Saturday, December 3, 2011

Jana Miller Bone Lust Interview on Postal Treats

A couple years ago I had a nice feature online about my use of bones in my art, jewelry and photography. That domain recently went dead so I'm duplicating it here since it answers a lot of questions I'm frequently asked.

BONELUST - Self Portrait with White-tailed Deer Skull 3 - Ver2 B&W

Jana Miller lives in the humid south, where she turns dead things into beautiful pieces of art. Miller combines osteology with metal in a way that is fresh and plain old badass. Unlike the Fox program, she is the real Bones, hunting her personal property for remains to upcycle into something wearable. Her connection with nature is fascinating, so go ahead. Read on.

Tell me, when did you very first start making art?

I honestly don't remember a time not making art. I imagine as soon as I could hold a crayon or paintbrush I was doing it. I even taught art at Summer camps to other children. I've dabbled in so many mediums over the years because I want to try out everything. Ceramics on and off the potters wheel, photography (since I was 7), upcycled mixed media from found items into 3-D pieces, watercolors, india ink, airbrushing, clothing and interior design, jewelry, silkscreen, and just about every possible type of paint, pen, pencil or crayon.

The Hand Sees All - 2

How would you describe the kind of jewelry you make now? And how is it different from taxidermy?

Well taxidermy is the lack of bones. Creating a stuffed version of the animal form from just the outer layer of fur, scales or feathers of that creature. My jewelry often includes those bones that a taxidermist might dispose of. I collect, clean, whiten and sanitize the bones and teeth I use in my jewelry. In self taught processes.

The end result varies. Snake vertebrae elegantly flowing on a vintage silver chain necklace. A number of different animal jaws with teeth mostly in tact paired with vintage charms create pendants. And my little natural history corked glass vials with bones, teeth, porcupine quills, shark teeth and other things from nature in them. What I make depends on what bones I have at the time.

Large Glass Vial  Pendant: Mammal Tail Bones & Vintage Virgin Mary Charm

How did you discover a process for working with bones?

I've been collecting bones, insects and other things from nature since I was seven. My processes for everything involved in collecting and cleaning these things were self taught from trial, error and common sense. As the years go on though I still learn new things and have met quite a few people to discuss these things with to learn from. With the birth of the internet there was a wealth of knowledge to be gained on a topic that is otherwise shunned.

Are there any kind of bones that are impossible to use in your art? Why or why not?

For my art, no. It doesn't have any limits. My found items creations right now are rather small but they don't have to be. In a sense, my entire home is an art piece. The jewelry perhaps may be limited by the size/shape of some bones though.

Is there a big circle of artisans who work with bones, the same way you do?

As the years go on things like this become more accepted by the mainstream, just as say tattoos have become VERY normal now compared to how they were perceived 10 years ago. As that happens the amount of artists grow in size as well. Some have been in the closet in a sense with no one to share their work with while others are just jumping on the bandwagon to make a buck.

I've certainly noticed a boom lately in things normally thought of as weird being given a chance to mingle with the norm. One example would be the new reality tv series "Oddities", which is about a shop in NY that's been on my wish list to visit for a long time now, Obscura Antiques.

There is also a growing fad the last few years of interior decorating with taxidermy, science specimens, natural history items, bones and other related items. Every one of my homes as always looked this way. Often jokingly referred to by friends as "Jana's Museum".

As a lifelong collector and creator of things not accepted by the norm I can tell who has passionately created a piece of art/jewelry and who has a cookie cutter system in hopes of making a quick sale, but not actually getting their hands dirty. Thankfully for the time being this is mostly still a small group of dedicated artists. I'd really rather not see my life's passion become the next fad at Hot Topic.

What other materials do you enjoy working with?

Vintage and found items are favorites for sure. Lately the focus of my mixed media art are items found on my property. Things of nature like moss, fungi, bark, insects. leaves, vines, thorns, seed pods and etc. I love working art pieces and ones that move. So I often use shadow boxes and different types of containers that open and close.

