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sabrina

Academia Activism Illustration

Drawing The Other: Illustration and Representation

I have been sitting on posting this online for a very long time! It was written specifically in response to the theme/provocation of the 6th Annual International Illustration Research Symposium in November 2015, held at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. The theme was “Illustrator as Public Intellectual.” I also presented it at the ICON 9 Illustration Conference in July 2016. After reading it for my Modern American Illustration students (and a few times for a friend’s Illustrative Activism students), it finally feels like time to share. I’ve also interspersed my slides throughout the talk – it is really meant to be read out loud, with all of the annoyed and sassy vocal inflection I usually have when I talk from my heart about politics. I realize a lot of this may be contentious, and I’ve decided not to share the names of illustrators whose work I find problematic, in the interest of not putting those individuals on blast. Indeed, this is a systemic, structural, institutional problem, and all of us are implicated in it. I have provided the names of illustrators who I frame as ‘getting it right’ in the interest of signal boosting those individuals. Please feel free to share widely; I think this research is incredibly important, and I plan to conduct a more extensive, quantitative study for academic publication very soon. Until then, this is a bit more popularly accessible. This is the initial research I provided to the BBC, who quoted this paper in this article: “Women Who Draw website reveals world’s ‘hidden’ female illustrators.” Thank you in advance for reading. Every time I have given this lecture it has been well received; if you have any concerns, feel free to contact me. Trigger warning for images of gendered and racialized violence.

Abstract: If we take illustration seriously as a form of intellectual and cultural production that influences, reproduces, and reinvigorates public and private discourse, what do the pictures we make and the way we represent human bodies within them say about our personal (as private persons) and public (as creative professionals) understandings of race and gender? Do most of today’s award-winning illustrations challenge dominant power paradigms, or consolidate oppressive hegemonic representations as common sense? What happens when illustrators try to depict The Other? How can we avoid these pitfalls and their consequences? I examine the most recent ten years of award-winning work in the American Illustration annual, and consider the implications of what these selected works say about how illustrators and jurors perceive, represent, and validate representations of race and gender. Following this analysis, I discuss the cultural significance of socially responsible illustration, and present some suggestions for illustrators and educators interested in rethinking how they approach the representation of gendered and racialized bodies in their own work, and that of their students and peers.

The aim of my paper is to determine the answer to one simple question: do today’s award-winning illustrations challenge dominant power paradigms, or do they consolidate oppressive hegemonic representations as common sense? In order to do this, I have examined the most recent seven years of award-winning work in the American Illustration annual, and consider the implications of what these selected works say about how illustrators and jurors perceive, represent, and validate representations of race and gender. Following this analysis, I discuss the cultural significance of socially responsible illustration, and present some suggestions for illustrators and educators interested in rethinking how they approach the representation of gendered and racialized bodies in their own work, and that of their students and peers.

I looked through nearly 3,000 images and recorded how many contained people – white people, men, women, and people of colour. What are some problems with this methodology? Not everyone who “looks white” is white. While enforcing black and white binaries aren’t always useful in the ontic sense, when it comes to representation it is vital. There is an incredibly disproportionate representation of individuals with peach coloured skin. Existence is far more complex than black or white, male or female. I don’t want to forget people who are multi-racial, I don’t want to forget light-skinned people of colour; I don’t want to forget transgender and gender non-binary people. Their lives matter, and it is important that we as illustrators are aware of their existence. They are our peers and colleagues.

However – there is something useful to be gained by the kind of boundary-driven qualitative analysis I have undertaken. We can learn, at a glance, how award-winning illustration has changed over the last seven years, and what types of representations are deemed worthy of public praise. We can learn, in short, what type of representations are happening and being recognized.

So. What did I find?

I’m going to show a bunch of images throughout the rest of this talk. I know illustration is very context specific – or, at least, it can be – and I am asking for you to trust that I did not take this work out of context. In the course of my research, I examined many of these illustrations and looked up the articles or projects they appeared alongside. A lot of these images are beautiful to look at. A lot of them have some semblance of a smart concept. Some are very witty. Despite this, however, some may leave something to be desired in their representation of “the other.”

In the most recent year of winners, humans featured in 75% of illustrations. This was an increase between 10-20%, depending on the year. Interestingly, the representation of white men has declined in recent years – something I perceive to be a little ray of hope. During the last seven years, on average white men appear in 55% of AI award winning illustrations; the highest number in the collected data was 65%. The representation of white women has remained fairly steady at an average of 32%, as has the representation of men and women of colour, whose seven-year averages are 8% and 4%, respectively. On average, men were drawn to be nude or nearly nude 2% of the time. On average, women were drawn to be nude or nearly nude 30% of the time. The only dead bodies depicted during the timeframe of my analysis are those that belong to men of colour.

In seven years, these are the only two images of Indigenous peoples in American Illustration.

(If you’re not sure why these two images are problematic, please have a chat with me afterwards.)

Social justice. Respectful representation. What are these things, and why should we care? It may seem like an obvious question, but when I hear endless talk of how ‘social justice warriors’ and ‘political correctness’ are restricting creativity and making the world less fun, I wonder if illustrators, designers, art directors, and artists have lost our way. I hope that we can – at least for a moment – come together in conversation and seriously question what it is that we are doing, and why.

If we take illustration seriously as a form of intellectual and cultural production that influences, reproduces, and reinvigorates public and private discourse, what do the pictures we make and the way we represent human bodies within them say about our personal (as private persons) and public (as creative professionals) understandings of race and gender? Furthermore: whose human bodies are we representing? Do we just draw ourselves, and, when we are tasked with drawing other people, do we flounder? Do we only hire and work with people who look like us?

Despite our best attempts and insistences that we do not have sexist or racist thoughts, after undertaking the requisite analysis it has become more and more clear to me that the illustration industry does in general reflect the sexism and racism within typical North American culture in the images we make. Rather than provoking critical thought about power relations, the pictures we make and sanction via public professional praise often contribute to these problems – in how we depict relationships between different genders and races.

White men often are used as a ‘netural every-person’ in illustrations. Desptie being a very specific subject position, if the work does not specifically reflect race or gender, images often depict a white man. The white man is a default.

But it’s not just about depicting more women and people of colour. It’s also – crucially – how we are representing them, especially if we’re white male illustrators, art directors, designers, artists. People of colour are rarely depicted just doing every day things; instead, they are usually figures in the background, in images of cities and streets from a far-away view, wherein many different small figures with different skin colours are depicted. I have noticed that in order to be depicted as more than backdrop filler, people of colour need to be famous.

What types of people of colour are depicted? Images of people of colour often include associations with violence. Often, black men are only depicted if they are sports stars or blues musicians. Or, if they are dead. In the most recent AI awards annual, the only deceased figures represented were men of colour – most notably a very literal depiction of Michael Brown lying in his own blood.

Can we draw attention to the violence inflicted upon racialized bodies without perpetuating further violence against people of colour and especially black and indigenous peoples? I think we can. I think we can make work that is smarter than this. We can make work that doesn’t just reproduce the same old images.

We can do this by drawing attention to the vehement practices of white supremacy and patriarchy. Draw black people succeeding. In every day life, doing every day things. Running busineses. Hanging out in the park. Black lives matter: in illustration, too. Or, at least – they should. So, too, should the lives of women.

When we represent stories other than our own – stories of “The Other” – we need to do our research. We need to think carefully about it, and look at the topic from many angles and points of view. We need to consider the lives of those involved. We need to be kind.

You need to be kind.

I need to be kind.

We need to be smarter about the images we’re making. We need to look at them not just as individual works on their own merit but as components in a larger conversation. We need to think. Really, really think.

