Category Archives: Artwork

Tell Me True: Why Do You Buy Art?

I was having a conversation with a fellow artist at the Sculptors Gallery in Portland last week. We started chatting about why people buy art, to include our own motivations. A lot of people considered to be “art collectors” are looking for a good investment. They’ll drop thousands of dollars on a piece of fine art in the hopes that a few years down the line it’ll be worth even more thousands–or even millions–of dollars. Others are buying pieces that match the colors and aesthetic of a particular room in their home, or because they have a space to fill on a wall or in a corner. On a more personal level, many collectors enjoy supporting artists they like, and on a grander scale they may endeavor to help an entire movement come to fruition.

My own motivations tend to come from a place of personal enjoyment. Sometimes I’ll see an original or a print that really speaks to me, whether on an aesthetic or spiritual level (or both) and I decide I want to be able to keep looking at it. Very often the art has nature-based themes, and in our discussion I figured out the primary reason I like the art that I do: it reminds me of the wild places I’ve visited.

Artemis print by Sarah Frary
Artemis print by Sarah Frary

For someone who loves non-human nature as much as I do, I spend a terrifying amount of time indoors. Whether I’m typing away on the computer or sitting at my workbench, I can spend days at a stretch in the apartment. I usually have to schedule out my longer periods of outdoor time, like hiking and backpacking, which takes away a lot of the joy of spontaneity. So to help me keep my sanity, I surround myself with reminders of the world outside.

While a lot of that involves my natural history collection, like skulls and hides and such, I also have some select pieces of art, both originals and prints. Some of it is from artists I personally know; others I got at street fairs, galleries and other events, or ordered online. All of it, though, makes me intensely happy when I look at it. There are days when I’ve boosted my mood just by looking at what’s hanging on the nearest wall.

And I know that while right now I’m in great physical condition, someday there will come a time when I’m no longer capable of doing multi-day backpacking trips on the slopes of Mt. Hood, or scramble down embankments for a swim in a river. And I want the art that I collect to be my solace, in tandem with my photos and memories. I want to still feel connected to these sacred places even when I’m no longer able to go to them myself. I don’t have a lot of money for buying art, but what I do buy is part of an investment in a safe emotional space for the future.

So, let me ask you: why do you buy art? What makes you want to bring home something created by someone else’s hands?

Want to add my art to your collection? Consider looking over my portfolio, checking out my Etsy shop, or becoming my Patron on Patreon!

One of my own pieces, "Alces alces".
One of my own pieces, “Alces alces”.

A Couple of Important Patreon Changes/Perks!

This is your last chance to get a copy of my next book,Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up, for free!

Over at my Patreon account, the Book of the Month Patron package at $25 ($35 for international folks) is going to change next month! it is currently six months until my next book, Nature Spirituality from the Ground Up, comes out. Currently, Patrons at that level receive one of my books a month until, after seven months they have all of the books pictured. They will also receive a free copy of Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up when it comes out in January 2016.

Starting on August 1, 2015, the package will change. Patrons who remain at that level for eight months will get one of my current books, to include Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up, per month. And at the end of eight months, I will be adding their name to a special preorder list; people on that list will end up getting a free copy of my next book (NOT including the Tarot of Bones deck and book), even if they are no longer my Patron when it comes out. For sake of transparency, I do not currently have another book contracted, but I have one manuscript I’m shopping around and a proposal I’m about to write, so I’m not about to retire as an author. And hey–whatever it’ll be and whenever it shows up, it’ll be absolutely free!

So sign up as my Patron in the Book of the Month package ($25 U.S., $35 international) by July 31, 2015, and get in on the free copy of Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up while you can!

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Have you always wanted one of my wolf headdresses but weren’t able to pay for it all at once? I’m now offering a unique payment plan via my Patreon account! Give $100/month for an entire year, and not only will you get a custom-made wolf headdress at the end of that year, but for your first month you’ll get a trio of fox tails. Plus you’ll have access to my Patron-only feed with exclusive content and sneak peeks, my monthly Totem Profiles, and other goodies. And for those for whom $100 is a bit much, I also still have my $30/month red fox headdress program that works the same way.

Interested? You can become my Patron for as little as $1/month right here!