Key to Life - White 1 - Open (better shot)

I read on your blog that your love for your work stems from equal admiration of nature and science. What books and blogs can you recommend for people with the same interests?

Well actually, I made my BoneLust blog because there isn't much else out there like it. The topic of death is still heavily shunning in our society, and my work is often closely tied in with that.

I regularly get quite a few questions from people who are interested in starting to collect bones so I figured I'd put my experience out there for everyone to read. I plan on posting more technical HowTo blogs up in the future to answer more specific questions about the processes I use.

There are a lot of related blog/photo links at my blog in the realm of bone collecting/preparing, taxidermy, anatomy, science, art, fashion, movies and music.

A group of Flickr friends of mine that regularly discuss the photos of our finds, collections and art created "The Bone Collectors" message board this past Spring but it is honestly pretty inactive now.

Hoping it picks up again as more people join.

I am on the email list for one blog I can highly suggest - Morbid Anatomy

As for books, I suggest checking out The Morbid Anatomy Library and Cabinet in person if possible.

Or online, The Morbid Anatomy Bookstore on

What has been your favorite find so far?

On Christmas day last year I went out for a walk with my two dogs in the woods with the intention of finding some bones. This is what I found:

BONELUST - Christmas Day Found Wild Boar Head & Jaw 1

The remains of a huge male wild boar after a hunter took what he wanted. The skull was fully intact and after many months of processing I now have the most beautiful perfect skull in my collection. I don't have a final photo but here it is part way through the cleaning process:

BONELUST - giantwildboarskyllprep1

What albums and bands are you into right now?

Music is right up there with art/photography and bone collecting as far as things go that have always been a part of my life. I have an extremely wide range of music I like and go to shows as often as possible. I also specialize in live music photography.

(Yea, MySpace is dead but that's where I posted my show photoblogs for years.)

Lately I've been listening to the last Zoroaster release "Matador" as well as Karp, Red Sparowes, Tim Barry, Drag the River, Dark Castle, Black Cobra, Torche, Chris Wollard & the Ship Thieves, and the Conor Oberst solo albums and side projects.


Related Updates & Interview Followup:

Bone Group - The Bonelust Collective

I wanted to add that since I had this interview I started my own intimate bone group on Facebook that has a focus on animal/human bone processing and collecting, taxidermy and wunderkammer collections. It is for hardcore enthusiasts of these topics. To the degree that I'd consider them more to be lifestyles than hobbies. Not for the squeamish as there are regularly photos of dead animals posted to it. As many of the collector process their own roadkill or hunter dumped remains. Nor is it a group for people that just aimlessly "like" stuff on Facebook and join groups only to sit in the background and watch others. I keep the group active, intimate and organized with a focus on learning. If you think this sounds like something you're up for add me on my Facebook profile and email with your interest to join. I currently have nearly 60 members with many outside the United States.

The Bone Reader

As for music I now work at a music site, The Bone Reader, as Assistant to Editor, Den Mother and Staff Photographer. Yes, I found the name quite fitting too.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Extracting Teeth From Bone

Besides bones, I mostly use teeth in my jewelry and art.

The necklace seen in my banner above was made nearly 20 years ago from my own wisdom teeth. Yes, I sometimes use human teeth but they are a lot harder and more expensive to come by than most other animal teeth. I recently acquired a vial of 47 vintage human teeth. Sadly because of their poor condition most can not be used. But stay tuned for the rest in upcoming creations.

BONELUST - 47 Vintage Human Teeth

I usually get my animal teeth from partial skulls and broken jaws. Which sadly is often the case for most roadkill. Here is a selection of those before I cleaned them and removed the teeth. Animals range from elk and wild boar to dog... some human teeth pictured as well.

BONELUST - Prepping for "Nothing But Teeth" Project 4
Click for larger view.

Now you don't want to just grab a pair of pliers and start pulling. That's a good way to chip the enamel, break off the roots or break the jaw (if it is one you wish to keep intact).

