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New West artist immortalizes animals' earthly remains

Creator Ariel Styles puts a unique spin on death and decay by transforming ethically sourced animal skulls into art.
Ariel Styles turns animal skulls (white tail deer pictured) into art.

New Westminster-based artist Ariel Styles believes art can transcend death, and sets out to show it in a new collection of works.

Styles immortalizes the beauty of animals' earthly remains as she transforms their skulls to showpieces in her latest venture, dubbed Decadent Decay.

“I wanted to tell the story of deceased animals,” she said, “Death is not the end, it can be beautiful and you can create something out of it.”

Drawn to the uniqueness of skulls as an artist’s medium, Styles began her journey with painting on replica skulls. Later, she reached out to Nanaimo's Wes Smallenberg, who forages for skulls on Vancouver Island, bleaches them, cleans them up and sells them.

No animals are harmed in the process, she emphasized, as the skulls are all ethically sourced from him. “There are lots of people in the world using skulls as the canvas, but very few in the Lower Mainland.”

Decayed skulls are versatile, she said — they can be hand-painted, decoupaged or turned into planters — the creative possibilities are endless.

There is beauty in them already, and the artist just builds on it. “In my opinion, anything you do with them, they still look absolutely beautiful and ethereal."

Her creations are intricate, so one skull is unlikely to look like another. The work is time-consuming. The ones she created using decoupage, like the white-tailed deer piece, take about 16 hours each, she said. And the ones painted by hand take a lot more, but it is all a labour of love.

Styles recently began working with larger specimens like white-tailed deer, Jacobs sheep and large buck deer. “Because they are big, statement pieces, you can hang them on the wall, and people love them,” she said. People love the ones with horns, she added.

However, she doesn’t restrict herself to those bolder pieces. For smaller pieces that can be mounted on picture frames and bell domes, she also works with the bones of raccoons, coyotes, minks, pine martens and muskrats.

Styles started her small business late last August, and she is grateful for the support that people have showed in her work. Her creations are mostly sold — quite often, quickly — through her Instagram or Facebook page.

One creation for sale at the moment was made from the skull of Jacobs sheep. “The Jacob sheep are ... kind of hard to come by, especially ethically sourced in the wild,” she said, “so I'm rooting for that little guy to find a home soon because it’s really cool.”

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