Artist: Jessica Roux
Jessica Roux is a Nashville-based freelance illustrator and artist who specializes in animal and plant subjects. Her work has this colorful yet vintage style that plays with duality. It’s warm, but jarring. It’s gentle, but terrifying. Jessica will include a beautiful bouquet of flowers in vibrant paint next to an ivory skull or slithering serpent.
An Instagram post introduced me to her work. The post advertised her new oracle deck, Woodland Wardens, and from the moment I saw the drawings, I was enchanted. Unlike a tarot deck with its traditional cards and meanings, an oracle deck is entirely unique to the creator, and Jessica’s cards use the wisdom of both plants and animals to guide the user. I bought the deck at Barnes and Noble a few days after its release, and I have spent so much time staring at these cards and their art.
Jessica Roux also illustrates book covers, and one of her projects actually led to my next recommendation!
Book: A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese
I picked this book up because the cover art and illustrations were done by Jessica Roux, but the story itself is just as phenomenal as the drawings. This middle grade novel is about Sam who moves with her older sister to rural Oregon after experiencing domestic violence at the hands of her father. Sam’s aunt gives her a card game called Fox and Squirrels, and the cards summon a mythical fox with a dapper suit and a charming proposition. The Fox promises Sam that he will grant her a wish if she can locate the Golden Acorn, but the only way to find this wish-giving item is to give the manipulative Fox whatever he wants.
This book is so merciful in its representation of a child who has experienced domestic violence. It covers traits of PTSD and survivor’s guilt and building trust in other adults when one’s primary caregivers have betrayed them. It’s also written in beautiful prose that encapsulates the elegant forests of Oregon. The relationships between the characters is believable, especially in demonstrating how secrecy and shame become embedded in a family driven by emotional abuse. These characters are full, rich, and human in a relatable way. As someone who has gone through similar situations as Sam, I found this book to be profoundly validating, and I would recommend it to either children currently in this situation or adults who still live with those memories and scars to this day.
Music: Out Walking by Abby Gundersen
While I love loud, aggressive music to pump me up for a workout or rhythmic, R&B beats to dance to, sometimes gentle piano music is what the soul needs. Abby Gundersen is a composer from Washington who has been collaborating with her brother, Noah, and other musicians for years on multiple projects. Most often Abby works on other people’s tracks, playing piano, violin, or fiddle in the background, but every few years she’ll release a collection of solo instrumentals.
Out Walking is her newest EP. It features six songs, all piano tracks, and explores the feelings one has when walking around a neighborhood, garden, lighthouse, or just heading north. It’s a delicate album, and each song has this way of making whatever you are looking at or doing seem beautiful and profound. I listen to this album when driving and suddenly I feel like I’m in a movie where seemingly mundane things, like kids riding their bikes or construction workers tearing up a road, are existential and poignant.
I love the sounds you can hear on this album too. I believe Abby recorded on an older piano in some kind of attic because you can hear her hitting the piano pedals and the keys striking the base. It’s a palpable album, both soothing and emotional.
TV Show: Netflix’s The Lost Pirate Kingdom
Netflix is a hot-spot for interesting documentaries, and The Lost Pirate Kingdom is an adventure into the Golden Age of Piracy. I’ve always been fascinated by the visage of the pirate; a rebellious sea-sailing warrior armed with freedom and pretty jewels, but the truth of the pirate is much more brutal. I wanted to understand what led individuals to such a chaotic and dangerous life.
The Lost Pirate Kingdom is part documentary/part dramatization. Shakespearean actor Sir Derek Jacobi narrates a six-episode series into the beginnings and endings of famous pirates like Benjamin Hornigold, Edward Teach a.k.a. Blackbeard, Sam Bellamy, and Anne Bonny. Combined with interviews from historians, the series features actors performing these roles aboard actual ships and playing out scenes that rival the cinematography of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. It’s a succinct, entertaining, and honest account of how these men and women took autonomy over their own lives by going against the tyranny of a monarch and its repressive values.