Sunday, 5 October 2014

Fall And The Forest

Living in a country with four very distinct seasons can be incredibly challenging. Extreme temperature fluctuations, wild weather patterns, a limited farming season. But the seasons can also stir the soul in very unexpected ways. As winters can be harsh in Canada, spring arrives with a vengeance, like some raging Wal-Mart customer wondering why they have had to wait so long in line. Flowers shove their way up through the snow like bulldozers. Birds return squawking and shrieking en masse after hundreds of miles of migration. Animals stagger out of hibernation and then, in a blur, suddenly rush to feed, mate and rear their young. Lime green leaves burst from hardened buds. Rivers and creeks explode with gushing water. All of nature is in a hurry with a summer season so short, winter always looming in the distance like the Eye of Sauron.  Is it any wonder that fall seems like a slow sigh of relinquished energy? As if nature puts her feet up after a hard day of work and says "Ok, I'm taking a break now..."

 I have hiked so many forest trails in Ontario I have lost count, but I particularly love a fall hike. You can feel the relaxed way of the woods this time of year. The profusion of colour seems somehow contradictory as things are laid dormant. The smell of fallen leaves is, well...intoxicating. There is still so much life, even now. Lichens and mosses looking like they haven't a clue what time of year it is and wouldn't care anyway. Insects lie still, cold, but visible. Like us, they are not quite ready for winter just yet, taking advantage of every sunny hour they can. Mushrooms still spring up after a rain. Mammals scurry about, preparing food caches. Milkweed pods open and seeds float away on the breeze.

Hiking in the forest, any time of year is a not just a passion of mine, it's a necessity. I feed off of it. As nourishing as a hike in the woods is to me, I am also familiar with the fact that the feeling of elation can change in an instant. A storm rolls in, you get lost, you are hungry, out of water, cold...  Suddenly, what seemed so beautiful, seems cruel and unrelenting. I instantly forgive it. I am a mere human, not evolutionarily adapted to this environment. I can't slow my metabolism down to near zero like an insect. I am not a wood frog with glycol-laden blood that can freeze and survive the coldest winters. I don't have the thick fur coat of a black bear that can shed water like a rubber tarp. I am at the mercy of this vast forest, privileged to be in her midst but aware of how powerful she can be. This vulnerability allows me to appreciate every fern, every bug, and every rotten log in the forest with renewed appreciation, at any time of year, but especially now, when she is resting quietly....

Thursday, 6 June 2013

How Much Is That Artwork?

One of the biggest complaints artists have about some of the patrons at art shows is the one comment we hear constantly, and often rudely; "How can you charge so much for that?" Or my personal favorite from one man, heard loudly grumbling the same sentence through the entire venue; "Who do these artists think they ARE, charging these prices?"  

Who am I? Well, I am not "just an artist". I think some people have this perception that artists are sitting at home doing something fun and not really working so they should be putting lower prices on their art. I am an average joe, but I am also the sole owner and operator of a small business. Of course I love what I do, or I wouldn't do it, but it is still a job and requires hard work. 