The Price is Right: On Haggling, Piracy and the Value of Art

Last week, a couple of things of note popped up on my social media radar. One was this excellent article by Miranda Campbell, Culture Isn’t Free, talking about how expecting artists and creatives to work for “exposure” leaves the creation of culture largely in the hands of those who hold the money. The other was yet another “paganism on a budget” Tumblr post collecting links to sites where you can download free, pirated pagan ebooks, still under copyright rather than public domain. That post had over 2,000 likes/reblogs, if I recall correctly, and likely has more now.

The first one I read and appreciated, then shared on Facebook. The second I forwarded to the publishers whose books were listed so they could file DMCA takedown notices with site hosts. The difference? Ms. Campbell had an agreement with Jacobin as to how her writing would be distributed and how she would be compensated (if at all; I’m not privy to their arrangements). Such websites want links to their content to go viral, and I thought it was worth sharing. But with the website that was linked on the Tumblr post, there was a violation of the terms that the authors of the books had originally agreed to. Part of the publisher’s job is to maintain the terms of the contract, to include fighting privacy; they have more resources, on average, than a single author does.

The publisher-author relationship isn’t perfect. Ten percent royalties is still only a couple of bucks per book, and most authors don’t make a living on their writing. But the author still has the choice to negotiate a contract, and then sign or not sign it. It’s their decision to make their work available through a particular, if often imperfect, avenue that will at least get them some compensation for their effort. And in an economy where creatives are increasingly asked (or told) to work free of charge, some compensation (protected by contract) is better than none.

And to be fair, the publisher does a lot of work. When I sign a contract with a publisher for one of my books, I’m getting free editing, proofreading, layout and distribution, along with a certain amount of promotion. With my artwork, on the other hand, I’m carrying almost all of the burden, from materials acquisition and design creation to actually making the art to selling it in person and online. Either way, each sale of a book or piece of artwork funds far more than just the item itself.

Fang and Fur mediumSo we have to put a price on that time, effort and investment of resources. One of the biggest challenges I’ve seen artists (especially newer ones) face is how to price their art. A price is not merely a number. It’s a statement of value. What is this item worth, not only for its content, but the human resources that were poured into it from start to finish? What costs were incurred in its gestation and birth? And, more importantly, what is the value of the human life that was invested in it, time that needs to be measured in dollars rather than breaths? It’s a difficult thing to determine, and even after almost twenty years I still struggle with pricing my work. (My publishers make the job easier by setting the price on my books themselves, gods bless them.)

Eventually a price is determined, and placed out for the public to view. That price says “This is the amount of money that I will accept for this product of my work.” It’s the same as a contractor saying “I want this much per hour to fix your sink” or a pizza place stating “Here’s how much a large cheese deep dish pie will cost you”.  It is an invitation to an economic contract that is signed when the money is passed over. A simple agreement, sure–you give me that thing, I give you this thing, we consider it a fair trade, we go on with our lives.

There are always people who try to weasel their way out of that agreement. Some of them steal outright. I’ve lost track of how much of my artwork has been shoplifted from my booth at events I’ve vended at over the years. Only once has anything been brought back, by a tearful preteen girl flanked by her angry mother. The rest is spirited away by malcontents and children who don’t seem to understand the damage they do by their actions. But books get stolen, too, and far more often in the digital age. Every person who downloads a pirated .pdf of a copyrighted book is a thief*. It’s not the same as a secondhand paperback bought new and then sold used later on; that’s a single copy that was fairly compensated for, and it will never multiply into more copies (at least not without the help of Xerox or a scanner.) But a .pdf multiplies by its very nature, and within seconds. Whereas a paperback can pass from person to person in a circle of friends, and perhaps circulate among a dozen people in a month if they’re all fast readers, a .pdf can go to thousands of people in a day, and they get to keep their copies no matter who else they pass the book on to. Either way–art or books–the creator is the person who loses out in piracy.

But that’s not the only way the “I offer you this in exchange for this” agreement can be damaged. Allow me to present to you: the haggler. This is that person at events (or via email) who, dissatisfied with the numbers on the price tag, and weaned on Wal-Mart’s “Low Price Guarantee”, decides that they should have the privilege of paying less for a creation than its creator has valued it at. And so they approach said creator and, holding up a piece of art like a yard sale discard, ask “Will you take five bucks for this?”

