“I enjoy working with her and seeing that people value her artwork”
Sandoner & La Señora Maria
By Anabel Marquez | Photos by Rachel Carrillo
It’s a Monday afternoon and the Sand Factory in Cudahy is quiet and serene. Sandoner is busy, assembling small doll figurines inside her office while her mom, Maria, better known as La Senora Maria (Spanish for Mrs. Maria), works in the back of the warehouse organizing merchandise, preparing shipments and stuffing mail envelopes.
We sit down with Maria to get the mother’s perspective on Sandoner’s success. Maria is elegant, well-versed and comfortable answering personal questions. She’s a confident woman who understands the influence of her oldest daughter’s talent.
“In fourth grade, Sand wrote in her journal that one day she wanted to be a famous artist, own a luxury car, buy a luxury watch and help me retire. So far, she has made everything happen,” says Maria.
Sandoner is the L.A. Artist whose distinct murals of curvy, busty female cartoon “Sand Dolls” with big eyes and fluffy lashes have made her stand out from the rest. Many of her doll murals can be seen around Los Angeles County. And through her social media channels, she has taken her 245K plus fans, followers and art collectors to join her on mural painting commissions outside of L.A. She introduces new Sand Doll merchandise on Instagram and hosts out-of-state paint-and-sip events. She’s the oldest of three siblings and her mom says she’s been perfecting her craft since the tender age of four, when a pre-school bound Sandoner would open a coloring book and color the pages with such precision that any accidental marks outside the lines would bring her to tears.
“She’s always been a perfectionist,” says Maria. “From a very young age, she had a special talent and wanted every detail to look perfect.”
The truth is, if you analyze Sandoner’s work ethic, her fighter mentality and her commitment to provide for her family, there’s no better indicator of who the artist really is, than meeting the woman that raised her.
FROM A BROKEN HEART IN MEXICO CITY TO THE FOOD TRUCKS OF EAST L.A.
Born in the heart of Mexico City, Sandoner’s mom, Maria, wears many hats. She’s one of Sandoner’s right hand women, handling everything from art delivery, paint supply errands, warehouse operations, in-person sales and she’s also Sandoner’s favorite cook.
“I enjoy working with her and seeing that people value her artwork,” says Maria about working for her daughter. “Plus, she motivates women to work hard and succeed in life.”
Maria grew up in Mexico City surrounded by loving parents and four siblings. Her father (Sandoner’s grandpa), worked two jobs to provide for the family while Maria’s mom stayed home caring for the kids and the household. She studied in Mexico and obtained a post-secondary education but in 1987, right as she was preparing to get married and begin her career as a social worker, Maria’s fiancée at the time, with whom she was deeply in love, impregnated another woman.
Faced with shock, embarrassment and emotional devastation, the couple broke up and her fiancée disappeared.
Maria couldn’t find a way to channel her pain so when the opportunity presented itself to travel to Los Angeles for a relative’s Quinceanera, she took it and never returned home.
“I tried to build a wall and forget about my heart-break,” she remembers.
In Los Angeles, Maria began working on a food truck with her uncle. She had a college education but had never worked before. The prospect of making money right away meant she would be able to help support her mom in Mexico. Six months later, she was renting her own apartment as a kitchen assistant and learning about discipline, efficient food preparation, customer service and delivery of flavorful Mexican dishes.
Then in the early 90’s, Maria got pregnant. She was expecting Sandoner and everything indicated she was on her way to become a single mom.
“I can’t go back home,” she thought to herself upon learning about her unexpected pregnancy. “In Mexico, the traditions are different, people’s ideas of single moms are different. I couldn’t return.”
She remained in Los Angeles, gave birth to Sandoner and made things work for herself and her daughter. Later, she had two more children.
A MOTHER-DAUGHTER HUSTLE
“I enjoy working with her and seeing that people value her artwork. Plus, she motivates women to work hard and succeed in life.” – La Señora Maria, Sandoner’s mom
2016 was Sandoner’s breakthrough year. That’s when she figured out her art and popularity would pivot her lifestyle toward financial freedom. Her sister, known as the “Shipping Lady” had been helping her for a long time but Sandoner felt it was time to retire her mom.
She asked Maria to quit her food truck job and help manage the growing Sand Doll art business. Maria agreed.
“At first, I would sell tacos at her mural locations” says Maria. I would get there, set up a fryer and make deep-fried quesadillas for customers that stopped to watch her paint.”
Then an idea occurred to her. Instead of prepping and cooking food at Sandoner’s gigs, Maria would sell Sand Doll merchandise instead.
“The first time we tried this, I arrived with my container full of stuff. I set up a table, covered it with a table cloth and placed Sand Doll merchandise for everyone to see. That day, I sold $50 worth of stickers so we continued selling at each stop where she was painting.”
Today, Maria has learned the ins and outs of Sandoner’s business, including memorizing the names of the various dolls the artist is known for. There’s Lil Stony, Smooth Hustler, Cakes, Bunny Perez, Softy, and many others. There’s canvas art, tumblers, clothing, keychains, car fresheners, backpacks, and the demand keeps growing.
“I gave her wings to get ahead in life,” says Maria. “I tell her—‘now that you’re up, don’t look back’. Let’s keep doing big things, let’s keep doing different things.”