Step outside of our comfort zones.

Yes, your image of a naked white chick sticking her ass out may be a really great drawing. Your painting of dead men of colour may be very well composed. But: do we really need MORE of these images? They are already everywhere. Are we only giving awards for how we think people of colour and women should be represented? Why do we consistently create work that always places white men at the center of the conversation and only depicts women of colour 4% of the time? And even then – when they are drawn – they are dead, raped violated. As a collective of creators, we need to take responsibility for this.

Of award-winning “selected” AI illustrations in the last 7 years, of those that contain women, women are nude or nearly nude 30% of the time, compared to the average of 4% for men. Of all of the ‘selected’ pieces from the last 7 years, only one or two images of men showed them to be sexualized in any way. For women, this was much more common. I noticed a strangely persistent trend of drawing women only as legs, a blatant sexualization and objectification that is difficult to miss.

I’m not saying that these illustrations aren’t good or smart. A lot of them are witty, clever, technically proficient, well composed, beautiful to look at with a unique style. That’s all well and good.

But what I am saying is – when award winning illustrations of women mostly show them as sexualized or as partial body parts, and when award-winning illustrations of black people link them to slavery and prison and death and violence… I want to ask everyone in the room to think about this with me. Really, really think about it. What does that say about us? What exactly are we doing here? Why do we – as an industry – continue to “punch down”?

This illustration appeared alongside an article about a black woman being raped.

These illustrations are from two different series, by the same illustrator. They, too, depict rape – primarily the gang rape of a Middle Eastern woman.

I look at these images, and I can’t help but ask myself: what, exactly, is it that we think we are doing? Do we really think illustration is such a frivolous medium? Do we really have so little to say that the only way we know how to talk about violence is to literally depict it and retraumatize and revictimize survivors, rather than to say something about the reprehensibility of racialized and sexualized violence and trauma? At first glance, these illustrations may seem raw and edgy and transgressive. They may seem radical in their bluntness.

But they aren’t.

It is not activism to draw more dead black people. It is not activism to show more womens’ cleavage, more women with their butts in the air, seemingly asking for it. It is not activism to draw women being raped. This is not radical. This is nothing new. If we think we are provocative or interesting or smart for making these images, we are sadly mistaken. This work is not intellectual, ‘public’ or otherwise. It is not taking the job seriously.

It is not justice.

It is not responsible.

You: yes, you in this room, you sitting here right in front of me. I ask you: think of all the people you know. Think of yourself. You, whether you know it or not – you know people who have experienced race and gender based violence. You know them. They are your friends, your colleagues. It might even be you. Even if you haven’t told anyone.

Will drawing black people being shot and women being raped create social change? Who are we trying to ‘create awareness’ for? Who is it, exactly, that doesn’t have awareness about these things that are so easy to see if we just step outside of our own selves for a fraction of a second? Some people have the luxury to look at a literal image like a woman being raped or a black person being killed and take something abstract from it. Some people have the luxury to distance themselves, to say, Oh, this is good because it creates awareness. But: some of us, well – we’re already aware. We’re aware every day of our lives. Actually, it’s most of us. We already know.

I think, deep down – you already know, too.

So: you’re with me. You know.

What do we do now?

I want to show you some pictures I like. Some pictures that are getting it right. Some pictures that are doing something a bit different. The two images on this page are saying something – very intelligently – about race and power.

When we’re thinking about representation in illustration, we can consider:

What power relationships are depicted? What are the power dynamics between the figures within the image?

What about the power dynamics between these illustrations and the others we have already seen – whether in this presentation or otherwise, out in the wild? As illustrators who take what we do seriously, we need to look into what else is happening in life and cultural production – in illustration and beyond – and see how we and our work fit into that conversation. What role do we play? Are we just reinforcing harmful stereotypes, or are we actually changing the conversation for the better and making an intelligent statement?

I am asking us all, right now, to hold ourselves accountable. Hold your friends and colleagues accountable.

I wanted to conclude with some suggestions for how to do this, and I really do think they apply in illustration and design classrooms with students, as well as for each of us creating work for clients and for ourselves. This stuff takes time, and it’s not always easy. It takes commitment. You’re going to mess up. I still mess up sometimes. As illustrators, we’re storytellers. Whether we like it or not, whether we think we’re merely interpreting or offering a witty commentary – or even if we just see our work as decorative – there’s story there. The kind of work we make can show what is important to us, and how other people behave towards each other in the world. It’s never just one image. It’s never just the image you made last week or last year. It’s the collections of works we make throughout our careers, both individually and collectively, as a larger community of people who think and create with images.

Maybe, together – we can help change those numbers I told you about before, so the next seven, ten, fifteen, twenty years of awards winners don’t just feature women of colour 4% of the time. Maybe, together – we can draw women as more complex than just being naked and sexualized one third of the time. Maybe, together – we can draw pictures that inspire, that reaffirm how black lives matter. Maybe, together – we can educate and inspire. Maybe, together – we can tip the scales.

Thank you.

 

NOTE: Names of illustrators in last few slides – Byron Eggenschweiler (girl with books), Anthony Freda (blackboard illustration, last slide), Brian Stauffer (N illustration), Marcos Chin (kama sutra), Olaf Hajek (black Marie Antoinette), Brian Cronin (tightrope), Christopher Silas Neil (bicycle). I have not included the names of the illustrators who drew the more (IMO) problematic pieces because this is very much a systemic industry-wide problem. I am interested in the picture our industry paints as a whole.

Magic Ritual

The Work of the Ancestors

witchbody.com / sabrina scott

I wrote this around Halloween this year, and performed it in early December at a Toronto Writers vs Trump reading series. It comes from thinking about a lot of things – trauma, pain, suffering, abuse, ancestors dead and alive. Growth, change, repetition. Thank you to those who invited me, and those who witnessed my performance, for the positive words and inspiring me to share it here.

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The burden of intergenerational trauma is hard, heavy, a lot to carry. It’s rough to be the one who notices. We notice because the pain becomes unbearable, and in that noticing comes responsibility to act, to do something, to be different.

Intergenerational trauma. Handed to us like an inheritance, a gift. Through the violence of birth, we absorb their wounds both inside and outside the womb. We carry the burden.

We move slowly towards self worth, self love, self acceptance, self stability, if only for a moment, like a lighting bolt shock. To feel that strength, that invigoration. We light a candle.

This is the ancestor work.

One candle for every time our own kin laughed at us when we told them about our rape. Every time our own blood told us, well, it’s your fault for wearing that outfit, what did you expect? Every time our family insulted us, beat us, threw something at us, pushed us down the stairs, neglected us, called us names. Maybe there are one or two candles. Maybe there are so many there’s no room left on the altar for anything else. Maybe we cry and cry. Maybe we go numb and feel nothing, unable to speak. Maybe it hurts too much this time, maybe we blow the candles out and go to bed. Maybe we stay up all night kneeling, staring at them, eyes bloodshot, scrying, squinting to see the spirits’ secrets, a spirit-salve for our run-down souls. Tired. This is how we do the work.

We go to therapy. We tell our own children that they are beautiful. We trust our partners to love us. We learn more effective coping mechanisms to survive strong emotions. We soothe ourselves when we are under stress. We are kind to the animals in our lives, and to strangers, and to ourselves. We are fragmented constellations, an incarnation of our ancestors, hot blood coursing through our veins. Heart beats, pumps. We keep moving. And sometimes we are still.

Some of our ancestors have done unspeakable things. There are some people I do not, will not, talk to. But they have left their mark on me. There is so much I have shaken off. This is ancestor work. I have done a lot but there is always more to do.