To be honest, I consider it somewhat offensive when someone asks if I’ll accept a lower price on something I’ve created. I know it’s likely not meant as an insult; the person asking just wants to save a little money. Who doesn’t want that? In an economy where big box stores lure people in with ever-bigger sales and price slashes supported by government subsidies and slave labor, consumers have been trained to get bargains and they never think of who actually pays the costs for their savings**. It smarts more personally, though, when they try to do it to an individual artist. It’s not just that they’ve asked the creator to take less money; it’s that they treat the creation like it has no personality, no love poured into it. It’s just a thing to them.

Haggling, shoplifting, piracy–all these are symptomatic of a bigger cultural problem: the devaluation of art. I have yet to meet an artist who hasn’t at one point or another heard some variation on the following:

“It’s just art, you have fun making art, so it’s not actually work.”

“Will you make me this thing for free, or the cost of materials?”

“It’s exposure–it’ll get you more customers, really!”

“Oh, my aunt/kid/friend made something like that!”

“I bet I could make that!”

“It’s easier to be an artist than a scientist/real estate agent/hotel manager so you shouldn’t expect to get paid like one.”

adaptable4Sure, lots of people make art as a hobby, and even for those of us who do it for a living it can still be fun. But as I wrote last year, Art is Work. If what you do for a living is fun, then you’re doing something right. But that doesn’t take away the amount of effort you put into it. And only you can truly know the value of that work, and decide whether the compensation you’re getting is worth it or not.

When someone shoplifts your art, or pirates your book, or tries to haggle you down from your prices, they are saying that they don’t think your work has as much value as you say it does. And in that moment they are insulting you and your work. Any compliments they have given “Oh, I love this piece, it’s so pretty” is tainted by their unspoken follow-up “….but I don’t think it’s worth all that much.” It’s up to you as to how you want to deal with them, but don’t for an instant think that your work isn’t worth what you value it at, no matter the words of thieves and hagglers.

We are artists and writers and creatives. Our work and our time have value, and we deserve to be compensated for our effort, and to be able to decide how our work will be distributed and offered to the public. Nothing less is acceptable.

* For those pagans on a budget who try to justify their piracy by saying “But I’m poor/young/etc. and can’t afford to buy these books”, most authors have blogs wherein they share their writing for free to anyone who will read. Many also write for websites, again for free. Some will even happily answer your questions via email. With all that free writing available, you have no excuse to steal their books. Save the books for when you can at least get secondhand copies, and honor the value they put on their work.
** It would take an entirely separate post to get into the problems of not putting the full value on mass-marketed items like made-in-China clothing, or a farmer’s crop of wheat. We may give art more aesthetic value than these things, but the human effort behind them is no less important or deserving of value. And those low, low prices ignore the human rights abuses and environmental destruction that result from the manufacturing process.

Roadkill is Not a Waste

I love my fellow vultures, we fans of taxidermy and hides and bones and other such specimens. But I don’t always agree with them. Case in point: I recently read someone writing about how they thought they were obliged to pick up roadkill and salvage the hide and bones because otherwise it would be “a waste”.

On the one hand, I can see a good point in favor of that attitude. Roads aren’t “natural”, if by “natural” you mean “anything dating after humans discovered fire”. We see a deer accidentally hit by a car as a tragedy, but a rabbit accidentally trampled by a stampeding deer is “natural”. It’s only human intervention that seems to be “unnatural”. So if that’s your perspective, then yes, roadkill seems like a huge waste of life.

Furthermore, the argument is made that since the carcass is already there, we vultures should process it into tanned fur and cleaned bones and other specimens. It means one more set of animal remains funneled into the growing demands for taxidermy and curiosity cabinets, but without the deliberate killing of hunting (which for some people is worse than an accidental death by roadkill).

Both of these are valid reasons for making use of a roadkilled animal, and not letting a good opportunity go to waste. However, I would also argue that leaving the carcass there is not a waste. We may dislike seeing it on the side of the road, perhaps because it’s unsightly, often because we feel it’s disrespectful to the animal.

