Category Archives: Artwork

In Pursuit of Less Plastic: Acrylics vs. Tempera Paint

Earlier this year I talked about my dislike of plastics in my art supplies, and how challenging it can be to find materials that don’t include petroleum-based synthetics. I already discussed the pros of using real fur (and, by extension, real leather) over plastic-based fake hides, and now I’d like to delve into a series of posts in which I try to find better alternatives to my usual materials.

(You can click on any of the images in this post to get bigger versions of them.)

The Contenders: Acrylic and Tempera

One of the most obvious sources of plastic in my art is acrylic paint. I use it for detailing headdresses and other hides, decorating pouches and other creations, and in my assemblage work. Acrylic paint combines pigments with an acrylic polymer emulsion, and water as the liquid vehicle. The water content allows the paint to dry much more quickly than oils, though early acrylics used mineral spirits instead of water for the same effect. As with almost all paints today, the pigments themselves are also usually synthetic or inorganic, though a few may still use organic pigments.

Since I’m a cheapskate, and I don’t actually like the thicker texture of professional-grade acrylics, I get the buck-fifty tubes of acrylic paint that are popular at craft stores. I find that the thinner texture works better for painting on leather and the like anyway; I very rarely use canvas, and even then the thicker texture still makes me unhappy. Most of my acrylics are actually secondhand; between the thrift stores and SCRAP I can get a whole rainbow of colors for way less than I’d pay new, and even if the bottles aren’t full the paint’s still perfectly usable. The only times I buy new acrylics are when I need to restock on colors I use frequently, like black, white and burnt umber, and I don’t have time to go searching through tubs and bags of secondhand bottles for the right shade.

I decided one way I could potentially cut down on my plastic consumption was by buying tempera paints, since I’d heard they had a lower plastic content. I admit I grabbed my first set of temperas on a whim when I was at Fred Meyer (a regional chain of grocery/housewares/etc. stores run by Kroger). I don’t have a Michael’s nearby, so Freddy’s little aisle of limited art supplies is my go-to for when I need something really quickly–or when I remember I need paint or glue while grocery shopping. Plus I figure a lot of people will be similarly convenience-minded, so I wanted to speak to that first before diving into slightly more obscure materials.

Fred Meyer’s only tempera option is Pro Art, a company based in Beaverton, Oregon. They have a pretty limited selection of pint volume bottles, about eight or nine in the usual primary colors, black, white, and a few others. I grabbed the black, white, green and brown since those are the colors I use the most. I had also nabbed some Pro Art copper tempera paint at Columbia Art & Drafting Supply in Portland since I couldn’t find copper acrylic anywhere (this was before I’d had the idea to test tempera paints as an alternative to acrylics). Since metallic paints sometimes behave and wear a little differently than their less sparkly companions, I figured this would be a good addition to the lineup.

Examining the Contents

paints2While my acrylics are from a number of manufacturers due to their primarily secondhand nature, I decided to use the bottle of black I originally bought new as the primary comparison against the black tempera. The resident acrylic brand at Freddy’s, Delta Ceramcoat, is made by Plaid, who also manufactures Apple Barrel and FolkArt, the other two commonly found “little bottle” acrylic paints. On inspecting the labels of both the bottles of black paint, I found both conform to ASTM D-4236, which means they’re “non-toxic”. All that means is they aren’t immediately poisonous if you get some on your skin or accidentally swallow some. Obviously you don’t want to drink bottles of paint or get it in your eyes, but they’re less of a problem than, say, vermilion red oil paint made with cinnabar, which contains mercury. Both are also manufactured in the U.S., always a plus in my book.

However, Pro Art’s tempera paint has something very important that Ceramcoat’s acrylic doesn’t: a list of ingredients. There are no laws requiring paint manufacturers to include ingredients on the label, but Pro Art considers it “Right to Know Information”. Brownie points to them, then! The first ingredient listed in water, unsurprisingly, and then calcium carbonate, which is the same stuff that makes up limestone, chalk, coral and the like. Then there’s “Pigments”, with the specific “P.Bk.11”, which doesn’t tell us much. Ingredient four is the one that I didn’t notice til after I’d bought the paint: a proprietary blend of acrylic thickeners. Since there are no percentages given for the amount of each ingredient, I have no way of telling whether there’s less acrylic in an ounce of this tempera paint than in my usual acrylics. And below that is a preservative labeled CAS 4080-31-3. As it turns out, that’s the code for Quaternium-15 (examethylenetetramine chloroallyl chloride), an ammonium salt containing formaldehyde, and which is a known skin irritant for some people.