I buy flowers. Sunflower, marigold, carnation, roses. I buy honey, coconut milk, bourbon. I buy apples, tangerines, pomegranate. I paint my nails red like blood, black like the earth, and leave my skin white like bones.

I exhale inhale. I make sounds and contort my body in feral shapes. I let my ancestors move through me and shake out their sadness. I dance in a circle and slap the floor with my feet, soles thump, soul thirsty. Manic and controlled like a breath aware it is a breath, a coming and going for the sake of survival. I make a nonhuman sound.

This is the ancestor work.

Skin tingles, hot and cold, firm but brittle. This is the work of exorcism, of getting rid of it, of seeing and healing and really seeing enough to know where to put the medicine, where to bury the skeleton, it is the knowledge of knowing, tacit. Just when to scream, what guttural growls free the soul, unlocked, unleashed, light as air.

We hold the trauma in our bodies. Our ancestors are there too, in our muscles, tense. Ready to strike. We put their pictures on our altars if we have them. We write down their names on sheets of paper and set them aflame. We cook them food to nourish them. We give them fuel to do the work with us. We feed them. We drink with them. We acknowledge their role in creating us.

We heal them we heal ourselves we heal our children. We know this process is eternal. We care take. We build relationship. We use salt to cleanse. We burn cedar to scrape away the muck. We light birch bark candles and with the ghosts we chew corn raw, take the autumn seeds inside us and commit to growth. We wake up from nightmares. We pray. We take our medication. We throw the rotten food down the toilet. We bundle up warm in the cold. We go where we are wanted. We say their names. We remember their faces. We commit to our bodies, to our own journey, to the wound-womb inside us, creative, willful, fierce, regenerating.

What is the point of this? Relationship. It is about learning to be in and cultivate relationship with ourselves and with others, with our pasts and our futures. It is about acknowledging our active role in creating our reality. It is about the responsibility of those with the power to heal to do so.

We all have this power.

A witch who can’t harm can’t heal. A witch who can’t curse can’t cure. Be there, go there, go deep go dark and feel it and scream and cry until you can’t anymore. And then, with our always already broken bodies, we must heal. We must do the work. We must light the candles. We must prepare the feast. We must pray.

Instead, it seems we mostly curse. Shun. Excommunicate. Throw around words like: violence, abuse, unsafe, crisis, panic, accountability, responsibility. Sometimes we say those words because they are true. Sometimes we say these words because they are a fast track to being right, to be taken seriously, to be made comfortable again, to avoid doing the work.

Ancestor work is not comfortable. It is grueling. It is inconvenient. It is sweeping the dust away, it is pulling off the bandaid, it is applying alcohol to a cut. It is excruciating and we must go there, through the tunnel, until we see light. We must go deep, deep down into the dark. Dig up the half-buried bones. Hold a wake. Light the candles. Say the words. Inhale exhale. We do the work.

Ancestor work is being in relationship even when you don’t want to, because you are. Sometimes the best medicine makes us sick first. Purge, discomfort, pain, cleanse, refresh, make sense. Be still. Let it wash over you like a spell, and may each forward step you take light the way for the spirits behind you. The ancestors, the remembered and the forgotten. However painful, my wish is that we can all keep walking until the strength we gain from walking together outweighs the pain we endure with each individual step.

This is the ancestor work.

Academia Events Illustration

Autumn Update: Travel, Book Fairs, Conferences, Oh My

sabrina scott - witchbody.com
Sabrina Scott - witchbody.com Sabrina Scott - witchbody.com
Wow okay it has been a thousand years since my last update in May, and I have about a thousand more things to update y’all on. So I’ll just get right to it! TCAF 2016 (May 14-15 at the Toronto Reference Library) was AMAZING. I felt high as a kite the entire time just off of good vibes and the insane generosity and love I received from like everyone I met. I also had a new banner thing and business cards printed, which you can see in some of the images accompanying this text! I’m really stoked on how they turned out.

My book Witchbody (currently sold out, second edition in the works and available soon) was nominated for the Doug Wright Nipper Award, which is the ‘emerging talent’ category, so that was pretty cool. Even though I didn’t win I totally did in my heart, hahaha, so I’m just going to pretend I did. Anyway we are all winners, am I right? Of course. Big congrats to all the nominees, official ‘winners’ or not. Also, huge love to everyone who came out to my table to say hello, I actually had The Best Time Ever and that is very much thanks to everyone I met.

I also tabled at the first Ottawa Zine Fair (June 4 at the Bronson Centre), which was absolutely fucking fantastic. The picture below was taken after the zine reading the night before the fair, at which myself and a bunch of other folks performed our writing. I had a great time and more or less sold out of Witchbody’s first printing at this event. I had the great honour to read some of my writing at an event put on the night before the fair, and it went super super well. A few days before the fair I also had the pleasure of being interviewed on the radio about the zine fair and my work, and I do a short little reading on it too. I was interviewed with Mariela Libedinsky by Mitchell Caplan on a CHUO show called ‘Click Here.’ The interview is below.

Sabrina Scott - witchbody.com

 

I went to Edmonton, Alberta to speak at the The Three Societies Meeting which was held June 22-25 at the University of Alberta. The ‘Three Societies’ in question are the British Society for the History of Science, Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science, and the History of Science Society. The theme for the conference was ‘Transitions’ and my panel was called ‘Knowledge from the Edge.’ I had the pleasure of presenting alongside my brilliant colleagues Bill Atkinson, Nox Dineen-Porter, and Tyler Hnatuk. The panel was incredibly well received, I am happy to report! The paper I presented was called “Developing Highly Sensitive Instruments: Spiritualist Mediumship and Séance Science in Victorian Britain” and I am hoping to develop it further.

When I was in Edmonton I also had a pleasure of facilitating a workshop under the auspices of APIRG (the Alberta Public Interest Research Group, an activist organization) and The Landing (whose slogan is ‘A Space for Gender and Sexual Diversity’) at Lotus Gallery. It was called ‘Energy Work for Facilitators.’ Here’s the workshop description:

“In this two-hour session, learn some practical skills for how to work with magic, energy, and ritual in your teaching and facilitation. Taught from a non-denominational perspective influenced by life-long praxis in Spiritualism and witchcraft, this workshop focuses on feeling energy, working with energy, setting up and releasing space. If time and interest permits, we can also discuss how to incorporate understandings of energy, magic, and spirit into art-making practice.”

Sabrina Scott - witchbody.comSabrina Scott - witchbody.com

I’m really happy to have had the opportunity to have met everyone who showed up. I am so touched by the vulnerability and heart each person brought to the space we shared together. The communal energy really was electric. Huge love to my main girl Laura Kruse for organizing this! You can see a lot of the beautiful souls who participated in the photo above.

Fast forward to Texas where I spent a week in July for the ICON 9 Illustration Conference, which was held at the Hilton in Austin from July 6-9. I spoke as a part of the Education Symposium, and my talk was the same one I gave in RISD last November for the Illustration Research Symposium. It was called “Drawing the Other: Illustration and Representation.” I don’t want to repeat myself too much, but if you’re interested in reading the abstract it is in my last update. I’m likely going to post the full talk transcript shortly, so keep your eyes peeled for it, including the slides from the visual presentation that appeared alongside my talk. If you haven’t been to ICON, it’s a strange bird! Worth checking out at least once. Happy to meet so many amazing educators.

Sabrina Scott - witchbody.com

I also tabled at the Toronto Anarchist Book Fair on July 23-24, which was, as always, a lot of fun. There were so many families there this year!

