All I Want for Christmas is This Cool Swag from Indie Artisans

Eek!  My last post was Halloween-themed and it’s almost Thanksgiving.  I’d better get a jumpstart on the next holiday with some gift giving suggestions for Christmas and Yule.  Here’s what I want for Christmas: Support these and other indie artisans so that we’ll be living in a world full of creative, talented people.  Of course, this list isn’t exhaustive:  If I listed all of the artisans and companies that I love, this page would never load – and some of my favorites (you know who you are) aren’t actively selling their work right now.  There are also tons of jawdroppingly talented handcrafters and artists that I haven’t even discovered yet.  Don’t hesitate to tell me about them in the comments!  And now, without further ado, I present to you:

A basket of goodies from Carioca Witch. (Photo used with permission.)

A basket of goodies from Carioca Witch. (Photo used with permission.)

Carioca Witch

Nydia Macedo, a Brazilian witch and the artist-owner behind Carioca Witch, says, “Creating and recreating goddesses and gods from several pantheons, as well as familiars and runes, is how I fulfill an important part of my spiritual path. Hand-embroidering and sewing them together is like bringing these adorable deities to life over and over again, honoring their power and reaffirming my spirituality. This is the reason why Carioca Witch exists – my love for my pagan path and the opportunity of seeing my art being sweetly spread in literally hundred houses around the world – from Canada to China.”  I’m constantly struck by how beautiful Nydia’s work is, and how each design is so evocative of the deity it represents.  When her creations arrive, they’re always even richer in color and workmanship than I imagined from the photos.  My long-term plan is to collect the gods and goddesses related to healing and plants and hang them around the edges of my herbal workshop, with a scarf or garland swagged between them.
Make it personal: By giving a god or goddess that is special to the recipient, or who might be particularly helpful to the recipient at this time.
If you just can’t decide: The Yule ornaments are absolutely stunning!
How to order:  Browse Carioca Witch’s Facebook page and then message Nydia for more info.  Custom creations take time to make – and to ship from Brazil – so order early and often ;-)


Advent calendar from Sweet Enemy Art. Used with permission.

Advent calendar from Sweet Enemy Art. Used with permission.

Sweet Enemy Art

Kristin Richland swears her artwork isn’t “whimsical,” and I understand why.  We often use the word “whimsical” to dismiss work that has a fantastical element, and you just can’t dismiss Kristin’s artwork:  Sometimes I look at one of her pieces and find it charming – and then am absolutely caught up in the depth and specificity of expression on this rat’s or that tiger’s face.  Sometimes I look and think, “oh, that’s cute,” and then realize that the image is actually complex and haunting, and sometimes even rather disturbing.  Kristin Richland’s brain contains some pretty cool worlds.
Make it Personal:  Peruse the offerings on Society 6 (prints and products) and Etsy (original), or get in touch with Kristin to ask about a piece you don’t see there.
If you just can’t decide:  Quick, get the advent calendar!  Or, for this time of year when we celebrate light in the dark days, get a print of “We Gathered One Night.”
How to order: Click the links above, and don’t forget to follow Sweet Enemy on Facebook and read the blog.



Small pitcher from Doolin Pottery. Teapot from Rooftop Pottery. Large mug from Please Touch Pottery. Spiral mug and shot glass from Dancing Pig. Bowl from Glen Cross Pottery.

Small pitcher from Doolin Pottery. Teapot from Rooftop Pottery. Large mug from Please Touch Pottery. Spiral mug and shot glass from Dancing Pig. Bowl from Glen Cross Pottery.

Your Local Potter

I first fell in love with pottery at Doolin Pottery, in County Claire which – sadly – is no longer there.  I’ve since branched out, and I’m a repeat customer at Dancing Pig‘s and Glen Cross’s Pennsic booths, and this year I added Please Touch Pottery to my favorites.  The tea pot I use for herbal teas is a gorgeous fairy-tale-like creation from Rooftop Pottery, right here in Vermont.  When elsewhere, pottery is my favorite souvenir, as it’s fully functional – not just a shelf-sitting knick knack.  On the other hand, it’s not merely functional: I find tea and hot chocolate taste so much better drunk from a handmade mug than a mass-produced one, and my life also feels richer and more textured when I use handmade cups and bowls.  Since I’ve collected mugs of various sizes, as well as water glasses and a few bowls, I’m currently on the lookout for plates, which I understand are surprisingly hard to make.  Some day I’d like my full collection of dishes and bowls and vessels to be handmade, all mis-matched from different makers and with different memories.
Make it personal:  Purchase a cup, goblet, or mug that’s just right for the giftee’s favorite beverage, and include ingredients for said beverage.
If you can’t decide:  You really can’t go wrong with a good mug.  How about this one?
How to order:  Visit your local farmer’s market, craft show, or craft store, or check out the links above.


Used with permission.

Used with permission.