Since there aren’t any ingredient lists for Ceramcoat’s acrylics, I have no idea whether it’s even more toxic. But I have to still give kudos to Pro Art for their transparency. If I’m going to switch over to them for my quick-fix paint emergencies, I do need to test their product against Ceramcoat’s.

Performance Comparison

paints3I used some leather scraps for testing out the paints to see which I liked better. These first three patches are just a basic test for color and coverage; the top rows on the left and right patches are acrylics, the bottom tempera. The left and center are smooth leather, the right is suede. For the piece in the center with two black streaks, the left is acrylic and the right tempera. The black and white paints are exact matches; for the brown and green I did my best to match acrylics from my existing stock to the tempera shades. Since copper is a harder color to find, I had to go with whatever was available to me.

Right away I noticed the Pro Art tempera paints had a bit more body and viscosity than the acrylics, but nowhere near enough to affect their performance. They still laid down on the leather smoothly and without big clumps or ridges, and dried nice and flat. What I did notice was that, especially for the white and green, the tempera covered better with a single coat, even in the cases of the black and white paints where both the acrylics and tempera were bought brand new. This is a definite plus since the less paint I have to use, the better. And they did equally well on both smooth leather and suede.

paints4The one disappointment was the copper tempera paint by Pro Art. Where the other colors were vibrant and rich, and the paint coated easily, the copper was pale and the texture watery and thin. And the color was a lot less exciting compared to the copper acrylic. The pigments in the tempera were listed as “micaceous”, which leads me to believe actual mica was used in the pigmentation. This is a great idea; I think they just need to amp up the red tone in whatever their pigment mix is.

I found that for blending and layering, acrylics and temperas worked about the same, though since temperas are a little more viscous I found blending them to be a bit easier with the same amount of paint. Because acrylics and tempera both dry quickly and at about the same rate, any blending still needs to be done immediately. Sure, you can get slow-drying medium to add to the acrylics, but that just adds in more cost and chemical load. Since the temperas (other than the copper) are a bit thicker, you’ll need less per layer.

wearAs to durability? On smooth leather without sealant, acrylic holds up to being rigorously rubbed with a fingertip, while tempera wears off very quickly. However, on suede both held up just fine even without sealant. As with all painted leather, eventually both will likely crack and wear just from the movement of the leather, but with the right sealant tempera performs just as well as acrylic. The photo on the right shows unsealed black paint, an sealed brown (acrylic on top, tempera on bottom) after being distressed with a fingertip.

The Verdict?

While I’m still not happy with the acrylic content and preservatives in Pro Art’s tempera paint, the fact that they disclose those ingredients is a point in their favor. Additionally, I like supporting local businesses. So for my “I need white paint NOW and it’s 10:30 at night” emergencies, I’ll run to Fred Meyer and get a bottle of Pro Art. Otherwise, I’m going to keep buying secondhand bottles of acrylics from local thrift stores, and supplement with CeramCoat when there’s a color I need a lot of and Pro Art doesn’t make it.

For my next post, I’d like to explore a different brand of tempera paint that doesn’t have any acrylic content and see how it stands up to the test. After that, there’s a package of Earth Paints sitting here waiting to be tried out. Let’s see how my attempts to reduce the plastic content in my work goes, shall we?

Where’s Lupa?

Hey, folks! I’ve updated my events and appearances page at https://thegreenwolf.com/events-and-appearances/ with a calendar of all my confirmed events for the next several months! A few highlights:

–I’m returning to Heartland Pagan Festival in Kansas as a presenter after nearly a decade away, and I’m going to be a featured guest at Gathering of Pagan Souls in Missouri

–I’ll be back at PantheaCon in San Jose in February, and the following month at Paganicon in Minneapolis, presenting workshops and participating on panels

–I’ve been arranging a number of standalone workshops at pagan shops in and around Portland in the next few months. Look for me at East West Bookshop in Mountain View, CA, By Candlelight and Conjure in Salem, OR, New Renaissance in Portland, and Celestial Awakenings in Portland. More information on workshops elsewhere is forthcoming.