I made it out to Montreal a few times this summer as well: for a book fair, and because I had a painting in a show! Camp Gallery was a month-long pop-up gallery in July, and I had work in the ‘Summer Camp’ half, which was installed for the second half of the month. I went to montreal for the closing party on July 29. It’s an honour to be involved; the curatorial crew really put together something special inspired by an incredibly unique vision. I also tabled at Queer Between the Covers in Montreal on August 13. It is a book/zine fair with a queer flavor, which was a lot of fun, and I’m always happy to be back in my hometown of Montreal.




In other news – on the more present and upcoming front – I will be debuting the second edition of Witchbody in two weeks at the fourth annual Toronto Queer Zine Fair. It’s the biggest yet, and it’s going to be fucking amazing. Deets on the poster below. I’ll also be tabling at Canzine on October 29, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, 1-7pm. Both fairs should be super awesome and are definitely worth going to if you’re into books, comics, zines, book arts, and everything in between! At this witchy time of year I’d like to go out of my way to remind y’all that I read tarot professionally. I’ve been reading for around 16 years now, and I know what I’m doing – so if you think you might need to talk something out and that I may be the right person to talk it out with, please do check out my Tarot Readings page. I swear I don’t bite, readings with me can be really fun! It’s a great time of year to take advantage of the big energies of change all around us.

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In other news, I’ll also be in Edinburgh, Scotland next month for the 7th annual Illustration Research Symposium. The theme this year is ‘Shaping the View,’ and I’ll be presenting a babble about my book Witchbody. I’m super excited – never been to Edinburgh, and I really loved the symposium last year: definitely one of my favourite conference experiences. I’m hoping to have some illustrations in the show they’re mounting alongside the conference. So that’s fun. In other conference news, I’ll be in Montreal next February for something on occult poetics, and that’s all I can share on that topic for now.

I’ve also started to teach at OCAD U, my undergraduate alma mater! I am the course director for the first year Illustration course Illustrative Concepts 1. I can honestly say I absolutely love it and it’s my favourite time of the week. I have a lot to think about in regard to teaching – but it’s one of my favourite topics, and I am really thankful for the energy my students bring to the room when we are sharing time together. OCAD students really are a special bunch and I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to work with them. Next semester I am the course director for a more academic/theory course (the one I’m doing now is studio-based) called Modern American Illustration. I am hoping to approach it as a course with a foundation in contemporary illustration history (1950-present) but also organize it around key concepts or issues in the illustration industry – such as handmade/craft vs mass production, gender, race, auteurship, etc. It’s a work in progress but I’m so excited to work it out, and to put everything in action in January!

I’ll end this absurdly long post by sharing one of the most beautiful things that has happened to me lately. It took me a few weeks to share this publicly. Sometimes when I’m really touched and humbled by something so sweet and amazing, I’m rendered speechless and I can’t respond immediately. This is one of those times. I am so beyond honoured and was moved to the point of tears when I received this message and these photos.

witchbody.com

Sabrina, thank you. I’ve been trying to reach out to you for weeks to get your permission for my tattoo, and to explain how much Witchbody has meant to me. I’m not sure how much Juawana shared with you. Someday, sometime, I hope to get to explain my connection to it. In summary, I’ll just say two things:

1. I’ve identified as a witch since I was a small girl, and have long interpreted many women in my family as witches. I didn’t feel I had permission to use those words public ally until WB.

2. The pedagogy of Witchbody gave me a method for staying present and physical, when my mental space was unsafe. It gave me a method to begin to heal. In summary, you have my gratitude and a connection for life. Your voice matters. Your style adds loveliness to the world. Witchbody rules. I chose each symbol carefully. Thank you.

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Thank you so much Amey for permission to share your words, and to Mackenzie Swecker in Reno for doing an amazing job translating my illustration into a tattoo. I have so much gratitude and my heart could not be more full, and I can’t imagine the first tattoo of my work looking more badass than this!! I’ll leave this already too-long post on that note – more soon, as always! xooxoxo

Academia Books Events Illustration

Big News! Doug Wright Award Nomination, TCAF, Past Talks, Catch-up, and So On

THE DOUG WRIGHT AWARDS & TCAF

DougWrightAwardsLogo

So! I haven’t updated in about a thousand years, so this is going to be a bit of a big one, from most recent and pressing to least recent. I am incredibly ecstatic to announce that my book Witchbody has been nominated for the 2016 Doug Wright Spotlight Award! It is such a big honour that I honestly can’t even begin to comprehend; the other nominees include a lot of my heroes and folks whose work I really admire. I’ve done a brief interview about it on York University’s YFile, and OCADU kindly made mention of my nomination as well. If you want to come check out the awards event itself, it’s on the evening of Saturday, May 14, from 8-10 PM, in the Forest Hill Ballroom at the Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel (90 Bloor St. E.). For more information, check out the Facebook event page.

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TCAF (the Toronto Comic Arts Festival) is also happening on the weekend of Saturday, May 14 and Sunday, May 15. I’ll have a table so you should definitely come say hello; it’ll be the 3rd or 4th time I’ve tabled (honestly can’t remember), but the first time I’ve tabled outside of the Wowee Zonk Small Press room. It’s at the Toronto Reference Library (Bloor & Yonge) from 9-5 on Saturday and 10-5 on Sunday. As of this writing I only have 99 copies left of the first edition of Witchbody and am in the process of ordering up a second edition, so act fast if you want to snag your copy before pre-ordering starts! I’ve finally set up an online ordering system, so if you’d like your copy of Witchbody shipped directly to your home you can order online here, with Paypal. Otherwise, try your luck at TCAF! Here is a map of where I will be, on the second floor:

TALKS & CONFERENCES

I’ve also done a bunch of talks lately, most recently at the Navigating the Metamodern conference (otherwise known as the 15th Annual Art History Graduate Symposium) on March 19, 2016. It was such a fantastic event, I had a blast! The notion of ‘metamodern’ is actually super neat; here’s a little blurb from the conference’s Call for Proposals:

Metamodernism is not characterized by oppositions or polarities, but rather explores the possibility of oscillating between perspectives, of existing in a liminal state and finding empowerment in that uncertainty. In the arts, this has reintroduced a space for a discussion of the sublime, affect, and materiality alongside theoretical models such as Speculative Realism and Object Oriented Ontologies.

I presented a talk called Drawing Magical Bodies and Teaching Occult Ontologies in ‘Witchbody’. I’d presented this for the first time in February of this year, also at an art history conference at McGill in Montreal. That conference was called Magic: Between Embodiment and Ontology, and was also super fun, but I have to say I have such a soft spot for the Metamodern conference. I really loved the way each speaker took up the challenge of the CFP, and appreciated how receptive everyone was to my work. Here’s a blurb from my abstract:

I examine why magic is unique, how it can teach, and what it can teach about other-than-human bodies that constitute ‘environment’. Witchcraft makes available an ontology that does not view any beings as exploitable or disposable, and can have powerful repercussions in how human bodies interact with other-than-human bodies. Complicating the simple idea of the performance of magical rituals, I also look at the materiality of magical books as a way of materializing occult ontologies. This comic book is both about witchcraft and an act of witchcraft. The format of the work is inspired both by study of practitioner-made talismanic books (both about spirits and containing spirits). This talk is about the theory within the work, the process of its creation, and artistic production as philosophical labour.


I also had the incredible privilege of giving an hour long lecture and Q&A session at an amazing evening at 8-11 here in Toronto, back on March 10 (photo above). The event was called The Practical Application of the Occult in Music and Art, and shared the bill with the inimitable Edward Mason, with music by SINS and a performance by Rosemary Stehlik. I spoke a bit about my own illustration and book arts work and how the occult has figured into both my work process and content, and I had a fabulous time answering some really amazing nitty gritty questions from the audience. It’s really fun to answer explicit questions about technique, where I can really get into the mechanics of what I do and why I do it in a rigorous way.

