Author Archives: BethShepherd

About BethShepherd

I am a visual artist, art history student, volunteer and business owner. Through my art I advocate for farm animal rights, protection of the environment, and social justice. Always active in the community, I try to "leave the campsite cleaner," a motto I learned in my childhood.

Plot 46: Beans, Beetles, and the Soil Biome

For two growing seasons I planted and maintained my 400 square foot allotment at Maple Hill Urban Farm. According to my master plan (see earlier post), the second year was about exploration of the underground soil food web – the unterwelt. In learning what the soil food web comprised, I realized there was more healthy soil than all things underground. The plants are the source of energy that fuels the food web though the root exudates. In return the soil takes up water and nutrients that the soil organisms produce or release. Beetles represent the life forms that occupy both above and below ground spaces, depending in their life stages. So I changed my title of second phase from Unterwelt to Beans, Beetles, and the Soil Biome. I have so much to learn about and to picture in my art, that I know I will remain in phase two for at least another year.

Meanwhile I am participating in a bookbinding swap with ten members of the local chapter of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild (CBBAG-OV). This year’s theme is “a special place.” Since I am spending a lot of time at the farm during growing season and even more time in off season learning and researching about regenerative organic agriculture and the like, I thought that plot 46 was, indeed, my special place. These four images each 5X10 inches have been printed and constructed into an accordion format for exchange.

This spring we will exchange our “signatures” – the name given to a group of pages in bookbinding lingo. Other than size and theme, anything goes. Each of the ten swappers will receive ten signatures to be bound into a unique artist book. Later in the year we will meet for the big reveal of the bound books.

Plot 46 Year 1: A Year of Regenerative Gardening

For the last year I have been working on an art-science project experimenting with regenerative agriculture at the Maple Hill Urban Farm on Moodie Drive, Ottawa. Last April I applied for and was assigned plot 46, an abandoned 40 X 10 weed-covered allotment in the community garden section of the farm. Plot 46 became my eponymous art-science project. 

My project has three goals: 

  1. “Return to the soil” to learn and practice regenerative agriculture. 
  2. Document my progress through art and writing.
  3. Produce some wonderful fresh food! 
Plot 46 on June 3, 2022


Regenerative agriculture is not a short-term undertaking. When I launched the Plot 46 Project, I understood it to be a multi-year commitment. Each year I want to take a different perspective on Plot 46 for my research and art. In year 1 I looked at Plot 46 from the eyes of the gardener. I researched regenerative gardening through the changing seasons and I made a series of traditional landscape prints of my plot, as seen in the Plot 46 Year 1 postcard.

Plot 46 Year 1 – A Pastoral Landscape

When I started out, I thought regenerative agriculture, or more correctly in my case, no-till gardening, would be easy. I learned many lessons in the year, the main one being that even no-till gardening is really hard work! I have prepared a project manuscript reflecting on my first year, describing my research, hands-on gardening experiences throughout the seasons, the many lessons I learned, and my preliminary plans for the year ahead. I also talk about printmaking and the pastoral landscape series. Click here to read the document.

I am anxious to begin the second year at Plot 46. The rental agreement has been signed and paid for, I have received my seed order, and have many seedlings popping up around the house as I await May 24 – our traditional planting day in Ottawa. 

Plot 46 at the beginning of April (2023)
Cherry Tomato Seedlings in newspaper pots

Year of the Rabbit

Beth Shepherd, Three Rabbits–Ready, Set, Go!, Drypoint Prints

It’s time to be ready set go to “be the hope, be the light, be the love starting right now …”

from the song Ready, Set, Go by Royal Tailor 

The “Year of the Rabbit” started January 22, 2023 (Chinese New Year) and lasts until February 9, 2024. In the Chinese zodiac, Rabbit is the fourth animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac signs. According to a China travel guide, “the rabbit is a tame creature representing hope and life for a long time. It is tender and lovely. The moon goddess Chang’e in the Chinese legend has a rabbit as her pet, which stimulates the thought that only this creature is amiable enough to match her noble beauty.”

I created my Rabbit suite in 2013.  As a suite, they are called Ready – Set — Go! The first one – Ready or Rabbit I – takes after a large rabbit I had in my early twenties whom I called Bunny. Bunny was intrepid! After fathering many bunny babies, he became a documentary film star, and then retired to the country where he lived out a long and happy rabbit life.