And there’s more beyond even that–I have a very busy schedule ahead of me in 2016! If you or a shop or event you know of are interested in booking me, now’s the time to get your request in since my time’s filling up very quickly. Email me at lupa.greenwolf(at)gmail.com 🙂

So, Lupa, How Was the Mall?

So I spent October 5-11 selling my art in a pop-up shop at the Westfield Mall in Vancouver, WA.

Yes, you heard that right. I sold my art made of hides and bones and my books about nature spirituality in a mall. So how did it go? Read on.

First of all, the Westfield Vancouver isn’t your usual mall. Instead of a bookstore they have a branch of the county library. They have a ton of activities for kids, rather than just a couple sad coin-operated cars monitored by a bored-looking teenager. And they actively recruit artists to sell their work for limited periods of time in their foyers and kiosks. The coordinator of this particular program headhunted me at a local art event I was vending at, said she loved my work and wanted to invite me to try the mall for a week. A bit incongruous, to be sure, but after months of festivals and faires, I was up for a bit of a venue change.

I do have to say the vending staff are some of the nicest people I’ve met, easy to work with, quick to respond to correspondence, and they were even willing to work directly with my insurance agent to make sure I had the correct level of coverage, since they asked for a couple of changes not on my usual business policy. I got a full tour of the mall, to include a good look at the in-house set dressing they have (including all those tables and the hat tree in the pictures of my booth). So I was pretty positive when I got done with all the paperwork.

deerplanter2Setup on Sunday night was easier than I had feared. I was setting up solo since my usual help was occupied that weekend. And the booth was near one of only two doors that stay unlocked after the mall closes but before the theater is done for the night (there’s 24 hour security). So I didn’t have too far to haul things, and since I wasn’t using gridwall there was less crap to schlep back and forth from the car. (No, seriously–we have a LOT of gridwall and accessories in our usual setup.)

Since I was working with less space than my usual grid-lined 10 x 10 booth, I had to be selective in what I brought with me. I tailored my stock away from the more overtly unusual things like headdresses, and emphasized jewelry and assemblage art more. This worked pretty well; people did tend to give more attention to the less furry, more shiny things. Well, okay, let me clarify: they looked at the more fur and bone creations with curiosity or “Oooooh, how weirrrrrrd!” responses, but sales tended to be mostly tamer things.

The retail week pattern was pretty typical–slow during the week, picking up more toward the weekend, and Saturday being by far the best day sales-wise. As is usual, a lot of people simply stopped by to take a look; I went through a lot of business cards, especially as some folks wouldn’t get paid til after my week was up. It was a pretty low income to investment ratio compared to my usual venues, but at least I had fun and pretty much paid my expenses for the week.

I am always a little nervous vending in a more mainstream venue. I’m more likely to run into people screaming at me about “Poor dead animals!” or fundamentalist Christians taking issue with my books on that evil, evil paganism than at my usual round of alt events. Surprisingly, I only got two of the former (and they did less screaming and more running away), and none of the latter.

Regardless of venue, we tend to get repeats of the same jokes that stopped being funny after the first time. I am pleased to say that during the entire week only twice did someone look at the various fox tails and such in the booth and say “What does the fox say?” which means only twice did I have to give my stock response “The price goes up five bucks every time we hear ‘ding’.” (If we enforced that literally someone sang the entire song once while looking at my art, I could ostensibly add $75 to their bill. Maybe it’d be worth it after all….)