Programs for RISD

Back in November (of 2015) I road-tripped to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, Rhode Island for the 6th Annual Illustration Research Symposium. It was fucking awesome. The theme was Illustrator as Public Intellectual, about which I have a lot to say. If you’re interested in applying to get involved in the 7th Symposium this November, you can check out the CFP by clicking here. The theme is ‘Shaping the View’ and understanding landscape in conjunction with illustration.

Here I am with the amazing Gary Powell, one of my favourite folks I met at the Symposium. His talk was incredibly inspiring (high-energy, amazing work, and a lot of fascinating insights about teaching) and he was just a really cool, approachable guy. If you’re interested in an illustrated (with drawings and photos!) summation of the conference, Jamie Hogan put up a great blog post about it, which includes a super great illustration of yours truly, as well as a photo of one of the slides in my presentation.

Anywho, my talk was called Drawing The Other: Illustration and Representation and here is my fun abstract:

If we take illustration seriously as a form of intellectual and cultural production that influences, reproduces, and reinvigorates public and private discourse, what do the pictures we make and the way we represent human bodies within them say about our personal (as private persons) and public (as creative professionals) understandings of race and gender? Do most of today’s award-winning illustrations challenge dominant power paradigms, or consolidate oppressive hegemonic representations as common sense? What happens when illustrators try to depict The Other? How can we avoid these pitfalls and their consequences? I examine the most recent ten years of award-winning work in the American Illustration annual, and consider the implications of what these selected works say about how illustrators and jurors perceive, represent, and validate representations of race and gender. Following this analysis, I discuss the cultural significance of socially responsible illustration, and present some suggestions for illustrators and educators interested in rethinking how they approach the representation of gendered and racialized bodies in their own work, and that of their students and peers.

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I also gave this talk as part of a guest lecture/guest co-facilitation in the lovely and talented Dushan Milic‘s Illustrative Activism course at OCADU this past winter semester. It was so fun to hash some of these ideas out with students! I’m also going to be delivering it in Austin this summer at ICON 9: The Illustration Conference, in the ‘Education’ stream.

Also, just for fun, to right, check out this picture of RISD’s amazing Nature Lab – there were endless rooms of anatomical specimens (human bones, animal bones, living and preserved animals, minerals, dried plants, etc). It seems like a really productive resource for artists and illustrators! I’m trying to figure out an excuse to get myself back there sometime – I could really see myself getting (pleasantly) lost in the rooms upon rooms of animals, vegetables, minerals, and everything in between. It was a total dream!

VILLAGE 89 ILLUSTRATION COMMISSION

Other fun news: I’ve recently been commissioned by artist Lisa Frost to do an illustration for her Village 89 project. Lisa has invited illustrators to create an image to be made into an accordion book. The work I made for this project is called At the Crossroads and you can see some proposal sketches, digital process, and final screen print of the accordion book (both front & back) below.

It was such a fun project to illustrate; it’s not every day I get to just play! The little statement I gave about the work is as follows:

At The Crossroads is a visual meditation on a day in the life of a dedicated city witch. Between collecting herbs, calming unruly spirits, and paying tribute to ancestors, it seems the trials and tribulations of urban magic never end! That’s ok, though – what’s an afternoon without a little chaos?

Accordion book: front

Accordion book: back

Sketches

Anyway! That’s enough babbling from me for now! I have a lot of other exciting things coming up soon, and will be writing a bit about that once the chaos and excitement around TCAF has passed.

Activism Education

Sick of Surviving Alone: Ghomeshi, Silence, and Why Lip Service Activism Needs to Stop

Sabrina Scott / witchbody

Content Warning: rape culture, rape, court, Ghomeshi trial, victim blaming, sexual assault, survivorship, allyship

See that picture?

That’s me.

Among other things, I’m a survivor of rape and sexual assault.

Survivor.

That word gets thrown around a lot.

Survivor.

‘Survivor’ is not a word that lends itself well to lip service.

Do you think you are special and enlightened because you use the word ‘survivor’ instead of ‘victim’? If you think this shift in vocabulary is enough, you’re wrong. I am beyond sick and tired of solidarity that doesn’t go past Facebook; I am beyond sick and tired of supposed ‘allies’ whose ‘allyship’ does not extend to actually asking the rape survivors in your life how they are feeling when something like this happens.

And it happens all the time.

Guess how many folks asked me if I was ok today, once the Ghomeshi verdict was released? Three. I am pretty ‘out’ about my experiences; I realize not everyone is, and that’s okay. I had three people check in with me today: one was my partner-at-the-time, who reblogged this post and then hilariously dumped me the next day, a best friend who is a fellow rape survivor who lives on the other side of the country, and another lovely friend I don’t get to see often but who is just an awesome human. That’s it. I didn’t hear from family. I didn’t hear from my parents or sibling. I didn’t hear from most of my best friends. I didn’t hear from my casual chill friends. I didn’t hear from my acquaintances. This is what being a rape survivor is like. Everyone just leaves you alone. Nobody wants to touch me, nobody wants to touch us. Nobody wants to witness our pain, our trauma, our experiences. So we are alone. Far too often, the only support rape and sexual assault survivors have is each other. And even then, only when we have our trauma sufficiently under control.

Nobody wants to know how we are. Nobody asks us how we are when a big rape trial is in the news, and they don’t ask us in general. Nobody wants to know. Nobody wants to talk about rape and the trauma that follows. We are too scary, too loud, our feelings are too big. If it is too scary and big for you, a person who has never been raped or sexually assaulted, imagine what it is like for us. ‘Survival’ may look fun and easy and chill and ‘not a big deal’ when Lady Gaga makes it into a big song and dance routine, but it isn’t. Every day is a struggle. We often can’t leave the house. We are often overcome by numbness, anger, depression – days, months, years, decades after our attacks. No one seems to want to know about this, the daily intricacies of what it’s like to live with trauma. No one wants to know all the arguments and hurt feelings that can happen when we try to explain to our sexual and romantic partners how dissociation and triggers work. No one wants to know that we didn’t really bail because we had a cold, but instead because Ghomeshi trial stuff and rape apologism around David Bowie and Woody Allen has been too triggering, because it reminds us how we felt when we were raped and no one believed us or gave a single care in the world. No one wants to ask us how we’re doing.

What everyone does wanna do, though, is write long flowery poetic shit on Facebook about how angry and touched they are, and how survivors are so important, rapists suck, blah blah blah. I see this constant performance of a trying-to-be-perfect allyship that seems to say “I get it, I am a safe person, you can trust me, I am an ally, I am not one of THOSE dudes.” Well, I’m sorry, but if your version of allyship is just posting some shit on Facebook to make yourself feel good or to make yourself look cool and “woke” and political, you can fuck right off. Our communities need to do way better than this. You’re a part of that.

Rape and sexual assault survivors need your shares on Facebook, sure; convince those rape apologist relatives and dude-bro pals of yours that they are wrong and that rape is real. I’m sure it’ll happen over time. That’s why I share as many articles and memes and essays as I do. Facebook activism is important, I’ll never deny that. But if you aren’t actually asking rape and assault survivors in your life if they are ok, how they are doing, asking how you can help, telling them you are thinking of them on this hard day (and all days), then your activism doesn’t mean shit.

