat would eat (sans rice), I made a Super Tasty Fish Wish print of a cat dreaming about some shrimp sushi. You can get this through the Madpixel website or the Etsy shop. See links on the right.

I've also gotten into the cutesy vector graphics. What could be more adorable than two kittens in mittens. Of course this is a seasonal print that will delight the kid in all. Three color print is 11x14 and can be purchased through the Madpixel website or our Etsy shop. Meow!

Monday, November 15, 2010

and the final piece...

This is the final Shotgun screen print. The metallic gold ink doesn't show up so well in a photo, but trust me, it's awesome. You can get your very own at The Madpixel Store. Now on to Sushi Cats. Stay tuned for details!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Update: From Digital Illustration to Silk Screen - Step One in Transition

This is an updated post. See content below first :)

Here is the same piece broken down in three colors ready for the silkscreen process. The next step is to turn each of these layers into black and transparent images to burn the screen. Once the three screens are washed the negative space is left and ink can be forced through on paper. Look for the final result posted here after it is printed tomorrow. 

Start Here

I'm starting to work towards creating some images that can be used to make art prints for the silk screen process. This is image is my first design that will make this move. I like it. It's all layer-y and pretty and has the feel of a a Lotte Reiniger film. Lotte was one of the earliest animators who worked in silhouette (and from Berlin - even better). I remember seeing her Pied Piper of Hamelin piece and falling in love with her careful and ingenious use of cut paper to tell (to me) a well known story. The visual quality of the silhouette also had a very creepy feel to me so this really works with my love of exploring the shadow themes in fairy tales. Keeping with my life long love of this type of story, I look at this piece as being a post-modern homage to kick-ass female leads in the horror genre. I will continue to update the process here and show the steps of taking apart and reconstructing in a different medium, but for now let's just say I'm very pleased with the look and excited to explore something new. The silk screen piece is being printed with the help of Madpixel and will be shown at the Ultra Pop Halloween show.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Making Cyanotype Solution - Prep for the LVAA Photogram and UV Printing Workshop

In preparation for the photogram workshop I'm teaching at the Louisville Visual Art Association on Sunday I had a little fun with chemistry. This process is from Photographer's Formulary and is the new improved Cyanotype chemical prep. You can do this in your house, just be sure to use safe handling procedures for the chemicals.

This is not listed first on the instructions as the first step, but I do it first because it takes awhile to do completely. Finely grind 10g of potassium ferricyanide to a powder. *Wear protective gear! Gloves and a face mask!
The crystals will start out red but turn light orange as in the photo above. If you think you are done grinding, go ahead and grid it some more! You need a very fine powder for it to dissolve quickly.

 Heat 30 ml of distilled water to 120 degrees and add 30g of ferric ammonium oxalate, that will result in a green liquid when completely dissolved.

Under safe-light or a very low watt (25) incandescent light, pour in a 10ml solution of ammonium dicromate. (Not pictured)

While the solution is still warm (I keep my beaker in a pan of 120 degree water) pour in the fine ground potassium ferricyanide and stir until no red or orange crystals remain and green crystals begin to appear. Allow this solution to cool for 1 hour until just about room temperature.

When the solution has cooled strain the liquid through a filter (a standard coffee filter will do). A green sludge will remain on the filter which can be discarded. To the filtered liquid add 100ml of distilled water and put in a brown or dark colored bottle with a tight fitting lid. The solution can be painted on paper with a brush or use a glass coating rod. This chemical will last about 1 year in a tightly sealed and dark bottle.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Preliminary Art for a CD Cover

This is some preliminary artwork for a CD cover by one of the first women of Kentucky Folk Music. She has a wise and mystical quality in real life, so when she said she really connected with owls it seemed natural to show her with the spirit as part of her. The background is from NASA and is from the Hubble space telescope. 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

New Wrappings Underway!

Forest Wrapping
Meadow Wrapping

More Human Commodities
me at work with the model
(don't worry there is an assistant nearby ready to cut him out of the plastic in an instance)
I spent a grueling, hot Saturday afternoon with a very committed model who allowed me to wrap him, not one, but two times in the 98 degree sun. Sweat was pouring off me in buckets. My photo assistant Shannon looked a little sticky too, so imagine what my model Joey withstood in the nice purple Easter egg cellophane! I think he was relieved when we finally cut him out of the wrappings, but maybe he kind of liked it after all. After a gallon of water and a gin and tonic, our trooper was ready for another go. This time, we hiked a bit into the forest and I found a nice place where the trees were lush and green and made a nice linear composition. This one was more challenging, because Joey had to stay wrapped for a bit longer so I could get various angles and make sure the green of the forest was properly reflected off the transparent cellophane. A nice big daddy long legs almost got smoothed in there with Joey but thankfully Shannon is not squeamish about bugs and pulled it out to live another day. Thanks to those two, I got another nice set of images to for my project. Stay tuned...more wrappings to come!