Urban Moonshine

With Urban Moonshine, you give the gifts of yumminess and good health all in one.  These bitters and tonics are a delicious way to take your medicine, and they come in gorgeous packaging.  The people at Urban Moonshine are flippin’ brilliant, and they source crazy-vibrant herbs, many of which come from Zack Woods Herb Farm (another business I’m a huge fan of).  If you’re in on the trendiness of bitters in cocktails, you will absolutely love this company’s product.  If bitters sound like something you’d rather avoid, take heart:  They’re amazing for your health and, after a while, actually taste good.  For a start, try Urban Moonshine’s Maple Bitters, which has been called “bitters with training wheels.”
Make it personal:  Use the Urban Moonshine Holiday Gift Guide (click on image at right)  to suss out which bitters or tonics are best for your giftee.
If you just can’t decide:  Embrace the holiday spirit and give them Joy.
How to order:  Right here at the Urban Moonshine website.



Juniper Ridge incense.

Juniper Ridge incense.

Juniper Ridge Incense

This is the one company on this list that I’ve always bought via a ‘middleman,’ my local co-op, rather than direct from the source.  That being said, their product speaks for itself:  This is pretty much the only incense I burn.  The scents are amazing, not at all perfumy, thanks to their use of wildcrafted, minimally-processed plants to make this incense.  I always keep their sage on hand because I find sage a little heady while it’s burning but love the scent it leaves in the room.  The other varieties that I’ve tried (sweetgrass, pinon pine, and juniper, which might be my favorite), are so delicious that I can sit right near them, and it’s only after a while – or after leaving the room and returning – that I realize what a gorgeous scent is filling the space.
Make it personal: Choose a scent that has special meaning to the giftee (or, even better, make your own incense in that scent).
If you just can’t decide: You can’t go wrong with sweetgrass.
How to order: Right here at the Juniper Ridge website, or ask for it at your local co-op.

So, there are a few ideas to get you started, and hopefully to inspire you to look around your own region for awesome artists, artisans, handcrafters, and other concoctors of wonderful things.  If you have any suggestions for me, please don’t hesitate to post them in the comments!

PS:  I know some blog posts of this sort are paid advertising.  This one isn’t!  I’m just posting about these people and products because I like them :-)

Happy Halloween!

I hope everyone gets lots of treats, finds their fears not so fearsome, and has a warm flame burning in a friendly jack o’lantern to protect them from whatever nasty things may be about.

“Fire” (Element Series) by Jonathan Russell

Waking the Wild Spirit Tarot

I recently had the most wonderful thing arrive in the mail:  a tarot deck.  What is a tarot deck to me?  Seventy-two works of art.  A source of endless inspiration for storytelling.  A tool for tapping into my intuition and for finding new perspectives on life’s opportunities and challenges.  An object useful for tapping into magic?  No doubt, as not only do I believe that there is a sort of magic intrinsic in any evocative work of art, but I’m also confident that “there are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in [my] philosophy.”

I’ve seen many tarot decks that I like and admire, but so far only two have spoken to me immediately, and then also stood up to my pet peeves.  I was entranced as soon as I saw Poppy Palin‘s artwork.  The colors are vibrant and the sense of movement and flow in her cards is irresistible.  The artwork is detailed and evocative, and gratifies both my love of nature and my love of storytelling.

One of the first cards I look at when considering any tarot deck is the Fool card, and not just because it’s usually the top card in the deck.  The Waking the Wild Spirit Fool has been renamed the Wandering Minstrel, which suits my sense of story.  Most Fool cards that I’ve seen, following the Rider Waite Smith (RWS) tradition, show the fool about to step blithely off a cliff, with a dog either nipping at his heels or trying to pull him back.  Poppy, though, has depicted her Wandering Minstrel – in harlequin-diamond pants, a jester’s cap, light but sturdy boots, and a patched purple cloak – leaping off a well-trodden footpath.  The sense of movement – up and to the right – is infectious, especially since the dog is leaping right along with him.  Will the Fool’s leap result in good or ill?  We can’t tell, since his momentum will soon take him right past the edge of the card, but the day is bright and the sun smiles down on him.  I’ve always felt somewhat ambivalent about the image of the Fool at the edge of a cliff, which seems bound to end badly, and I much prefer this interpretation.

The Waking the Wild Spirit deck uses Earth, Air, Water, and Fire as its suits instead of Disks/Pentacles, Swords, Cups, and Wands.  I was pleased to discover this, as the symbolism of the elements is more accessible to me than the symbolism of the objects.  One of the first cards I fell in love with, while still exploring decks on screen, was Poppy’s Ace of Earth, subtitled “Seed.”  In this card, a bean seed sends out shoots and roots, under the guidance of a green-skinned man with root-like fingers.  He waves his arms over the seed, mirroring the snaking up of the shoot with movements almost like a belly dancer’s ‘snake arms.’  (I know:  Technically, this is a static image, but Poppy’s artwork is so alive it feels like the figures really are moving.)

