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Studio Tour: Julia Roshkow of Cartesian Graphics

by Caitlin Kelch

Today we’re excited to welcome an artist with a very distinct (and precise) point of view. Julia Roshkow started back in 2003 as a home business designing and producing handmade greeting cards. Making these cards involved gluing crystals and fabric swatches onto pre-printed grids, a rather meticulous and extremely labor intensive process. The business grew steadily over the next decade with hundreds of customers all over the world and a Best New Product Award win at the National Stationery Show. Julia was commissioned to create designs for some venerable New York City institutions like The American Museum of Natural History, The Hayden Planetarium, and The New York Botanical Garden. As her business grew, she relocated to a studio in Long Island City, Queens, a formerly industrial area of New York City, which she now shares with photographer .

In 2016, after making thousands of greeting cards individually by hand, Julia felt the need to move on. A new incarnation of began with Julia’s need to create wall art for her own home. Julia still works in a precise and excruciatingly labor intensive fashion and she still glues crystals onto pre-printed grids. And, she still works in the same Long Island City studio, which we’re extremely excited to visit in today’s studio tour!

We’d be remiss if we didn’t disclose how Julia arrived at the name of her business. The term Cartesian refers to René Descartes, the French mathematician and philosopher who introduced the idea of specifying the location of a point on a surface by using two intersecting lines, the x and y axes, as measuring guides back in 1637. As we tour the studio, you’ll see the relation between Julia’s work and Descartes’ contribution to the world of mathematics. So without further ado, we present Julia’s art and studio. See more of Julia’s work here!

Image above: Julia’s newest collection, Madras Plaid, shown on the wall of ledges that occupies one side of the gallery. The wall of ledges consists of 32 picture ledges custom-made for her by . She uses the ledges to design installations and to photograph and display unframed work.

Thanks very much to , the photographer who shot and provided all of the images in this post! He is also Julia’s studio mate.

This studio tour is sponsored by . Thanks for supporting our sponsors who help us bring you original content like this every weekday.

What do you make or practice in your studio?

I make very precise crystal collages under the name .

How many years have you occupied your studio?

I’ve been working in my studio for over 10 years now, since 2007, when Cartesian Graphics was a handmade greeting card company. I fell in love with the neighborhood and the building, and now I live there as well, but not in the studio itself.

Image above: Julia & David’s studio has three separate spaces that each serve a different purpose. The main room serves as Julia’s workspace and the photo studio, while the long hallway functions as a gallery. They share an office as seen in the background above. The hallway gallery is seen below.

Where is your studio located?

My studio is located in Long Island City, a formerly industrial neighborhood in the New York City borough of Queens. It is located in an old factory building that used to house the Eagle Electric Company as well as other commercial tenants.

How has the neighborhood changed since you first moved in?

For better or for worse, Long Island City has undergone extremely rapid residential development since I first moved here. I do miss working across the street from a Hazmat gear supplier and down the block from a lumberyard, but, on the bright side, we now have terrific sushi. Another perk is the median strip built on Jackson Avenue, one of the main streets, so crossing Jackson is now just like crossing any other busy urban thoroughfare and no longer feels like an extreme sport.

Image above: Julia’s work includes these textile patterns: houndstooth, argyle, and tartan. Mounted in charcoal frames, Julia considers these pieces both traditional and modern and refers to the collection as the Crystiles.

Do you share your space? If so, with whom and what is their medium?

I share my space with David Gonsier, a photographer. The main room serves as my workspace and the photo studio. Everything is moveable which makes it easy to share. We also have an office, and a long entrance corridor which we use as a gallery.

What is your favorite thing about the space?

There are so many things I love about the space that picking my favorite is going to be difficult. First, there’s my commute. As I live as well as work in the building, I have clearly achieved every New Yorker’s dream — to live and work in the same zip code.

Then there is the light. With 14-foot ceilings and an entire wall of windows, the light is magnificent. David often shoots using only natural light. For years I resisted putting in any window covering, but recently we’ve had to give in and put in shades. The new glass tower across the street reflects the late afternoon sun in such a way as to effectively blind anyone trying to work in the studio at that time. So now we have both natural light and full blackout which is definitely an improvement.

