The benefits of gratitude are endless. Reflecting on and appreciating what we have, who we are, and where we come from bring us happiness and a sense of purpose. For artists, it can be a foundational element of their creativity, a well from which wisdom and perspective is gleaned and evolves.
In the interviews below, 3 creatives - a tattoo artist, jewelry maker, and visual artist - discuss their art, their personal stories, and the role that gratitude plays in their creative process.
Anka Lavriv is a Brooklyn-based multimedia artist, and co-owner of Black Iris Tattoo.
What sparked your passion for visual art? When did you first start drawing?
My mom is a visual artist, and worked as a font developer in Soviet Union. I was always fascinated with her work and would rummage through her brushes, tools and quills. I don’t remember time in my life where I wasn’t drawing. I feel like drawing came to me pre-language, and remains a way I understand things on deeper level. I still have a book by a Ukrainian author Lesya Ukrainka that was illustrated with these haunting lithographs and I truly believe that one book was a catalyst for how my whole aesthetic was formed.
How did you get into tattooing? What about it speaks to you?
I started apprenticing back in Ukraine when I was 15. I cant remember or explain what drove me to choose tattooing. It was just the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I moved to US when I turned 19 and that set things back for me for a while because I didn’t have any family or connections here so I had to start my life over. I ended up working a million jobs that made me incredibly miserable, but I never stopped drawing and practicing. I didn’t have a formal apprenticeship, but I learned from a couple people and kept practicing on my own. It took me almost 8 years to be able to get a job at a shop and get a start.
There's a lot of witchy, magical imagery in your work. How has the occult influenced your art and the way you work?
It’s been one of my main interests for most of my life, so I think it’s just part of my consciousness and worldview at this point. I grew up in the environment where so called esoteric practices were a part of daily life. Divination, energy healing, turning to mediums for advice is pretty common practice. I was born couple years before the collapse of Soviet Union and post-Soviet Era was a complete chaos. People were so deprived of any kind of spirituality after the regime fell, so interest in occult and supernatural was unbelievably high. My mom took me and my sister to various babushkas who did egg rolling, divination etc. My grandmother is a plant witch and a herbalist - she took us on field trips to gather herbs for drying and using over the winter. It’s just what you did. There was nothing outrageous about it.
Is there any unique wisdom or insight that you've gained over years of tattooing people?
I truly believe my job is my biggest teacher in life right now. I often think about how beautifully bizarre the whole concept of modern tattooing is. I am so incredibly grateful for the perfect trust each client offers me and I never take the responsibility that is given me lightly. You get to change someone’s appearance forever, and it’s just one little aspect of the whole thing! It’s a lot of pressure!
I’ve always preferred to work with non-erasable materials. Knowing that I don’t get to make mistakes gets me into a hyper-focused, almost meditative state. I think spending hours at a time being physically close to a complete stranger can be pretty profound. It can be a traumatic experience if conducted wrong. I always try to do my best to make my client as comfortable as I can. There is a power dynamic aspect, pain and vulnerability, trust issues - so much to navigate. I spent 8 years bartending in NYC and I think that was a perfect boot camp for what I do now. My daily interactions teach me to find ways to get along with all kinds of humans, even when it’s unpleasant and still perform the best I can, no matter what the circumstances are. It’s humbling, and makes you look at yourself from different angles.
My favorite thing about tattooing is taking part in someone’s transformation when tattoos are used as tools of letting go, marking something significant or taking ownership of one’s body. Tattoos are magick, healing, self expression. I’m eternally grateful I get to do this work and I think about it everyday. Tattooing changed my life. I was struggling with addiction for years and it gave me life purpose, focus and strength to dedicate everything I’ve got to my work.
How does your Ukrainian heritage influence or inform your art?
I’ve had very painful relationship with my home country for most of my life. I’ve never felt connection or belonging to my culture, and knew I was going to leave. This kind of realization is often painful and tangled with guilt and shame. It took me a really long time to understand that the culture I grew up with was not the culture of my ancestors - it was a forcefully imposed ideology that was destructive and crippling to national identity of a Ukrainian person. Realizing this was healing in so many ways.
I’ve been doing a lot of research on Slavic paganism (unfortunately, there isn’t much information that survived). Observing traditional holidays and uncovering the information about customs and traditions added a a lot of value to my life. Ukrainian history is beautiful, but also exceptionally heavy and tragic in many ways. I get so much inspiration from Slavic mythology, folklore, folk art, traditional songs and celebrations. It’s hauntingly beautiful.