So for those who were wondering (or grumbling )... when you buy an original work of art, here's a small sampling of what it pays for:
  •  My wage for the artwork itself If it takes me 4 weeks to complete a piece, then the price reflects what I would expect to earn at any other job with a moderate wage in a month. Compare that to your own monthly salary...
  •  My expenses in creating the artwork. This includes all materials used in the creation of the artwork itself, camera gear for reference photography, framing and shipping fees ( for the materials)
  •  My show/exhibition expenses.   Includes, but not limited to; membership fees, booth fees, shipping fees, gas, hotel charges, meal expenses, parking, all banking fees related to processing credit/debit transactions, and vendor permits.
  • The materials for my booth display - lighting, backdrops (usually custom), tents, tables, chairs, rugs, fabric, easels, labels, hardware, tools
  • Commissions.   This is all the money the show/gallery gets - anywhere from 20-50% of  my total sales. Keep this in mind when pondering my first point about wage. If a show is taking 40% of my wage, I may have to increase the price of the art by 40% to make sure I get paid.
  •  Promotional materials - professional photography (required for juried shows - at least a hundred bucks an artwork), brochures, business cards, website hosting fees, signage, any renovations to my home in order to house a studio/gallery , also includes donations of artworks to fundraising events.
  • Advertising.  Social media ads, magazine ads (huge $$$), ads in other publications
  • Banking/Accounting/Taxes. Small business fees are ridiculous. I don't think I need to say more....also the fee for the accountant when dropping off a giant box of receipts for them at tax time and whatever I have to pay the government if I actually sell anything.
  • Transportation.  Investment in large storage vehicles to haul booth display, equipment and artwork to shows, plus all the expenses that come with owning said huge gas guzzling machine.
  •  Time. The years spent in classes/workshops/schools honing and developing my skill, the 5 to 10 years it took to grow the business without earning a penny, the countless hours spent working on artworks and the business even when working other jobs and still trying to maintain a home and, with luck, a relationship.  The endless days and nights and stolen moments spent doing accounting, building a website, building a social media following, writing articles and/or blogs to promote myself, making labels, editing photos, travelling to shipping outlets, galleries, framers, photographers and other business related places and countless weekends away from family and friends to attend shows/exhibitions.
  • Cultural, emotional and monetary value for you. Historians studying past cultures use several ways to come up with a theory of how a particular civilization existed. Written text, archaeological evidence, stories passed down through generations, and the artwork of that time are often indicators. Artists have, over thousands of years, provided a lasting record of events, beliefs, sights, and emotions. We continue to do so and the work you buy has cultural significance as a result. As well, when you buy an original piece of art, you are not just buying any old object like a shoe. Granted, one could argue, a shoe has a purpose - I need it to protect my foot. But once that shoe is worn out and tossed, there is nothing left - no personal connection at all. The opposite is true of original art. Before you buy a piece there is an emotional connection to it - maybe you have been to that location and had a great time there,  or you love elephants, or that bike looks like one you owned as a kid etc. Some people find emotion in simply connecting with the artist themselves and consider the work made by that persons hands a token of that connection. Hard to put a price on that. In any case, an original work of art has something that many costly items do not - lasting value. As a society we spend millions on extracurricular vehicles, electronics, computers, clothing etc. - none of which will be there when you have grandchildren. Original art increases in value over time, and especially so if the artist is successful in their career. It can be a lucrative investment if you are a collector, or simply a treasure that you wish to pass down to someone in your will.  

Not everyone is in a position to be able to afford an original work of fine art, but  please know that artists are not offended by that!  In fact, we welcome those who want to just look at our work - we are proud of what we have done and want to show it off! We LOVE, and feed off of, your favorable comments - it boosts our confidence and keeps us motivated!! We love talking to you about anything, even if it isn't art!

So, next time you are at an art show, take a moment to appreciate all of the time, money and emotion that went into that artists work. Perhaps one day you will be the proud owner of an original and your love of the piece will be only be heightened by the awareness of the sacrifices that went into its creation.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Wildlife Prejudice

This week in the supreme court, the issue of same sex marriage is being debated. Prejudice against sexual orientation and human rights are at the forefront of arguments on both sides. Although we have come leaps and bounds in the last 100 years in the eradication of human prejudice, it seems we still have many hurdles to get over. To take the idea of prejudice a step further, I'd like to address a topic very near and dear to me - that of wildlife prejudice.

Whether you believe in evolution or creationism, most people will agree that the diversity of wildlife is astounding. Animals exist in the air, on land, and at sea, from the highest mountains to the deepest burrows in the earth, in all temperature extremes, in all corners of the world. We can think of species as being intricately connected within a biological chain comprised of links within links. There are direct links, for example the food chain, and indirect ones, such as symbiotic relationships. 

Eastern fox snake                                              c. L.Dunn
Take, for example, a seemingly insignificant fruit bat hanging out in a tree. That bat feeds on the fruits of many species of trees and in turn flies great distances dispersing those seeds in its feces causing new trees to sprout where they may not have otherwise. The leaves of the new trees may be eaten by antelope, it's new fruit enjoyed by birds or elephants and one day a tiger might prey on the antelope that was sustained by the tree. You get the idea. Each species is a block in a huge interconnected world game of Jenga. Take one out, and you weaken the system. It seems regretfully pathetic to me that this knowledge is lost to a great percentage of human beings. Some who seem intent on passing judgement on species that they just don't like, for whatever reasons, and cooing like a baby when they see one they do. I saw this first hand on my first day of University.

I had signed up for the zoology program to fuel an innate desire to learn everything I could about the various species that inhabit our planet. Nervously, I walked into my dorm room that was to be shared with another first year zoology student. She had already moved in and  one wall of the room that was officially on her side was plastered floor to ceiling with national geographic photos. This wouldn't have seemed odd to me except that they were all softly furred mammals with round, dewy eyes.

I set up the personal belongings that I had brought with me including my turntable stereo, books, and a small glass aquarium housing a little green anole lizard. When my roommate saw the tank and its inhabitant she backed away like it contained nuclear reactive material and demanded that I get rid of it. "I'm not getting rid of anything" I replied, "this little lizard is perfectly harmless". Our relationship was off to a wonderful start. Not surprisingly, she lasted a year in the program before dropping out, not being able to handle dissecting invertebrates to learn about their anatomy, or sitting through slides of diseases caused by parasites of wildlife.