But I think my favorite thing about the space is the unusual connection I have with the building itself, a connection that goes back many years, to my childhood actually. In the late 1960s, I worked for my father’s boutique advertising agency. As a one-man shop, he had no compunction about asking his dexterous and artistically inclined 12-year-old daughter to help with the design and execution of the in-house magazine he produced for an energy company. A large part of my job was to paste up, a method of creating camera-ready pages for publication called mechanicals that predates the use of desktop publishing. This involved pasting columns of type, headlines, photographs, and line art into predetermined positions on a page onto which a grid representing the publication’s columns and margins had been drawn. The type was produced by a typographer and would arrive in long sheets that we first proofread and then cut apart.

I didn’t think about the source of this type at all until my father’s death in 2009. At that time, I inherited his printer’s ruler, an indispensable tool marked in picas and points for the preparation of mechanicals. I had used that ruler many times, but the name and location of the typographer that was stamped on the ruler didn’t catch my eye until decades later. The typographer turned out to be the Queens Composition Corporation located at 45-31 Court Square in Long Island City. As my studio is located right near Court Square I was determined to find the building that once housed my father’s typographer. When I looked up the address on the ruler I was shocked to discover that 45-31 Court Square was the alternate address of the very building I was now working and living in. In fact, it is this alternate address that appears on my Con Edison bill.

But that’s not the end of the story.

As I further researched my building, I discovered that another tenant was the Peter F. Mallon Printing Corporation, which just happened to be my father’s longtime printer. In 1986, to thank my father for his many years of business, the founder’s son gifted him with the most exquisite engraved invitations for his daughter’s wedding. So my wedding invitations were printed in the very building in which I now live and work. Working with my father was always a very happy place for me as is working in my studio today.

Image above: Julia works on a design from the Cats collection called Counterchange Cats. She donates $50 to “a wonderful animal rescue organization called the for every cat piece that I sell.”

Image above: Julia’s Counterchange Cats framed and hung in the gallery.

Tell us about your art. 

The first crystal collages were created for my own home. But I soon discovered that I had far more ideas than wall space, and Cartesian Graphics, originally a handmade greeting card company, entered a new phase. My very precise crystal collages are largely intended as wall art, but can also be displayed as three-dimensional objects. As much of my work is made-to-order, and my favorite way of working is to create particular pieces for particular spaces, I feel as though I have one foot in the art world and the other in the design world. In fact, I consider myself a wall jeweler. My goal is to produce work that is beautiful, joyous, and amusing. My collages have absolutely no hidden meaning. I urge people to take them at face value, as they merely reflect my interests at any given time.

Image above: Julia’s assembled materials for the gluing phase of a piece from her Deathflake collection. The name was taken from a knitting pattern of the same name that combines a skull with a traditional Nordic snowflake motif. 

Aside from the Cartesian approach to your work, crystals play a huge role in your art. How did you come to work with them and amass such a large collection?

I first started working with crystals in 2004 when I designed a series of birthstone birthday cards that incorporated actual crystal birthstones. The inspiration for these cards was the Hall of Gems at The American Museum of Natural History. As the cards were sold quite successfully by the Museum and many other vendors over the years, crystals seemed like a logical choice of material when I decided to create wall art.

My other reasons for working with crystals are rather prosaic:

  • They are sparkly, and everyone, including me, loves sparkly.
  • They come in lots of wonderful colors.
  • Every Swarovski crystal of a given color and size is exactly the same as any other, making them the dependably uniform objects my very precise collages require.
When I decided to use crystals for artwork, I realized that I would first have to develop a color palette. To do that, I had to experiment with every single color which is how my crystal collection first began. I ended up choosing 48 colors and created a  so that clients could see the actual crystal colors on their colored backgrounds.

Can you share a typical day or night in your studio with us?

I sit in a chair that I’ve had since my freshman year at college. Then I glue crystals. I go home for lunch. I feed the cats. Then I go back to the studio and I glue more crystals until dinner time. Then I stop for the day. This may sound boring but it is actually quite peaceful, a form of meditation I think. I work in silence – no music, no podcasts, and as little conversation as is possible without being overly rude.

What the process of making one of your pieces?