But what actually happens to roadkill when it’s simply rolled off the side of the road and into the ditch beside it? I had the unique opportunity a number of years ago to witness this in detail. I lived in a rural area close to Pittsburgh, PA. A whitetail doe got hit by a car right in front of the house, and her body ended up falling partway down a drainage ditch at the edge of our yard. This was mid-July, so it was hot, and flies showed up almost immediately. In the space of a week, a complete carcass was stripped almost completely of flesh by a growing army of maggots and bacteria, and likely was also nibbled on by local foxes, raccoons and other critters.

We do not see this process ourselves very often. Most people only see the remains of the deceased as bodies in funeral homes, meat in grocery stores, and fleeting glimpses of roadkill on the side of the highway. Few observe the stages of decomposition, and so we forget it is the most natural thing in the world. That roadkilled doe did not go to waste. She fed thousands of insects, countless bacteria, and even the fungi and plants beneath her. Even remains that “simply rot” feed something. There is no waste in nature.

But what about my work with preserved hides and bones? After all, I did collect the doe’s bones once the meat was all gone, and I did purification rites over them. Yes, I create my art and do my skin spirits rites because I feel I am honoring the animals that once wore these remains. But I also recognize that these are purely human conceptualizations of “honor”. The older I get, the more I think we do these rituals more for ourselves and our own sense of what is morally correct than what nature considers “honorable”. Wolves do not pray over dead elk. Elk do not pray over tree leaves. Leaves do not pray over nutrients in the soil that were only recently seeped from decaying salmon dropped there by grizzly bears. We are likely not the only animals to mourn lost loved ones, but we, and we alone, conduct elaborate rituals specifically because we feel the remains themselves–and not just the life that once wore them–should be so honored.

This is not to say I think roadkill collection is wrong, or that we should stop. After all, an opportunity is an opportunity, and besides, respect is a good thing to practice in general. But I think we need to stop justifying roadkill collection by saying it’s “waste” otherwise. That’s a very human-centric view of things; just because we won’t use it doesn’t mean nobody else will.

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Want more hides and bones? Please consider picking up a copy of my book, Skin Spirits: The Spiritual and Magical Uses of Animal Parts, or perusing my current hide and bone art selection on Etsy!

The Tarot: Major, Minor and Me

Over the past few months, as I’ve been working on the Tarot of Bones, I’ve had the opportunity to reassess my relationship with this particular divination system. Like many newbie pagans, back in the 1990s I was eager to jump into all sorts of exciting topics of study and practice. I found I had a halfway decent affinity for divination, and so between the Shapeshifter Tarot and a set of elder futhark runes I carved from natural chalk found in a Missouri creek, I began practicing this ancient art. Also like many new diviners, I found myself sticking pretty closely to my books as I parsed out meanings of card and layouts and queries. Then in 1999 I discovered Ted Andrews’ Animal-Wise deck, and thus began a love affair that lasts to this day. I left behind traditional tarot, and delved into a more organic, nature-based form of divination.

When I was preparing last year to start creating the Tarot of Bones, I took the opportunity to revisit my relationship with the more traditional aspects of the tarot. What I found surprised me: even though I hadn’t been actively reading tarot in over fifteen years, I found my personal interpretations of the cards to be deeper and richer, as well as more personal, than they had ever been. All those years doing totem readings with the Animal-Wise deck had vastly improved my pattern recognition and intuition skills, and so I could focus primarily on reacquainting myself with the tarot as a specific system.

Not surprisingly, the Major and Minor Arcana each have distinct personalities and bailiwicks. I think of the Major Arcana as a sort of pageant, with actors in specific archetypal roles, telling the Fool’s Journey through trial and triumph. Death and the Tower bring about massive, sometimes terrifying changes, but these are integral to moving the story along so that the Star and Judgement and others can even things out again. I don’t see the Majors (or the Court Cards) as representing individual people so much, though I know that’s a common way to interpret them in readings. Rather, I see them as the grand mythical forces that run through the lore and cultures of people worldwide. They are the experiences shared among a species, grand and poetic and given a stage through epic tales. They rock us to sleep every night as children, and they see us into our dreams–and our deaths.

