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.