Scarlett Dancer is the founder of Mercury Hour, a jewelry line that stands for quality, self love and unique pieces for a uncertain world. Crafted with care, Mercury Hour's Metaphysical, Psychedelic, Biker, Witch goods create a lasting impression not only on the wearer but those around them. They produce products that make you feel good by using stones that serve a purpose, along with looking bad ass as all hell while wearing them.
What galvanized you into crafting your own line of jewelry and start Mercury Hour?
At a significantly young age I had begun learning metal smithing from my Art Teacher and took to it immediately. All before the age of 14 I was carving waxes, casting, soldering and even assisting in teaching some of her classes. I later went to College at Pratt in Brooklyn studying to become an Art Teacher myself. While there testing out a range of artistic possibilities, I eventually found myself working a creative job as a Senior Visual Merchandising Manager for a World Flagship Store in Harold Sq, and occupying the same role again for a different retail brand in SoHo. I left NYC to move to Arizona for a change of pace and to find what I wanted to do artistically, which is where the foundation of all these variously random artistic paths really melded together.
A year after moving I found myself as a survivor of domestic violence, torn down, and ripped to the core of my person. It was one of the darkest times in my life. When you’ve spent so long being mentally abused by someone and then it becomes physical to the point where you almost died, it's really hard to tell up from down, let alone get out from under the despair you’ve also become entangled with.
During the Supreme Court proceedings that would eventually put my ex in jail, I looked inward to when I was the happiest to try and find the strength I had within myself before all of this had taken hold of me. I remembered my times creating jewelry and feeling empowered by creative energy. It wasn’t long after I decided to make a totem for myself from the landscape of the place where I'd almost been killed. As a Scorpio, the concepts of life, death and rebirth have always been a reoccurring theme, so it was only natural for me to go into the desert and collect 6 scorpions, which I then used to create the original 6 casts we use today (that have gone on to make over 3 thousand pieces of jewelry) and made a ring for myself. I realized I was tired of living for other people and decided that I wanted to share what I had been through and instill in others to take back their lives in the same way, use art as a way of overcoming what you thought had destroyed you.
In those desert mountains, with only a will to create something beautiful from my own despair, is when Mercury Hour was born.
Your pieces are high vibrational, made with metaphysical minerals and stones that are imbued with certain energies. What are some of the different materials and stones/minerals you work with?
We only use stones that are known for their healing, protective and creative properties. The first scorpion ring I ever made back in 2014 is set with my personal favorite stone Black Star Diopside, also known as The Crying Stone of India. This stone is believed to help with clearing ones mind by relieving past traumas and giving you strength to not be influenced by any negative energies around you. It also aids in creative flow, allowing you to forgive yourself for past mistakes made. Everything is made by hand with the intention of imbuing the wearer with confidence and courage.
What's your vision for how these pieces can help others express themselves and feel empowered? How has it helped you?
I wanted to create a brand that filled a void in the jewelry world by using these metaphysical healing stones, and also express the bad ass nature of biker and witch culture. By using representative elements of strength (barbed wire, chains, scorpions, snakes, roses, etc.) we are able to have these totems that, in combination with the stones, empower the wearer in a physical and metaphysical way. I am always awestruck when I hear from people that they not only feel the intention that is sent into these pieces, they also see them daily body armor against a world riddled with uncertainty.
So many of our adorners also feel a deep-rooted connection to our brand story. I'm really open about it because the road to success and creativity is more violent then most people like to admit. It seems that most of the time, cataclysm needs to take place for us to push ourselves into a direction which brings about great change. Birth is always messy and painful, so I wanted others to know that we didn’t just get here by chance. I actively took back my own life, crawled out from under the rubble of my own agony and decided to do something magical with it. I think this message translates to others that they can do the same. I’m always grateful to have this reaffirmed by meeting people in person who have discovered Mercury Hour and hearing their story or how they are inspired by not only the work but the brand message itself. How they have also experienced trauma and have turned it from a feeling of weakness into a strength. This has helped me heal in so many ways, and makes all the hard work worth it.
What goes into conceiving of and crafting each piece? Where do you find your inspiration?