I dropped all of the partial skulls/jaws in a crock pot of water and slow cooked them for a couple days on the lowest setting. Topping off the water as it cooked off. If you don't have a crock pot you can still do it on the stove. But it works best in a crock pot because you want a constant low heat, not a rolling boil.

Otherwise it may cause the enamel to chip and teeth to break in half. Also take into consideration that if the skull/jaw has been outside for a long time, very old, very porous or buried a while it is going to be more brittle. Believe me, I found out the hard way about these things. This is a process not to be rushed!

Here is an Elk tooth that became very brittle after getting too hot for too long. I had found it buried out West in Colorado and no telling how long it had been there. Much of the roots broke off and the enamel is now chipping away.

BONELUST - Huge Tooth from Unknown Animal - Possibly Elk

After a couple days of crock pot cooking the bone should become soft and brittle. Most of those skulls/jaws pictured above were quite old, sun bleached and porous so they started to fall apart quite easily and I ended up with this:

BONELUST - Prepping for "Nothing But Teeth" Project 2

After you're done cooking pour the bone/tooth stew through a strainer into your sink and rinse a bit to slightly cool the bones/teeth just enough so that you can handle them. Now while still warm quickly start working on getting the teeth out of any remaining bone with pliers. I found it easier to pull the teeth out and tear apart the bone while it was still warm and wet. You don't want the bones to cool completely or dry. The bone will tighten around the teeth again.

BONELUST - Prepping for "Nothing But Teeth" Project 3

You know you have cooked long enough when the bone is soft enough to smash and break with pliers. Be careful when pulling the teeth, you can chip the enamel if you squeeze too tightly or break the roots if the bone is not soft enough. Don't forget there are really long roots on some teeth so you want to be careful where you crush into the bone.

Here is a much harder and newer wild boar jaw that was slow cooked for two days. You can see that it is much more solid than those bones above. When breaking apart bone like this you want to be careful not to cut your hands with sharp bones pieces. It is quite possible and nearly happened to me plenty of times before.

BONELUST - This Won't Hurt A Bit

I carefully started by pulling some teeth at the front of the jaw out. Wiggling them and cutting away at the bone with pliers until they came out with ease. After a few teeth were removed the jaw split in half beautifully exposing the roots.

BONELUST -  Getting to the Root of Things

I worked up the jaw on both sides this way. The teeth in back just needed a secure tug with pliers and they came out once enough bone was removed. Once you have your teeth out give them a good rinse and lay them out of a towel to dry. If you want them whiter drop them in a hydrogen peroxide and water bath until they are the color you like.

BONELUST - That's One Way To Do It

I also have extensive experience in tooth extraction because of a previous photo project I started in 2008 - "Nothing But Teeth."

This photo series started as a project for a band's album artwork and continues because of my love for teeth.

BONELUST - Wisdom Lost 1

BONELUST - Nothing But Teeth 1b BONELUST - Nothing But Teeth 4b
BONELUST - Nothing But Teeth 9a BONELUST - For the Love of Teeth

You can see my whole "Nothing But Teeth" Photo Set HERE.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Starting Over, Learning Anew

So I've been going thru a bit of culture shock the last several months. I moved from deep in the undisturbed country to the middle of where I honestly thought I'd never find myself again... suburbia.

I went from no neighbors, fences or paved roads ... to prying eyes, having to hear the business of others at any given moment and pretty much an entire lack of privacy. I can't even seem to go outside most days to enjoy some fresh air without someone wanting to know who I am or what I'm doing.

I previously lived in nearly pure privacy for over 8 years and didn't talk to anyone unless I wanted. Don't get me wrong I'm exceptionally friendly. Especially with complete strangers. Most times I'm standing in line at the grocery store or post office I start talking to someone else in line.

But my privacy and freedom have always been very important to my well being... and now I rarely have either.

As a person that collects the remains of animals to use in art, jewelry or for display... my life has become especially limiting. And I have to relearn many things because of these new limits.