Activism and allyship aren’t abstract ideas, they are day-to-day mundane things like checking in with people you supposedly care about. The most important activism isn’t always public. It’s not about crafting a fine-tuned, nuanced public persona of just the right amount of political awareness. Some of the most important activism happens in private. It happens behind closed doors. It’s embedded in how you treat people. Some of the most important activism can be bringing your rape survivor friend some soup when they’re too triggered to leave the house. It can be holding their hand when they are too dissociated to say any words out loud, or to explain how they’re feeling. There is no snappy Facebook status for that, nor any pretty picture you can put on Instagram to show how good of an activist you’re being. A lot of this allyship work is mundane. It is boring. It is hard. It is painful. It is not fun. It is not convenient.

Because I have had enough with fake allyship, I have made a fun list of some things to think about. It would mean a lot to me if you could read it, share it, and take it seriously.

Research:

  • Do some research about rape, sexual assault, and trauma. What are these things? How are they defined?
  • Learn about rape culture. What is it?
  • Learn about different ways peoples’ bodies may respond to rape and sexual trauma. Try to unlearn some of your ideas about what a “believable” reaction to trauma looks like.
  • What is a trigger? Do some research. What are some common triggers? What are different ways bodies respond when they are triggered?
  • Learn about what dissociation is, what might trigger it, why it happens, etc.
  • Learn about trauma and common responses to trauma, learn how trauma stays in the body for a long time and can influence how people think, act, and feel. These ways of behaving may not make sense to you; witness them anyway.
  • What are some ways you can support someone who is triggered, and help bring them back into their bodies & the present moment? Look that shit up. There are some techniques used by therapists and psychologists that can be useful. Google is a thing. So is the bookstore.
  • Learn what things not to do when someone is triggered. This may vary from person to person, but do the survivor in your life a favour and do some extensive research ON YOUR OWN before asking them to provide a giant bibliography for you.
  • Listen to this hour-long podcast by This American Life called ‘Anatomy of Doubt’: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/581/anatomy-of-doubt

Actions:

  • BELIEVE US. Do not feel as though you are entitled to more information before you decide if you want to believe us and/or give us sympathy.
  • Check in with survivors regularly. How are we doing today? How are we doing when rape and sexual violence is in the news and all over social media?
  • Ask what kind of support we want/need from you. “How can I support you?” is a great starter question. Some people may want to be left alone, and this is ok – but never assume that this is the case and just leave the survivor in your life alone before asking if that’s what they want.
  • Understand that the support we want/need may shift over time. Maybe we wanted to be alone last month, but this month we want to talk about our experience and feelings.
  • Check in regularly, especially if we have stated that we want this – call us, text us.
  • When you can, offer to listen. Do this without judgment.
  • Tell us you are proud of us. How much or little we do, whatever – remind us that we are powerful, strong, resilient, and that we are doing so much every day.
  • Offer to make us food and bring it to us. Bring us groceries.
  • Bring us a cute little gift, just because we are special to you.
  • Offer to perform tasks we may be too overwhelmed or unable to do. We may need help with cleaning our room or apartment, doing dishes, doing laundry. If you are capable of offering help in these ways, be proactive and offer. We may be too embarrassed or ashamed to ask. Some trauma survivors may not require, need, or want these kind of actions but some of us are still at a place where we become incapacitated in a very real way. Do not shame us for not being able to ‘pull up our bootstraps.’
  • Tell them you believe them. Again. Again.
  • Read or write a list of all the things you appreciate about us. Share it with us when we’re feeling down.
  • Do not force us to tell you what happened and give you a play-by-play.
  • Do not force us to to go therapy or to the police.
  • If we’re in therapy, offer to come with us – before, during, after, or offer to just zone out and watch a movie with us once we’ve had our session.
  • You may need to cancel a plan or two to support us when we need it. This isn’t always possible, but if a survivor in your life is having a serious panic attack/meltdown and wants a person to be there with them and that person is you, it means they trust you very much and need your support.
  • Be understanding when/if we need to cancel plans with you. We are not being a flake, we are trying to take care of ourselves and know our limits.
  • Take care of yourself. Supporting survivors is hard work and can take an emotional toll on support people, burning them out. Make sure you process with friends, a therapist, by going for a walk, whatever you need to do to take care of yourself.
  • Refuse to support rapists who you are friends with, or rapists who are celebrities, or rapists in your communities. Put survivors first in your words and in your actions, not just in your social media presence.
  • Talk to your fellow dudes and/or fake allies about why doing this work is so important. Teach others how they can help support survivors too.
Magic Musings Ritual

The Silence After Solstice: Old Fears, New Years

Solstice 2015 - Sabrina Scott - witchbody.com

Solstice marks the beginning of winter. We welcome in the fire.

On solstice we sat together – city witches all, if not every day, at least for a song – and into the fire we welcomed release. We sung together: “Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack / A crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

Release.

Fire festivals do not end with solstice; it’s where they start. How else can we keep ourselves warm this winter? We cultivate the fire that makes our souls what they are. Dynamic, passionate, propelled. We move forward. We reach up.

As we sit before the fire this season – flames within our hearts and upon our altars – we can ask: how did I get here? Usually, within the deepest crevices of our souls, I think we know.

Let your body spit it out. Walk into the fire. Let the flames engulf you and make you a new shape, molten. Kick the bullshit out of you for you. This can be a weapon for you to fight those shadows in yourself. Especially the shadows of others that we tuck inside of our folds, that we keep safe because the truth sometimes feels too dangerous, too potent. We keep it, though it is not ours. We steal trouble, because we think it is love. It is not. To internalize another is not love of self; in this act our shadows grow bigger, stronger. Shadows can grow enough that we fall into them; they hold us, rock us like a baby, arms wide and we wallow. We fall into our wounds like a well. What greater victory is there than to climb up and out of the inverted tower? What better time to escape enclosure?

Sometimes fears hold onto us like barnacles.

Sometimes to push away risk is to run in the wrong direction.

Sometimes comfort is the opposite of healing.

Sometimes speaking not-yet-true speech is like silent solitude. It can preserve the mystery of creation. This talk can guard the little seeds we plant, hopeful, against inevitable storms. To know, to will, dare, to keep silent. These are the rules of the witches, if indeed we have any at all.

Sometimes squishing yourself into that new mold of who you want to be and who you know you can be feels like a violence. Sometimes it hurts. But: sometimes safety is our enemy. Sometimes that constraint is a chrysalis. But: sometimes we manifest, through the dark, through hermit-being, through incubation. Go dark.

Sitting with darkness means going into our shadows. It means sitting with our disgust, our hatred, our complete lack of feeling impressed. Our apathy, our disappointment. Our anxieties. Our fears. Now is the time to explore those nasty sides of ourselves. Sit in darkness. Absorb it all, and let it go.

How was the longest night of the year for you? Did you incubate? Did the darkness serve you? Did it gather your shadows with each stride, did it cut them loose to save you from yourself? Or did the shadow shapes stifle and smother you with your own sadness and sorrow? Did you crack the concrete open? Or did you become free from the cave? Did you bathe in embers? Were you engulfed by flame? My dear witch: did you burn?

The hardest thing to do is to come into our own power. This is especially true for survivors of abuse and trauma and pain and loss. As people queer in gender and in sex. I can only speak to my own experience, but: so it is for me. It is hard to recognize that we are amazing. It is hard to realize that we have come so far. It is hard to be excited about having so much further to go. Often, we dwell in our shadows for too long. Or we ignore them. They kill us and yet they come from the space of self-protection, so we don’t have to come to terms with our strength and how easily we have forgotten it.

It is hard to face the fire.

It is hard to let the fire be within you, to notice how it is always already alight there, somewhere.

Let the fire be within you: on these long nights, as the light grows. Let it burn strong or dim, shimmering just beyond our gaze, just past fingertips’ reach as we seek inside.

Find it.

Sometimes to be reborn you have to die.