The Minor Arcana, on the other hand, are the everyday people watching the pageant as it proceeds through its stages. Once the Fool has greeted the World and all the players bow for applause and roses, the audience goes back to lives as artisans and lawyers, retail workers and cooks, tech professionals and musicians and students. The Minor Arcana includes the cards of the individual and the intimate. We’ve all had sleepless nights full of worry, and we’ve all had joyous moments of celebration with others. We know the small, petty conflicts that can blow up into great drama, and the seemingly enormous accomplishments that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t make a lot of difference to anyone but ourselves (and that’s okay.) The Courts, in particular, refer to states of being I can aspire to (or avoid!), rather than telling me to look for a dark-haired man (I only have to go as far as the next room in my apartment to find one of those. Hi, honey!)

So what’s the difference between the Majors and Minors in my readings? The way they’ve been lining up lately is that when a Major comes up, I look outward, into the greater patterns and machinations of humanity. Turn over a Minor Arcana card, and I look inward, or very close to me. Rarely will the reading bring up an individual person; mine tend more toward patterns and situations, often involving other people, sometimes myself alone. Of course, these are generalizations. There are always exceptions. Sometimes a Major will want to get up close and personal, and sometimes a Court or Pip will remind me that those deep moments of isolation or bursts of inspiration speak to much larger social or species-wide currents.

Of course, this is just a discussion of the strictly tarot-flavored elements of my readings. As the Tarot of Bones develops, the animals themselves are speaking up, particularly in the Major and Court cards. But that set isn’t finished yet, and so our conversation is still ongoing.

Do you enjoy my writing? Want to get sneak peeks of blog posts and work in progress shots of artwork, as well as care packages full of my art and books each month? Consider becoming my Patron on Patreon, starting at just $1/month!

Hey, Folks–My Art Commission List is Open!

antlersHey, folks–my commission list is OPEN!

I’ve been working hard the past few weeks to whittle down the list of custom orders people have asked me to create for them, and I’m finishing up the last ones. The pictures above are just a few examples of what I’ve made for folks in the past couple of months–and I’m open to all sorts of ideas! Pouches! Jewelry! Ritual tools! Antler runes! Headdresses! And much, much more! You can see my portfolio here, and my Etsy shop here, to give you some more ideas of my work.

tumblr_np0npq0p381qi2nxpo6_1280Even if you have only a vague idea of what you want, that’s okay–I specialize in taking those few details and turning them into something awesome. I’ve had hundreds of satisfied commissioners over the years–why don’t you join them? You can PM me, or email me at lupa.greenwolf(at)gmail.com

Please share this to help get the word out, and thank you 🙂

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Tarot of Bones IndieGoGo: Stretch Goal Unlocked, and Five Days Left!

(Here, have a picture of where I’ve been the past few days.)

Well, I just got back from my adventures in the Oregon desert last night to find that the Tarot of Bones IndieGoGo did indeed reach $9000 and is 181% funded! That means that after the decks and books have been sent out Summer of 2016 I’ll be doing an exclusive Livestream class on how to use them, just for campaign backers. (Those who can’t make it will have a video emailed to them, and it’ll be a month before I make the video available for public consumption.) HUGE thanks to all of you who have backed the campaign so far–but we’re not done yet!

The campaign ends in five days, on May 19, 2015. And there’s another stretch goal outstanding–if the campaign reaches $12,000, I will record an audiobook version of the Tarot of Bones book. It’s something I really want to do, but it’s also time-consuming, and although $9000 is a LOT of money, it’s not enough to cover all the expenses for the Tarot of Bones deck and book PLUS all the perks and shipping and other expenses. (Keep in mind this campaign was originally just meant to bring in the funding for the materials for the remaining assemblages, which it did with gusto!) So the more this IndieGoGo campaign brings in now, the less money I have to fundraise later on–and the more time I have for things like audiobook recording.

$3,000 in five days seems like a lot–but remember that the campaign hit its goal of $5000 in under 100 hours! Four days! So let’s shoot for that goal of $12,000 by next Tuesday, and get that much closer to the Tarot of Bones being a reality. Here’s the link for the campaign itself–even if you’ve already backed it, please let others know about it as word of mouth is very important. ALL of your support is greatly appreciated, whether financial or not!

Now pardon me–I have assemblage pieces to create!

Plastics, Resins and Foams: On Trying to Be an Eco-Friendly Artist in an Era of Synthetics

“Hey, can you make me a pouch, but with fake fur instead of real?”
“I really like your animal headdresses, but can you make one with a taxidermy form and glass eyes in it?”
“Have you seen those resin rings with moss in them? I bet you could make an even better one!”

