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Foraging for Meaning with Tanya Val

Foraging for Meaning with Tanya Val

Posted by Tanya Val on Feb 21st 2021

Hi Tanya! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us- we’re big fans of your creative process, and we can’t wait to hear more about it. First, could you please tell us a little bit about your personal story? How did you first become interested in natural pigments and inks?

In my mind, I was always seeking some sort of creative balance and a deeper connection to nature through abstract painting that felt more meaningful and impactful. Discovering how this could transform into a career path is a direct result of my upbringing and the events inspiring me to become the artist I am today.

My journey with natural inks and earth pigments began almost unexpectedly. I grew up foraging with my mom every summer and fall gathering berries, leaves, nuts, and mushrooms. Each season reveals a vast array of beauty, medicine, food and healing. The act of scouting out your foraging spots, hiking to the most serene locations, adapting and changing with the seasons is meditative, grounding, unknown, exciting, bountiful, full of tradition, and most importantly - a way to create a deeper connection to nature. Foraging is a huge part of who I am as a person and now, as an artist.

While foraging and creating in nature was not completely foreign to me, one particular plein air adventure played a pivotal role in switching entirely to natural materials. I hiked out to a receding glacier 3 years ago in the middle of winter (so Alaskan of me), I set up my easel and paints and began to paint. As I kept looking at the changing landscape around me, I became overwhelmed by the impacts of climate change as this same area was entirely different just months prior. It became my mission to bring awareness to climate change starting with shifts in her own artistic practice.

Do you have any formal training, or did you come to ink making and pigment foraging on your own?

I received a Bachelor of Fine Arts with focus in Painting and Graphic Design from Anchorage, Alaska in 2013. While I do have formal training in painting, the educational aspect informed my creative practice and gave me structure I needed to fully dive into natural material education on my own. For the last 3 years, I have been experimenting, researching and practicing using only natural, eco-friendly, sustainable materials.

As with any new craft that you learn, curiosity leads the way and excitement pushes you to explore it further. Challenges do inevitably occur, but it’s important to remember that it’s part of the practice and that’s the true beauty of being an artist - allowing the process to guide you. Because nature is the material you are creating with, there are aspects of the process that will inevitably be ever changing since you are extracting color from living plants. Creating and painting with natural materials keeps me on my toes and reminds me that the magic of it all is always yet to be discovered. With every rock, mineral, leaf, berry and food scrap lies endless potential and immense beauty. You start looking at everything differently and becoming curious about what every season offers not just around where you live but from other parts of the world. What a gift it is to be able to source from nature itself and create beauty with it.

Tell us a little more about where you call home- how does your beautiful, wild home state of Alaska inspire you in your life, your art, and otherwise?

The natural art practice runs parallel with my pursuit of preserving nature and all its wonders. Growing up in Alaska, we’ve seen first hand the vast environmental changes that occur on a yearly basis. Receding glaciers, dramatic temperature shifts, extinction of animals, and wildfires are just a few I have seen in my time here. We are experiencing climate effects first hand and it’s alarming. Changing how I impact the world not only on a personal level, but also with my art practice is an important aspect of my work’s purpose. It’s important for me to create, educate, inspire and share my process and lessons along the way. I’m far from being an expert, but my experience is invaluable, and I hope to always be a student of nature in life and art.

Why are natural materials important to you? At Natural Earth Paint, we love natural materials because they’re safe, beautiful, and planet-friendly. What’s your “why”?

Natural Earth Paint was the first company I discovered at the beginning of my journey. I’m forever grateful for all the products and tutorials you offer. From using the natural Gesso to all the beautiful colors of pigment, these products made my dreams of creating with all natural materials very real.

I found deep meaning and purpose in creating using only natural ingredients. I love being involved in all stages of the process; from foraging for materials, to processing into art materials for everlasting artwork is a feeling I don’t think I’ll ever be able to part with. In some moments the creative process feels emotional, overwhelming, unbelievably beautiful all at the same time. Creating with nature itself and learning from it has been a fulfilling part of not only my artistic journey, but it aligns with my values as well.

Finally, where can our audience see more of your work?

I love sharing behind the scenes moments from foraging, mixing paints/inks, and of course painting outdoors on instagram at www.instagram.com/tanya.val and I share recipes and lots of other creative goodness on my website blog www.tanyaval.com.