We, as a society, are starting to become much more open minded about differences among human beings. Why then, can we not apply this to wildlife as well? Does an animal have to be seen in cartoon form in a Disney movie or a computer animated version in a cell phone commercial before we deem it "cute" and worthy of a group advocating for its survival in the wild?
I have always championed for those species which, due to fears and misconceptions based on religious iconography, mythology and folklore, have been blacklisted for centuries - snakes and other reptiles, bats, sharks, name it. We are the ones responsible for perpetuating the myths, for believing in ridiculous religious connotations, for refusing to educate ourselves and learn of their behaviour instead of fearing it, and have instead put unfair labels on them. Is it really so wrong to want to conserve wildlife regardless of its appearance or behaviour?

Eastern massasauga rattlesnake                 c. L.Dunn

The truth is, because of my education and desire to protect these species, without passing judgement on them, judgement gets passed on me. I have found myself being introduced at a party only to have the person add "she likes snakes" with a bit of a sneer and a whisper like I might not be "right in the head". I usually then spend the night sitting in a corner while the conversation revolves around how someone once had a garter snake get into their basement, or some other mundane trivia. It's as though "liking snakes" was all there was to me,  my life, my 5 years of university education, and the 20 years I spent working with wildlife and engaging in the conservation of countless species. It has affected relationships with some folks, this "liking snakes", and has made me as much of an outcast to those people as the snakes are.

It would seem as though wildlife prejudice and human prejudice may be somewhat related. Perhaps it is just a general close-mindedness of some people and lack of interest in the world around them. I hope that one day we reach the age where we are all just humans, and wildlife is wildlife, and a tiny salamander or rattlesnake or fruit bat will be seen as  majestic and important as any other animal and equally deserving to have a place in the ecosystem that houses it.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Happy Winter Solstice!

Around the world today, people are celebrating a forgotten, ancient celebration that marks the shortest day of the year. People who have returned to pagan rituals and beliefs, or have shed hard core religions for something more environmentally spiritual, are dancing around Stonehenge as I write. The more I think about it the more I kind of like the idea of having an environmental “religion”. After all, I worship nature every day! It would be different from paganism – something more in keeping with the times - no flowing robes or sacrificial offerings. I like the idea of the outdoors being my church, the flora and fauna my congregation, the sound of birds singing and creeks flowing, my hymns. Solstice is Latin for “sun stands still”, marking a day when the sun is closest to the earth. Tomorrow, much to my delight, the days will begin getting longer as I look forward to spring. I can’t think of a better time to celebrate than that. Ancient civilizations had it right! 

Today also marks the day the Mayan long count calendar ends, and many believe that this, according to ancient Mayans, may signal the dawn of a new era. I hope so, and I hope it’s a better one. Environmental destruction, global warming, plagues, famine, drought, flooding, overpopulation, extreme weather, war, disease, financial collapse, species extinctions, terrorism, and mass shootings of little children. All of these things are too common in the news, and all, preventable. Eventually, human civilization will be wiped out by one apocalyptic event or another. Mother earth, however, will always be here - evolving her landscapes, spinning, sputtering and being - just as she has for billions of years. One could argue that earth created us, and potentially, has the power to destroy us. Could the planet itself be “God”? Maybe not, but if I’m going to worship anything, earth is it, and it seems just as fitting to me to celebrate planetary cycles as anything else.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Greetings and Salutations

Welcome everyone to my new blog site! If you have navigated here you have no doubt just viewed my new personal website Here on Blogger I  hope to post all the musings, ideas, opinions and junk that migrate around in my brain and keep me up at night. If no one reads it, that's ok. At least it will download some stuff from my head, allowing room for more. 

The new website was a challenge as I built it myself. Not being very techno savvy it took a while to do, but certainly saved me some money. Now I find myself trying to figure out how to work the settings here on this blog. Once I do that, hopefully my posts will appear as if I know what I'm doing and I will have you all fooled!

I'd like to thank all those people who have supported my artistic endeavours so far. It has been quite a journey and I have a whole new community of friends who share my passion for art and conservation to help guide me further on my quest for success.  2013 will bring a whole new set of goals and challenges for me including more shows and exhibitions. Until then I have the winter devoted to producing some new works. A solo exhibition is also on the horizon and I am working on lining up a venue for that.

All of these things will be posted on the events page of my website, or on my facebook page Herpworks Wildlife Art. Blogger will be devoted to more personal writings and not necessarily art related. I hope you will read them and comment, like, dislike or debate them. Until then, cheers and thanks for tuning in!