These are just a few of the suggestions I’ve gotten over the years as an artist. And I really do appreciate when people try to turn me on to new ideas, materials and the like. It shows that they’re paying attention to my work and they want to see what happens when I turn my creativity in a particular direction. (In other words: please don’t stop making suggestions just because of what I’m about to say in this post!)

Eco-Art and Styrofoam

coyote3Some of these ideas work really well. Others…well…they don’t even get out of the starting gate. Some of them are axed due to the limitations of physics (real, triple-curled ram’s horns are very heavy and don’t work for the sort of headbands I use–and also my neck says ouch!) Others are no-go due to legalities (sorry, I can’t make you earrings with real raven/crow/hawk/blue jay/owl feathers since it’s illegal here.) And some, like the suggestions in the first paragraph of this post, I opt out of because I don’t feel they’re going to help me create more eco-friendly artwork.

One of my biggest challenges as an artist and an environmentalist is finding eco-friendly art supplies. As with everything else in our industry-heavy society, most art supplies have been created solely with human need in mind; the environmental effects are much a much lower priority, except where regulations have induced manufacturers to comply with certain standards. Therefore our art supplies are full of plastics and other nonbiodegradables, along with a host of synthetic chemicals, unsustainably mined metals, and other environmentally unfriendly components.

So the very last thing I want to do is to add to that. I’ve had a LOT of people criticize my use of real fur and then suggest I use fake fur instead because it’s supposedly more “eco-friendly”. What they mean is no animal immediately died to make fake fur–but their fakes are made of plastic-based synthetic fibers. These plastics are often derived from petroleum, coal and other pollution-inducing materials, and the entire manufacturing chain for fake fur causes more animal (and plant and fungus) deaths than the death of a single fur-bearing animal. They also don’t biodegrade, and as they break up into ever-tinier bits of plastic they cause even greater pollution and destruction, up to and including killing zooplankton that eat the tiny fragments. (We need that plankton–it’s the backbone of the ocean ecosystem!)

The same thing goes for the polystyrene taxidermy forms on the market, and which people keep insisting I use for taxidermy headdresses. I am not about to take a brand-new chunk of non-biodegradable styrofoam and shove it into the head of a headdress, never mind the additional ecological burden of the hide paste (often polymer-based), plastic fake teeth, and mass-manufactured glass eyes used in the making of taxidermy. As for the resin jewelry? It’s made of acrylic, and I’ll explain why that’s a problem in a minute.

Allow me me make something clear: I’m far from innocent, even as I eschew the above suggestions. While I try to be mindful of my supplies, I’m as deeply embroiled in this system of toxicity as most other artists. Let’s look at a recent piece of mine as one example.

Deconstructing a Fox

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This is a fox skull necklace I created earlier this year for an art show. It’s pretty typical of my work–lots of yarn and beads and paint, with real bone as the centerpiece. Pretty eco-friendly, right? Well, let’s dig into that a bit more.

The skull itself came from another artist’s leftovers; it was likely from an animal hunted or trapped for its hide. More people are reclaiming the bones from these animals so that more of the remains are being used rather than discarded. When other artists sell off their supplies or collections I like to buy them up when I’m able to afford to; it keeps me from having to buy new ones, and it lets me put a bit of money in the pocket of an individual who needs to pay the bills.

Bone itself is pretty environmentally neutral, but remember that in this case I coated it in acrylic paint. I use acrylic for all sorts of projects; it adheres well to both bone and leather, comes in a variety of colors, mixes easily and dries quickly. It’s durable enough to be put on drums (with sealant) and it’s inexpensive. It’s often upheld as a good alternative because it’s water-based rather than oil-based, and other than acrylics made with cadmium and other heavy metals they’re relatively free of pigments commonly thought to be toxic. But what about the acrylic itself?