I produced this suite of three drypoint rabbit images for a group exhibition called Just Animals that I co-curated at the Ottawa-Gatineau Printmakers Connective Gallery in 2013. The theme “just animals” can be interpreted in a number of ways, the most obvious that artists were being invited to submit prints with the subject of animals. From an animal advocacy perspective, it could also be a call for justice for animals. On a more philosophic level, just animals calls into question our perception of animals in relationship to humans. How many times have you heard “Oh, they’re just animals”? Animals today fulfill many roles: companion animals, food for humans, prey for predators, pests or threats, spectacles in shows and media (such as a magicians’ rabbit out of the hat), or just co-inhabitants of our neighbourhoods. Rabbits are interesting critters in that they fill all these roles.

Rabbits are known for their reproductive abilities – just think of Australia’s rabbit problem after the introduction of the European rabbit in 1859 so they could be hunted for sport (1). Despite the 200 million feral rabbits wreaking havoc in Australia, they are under ecological pressure in their native territories, as are many of the 108 lagomorph species on Earth (2). Lagomorphs (rabbits, hares and picas) are often keystone prey for other animals.

Happy Year of the Rabbit!

(1) National Geographic Society, “How European Rabbits Took Over Australia.”

(2) Emma Sharratt, “In the Year of the Rabbit, spare a thought for all these wonderful endangered bunny species,” The Conversation, January 19, 2023,

Cattle In Print, the Changing Pastoral – The Video

I have been working on the topic of Cattle in Print, the Changing Pastoral, since taking a curatorial studies course in 2015. (Please refer to my earlier post to see my “virtual exhibition” resulting from my course research.) I find this topic so fascinating that I have returned to it a number of times — giving talks at Queens University, Carleton University, RIA, and most recently at the Northeast Popular Culture Association annual conference held in October 2022. My presentation was in the NRPCA Animals and Culture stream, chaired by Donna Varga of Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, NS. The Animal in Culture stream explores the complex and multifaceted intersections between animals, animal representations, society and popular culture. It is wonderful to have found a community of like-minded academics and artists who really do believe that animals are valid subjects of art, research, and academic discourse.

I decided to make a video of my presentation. You can see it here.


Looking at art and visual culture through an ecocritical lens can shed light on humanity’s changing relationship with nature and the non-human world over the centuries leading up to our present planetary challenges. Framed in ecocritical art history, the paper examines the interplay between the visual representation of cattle and country life in the medium of the pastoral print and the implementation of modern agricultural systems. Rooted in antiquity, the pastoral representation of idyllic nature has soothed, amused and ameliorated anxieties over the centuries. With the Renaissance and the rise of mercantilism, printmaking, which is an artform of multiples, made the pastoral image available to wider audiences. With the socio-economic changes brought about by the agricultural and industrial revolutions in the 17th to 19th centuries and beyond, the popular pastoral print continued to wield political power by romanticising nature and idealizing forms of agriculture already obsolete. Since the mid 20th century and the “green revolution,” the pastoral trope, has been regarded as quaint and obsolete. Nevertheless, it remains ubiquitous and so ingrained in culture that it can no longer be detected. Promoted in literature, visual culture and advertising, the pastoral trope continuously bombards adult and child audiences, reinforcing outmoded values and a sense of entitlement. While some contemporary artists and ecocritical writers are working towards changing the visual rhetoric, the pastoral trope remains deeply entrenched in Western visual culture and an obstacle to mounting a collective response to climate change.

Bee Armageddon Suite

I created the Bee Armageddon Suite in 2014 but have never included them in a web post. Last weekend (Sunday, June 19, 2022) I participated in the Britannia Village Arts Crawl. In addition to some of my recent printwork and a make-your-own-art table, I displayed a few panels of posters from the RIALinks Passion to Action exhibition held at the Shenkman Arts Centre this spring (see Climate Change: Passion to Action on Instagram). I decided to display my Bee Armageddon Suite to build on the theme of activist art. There are four pieces: What is happening to the bees?, Bee Begone, Pink Parathione, and CCD: Colony Collapse Disorder. The medium is appropriate to the theme, being faux encaustic, that is simulated beeswax.

A partial view of the set up in our garage at the Britannia Village Arts Crawl

These pieces garnered quite a lot of interest from visitors making their way through the village due both to the relevance of the subject but also the technique I used – the faux encaustic effect created by building up countless layers of acrylic with imbedded image transfers and collaged materials. To get the cloudy effect of beeswax, I used a formula of two drops Golden interference blue and one drop of iridescent gold fine in roughly two ounces or 60 millilitres of gel matte. One has to be patient to allow the layers to dry.

Bee Armageddon Suite (What is happening to the bees? Bee Begone, Pink Parathione, and CCD: Colony Collapse Disorder)

My motivation for creating this series in 2014 was the rising controversy over the cause of death of so many honey bees with chemical companies strongly denying any responsibility. My updated research on the state of the industrialized honey bee and other pollinators follows.