Shoplifting is a reality in any large group setting. People were pretty well-behaved with few exceptions. However, I’m seriously irked that someone ran off with one of my tapestries that I use to cover the tables. They took one I’ve had for over a decade! Grrrrrr.

bobcat1So would I recommend this to other artists? Yes–with conditions. If you make more niche/nerdy work, like my hide and bone art, I’d recommend passing this by, since this really isn’t a crowd for more unusual wares, even with the existence of Hot Topic and Spencers in the same mall. A lot of my business came from existing customers who came by specifically to see me and my work. Also, if your work tends toward canvases and other fine art, it may be a tough crowd for you. However, if you have something more crafty and mainstream-friendly, like clothing, jewelry, candles, knitted scarves and the like, give it a shot!

I couldn’t find any online brochures for the program, and I am not comfortable giving staff email addresses out on a public forum, so if you’d like me to help you get in touch, just email me at lupa.greenwolf(at)gmail.com – I’ll let them discuss pricing and other details with you since I don’t know if the numbers are the same as when I arranged my time slot earlier this year.

Want Me To Donate To Your Cause?

Do you run a Pagan Pride Day or other nonprofit event? Are you organizing a public fundraiser (like a concert or potluck) to raise funds for someone in your community facing economic hardship. a life-threatening illness or other challenges? And, furthermore, are you collecting items for a silent auction or raffle to raise money for these causes?

Please feel free to contact me about donating one of my books, if you feel they would be appropriate! The reason I generally donate books over artwork is that the books have a bit more general appeal; some people are squicked by hides and bones, no matter how nicely arranged. That being said, if you think a piece of my artwork might go over well, we can talk about that as an option, too.

Please understand I can’t fulfill every single request, and if I decline yours please don’t take it personally. Nonprofits are given a bit more consideration since I can write off the donation, but I’ve given to other community efforts as well.

Email me at lupa.greenwolf(at)gmail.com if you’re interested!

Dear Fellow Artist: No, I Will Not Use Fake Fur, and Here’s Why

This morning I got a message from another user on Etsy who shall remain anonymous. Unfortunately they seem to have deleted their shop shortly after they sent the message, so I was unable to respond to them directly. However, they raise a question that I get a fair bit  in my artwork with hides and bones, so I thought I’d reproduce it here, both in case the querent happens to see it, and for general information. Their original question was:

Hello, I’m a cute fairy who want to present my grand faux fur wrap to you. My faux fur is soft and warm enough. I think you will like it very much. So if you can use my good quality fur instead of animal’s “Clothing”, You and animals will be warm in winter and these cute guys will spend their Christmas eve with their family, too. I hope you can agree with my idea. Best wishes for your business on Etsy.

Here’s the response I would have given them:

Good morning,

Thank you for your inquiry. I am assuming you are attempting to get me to switch over to fake fur in the hopes of saving the lives of animals. While I appreciate your intent, I have very good reasons for not working with fake fur, to include not wanting to cause the deaths of animals. (Feel free to click the links in the following paragraphs for supporting evidence of what I’m about to write.)

See, all that fake fur you were trying to sell me? It’s made of plastic, specifically nylon, acrylic and polyester. Do you know what plastic is made of? That’s right: petroleum. The petroleum industry accounts for the direct deaths of millions upon millions of living beings each year, from birds and sea mammals to the tiny microscopic beings that make up the backbone of ocean ecosystems. 4,000 tons of oil were spilled in 2014, and that’s just from spills that were actually reported to authorities. Given that in 2013 there were almost 300 unreported oil spills in North Dakota alone, we can only imagine how many more go unreported worldwide, especially in countries with fewer or weaker regulations than the United States. This is to say nothing of the air, water and land pollution caused by oil drilling, which is sometimes done in ecologically fragile places like the Arctic, where the damage can take decades to be reversed. And since habitat destruction is the single most devastating cause of species endangerment and extinction, the amount of habitat destruction wrought by oil drilling operations should be of note. In fact, here are just a few examples of how oil spills negatively impact the environment, both short term and long term.

But that’s just the process of getting the oil out of the ground. It then has to be piped thousands of miles, leading to more spills–here’s a list of known spills in the U.S. just in the 21st century. Then it has to be turned into plastic, an energy-intensive process that not only uses more fossil fuels for production, but can also use natural gas, coal and other potentially polluting materials in the manufacture of the plastic itself. The process of creating plastic often also creates harmful chemicals such as BPA, and can release up to 500 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. This isn’t even including all the effects of the dyes used to color it (PDF here.)