Acrylic is a thermoplastic made from applying heat to certain organic compounds. At least one of which, acrylic acid, is very corrosive to human skin, so don’t think “organic” equals “harmless”! All an organic compound is is a molecular compound containing carbon–many of which can be man-made. Additionally, the craft-grade acrylics I usually use often have vinyl or polyvinyl acetate (in other words–more plastic) mixed in for better stickiness and to cut costs. Both acrylic and vinyl are polymers, which means they’re made of very long chains of molecules. It also means that they’re next to indestructible, and therefore not easily biodegradable. So essentially what this means is when I paint a skull with acrylic paints, I’m putting a very thin layer of plastic on it. Even if I forgo the acrylic sealant (which would add yet another layer or three of acrylic), it’s still a lot of plastic molecules that are eventually going to flake off into the environment, and even tiny bits of plastics can have a devastating ecological effect.

The skull is strung on a necklace made of braided yarn and embroidery thread. I did buy the thread and yarn secondhand, since the thrift stores are full to overflowing with craft supplies around here, and I can get big bags of the stuff for relatively little cash. So I’m able to cut down on the demand for new manufactured goods, but what happens once the cord wears out and has to be replaced? Well, the yarn is–surprise, surprise!–acrylic. The embroidery thread is “mercerized cotton”. What the hell does mercerized mean? In short, it’s a process wherein cotton fibers are wrapped around a polyester (plastic!) core. I can only imagine the chemicals that went into the dyes used to bleach and color these things. Here’s a partial list of what could be in them. The dyes used in clothing, which likely have some overlap with yarn, are supposedly “nonpoisonous”, but again they’re only looking at the direct effects on humans who accidentally ingest them, not the massive environmental effects of the production of these dyes.

Finally, let’s look at the metal content of this piece. The cord is adorned with brass bells and copper beads, both from India, which means more shipping costs like ocean pollution. The copper wire was reclaimed from old computer components, so at least that’s a reclamation. All of these metals were probably mined in less than environmentally satisfactory manners, with resultant pollutants and other damage. Even in areas with regulations, violations of these laws are all too common. While the brass and copper itself may naturally corrode over time, the chemicals used in its mining, treatment, and manufacture into crafting materials likely won’t break down so easily.

Reducing the Impact

foxesinthehenhouse3I’ve been aware of the environmental impact of my artwork for years. It’s not feasible–or desirable–for every artist to entirely switch to a completely guilt-free medium all at once. An established oil painter wouldn’t do very well to suddenly start making all of their art out of old bottle caps and twist ties. But we can look into ways to more organically shift our materials in an environmentally conscious direction.

–Secondhand first (and local when new)

This is currently my most common solution to the environmental conundrum. Most of my acrylic paints are secondhand, either from SCRAP, local thrift stores, and even free boxes on Portland curbs. These sources often yield other treasures, like perfectly good paintbrushes, beads, yarn and related materials. And, as I mentioned earlier, I try to buy hides and bones secondhand as often as I’m able. I don’t remember the last time I actually bought something from Michael’s; the last new thing I bought was a couple of tubes of paint (acrylic and tempera) from the local family-owned art supply store around the corner from my apartment.

–Use it up, wear it out, make it do…

I throw very little away when it comes to my art. Tiny hide scraps and ends of thread end up as pillow stuffing. Old paint brushes get repurposed into assemblage materials. I don’t get rid of a tube of paint until I’ve squeezed the past tiny bit out of it. I also don’t buy things I don’t need. I have one pair of jewelry pliers I’ve been using for almost twenty years. While certain parts of my art might be a little easier if I owned an airbrush, I prefer to keep making the acrylics dance to my tune.

–…or do without

Sometimes I just say no, like with the taxidermy headdresses and resin jewelry. I already make awesome headdresses and beautiful jewelry without adding more to my plastics load. I don’t need to jump onto the next trendy-trend, especially if my conscience really isn’t okay with it.

–Finding alternatives

For the past few years I’ve been wanting to experiment with better alternatives to some of my materials. It’s only been recently I’ve started trying these new media, though. My most recent experiment has been testing tempera paint to see how it compares to acrylics in my usual creations. I’ve thought about making paints and glues from scratch (like these Earth Paints that my friend Autumn reminded me about recently), though I do have to be mindful of my time restrictions and the relatively small amount of paint/glue I use in one project. But it’s still an option on the table.

