Inyo County certainly has its share of surprising talent. Take Christian Ray, who works by day as a Crime Scene Investigator for the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department, and by night, at a counter or table top in Bishop’s Yamatani Japanese Restaurant & Sushi Bar, as a sugar artist.
What is sugar art? As Ray explained it, “I pour sugar on the counter and use my chopsticks to make a picture with it.”
Sounds simple, but Ray’s creations are anything but.
Her drawings are works of whimsy and imagination, from a tattoo parlor (complete with an “open” sign and a reclining patron getting inked), to a lamp fish (“A conversation about this fish, [and] whether it was real or not, came up with [Yamatani owner] Robbie during dinner,” Ray said), to Ray’s son and daughter-in-law dancing at their wedding, to a Harley Davidson (“I have two of my own and love to ride,” she said).
Oh, and Ray makes custom cakes, too.
“I am a self taught baker and decorator,” she said. “I started out just making cakes for family … Between my husband and myself we have 8 children and 18 grand kids! Then next thing I know, I’m taking first come first serve orders, regular and custom.”
Ray added that she became certified in a safety/ restaurant management class in Ridgecrest. “My kitchen is up and running,” she said.
But back to her drawings.
Sugar might seem like a surprising medium, and Ray confessed, “I don’t really know how it started, other than that I drew a heart [one time]. I draw every time I’m at Yamatani, now.”
Owner Robbie Tani has a book of the first year of Ray’s drawings, which she began in 2009. “I have hundreds and hundreds of photos now,” Ray said.
Given her day job, she added, “I guess you could say [drawing] is kind of a release.” Like making art from sugar, she said, “I got into crime scene investigation by accident, too.”
Ray’s family moved to Bishop from the Bay Area in 1972. Initially, Ray volunteered for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. Then, in 1997, she began serving in the Inyo County reserve deputy program. In 2000, she switched over to crime scene investigation.
So what does a Crime Scene Investigator in Inyo County do? “I process Crime Scenes; everything from burglaries, recently Wave Rave and Rite Aid in Bishop, to suicides, homicides and found remains,” Ray said.
She works closely with Detectives, the District Attorney, Coroner and Forensic Labs. “The people I work with are my family,” she said; “sometimes I spend more time at work with them than [with] my own.”
Ray added that she works with hazardous materials, “like chemicals, blood, body fluids and tissue.” She writes reports, draws sketches, takes photographs, collects evidence at the scene, “and [I] spend a lot of time driving in my truck” between her offices in Bishop and Lone Pine.
“I work in dangerous situations,” Ray said. “I wear a uniform and carry a firearm. I witness horrific trauma and handle a great deal of stress. I’m on call 24/7.”
Small wonder that making art offers some catharsis. “Drawing at Yamatani is relaxing and fun, as is baking,” Ray said. “I love my job … but real life is not at all like television. There are no commercial breaks. [Drawing] is soothing after a hard day’s work.”
Stop in to Yamatani any Saturday, Ray said, and she’ll probably be there. She may even have a special sugar drawing design in mind for the holidays.