“Pesticide” is a term for a group of chemicals designed to kill unwanted organisms such as weeds, insects, mites, and pathogens, like bacteria and fungus, that cause disease in horticultural and agricultural settings. Unfortunately, many agricultural pesticides can be toxic to bees and other insects essential for pollination of agricultural crops and for the functioning of ecosystems.

There are over 800 species of bees in Canada and the honey bee of the Apis genus is not one of them – it is an alien species brought by European immigrants along with their form of agriculture. Today mega honey bee colonies are managed by humans for honey production and increasingly for use as pollinators in the agri-business.

First observed in 2006-07, Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) is the phenomenon that occurs when a large number worker bees disappear or die outside the hive leading to the eventual death of the colony. Controversies arose over what caused CCD — the presence of mites and disease, stress, changing weather patterns and pesticides were all implicated.

Over the years various chemical pesticides have been implicated:

  • Parathions – Sublethal doses of an organophosphorus insecticide, Methyl Parathion (MeP), were found to disturb the foraging behaviour of honeybees (Ref).
  • Neonics – A neonicotinoid pesticide affect the central nervous system of insects, leading to eventual paralysis and death. Sublethal doses also affect foraging behaviours (Ref).
  • Gyphosate (AKA Roundup) Gyphosate, designed to kill weeds, is the most widely used pesticide in history. The herbicide has been shown to be lethal to bees and other pollinators (Ref).

While parathion and neoniconoids have been subject to increasing restrictions, gyphosate are not regulated and their use is widespread in the U.S. and Canada.

Today scientists agree that a multitude of factors – industrialized monoculture, the use of chemicals, fragmentation and loss of habitat, invasive species, disease, and climate change – all present a real and present danger for bees and other insect pollinators.

Both our native pollinators and industrialized honey bees are threatened by our human activities – especially those related to the production of our food. What action can you take to stop it?

Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose — Toe Tag Prints

Many printmakers are concerned about climate change and environmental degradation and seek to use lower-impact materials and processes. The Ottawa Gatineau Printmakers Collective, to which I belong, has been experimenting using a variety of reused or refuse materials, making images with heat-treated potato chip bags, drypoints with tetra paks and plastic food packaging, and collagraphs and collages with all sorts of reused materials. We have an opportunity to showcase some of our work in “Creative Reuse in Printmaking,” a vitrine exhibition to be held at the Shenkman Arts Centre, 245 Centrum Blvd Orleans from February 23 to May 29, 2022. The prints in the exhibition will incorporate strong elements of reuse, recycling or repurposing in the process of creating a printed piece of artwork. I have submitted two pieces to the show.

My Fascination with Toe Tags

Every two weeks I get local organic vegetable orders from Bryson Farms. My orders come with wired manilla labels carrying delivery information on one side. Always morbidly intrigued with “toe tags” in the morgue pictured in coroner, medical examiner and crime scene investigation shows on TV, I have accumulated quite a stack of these just awaiting inspiration. Finally, I got to use them.

Who said he was an Ox?
Polyester litho on reused toe tags glued to paper
9X12 inches

I made the first toe tag print Who said he was an Ox? in 2020 at the Ottawa School of Art just before lockdown. I had fun with the stylized motifs showing a bull and his unfortunate companions. I used a technique called polyester litho to print on a substrate made by adhering toe tags onto a sheet of paper. The underlying message of the artwork is that eating a beef-rich diet is not only bad for the animal, but bad for human health resulting in many premature deaths, and as ell as a major cause in the degradation of planetary support systems.

Ten Little Piggie Toe Tags
Linocut stencils printed on reused toe tags (joined with masking tape)
10.5 x 12.75 inches

The idea for Ten Little Piggie Toe Tags came out of a discussion relating to the anthropocentric representation of animals in children’s stories. For generations, children have learned to love the Three Little Pigs, Porky Pig, Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web, Babe, Peppa and many more while still eating pork. Children have no idea what the real lives of pigs in factory farms entails and adults ignore it.

What parent hasn’t played the “This little piggie” toe game with their kids? The original nursery rhyme goes like this:

This little piggy went to market
This little piggy stayed home
This little piggy had roast beef
This little piggy had none
This little piggy cried “wee wee wee” all the way home

I came across an interesting note that Latin names for each toe had been proposed based on the nursey rhyme:
• Big toe — porcellus fori (piglet at market)
• Second toe — porcellus domi (piglet at home)
• Third toe — porcellus carnivorous (meat-eating piglet)
• Fourth toe — porcellus non voratus (piglet that has not eaten)
• Fifth toe — porcellus plorans domum (piglet crying all the way home)

To make my toe tag piggies I used some soft lino pieces I had in my studio to carve out stencils, which I printed onto the toe tags using Akua ink.