I also have to make sure the alternatives aren’t just as bad as–or worse than–what they’re replacing. I occasionally use hemp cord instead of yarn for necklace cords. Trouble is, it’s a lot harder to find it secondhand, which means I almost always have to buy it new. That means I’m contributing to the more immediate demand for this resource, which is often manufactured overseas and then shipped over here with a heavy environmental toll for the trip. And like other industrial crops, hemp is grown as a monocrop, which means miles upon miles of natural habitat chewed up for fields that only produce hemp, wildlife displaced and native plants exterminated. So in this case, at least, I figure secondhand yarn is the better option for me.

–Don’t take too much

It’s become en vogue in recent years to incorporate pine cones, seed pods, dried leaves and other such things into artwork, particularly assemblage and jewelry. Unfortunately, this can be devastating to a local habitat, especially if over-harvesting is done on a regular basis. I tend toward materials that aren’t in any danger of being extirpated; after a windy day I walk around my neighborhood and pick up sticks covered in lichens since they’re just going to end up mulched anyway. I leave nettles alone, though, because in Portland the numbers of red admiral butterflies have plummeted in recent years thanks to overharvesting of nettles for food by would-be back-to-nature fans. (Thanks to Rewild Portland for being honest and spreading the word about that unintended consequence!)

–Give back

Nothing is better than reducing your impact. But everything we do in this tech-heavy, resource-hungry culture has a negative effect on the environment, and so sometimes we can help through a sort of rebalancing. In addition to trying to be a more mindful artist, I give funds (and some volunteer time) to environmental nonprofits who can do more to make big changes than I can. I’m not a lobbyist, I don’t have the paperwork to go into parks and start planting native species, and I don’t have money to buy conservation easements. But I can at least funnel some of my income towards the people who do these things and more. And while I’m a busy self-employed person, I at least have enough schedule flexibility to do some volunteering now and then, whether it’s litter pickup or water testing.

When it comes to art and the earth, there are no quick and easy answers; using fake fur won’t automatically make you a more eco-friendly artist than I am. But if we keep having these conversations on what’s the best alternative for our own needs, and if we keep sharing information and resources, we can start shifting the attitudes that have led to our primary options being toxic and destructive, and move toward a more mindful and responsible way of creating our art.

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The Tarot of Bones IndieGoGo is Live!!!

Magician

AAAAAAAAAND HERE IT IS!!!!! THE TAROT OF BONES INDIEGOGO CAMPAIGN IS LIVE!!!!!!

Here’s your chance to get THE best price for the Tarot of Bones deck and book set (due out Summer 2016), AND get lots of neat perks! What kinds of perks?

  • A handmade (by me!) leather pouch for your Tarot of Bones deck
  • Copies of my other books on paganism and nature spirituality
  • Prints of select cards
  • Original assemblage pieces used in the creation of the Tarot of Bones
  • A thank you in the Tarot of Bones book and website
  • Other perks to be revealed if we meet the goal of $5,000 and get into stretch goal territory

Plus you’ll be helping me acquire the rest of the materials I need to complete the card art as well as offset some of the other costs. While this isn’t my only source of funding, the campaign will help me stick to my production schedule for the project.

What is the Tarot of Bones? It is a natural history-themed divination set I am creating. I’m making 78 permanent assemblage pieces, one for each of the cards, featuring animal bones and other natural and reclaimed materials. These assemblages will then be photographed for the card art, and the deck will be released with a full-length companion book (not just the little white booklet). You can find out more about it and see photos of completed assemblage pieces at the official Tarot of Bones website.

And if you’re in the vicinity of Portland, OR, don’t forget about the Tarot of Bones party at Paxton Gate this Friday evening from 6pm – 8pm! You can see some of the assemblages on display, listen to me talk about the project, and sign up to back the IndieGoGo campaign! More information can be found here.

For just $5 you can help make the Tarot of Bones a reality! And even if you can’t contribute, please reblog/reweet/share the IndieGoGo campaign so others have the opportunity to be a part of it all! And many, many thanks for your support and help 🙂

Important Addition to My Patreon Account!

Hey, all! By request I’ve added another level of patronage over at my Patreon! Some of my $15 art Patrons requested an intermediate level between that and the deluxe $60 level. So there’s now a $35 level, which allows me to make something extra-spiffy and get it shipped to you each month. Head to https://www.patreon.com/lupagreenwolf to sign up for the patronage package of your choice, whether that’s books or art or curiosities, or simply the opportunity to get sneak peeks of my works in progress!