Then that plastic has to be shipped to wherever fake fur is manufactured, often in China, which has poor track records with regards to worker’s rights and slave labor. And then it needs to be shipped again to whoever sews the fake fur into coats and such. All that shipping leads to even more pollution (and animal deaths) as ships cross the oceans again and again, both air pollution and marine pollution, to say nothing of the wildlife, coral reefs and other marine denizens physically damaged when struck by ships and their anchors.

So you go to your favorite big-box fabric store (which may have put any neighborhood fabric stores out of business, by the way) and buy a roll of fake fur for your project. (Or to try to resell to me in the name of the animals.) Let’s then fast-forward twenty years; the coat you made from fake fur is now ratty, old and torn, and the person who bought it from you no longer wants it–even Goodwill will throw it out if they donate it. Fake fur isn’t recyclable, and (at least in my opinion) doesn’t wear as nicely as real fur, so it doesn’t lend itself to crafty repurposing once it’s gotten all matted and discolored. The person could throw that old coat into a landfill, where it will sit and take up space; it’s not like it can biodegrade anyway. If it got incinerated, it could release all sorts of toxins from the plastic and dyes into the air. Or let’s say it somehow got dumped into a waterway, and then into the ocean (whee, littering!) That coat could take up to a thousand years to biodegrade. And while it’s in the process of breaking up into tinier plastic particles, once again that petroleum-based fake fur is killing animals. Larger wildlife can get entangled in plastic waste which can drown or starve them; they also eat it, which can cause painful deaths through intestinal blockage or rupture, or even longer, horrible deaths through starvation since they can no longer fit real food into their stomachs. And the same thing happens to tiny plankton, which are absolutely crucial to the health of the entire ocean. Even if your coat ends up in a landfill, the plastics can be washed into the water system as they break down, creating the same marine problems.

Is this to say real fur is without its pollutants and other environmental impacts? Absolutely not. As someone who has been working with hides for almost twenty years, I am quite aware of the chemicals used in commercial tanning, among other environmental problems associated with my materials. But for the reasons I’ve outlined above, no–I will not be switching over to fake fur any time soon. I have many reasons for my hide and bone work, ecological, spiritual and otherwise, and I think it’s incredibly hypocritical for you and other people to insist I switch to fake fur “for sake of the animals”. I think I’ve made it pretty clear above that your “animal-friendly alternative” is anything but animal-friendly. As an environmentalist, I do choose the real deal over fake, and I continue to donate part of the money I make from art sales to nonprofits that work to combat the pollution and habitat destruction your petroleum-based fake fur causes.

Thanks For Helping Me Support These Organizations!

I am pleased to announce that thanks to art and book sales at the Green Wolf booths at both FaerieWorlds and Kumoricon this weekend I was able to donate to both the Oregon Coast Aquarium and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology! For almost 20 years I’ve been donating a portion of the proceeds from my creative works to nonprofits that benefit wildlife and their habitats, and for the last several years I’ve also volunteered with local organizations in habitat restoration. Thank you for helping me support these two excellent facilities!

Why Self-Employment Is Like the World’s Longest Job Interview

One of the biggest challenges my fellow creatives have to face is self-promotion. A lot of people who excel at creating art, music, writing, performance and so forth, who can express themselves beautifully through their chosen media, freeze up like the proverbial deer when it comes to promoting what they do. Sometimes it’s an acute case of introversion, something I had to work hard to overcome. And it’s no secret that there’s a high correlation between creativity and low self-esteem and/or excessive self-criticism. Plus when it comes down to it, most of us would rather be making cool stuff than telling people about it; we like to show, not tell.

However, if your art is going to end up being anything more than a hobby–and it’s okay if it stays that way–you have to be good at getting the word out and talking up your creations. Or, to put it in more blatant terms: you have to be able to sell yourself. (Cue dramatic scary music.) This, of course, bothers a lot of people. We’re taught not to brag, and that anyone who stands out will end up getting knocked off their pedestal soon enough. And, sadly, many of us have had people in our lives telling us that we were worthless, or that our art wouldn’t go anywhere. Years of that can really do a number on your confidence.