Curly Toe

You will observe that the fourth piggy on each foot is curled on its side. This is because I used my feet as a model when making this piece. I have curly toes, a common deformity consisting of flexion and medial deviation of the toe, most commonly seen bilaterally in the third and fourth toes. See link for more information.

2020 Rat of the Year: Who are you calling Vermin?

According to the Worldometer, the human population is over 7.83 billion at the time of writing. We are by far the most numerous of mammalian species and the second largest by total biomass, surpassed only by the 1.4 billion cattle that share the earth with us. In fact, all wild terrestrial mammals account for only 3% of the total biomass, with humans accounting for 27% and livestock at 70% (1).

Being one who does not support the elitism of the human species, I often wondered why we refer to certain other animals as vermin, since we and our domesticated animals are spreading like wildfire – and are just as destructive to the environment. One such wild animal often labelled vermin is the rat. Although I was unable to find any firm estimates of the Earth’s rat population, David Suzuki claims it to be much lower than the human population (2).

People love to hate rats, usually identifying the long naked tail as particularly disturbing. I will confess a bias — I had pet rats when I was young and found them to be friendly, playful, very clever and clean.

As mammals, rats share many physiological characteristics with humans. Since they occupy the same environments and often eat the same food as humans, they often suffer from the same diseases. Rats are intelligent, resourceful, adaptive, and have a high reproductive rate. These traits have made them a prime research model for science and medicine since the first albino lab rats were bred around 1900 (3).

According to the Chinese zodiac calendar, 2020 is the Year of the Rat, starting on Jan. 25 and lasting to the 2021 Lunar New Year’s Eve on Feb. 11. According to a Chinese legend, the Rat became number one in the twelve-year cycle because of its cleverness and alacrity. The story goes that the Chinese supreme Jade Emperor held a birthday party to decide the order of the zodiac animals according to their arrival times. Wanting to win, the hardworking Ox departed early; however, the Rat hid in the Ox’s ear and jumped down on arrival ahead of the Ox, thereby taking the first place. (4)

Before the pandemic shutdowns I decided to make a large 12 X 12 inch linocut paying tribute to the Year of the Rat. Since we all like to get awards, celebrate success and be centre stage once in a while, I imagined a big beautiful male rat on a pedestal receiving accolades from his family and community, or a statue of a hero rat admired in a gallery.

Since it is almost year end, I decided to publish the first version of my 2020 Rat of the Year print, although the planned companion piece showing the admiring female and her young is not yet complete. I am also thinking of doing some smaller linocuts of baby rats to complete the family portrait—they are so cute! I have included my sketches below. By the way, did you know that baby rats are called kittens?

Sketch of Mom and Baby Rats for a second 12X12 inch linocut print
Sketches of Baby Rats for small suare prints

(1) Roy E. Plotnick, Karen A. Koy, “The Anthropocene fossil record of terrestrial mammals,” Anthropocene, Volume 29, 2020,
(2) David Suzuki Quotes., BrainyMedia Inc, 2020., accessed December 8, 2020.
(3) The Wistar Institute,
(4) Travel China Guide,

Mishka Henner’s Feedlots

Coronado Feeders, Dalhart, Texas is one Mishka Henner’s Feedlots series (2012-13), an amazing set of images captured from Google Earth that reveal just a few of the thousands of feedlots that exist in North America and elsewhere in the world. The prominent feature that appears like a bleeding wound is a manure lagoon. This is where the liquefied waste of 70,000 cattle is collected and treated with chemicals. Contaminated with chemicals and pathogens, the manure cannot be used for fertilizer and just becomes another source of hazardous waste and greenhouse gas emissions.

Although industrial animal agriculture is one of the main causal factors in many of the current environmental crises, including climate change, it has provoked little interest in either the art world or ecocritical scholarship. Henner’s Feedlots is one exceptions. His seven images were made by stitching together hundreds of high-resolution screenshots from Google Earth into never before seen images that have drawn considerable attention from audiences in various contexts. Using the “Google gaze,” Henner reveals some stark realities of life on the feedlot as well as the scale of the environmental devastation brought about by the global agribusiness.

To learn more about the representation of industrialized animal agriculture in eco art, please read my paper — “Mishka Henner’s Feedlots: A New Perspective on the Ecocritical ‘Landscape’.”