This is one of the most basic tenets of occultism, and perhaps one of the most misunderstood.

We move through the darkness.

Burn through the night.

Solstice 2015 - Sabrina Scott - witchbody.com

Where did that shadow take you? Where were you then, where are you now? What warmth did you dig up in that dark night forest, what did you find in the dirt, that soil of our souls? Thorough nightly toil, what did you bring forth? What embers did you let into the cracks that are new this time around – cracks you made, and cracks you came to fire to salve, forge shut? What tendrils of flame won’t take no for an answer? What pyre propels you? What hearth can’t you ignore no matter how much you try to banish it from your pores? What shape is your heart? Who is each artery and ventricle? How do they fan your flame, pump you pneumatic with life?

In the night, witch, do you fly?

This is deep work.

Cut deep. Dive.

In some ways I want to force my own hand upon myself. Violent. Force the lines on my parched skin to dry mud-caked in the desert sun. Break it open so heat can cover the cave of my insides, body, soul.

It brings me where I don’t want to go but where I need. I shine the light. I am darkness and crash lightning both; flash of life and pitch dark death right after. I hold them both inside me; they are not opposites but as close as flesh and blood, root and sap, one inside the other, mutualistic sustenance. We sing songs. Ecotone melody of care and chaos, enmeshed in harsh realization.

Sometimes to be reborn you have to die.

How will you die? What parts of you will you cut free? Systematic starvation. Controlled burn.

Holy Death. Ancestors call to us. Devils made and born, without and within and full of a resolute stillness, the kind that you can find at the crossroads at three am on a Monday night. Coins at the crossroads. Dropped white petals, howling. She changes everything she touches. Spit flame daggers, kill the beasts that follow us. So we stop dead, in our tracks, finally: our own tracks. It took us one hot minute to get here.

The silence after solstice. The hum of a new year. We set our intentions, we burn that effigy – our sins, our demons, our chains – and then what? Are we instantly saved, rejuvenated, healed? Is all we need to change our lives just throwing caution to the wind and some paper into the fire? That’s when it starts. We work. We speak our truths, present and future; hope is a little match burning bright, struck gold by sheer force of will. So we have the seeds, they’re planted just below the soil surface, somber, burnt umber. Underground. Work to do. Dig deep.

The horned one balances a never-ending candle flame. Third eye lights the way. Reminders of intentions. We, too, must grow horns, notice thorns already circling our crown. We see goat Capricorn, sea-goat, now: ruled by Saturn death-god, time-keeper. As the moon wanes to shroud us with more silence, dark again. Questions bubble up in the witches’ brew. Cauldron burns, cooks. Where is our intention? Can we speak it or are we afraid?

We can calm the tides. Cultivate connective tissue. Pacify ourselves in the tempest of our own fears. Burdens weigh less when shared. But it can be hard to share, to make that leap, to trust that when we jump across the chasm of vulnerability despite how fearful we are, that we will be caught, embraced in our brokenness, little glass shards loved and cherished.

The thing about jumping, though – over the chasm – is that you also jump over a fire. So much fire this season, all burning. Waiting to be found, kindled. More fire. Are you afraid to jump? Do you trust your own muscles and tendons? Do you trust your own skin and your bones? Do you trust in your own faith? Or: do you meet this opportunity to embrace change, challenge, contingency – with hesitancy in your heart, for no other reason than that you are afraid of yourself, new flesh, formed by flame?

I want to teach my body new tricks, trust myself to learn new ways of being, to expand, explore, to hold myself up, to move into the mystery. I want to be uncomfortable in my own skin. Fast and sudden. I use the sickle; it is the season. Blade sharp, it cuts. Release into fire, steel-shaped. Part sorcery part serendipity, I create molten molds. I leave space for the mystery, and manifest. Always changing, shifting behind the scenes. This is my magic. What is yours? What do you welcome?

Home is you. Union is yourself. Moon lessons, in the silence after solstice. To breathe with a whole body is not choice but a compulsion. Inhale, in, out, unfurl spirit. Otherwise we dance with spectres, bashful and bleak. Otherwise we shimmy to rhythms learned and memorized, not felt. Sometimes it rushes forth a little unwound sigh. Sometimes an eruption. Cherish the eruptions. Notice the baby steps. Honour them.

Forge your own path and you will never lose your way.

Witches, we walk into the fire. Witches, all: tell me about all the ways you burn. How your flesh curdles, your bones char. City witches, all, at least for a song.

Last night, I sung, alone: “Echo, echo Aradia / Echo, echo Hecate and Freya / We’ll teach our children / Year after year / To love with their hearts / And live without fear.”

I think back on solstice intentions. Were they the right ones? What to do now with this silence after solstice, what to do with these minutes, days, hours before the new year is born, old gone, dead. Water cools down, hardens, makes shapes solid. The intuition of flowing water stills what molten fire forges so it is stable and firm. Nothing hardens without being honed by such spirit. Water is our wholly dead showering us with a sometimes subtle often sudden reminder of who we are. Killed, dead, rotting in flame.

Sometimes to be reborn you have to die.

New year comes.

Welcome in the light.

Tend to the fire.

Forge your own path.

You will never lose your way.

Solstice 2015 - Sabrina Scott - witchbody.com

Academia Education Environment Illustration

New Report! Climate Change Education: Acting for Change

image by Sabrina Scott http://witchbody.com

I am pleased to announce the release of my first co-authored research report! It is called Climate Change Education: Acting for Change, and we intentionally set it forth into the world during the current climate talks in Paris. I also had the pleasure of illustrating and designing the report. It is a joint project of York University, Lakehead University, and the TD Friends of Environment Foundation. The report is co-authored by Steve Alsop, David Greenwood, Philip Vaughter, and myself.

Project convener (and one of my favourite people in the entire world) Steve Alsop writes:

The report emerged from a series of meetings with  teachers and researchers ­- all recognized as jurisdictional leaders in Climate Change Education. The teachers are all from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Ontario, Canada.

We release this report during the Global Leaders Conference of the Parties on Climate Change in Paris, France.  It has three goals, to: (i) recognize the profound importance of education as a response to climate change; (ii) share innovative school-based approaches to Climate Change Education, and (iii) make a series of recommendations for future policies and practices. It contains nine teaching practices and nine recommendations.

The report is a distinctively local contribution to the International Climate Change negotiations. We hope it inspires many other responses. It is designed for administrators, teachers and students. School-based Climate Change Education is so important and it deserves so much more of our attention and support.  We celebrate the multiplicity of ways that students, teachers, ENGOS, schools and school boards are responding to contemporary global changes.

You can download the 12-page report from the York University website:

Feel free to share and distribute the report link to anyone who may be interested!

Just for fun, here’s my illustration for the back cover of the report. This is my favourite kind of project (lots of nature and plants)!

image by Sabrina Scott http://witchbody.com

Musings Ritual

The End of Scorpio Season: On Loss and Letting Go

image-46

Scorpio season is always hard and I have to say I’m glad it’s over. Happy December, everybody.

Loss is so overwhelming. I almost don’t have the words to process it, to make sense of who I’ve been and where I am. Bright branches full of berries get cut to the ground without warning, sap blood limns the earth, sour and brown. Scythes and sickles struck abound, stuck. And: I wonder where the straight blades are, linear decisive cuts, wills wishing for things-in-particular, unwavering. I wonder, where is that clarity now? Surrounded by barren trees, gnarled branches and leaves whose lives have dried up, died, I wonder.