Even among creatives, there’s this narrative that if you promote yourself and your work you’re narcissistic, selfish and only in it for the money. I tend to think that’s rather a sour grapes sort of attitude, but it’s also symptomatic of that ongoing tendency toward self-devaluation, in this case projected outwardly onto more active promoters.

But you know who else has to be self-centered and all about the money? Job candidates. Nobody complains about them talking about themselves, or negotiating a higher pay rate. Hell, those things are encouraged and praised! They’re signs of a real go-getter that you should totally hire for your company! It’s just another way in which self-employed people, especially creatives, are held to unfair standards in this society.

What if you thought of yourself as being a job candidate every time you promoted a new show you were doing, or a new piece of artwork, or story or book or article? You’re putting your best foot forward, fancy outfit and all. Okay, maybe in some cases the outfit is actually a book cover, but you get the idea: first impressions are important. And you have a limited amount of time in which to engage your potential employer, convince them of your skills and qualifications, and keep your fingers crossed that you get hired. “Being hired” may mean selling a concert ticket or a book or a print, but it still comes down to someone considering what you have to offer of sufficient value for them to compensate you for it.

Really, the main difference is in scale and timing. In a day job, you interview with one or more people at a single company, and if they accept, then you either sign on for a contracted time, or you stick around until either they get sick of you or you get sick of them. Either way, a successful interview means you get to stop interviewing for a while. With self-employment, every day has interviews, and that will always be a permanent part of my work. My day is full of them–with potential art customers, potential publishing allies, potential event venues, potential reviewers, even potential artistic patrons. On the bright side, I can get a lot of these interviews done in one fell swoop. My blog post earlier today about preorders being available for my newest book reached lots of blog subscribers, and will continue to catch the attention of people who come across my blog. The only further communication necessary is if someone either contacts me with specific questions, or make my day and buys the book.

And you know what? Interviews are just a normal part of my job–and yours, too. It doesn’t mean you’re a narcissist, even if you *gasp* enjoy the promotional end of things. Nor does it make you a money-grubbing sell-out; as detailed here, it’s totally okay to want to have a roof over your head so your art supplies and computer don’t get wet in the rain.

If you still have misgivings about that whole promotion thing, that’s okay. But you can at least lay to rest the worries that putting yourself out there somehow makes you less moral than someone with a day job.

New Monthly Rewards For Crafty People On My Patreon!

Are you a fan of the hide scraps, bone bits, beads and other crafty bits I destash on my Etsy shop? Have I got a deal for you, then!

I just added three new Patron packages at my Patreon account–and I mean packages literally. If you subscribe at one of these levels, I’ll send you a flat rate priority box stuffed full of all kinds of goodies that you can use in your own creations. Your care package may include fur and leather, skulls and bones, feathers and beads, vintage crafting how-to books, colorful yarn, crafting tools and other stuff to make stuff with. Plus you’ll have access to my Patron-only feed, and the monthly totem profile!

So what are you waiting for? Sign up today at http://www.patreon.com/lupagreenwolf 🙂

News! Patreon and Paths Through the Forests

Just a reminder–today’s the last day you can sign up for the book-of-the-month package on my Patreon and get a free copy of my next book Nature Spirituality From the Ground Up when it comes out in January!

Also, those with keen eyes may notice I added a few more Patron rewards to the roster. Sign up today (July 31) and you can get your first monthly package of goodies sent to you next week–head over to http://www.patreon.com/lupagreenwolf to join!

***************

I’ve been really busy with art lately so I haven’t been doing as much writing, but I did publish a post over at Paths Through the Forests earlier this week that’s getting a LOT of attention! You can read it at Our Deadly Lack of Nature Literacy.

Quick Note: Want to Read an Excerpt From the Tarot of Bones Book?

Over at the Tarot of Bones updates blog I’ve posted an excerpt from the first draft of the Tarot of Bones companion book. I figured you all might enjoy getting a preview of what’s to come! If you aren’t familiar with the Tarot of Bones, feel free to check out the website detailing this ambitious art and writing project I’ve been working on since the beginning of the year.