Before, I could have an entire deer carcass on my property and nobody would flinch at the smell. Now, anything larger than a squirrel would attract far too much attention from the 4 neighboring houses so closely backed up to the short chain linked fence.

So far, all carcasses I've put in the back yard have been taken by an opossum or raccoon. So I have to figure out how to resolve that without having a big cage like I did in the country. That's not something that's socially accepted by the neighbors here I'm sure. Plus, there are small children in the yard. That's right, I'm also trying to adjust to being an instant Mommy figure... to two twin 3-year-old girls. My boyfriend's girls.

For a suburban area there is an abnormally large amount of nature here compared to say where I grew up. I'm especially in awe with the low flying vultures everywhere. I find myself trying to make a mental note of where I see them roadside eating roadkill. In hopes of coming back to get the remains.

I did just that recently when I hopped onto my bike with many plastic bags in tow. I went alongside train tracks that also ran parallel a main two lane road into the center of town. I headed out fairly late in the day to minimize the heat and sun.

BONELUST - Along the Tracks View

Within five minutes I found the remains of the opossum I saw a vulture eating weeks previous. If only I had got to them before the big city lawnmowers they' be in better shape and the skull might still be around.

BONELUST - Along the Tracks: Opossum Bones

There had also been a lot of severe thunderstorms and torados in the area so much of the smaller remains were lost in the sand.

BONELUST - Along The Tracks: Opossum Spine

This particular area was covered with hundreds of tiny armadillo bone plates (or skutes). But just too many and too small to pick up.

Just beyond this I found what I thought at first was the spine and ribs of a small mammal. But then realized it was a small part of the remains of a fish skeleton. I found four more sets of remains of fish on my trek along the tracks that day. Mostly at the bottom of large telephone poles. Which makes perfect sense because I see Osprey flying overhead frequently with fish in their talons. I imagine they sit atop the poles and eat their catch there before dropping it.

BONELUST - Along the Tracks: Fish

Funny, because only a day earlier a friend brought me the remains of what he thought for sure was a reptile skull. Which I quickly figured out was only part of a large catfish. He found it on a sidewalk in the middle of town so no surprise he didn't think it was a fish.

I also saw several animal dens going under the tracks. I wondered what kind of creature lived in them because I saw no fur or tracks.

BONELUST - Along the Tracks: Animal Den

Sadly I think that question was soon answered when I found the remains of a large tortoise (or turtle?) that looked as if it was traveling down the tracks when it was hit by a train.

BONELUST - Along the Tracks: Turtle or Tortoise Shell

Nearby were the remains of a vulture that appeared to also have been struck by a train.. perhaps while eating the remains of the tortoise. But that's likely just a coincidence. What are the chances?

BONELUST - Along the Tracks: Wings

Amazingly there were only feathers and some skin left behind of the vulture. No head, beak, bones or feet. Something really stripping it clean. Not that I'd pick it up anyway since it is illegal to have, being a protected species of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The ride home was quite stunning for suburbia.

BONELUST - Along the Tracks: Sunset & Bike

BONELUST - Along the Tracks: Sunset

And when I really looked at my bags of loot I didn't do too bad.

BONELUST - Along the Tracks: Finds

The remains of several opossum, 4 various fish, tortoise shell/bones and possibly various cat/dog/raccoon/rabbit/deer bones. I realized afterwards that I need to make this bike ride more frequently if I want to get the remains before they are damage or taken. Plus, there's a LOT more of those tracks I can explore. This was all found only after a couple miles!

So while I can't process my roadkill finds like I did out in my country home, I do have options. Finding bones mostly flesh free hurries the process and I don't have to have large carcasses in the yard.

I now have these remains in two different sealed containers. One has water and fleshy bones that need to rot off to nothing but bones. The other has the mostly flesh free remains that are soaking to clean and whiten in a dish soap, water and peroxide bathe.

Fingers crossed this works without a terrible smell coming into the house.