The compulsion to be with others to process grief contrasts sharply with a knee-jerk reaction to be utterly and completely alone, kick even my cats out of my bedroom so I can sit on my perch and look outside with only my eyes. I vomit it up. I show it here in a way that is private public, us both writing and reading alone in our bedrooms, on our phones. We come to meet each others’ words when we are ready, when we know we have the headspace to hear. It is important to rip up my abdomen for you to see the insides. I must do this. We are all going through something. I can feel it in the air, taste it in my brittle bones. I Inhale crisp fall breath of the earth. I exhale angry heat into my cold room. I lay it out there.

It can be hard to shine when haunted by dreams of possible futures, when you wake up having heard almost-made knocks on the door, like answers to questions you never asked and only thought about. It all comes back. There are certain things I say and I know: that was so-and-so inside my flesh; a body-memory of a person I have been. I remember each moment of mannerism. Sometimes we take others into ourselves like a sickness. It makes our stomach churn, confused; we spit it back up, up. Loss.

It’s not your mind or your hands: no; process roots in the stomach; we gestate, begin to become born. Birth comes first from the belly: we ingest, we process, we churn, turn it over this way and that. Absorb it into our selves until the boundaries between one and the other are a blur. We get rid of it. We wonder who we are between all of what we take in and all that we expel. A shape, a form with our mark and those of unseen hands, too; shaped, shaping. We have let something inside of ourselves and we let it out again, like a sigh. Surrender. Let it go.

Things cut away. People, habits, places, lifelines, support systems. We lose it and it is gone, and: we lose it. Sometimes we see it float away in a stream and sometimes it’s just gone and we are left with the sudden shock of theft.

How can we find our way after loss? We can notice mystery once more. Loss asks us, please: embrace and welcome me, like an old friend. Loss, too, can be a gift, once you wade through the grieving. Loss shows us. Its power is in exposure – it touches us and we feel fleshless, more than nude. Bodies shift in ways seen and unseen; all of a sudden slipped away; gone. Left. And here we are, still. Silent.

Listen: we can find liberation here, in this hollow place. It is there, intrinsic; a whole hole can be a space made new. Our organs slip and slide, compensate: mundane aliens assembling themselves, redecorate: become home, until next time. We can concoct new rituals. Run in different directions. Defer to the mystery. And let go.

I did a reading that said:

Go deep within, alone and quiet. Face your demons: in being broken lies completion. Forgive yourself and also whoever brought you here.

I did a reading that said:

Find your flame and let it breathe. You have lost it but it is there. Find it. Find it. Let the fire carry you, warm, held: touched and untouched. You are safe.

I did a reading that said:

Don’t spend time with those who would rather you extinguish your fire so that they can feel big. In revolt and also for yourself:

Shine bright.

Magic Musings Ritual

Halloween Magic: Little Rituals, Love, and the Holy Dead

Halloween 2015 - Sabrina Scott

Sometimes doing magic looks like caring for someone you love.

I am one of those people who likes to honour holy days with quietness: silence and solitude are some of my nearest and dearest friends. Sometimes my desire for reflection, of taking the time to notice the astrological and energetic tides waxing and waning with luminary bodies fills my bones with a yearning I can’t describe. And still: someone I love needs something, needs me. Needs time. Mundane and simple, banal and basic. It’s easy to say no. But: it is also some real magic to abandon my altar and magical books and gemstones for the night. To snuff out my candles. Sometimes, when I ignore my altar and the trappings of perfect astrological timing – when I follow the mercurial currents of life – I am choosing a different, less obvious magic. I am choosing a more subtle witchcraft.

These are the things that fill my thoughts. How do we remain true to practice, to our hearts? How to prevent the fossilization of angels within our witchcraft and within our waking and walking, our wandering and wondering? I notice find tradition. Ritual, repeated. A tradition not because the paths are are old and oft-trod but because they speak and I listen. I hear with my heart.

Ritual:

For the second year in a row, I spent the first few hours of October 31st in the tattoo studio of an artist, occultist, and human I deeply respect, getting little occult-themed tattoos in red and black ink for a Devil’s night special of $66.60. I find such comfort in this, in staying up until 4am once a year, in mirth and also in reverence.

Also:

Altar cleared; re-built. Candles lit. Herbs, oils, brews; anointed objects whispers spoken, drifting in between here and there and life and death and: listening. Giving food to my protectors, those who nourish. Those ancestors I feel, room warm and tingly. Cats silent and still; they look with their whiskers and they too know the presence of the dead. Sometimes, it seems they feel it before I do.

I listen to the dead. I make space for them. I write. I see my own heart and feel my soul. I let my body become overtaken, I say words I channel I write without knowing what I will read later. I make space for them.

It’s that time of year.

At the time of this writing, just barely between the last two harvests of the season. Blood harvest. I’m not sure why it took me so long to realize that my most holy time of year – Samhain, Halloween, All Hallows, All Saints – occurs while the sun is in Scorpio. No wonder this energy is so violent, transformative: full of kind wrath and death and decay and change; no wonder our collective insides are ripped out every year right around now so we can remove the rot. If we know how to be we are reborn fresh and carry less upon our shoulders and balanced upon our heads. We cut some flesh from our souls so we can walk a few pounds lighter, back straighter, steps more confident but still whispers in the dark. We ride the current.

Waves crest; peak.

Scythes and sickles hearken to harvest. We love the flesh and blood and the dearly departed; companions with breath and without. We reap. We sow. We give thanks.

No wonder this is when we feel most strongly pushed to honour our dead, to thank our ancestors for their guidance and presence and remind them that we are still here. We place water on our altars and anoint our necks and foreheads and we ask them to speak. We strain our skin to see. We squeeze our eyes shut to feel.

After I sleep and wake and the sun sets again, I walk amongst the pumpkins, carved candles burning bright. I collect orange leaves and red ones and green.

We limn the liminal. We fill our homes with flame so the spirits can find their way, feast upon ghost corn of pomegranate, pepper, clementine. Ghost feast, share secrets. Listen: feel gratitude. Listen: flow, don’t fight. You have everything you need.

Happy harvest and holy days, witchy friends.

May your spirit be peaceful and your dead be talkative.

Books Events

Thank You For a great Toronto Queer Zine Fair & Canzine 2015!

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My sincerest and most humble gratitude to everyone at the Toronto Queer Zine Fair today. I never thought I would find my people, but when I table here I know I did. I have never felt anything like it. Thank you to all of the volunteers I never got to meet, but whose efforts no doubt shaped my experience. Thank you to organizers Eddie, Geoff, and Yasmeeen. Thank you so much to whoever found and brought me an Advil – I have no idea where it came from, but because of that Advil I could stay for the rest of the fair. Thank you to Terah Li, Kieran Meyn, and Brad Casey who were my moral support and strength throughout the day. You are angels, all of you! Thank you to everyone who came out, who showed me your good vibes and smiles and belief in what I do.

Thank you to my wonderful assistant, who tabled for me at Canzine – his first zine/comics/art fair ever – all by his lonesome because the fairs were scheduled at exactly the same time and I could not be in two places at once. If that’s not love, I’m not quite sure what is.

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Thank you to everyone who has purchased Witchbody so far. It is such a vulnerable work for me and so it has been a blessing to have the response be so positive. It has only been out for a week and already I am 37% sold out. I had 300 copies in the first (and only, so far) print run, and within one week there are only 189 copies left. Thank you! I feel blessed.

And: a final thank you to everyone whose work inspires me so much, who I am happy to be in community with – however near or far – and creating alongside, even if we all do it by ourselves at home with our cats. It is so nice to come out of hiding and see what everyone has been working on, take it home, and cuddle up to read it.

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Photos from top to bottom: Toronto Queer Zine fair, by Sabrina Scott; Canzine by Adrien Benson; TQZF haul of sweet goodies by Sabrina Scott