One of my pet peeves is that I don’t like decks where all of the characters pictured look like movie stars.  I’m especially bored by decks where all the characters pictured look like Caucasian movie stars.  Extra thumbs down for decks that also show nude women who have obviously had plastic surgery.  The Waking the Wild Spirit deck, on the other hand, features young and old men and women with all sorts of skin tones ranging from pale to brown to blue to green.  Poppy’s characters have interesting and often strong features.  One of my favorite cards is the Wisewoman (a.k.a. the High Priestess), which depicts a woman with long, blue-gray hair and beautiful smile lines and crinkles.  She looks about to turn to the viewer to give advice that we’d be wise to take.  Also, none of Poppy’s women look as though they have helium balloons in bits of their anatomy.

I also feel mildly peeved when the faces of characters look stiff and inaccessible.   This isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but I was still thrilled at how lively and expressive the faces of the Waking the Wild Spirit deck are.

The Knight of Fire, subtitled The Gypsy

One or two of the reviews I read before ordering this deck commented that it might be hard to use at first because Poppy has deviated from much of the traditional (read RWS-based) imagery and meanings.  I’m not a tarot scholar, and I don’t have a real attachment to the RWS system.  Also, while I respect those daddies and grandaddies of tarot – RWS, Thoth, Marsailles, Visconti, etc. – I don’t see any reason why tarot shouldn’t evolve and change.  To me, the Waking the Wild Spirit deck is the best of both worlds:  I get to work with major arcana that are familiar and with suits that recall the suits I’m used to, but I also get a deck that is more evocative to me, closer to nature, friendlier, and that has the potential to tell me different things.  I find Poppy’s progressions of meanings within the minor arcana if anything easier to remember than the RWS meanings.

The cards are also a pleasure to use as physical objects.  The backs are gorgeous:  As one reviewer at Aeclectic remarked, “with each shuffle comes a mini-waterfall of colour”.  The cards have a geometric border around the image and then a white border around that.  In the white border is written the name of the card (at the top), and a subtitle which indicates the meaning (at the bottom).  Usually, I don’t like for meanings to be written directly on the card, but these subtitles are metaphorical rather than literal meanings (e.g. “Seed” for “Ace of Earth”), so I find that they add rather than take away from the experience.

I’ve really just started exploring this deck, and I’m eager to continue to work with it.  While it’s true (and a wonderful thing) that there are almost endless variations on tarot out there and you can rarely tell from one person’s experience whether a deck will appeal to you, I love this deck and would certainly recommend it.  You can see more of the artwork for yourself over at Aeclectic Tarot and at Poppy’s own site, which also includes some meanings for the cards and tells where you can buy this deck, as well as the full-length book that goes with it.  Apparently Poppy has another deck in the works, which I very much look forward to.

All cards shown are (c)Poppy Palin, and are used with permission of the artist.

Mother Nature’s Easel: Some Thoughts on Jonathan E. Russell’s Art

Mother Nature’s Wild West, by Jonathan Russell. Used with permission.

When I first started, part of the impetus was that I know so many cool people – many of them with nontraditional careers or callings like acting, dancing, juggling, writing, and art.  Now that I’ve got a few blogs under my belt, and a website design that doesn’t make my head spin, I think it’s about time to start paying some virtual visits.

Mother Earth, by Jonathan Russell

Jon and I were already dating by the time I saw his artwork, so you can guess how relieved I was that I loved it.  His style reminds me of stained-glass windows, and I once had a dream about a room completely surrounded by stained-glass versions of Jon’s work.  I think it’s both the shapes Jon uses – which remind me of cut glass – and the gradients of color.  I have “Mother Earth” here at home, and, on those rare occasions when I’m up early, I love to watch this painting as the sun rises:  first just the white edges seem to glow, and slowly, the colors light up too.  It’s almost like watching the sunrise itself.

Waterfall, by Jonathan Russell

“Mother Earth” is part of a series Jon’s been playing with for a long time, where he incorporates the female form into a landscape.  I love the premise for these, and I also love the execution:  While the lines and colors of the paintings are dynamic, there’s also a certain simplicity:  Here are the lines of the body; here are the lines of the landscape.  They’re beautiful as they are, without added sentimentality or (I can personally vouch) without being idealized.

Jon’s Elements series is newer, dating from just the last couple of years.  Most of these pieces are quite abstract – a sort of on-canvas distillation of fire, or water, or ice – but they still contain those dynamic lines and glowing gradients.

Fire, by Jonathan Russell

Like his other work, they also have a wonderful ability to make me look more deeply at the natural world.  When I look away from some artwork, I wish things were different – that I had perfectly-flowing hair, for example.  When I look away from Jon’s work, I’m even more intrigued and impressed by the world that is:  I wonder what it is that makes fire fiery.  I peer at the landscape and try to see the shape of a person lying down in the hills.  I look at the trees and admire the tones and colors of the light coming through their leaves.  Jon’s art doesn’t just make my life richer by brightening up my walls: It also stimulates my imagination and my observations.

I hope you’ll check out Jon’s website and, if you’re so inclined, “like” his Facebook page.  You’ll be able to see more of his paintings and keep up on new developments.  Jon’s work is currently on exhibit at The Gallery at Phoenix Books here in Vermont, so if you’re in the area, you can even see his work in person!