Each Cartesian Graphics crystal collage is conceived of as a fully realized artwork that can stand on its own. However, each piece is also designed as part of a collection, a group of designs with a common theme, pattern, or color story, which can be combined to create larger installations. The collection concept also allows me to fully explore the possible permutations of a design, whether it be size, configuration, or color. In that way, the designs have the flexibility to work in different spaces with different constraints.

Creating a collection has three phases. The first one I’ll call Research. This phase begins by identifying a theme that I’m interested in exploring, Then I try to learn as much about it as I can. History is very important to me as I think understanding the origin of a design enhances the enjoyment and appreciation of it. Also, I just like knowing stuff. The second phase is Design. I pick the patterns and colors that I’m going to work with, and begin the arduous task of making them into grids. Much math is involved. Some designs come together right away and others require many iterations to get them right. The third phase is Making. The final design or group of designs is printed and mounted by my printer, in Brooklyn, and then the gluing begins. Once the glue has fully cured, my studio mate, , photographs each piece. He has become quite expert at photographing crystals which is harder than it looks. The lighting, he tells me, is tricky, but he has clearly mastered it. Then the pieces that need framing are sent off to , my Long Island City neighbor. They are photographed again when they return framed and glazed, and then the process of making a very precise crystal collage is finally complete.

The first two phases, Research and Design, are actually quite solitary and can happen anywhere I have access to a computer. The Making phase, though, is most definitely a group effort, and a large part of the pleasure for me is getting to work collaboratively with other makers who are so very, very good at what they do.

Image above: An array of pinks. I chose Pink (rather than Light Pink or Dark Pink) for my Pink Deathflake. Shown are the colored backgrounds that David uses for photography.

How long have you been making your very precise crystal collages?

I’ve been working with Swarovski crystals since the early 2000s, but I only started using them for collage in 2016.

Where do you get inspiration?

I’m inspired by almost anything that is even vaguely geometric. But right now I’m feeling particularly inspired by traditional textiles and fiber arts. I just finished collections based on madras plaid fabrics and knitting patterns from Sanquhar, Scotland, and I’m in the process of actively researching Palestinian embroidery, antique gold ribbons and lace, traditional Japanese kimono prints, and Latvian mittens. The possibilities seem endless to me at this point in my career as a maker of very precise crystal collages, which I suppose is a good place to be.

Image above: On the left is a design from Julia’s Sanquhar Pattern collection. It’s shown with one of the knitted pieces that inspired her. Bold black-and-white Sanquhar patterns hail from Scotland and are almost 200 years old, but Julia tells us “they have a [thoroughly] modern look to them and have undergone a resurgence of late.”

Image above: David preps for a photo shoot of the Sanquhar Pattern collection on the wall of ledges.

Image above: The glorious gallery hallway with a selection of Julia’s pieces that have been framed.

Image above: Pieces that are waiting to be photographed are stored on a rolling baker’s rack. Julia says “If I ever stop making very precise crystal collages, I’ll be able to bake a lot of cookies.”

Image above: Here in a section of the main space, we see the Sanquhar pattern three ways.

Image above: Julia’s Robo Skulls lit by the beautiful light that is such a wonderful feature in her studio.

Image above: Here we see the main space that can be rearranged at will for photo shoots with plenty of natural light. Julia’s daughter, circus artist , performs in the space as captures her with his beautiful photography.

And we end this studio tour graciously shared with us by very precise crystal collage artist Julia Roshkow with the meticulously organized crystal headquarters. According to Julia, she has “crystals in every color that Swarovski makes, including some hard-to-find discontinued ones (RIP Dark Moss Green).”

Thank you so much to for sharing her studio, work and process with us and to photographer  for the wonderful images!

 

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Comments

  • I love this – the plaid meditation and the evolution of paste-up hit home for me. I love to see when a n artist has come into her own and no longer has a studio filled with cast-off experiments and evidence of trying to find her groove – contentment!

  • Longtime reader here, curious as to how this is a sponsored post. It seems like your usual pure editorial!

    • We’ll consider that a compliment Karen! It’s a paid post to share and promote Julia’s work. We’ve used the same editorial approach that we do for all of our content. – Caitlin

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