A lot of factors go into the concepts of the collections. Our Roma Legacy and Journey Of The Mystics Collections were based off of my Great Grandmother, a Croatian Psychic and Medium who came to America. Sometimes it's just a way I want people to feel, like our Lust for Life Collection. I like to keep true to who we are by always making it a bit personal because thats when I feel the most passionate in bringing pieces to existence.
I’ll normally draw out about 30 designs per collection concept and then narrow it down to about 6-10 after seeing if I can source the stones I have in my imagination. I hand carve the majority of our pieces, meticulously taking hours to conceive each and every design. Sometimes I’ll make something about 4 or 5 times before getting it exactly right how I want it. Then these pieces are foundry casted into solid sterling silver, and edited again. So much goes into such a little thing but it always makes it so worth it to go from the metaphysical plan to the physical. I believe in the power of the process. From start to finish, each piece is formulated with intention.
What have you learned from this work that you are most grateful for? How can these pieces aid us in feeling and expressing gratitude more deeply?
I've learned that fear is fuel, For so long I would associate it as a negative and be frozen in the wake of it. Now when I feel scared or challenged, I’ve realized I’m really on the brink of something new, undiscovered, and actually exciting. Fear is really just anticipation towards the unknown and thats when real personal and professional growth happens. Channeling it into a positive rather then a negative lifts my own personal vibration on a creative and conscious level. I don’t think I could have ever transcended my mindset to that point without the work, so I am always reflecting on how grateful I am that it made me push myself mentally and artistically.
Each of our pieces is imbued with so much commitment and care that when people look at them and hold them in their hand, they are reminded of process. Something can go from an idea to being a piece of art that reminds you of your own worth and courage, which leads to more self gratitude. There's something very deep and personal about jewelry. Our pieces are made with the adorner's inner strength in mind, and that makes them all the more powerful.
California-born and Minnesota-raised, Kunath returned to the West Coast for broader horizons and warmer climates and maintains a home and studio in Joshua Tree, CA. With a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Minnesota State University Mankato in Graphic Design and Painting, Kunath incorporates a designer’s aesthetic of minimalism and order in even her most expressive works.
Kunath’s work is fueled by the tension between her thirst for solitude and hunger for connection. The introspective process of creating work that explores communication and connection balances the two opposing forces. Kunath’s self-reflective works are responses to her meditations on relationship (to herself, her community, and her environment) inspired by the belief that self awareness and a better understanding of our relational dynamics create space for a more healthy and connected world, Her studio works are primarily on paper and canvas, and her murals can be found in the US, Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua.
Travel plays an important role in her creative process, and it's become a primary tool for accessing fresh approaches and inspiration. Each new destination offers her a chance to relate to both herself and her work in a different way, often resulting in notable shifts in her style and palette. Her travels are catalogued through a color-map created by her work while on the road. Recent residencies include stints in Italy, Portugal, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Panama. Kunath is not currently represented.
When did you start making art?
I was lucky enough to have parents that always encouraged my creativity. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing or building or sculpting something at the kitchen table.
Your work is inspired by the exploration of solitude and connection, and your relationship to yourself and others? Can you tell us more about this? How did you develop this theme?
My work has always been a key processing tool in my life. I paint about what's up for me. Some topics pass through as fluidly as my circumstances, but the push/pull dynamic of craving deep connection and simultaneously needing lots of alone time has solidified itself as a major theme in my life. Better understanding myself and others feels like the most direct line to improving the quality of the relationships that underly every form of necessary progress. In order to get closer to others, I have to get closer to myself. So I make work that explores the gifts and the challenges of both aloneness and being together.
Travel plays a big role in your work. What are some of the different places you've traveled to, and how did they inform your art?
In the last 3 years my work has taken me all over the world but I have Central America to thank for most of my recent creative growth. Long stints in Nicaragua + Costa Rica in particular have afforded me the heavy kind of quiet that was necessary to hear my own voice clearly - something that can be challenging for me in a big city.
What, if anything, has your approach to art and your travels shown you about gratitude and the role it plays in our relationship to ourselves and each other?
When I'm painting, it means even more time thinking about the relational stuff that is already top of mind anyway. When I'm feeling empowered and happy with myself and my relationships, I get exponential benefits when I sit down to work. But since I'm committed to working honestly based on what's up for me, it's not always pretty. An orientation of gratitude (amidst the uncomfortable bits) is often the only thing that slows the speed of a nasty downward spiral when I'm processing heavier stuff.