Monday, March 29, 2010


This image is my most recent Photoshop manipulation. The image of Terry was shot while she was laying on the grass and the water, clouds, and flower are all shot at different times. I'm still playing with the color, I like it in full shocking, vibrant hues as well as completely in gray scale. I think it works both ways. The posting here is a compromise between the two extremes. I like the idea of living between worlds. In the fall this is the moment where you are free from the constraints from what came before as well as what's to come. It's the moment that is in flux, a space where potential exists in both how we view the past and what we imagine for the future.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Where There’s Life There’s Art

Check this fabulous post at Drunken Boat by Ed Vespucciano, the artist currently showing at VividBlack Galleries in Second Life:

Ed's Exhibit runs in-world though March 12, 2010

Drunken Boat contributor Ed Vespucciano invites you to his exhibition of Visual Poetry, SEX WITH TYPOS, at the Vividblack Gallery, in “Second Life”, (near the Hotel Chelsea) February 1 – March 12, 2010.
SEX WITH TYPOS was created for the Second Life world using only the tools and materials available in SL: avatar created pictures and chat texts, the currency of life and vitality there. All the photographs were taken with the SL avatar camera (or perv-cam) and the text layers were created using IBM Word-Cloud Generator software to process actual local chats or instant message (IM) conversations.
“These scenes are sometimes real encounters, sometimes a combination of texts and pictures from different SL sources, but they all represent the heart of experience I have drawn from real people in Second Life. However cyborgian we may get in the virtual world, we are all still thinking with minds of meat.”
No avatars were harmed during the creation of these works of art.
Reception – Saturday, February 6th 2010 at 3pm SLT (6pm EST) at Vividblack Gallery.
You can visit Vividblack Gallery with your Second Life account (it's free if you aren't registered yet).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Virtual Worlds - Sculptures for the Treeline Project

These 3D modeled sculptures were created for the virtual Treeline Project, an Australian nonprofit connecting, people, art, science and nature to bring awareness to conservation issues. Each image is an environment that an avatar can physically enter and experience an immersive virtual space. Two events have been scheduled in world, an opening for all the current virtual Treeline artists Thursday, January 21st at 2pm Pacific time. I will also be giving an artist talk for the University of Western Australia's Design Challenge Showcase Saturday, January 23rd at 3pm Pacific Time. I exist in world as an avatar Araminta Kroitschov, artist and owner of Viviblack Galleries.

Flutter Trees, my art and design and scripted so butterflies float around the viewer. This piece was done in collaboration with virtual artist Ed Vespucciano, who was wonderful about taking my butterfly photographs and making them in to little moving swarms to go inside the sculpture.

Moon Forest is a piece that can be entered and experienced from different camera view points to gaze at the moon and feel a spiritual connection to nature.

Virtual Forest is a massive box filled with transparency and light that gives the viewer an experience of getting lost in the woods. Moving an avatar passes through the space layers and layers of tree images and stumbles around until they find the door.

A picture of part of the Treeline Project's installation space with the Virtual Forest on the top left of the image gives an idea of space.

For a transcript of the artist talk visit the UWA blog.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Immersive Show

Using the medium of Second Life, I created a different version of layered transparency based on my real life Into the Woods exhibition. I'm finding a curious exhilaration with learning to work in the computer environment to create a space where an avatar may enter and experience, from various points of view visual sensory information. Using the built in cameras in the app to change the way you look at a piece or virtual art allows the viewer to participate in the experience.
I have been pretty excited in general about my SL gallery. My traffic is way up on my website and it's been fun getting to know some of the interesting people in the community. On stage for the next exhibitions at Vividblack Gallery at the SL Hotel Chelsea sim are RL gig poster artist Madpixel in January, SL visual poet Ed Vespucciano in Feb, and virtual art experience The Gracie Kendall Project, an exploration of identity through the lens of real and virtual worlds. All are must sees. Please visit my Vividblack Gallery in SL . You must also have an account and an avatar set up to view the work. Don't worry, it's free. Visit, and get an account m'kay? For announcements for the SL gallery, please click the eyeball in the gallery and join the group. You'll be glad you did. ; )
Thanks to Mykal, Enola and all the fabulous people at the virtual Hotel Chelsea for making such a great sim. Visit for super live music and literary events. Really, I'm not kidding.