The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

October 21, 2013

Do I Look Good in Plastic?

tess-felix-plastic-artistArtist Tess Felix creates amazing portraits out of plastic trash she collects near her home in Stinson Beach, CA.  She reached out to me in early 2012 when I was finishing up the manuscript of my book to see if she could do my portrait for the book’s jacket.  Sadly, it was too late for that.  But this summer, she did a series of portraits of ocean advocates–including me–and displayed them this weekend at the Bioneers Conference in Marin County, CA.  I think we all look amazing in plastic, if a bit trashy.

But before I show you our portraits, I have to show you what drew me to Tess’s work in the first place.  It’s edgy and bold and makes a statement.  A plastic mermaid, for example, with a toy gun.  Maybe she’s pissed off at what we are doing to our oceans.




This guy is holding on for dear life.  Do you think he’s worried about what the endocrine disruptors in all that plastic might be doing to him?



Tess writes:

…working with beach plastics, turning garbage and excess into something beautiful, has created a shift in my world view. I now take more responsibility for the items I elect to bring into my life and first, weigh their value carefully.

This past Spring, Tess worked with Marin Surfrider to hold an event showcasing the work of artists working with plastic trash and the work of ocean activists and writers.  I was excited to see her portraits up close for the first time.  And boy, was that eye-opening.  I had assumed that the faces were a combination of plastic and paint.  How else could she get such amazing details in the eyes of her subjects?

I was wrong.  Every single color is a carefully selected piece of plastic.  Check out Tess’s self-portrait, for example.



Look a little closer…



And closer still…



Exquisite in all its roughness.  So now you know why I was so excited that Tess wanted to do a portrait of me!  We set up a “photo shoot” in a cafe in San Francisco, and Tess took pictures of me in lots of different positions.  None of them felt as right as the last one of the day… me sitting casually in my flip flops with one foot up on the bench.  So that’s the one she chose.



And this is how it turned out…



First of all, I think Tess made me look way cooler than I really am.   But I love that my cheek is a little plastic heart.



And she captured the fact that I am perpetually in flip flops whenever I can get away with it.



And of course, it’s great advertising for my book!



Here are the portraits of my fellow ocean advocates, some of whom are friends and some I have yet to meet:

Louie Psihoyos, the director of the documentary film The Cove and co-founder of The Oceanic Preservation Society.



Richard James, avid coastal cleanup collector and artist who blogs about the plastic he collects at



Chris Jordan, photographer and filmmaker of the upcoming documentary Midway Journey, the story of the albatrosses on Midway and the devastating effects of plastic pollution.



And Manuel Maqueda, international activist and co-founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition.  I think, despite how cool my own portrait is, this one may be my favorite.



Here’s what Tess has to say about the collection:

My current collection shows juxtaposition between the subject matter and the plastic materials used to create the portraits. I am deeply affected by the volumes of waste in our environment and I admire the activists, innovators and people who make their voices heard. The people in this series of portraits are the messengers and the voices resounding the urgency of the perilous state of the marine life and the oceans. My aim is to portray beauty and humor and to spark curiosity, conversation and awareness.
Tess’s work is for sale.  Unfortunately, art pieces like this are beyond my price range.  And that’s fine.  I’m happy to have lots of photos and the knowledge that these works are out there in the world, hopefully inspiring other people to act.  If you’re interested in commissioning a portrait or purchasing an existing work, contact Tess through her website.  And do please look at the rest of the work on her site.  It’s amazing.  And so is Tess.
Despite what we may feel about plastic pollution, I am heartened by the artists in the world exposing the ugly truth but also transforming it into something beautiful.

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10 years ago

cspellerin teaandolive That’s a wonderful idea! Think I’ll share this idea with my friends with young children. I’m not a parent yet, but I know how much “stuff” we had growing up and how much was only used a handful of times before being tossed aside, creating clutter. The real trick is to get the grandparents on-board too!

10 years ago

cspellerin KathleenMcCabe Thank you for the suggestions. I love the idea of only 3 gifts. It really works since the main problem all stems from materialism and the love of things, which in general is a problem. Wish us luck! In this world it is hard to get kids to focus on the right thing when so many other children just want to talk about presents, you know?

10 years ago

Awesome work! She can retire when the plastic pollution stops!

10 years ago

I don’t know how to prevent relatives from showering your children with plastic toys, but one way we addressed the volume issue was by saying that Jesus got three presents the first Christmas, and that puts a valid limit on the number of items a child can expect. It also forces them to put more consideration into what they are asking for. To extend the amount of time it took to get through the unwrapping on Christmas morning (to make up for the lack of volume), we would take one gift and hide it, with successive clues to look for throughout the house before the gift was found. The clues got more complex as our son got older, often involving math or map reading skills (we homeschooled, so this was not unusual).

10 years ago

When I first saw the photos of the dead albatrosses on Midway, I thought that they were collage art. I was horrified when I read the caption and saw they were the remains of real birds.

10 years ago

youasamachine this reminds me of the East Bay Depot for Creative Art! Don’t know current policy, but in the past, you’d pay a nominal fee for a paper bag full of amazing “discards” that had been donated: fabric, parts from defunct machines, anything you can imagine as long as clean and safe. They also have an amazing program for teachers, including “Project Create” through
We’ve had more than one “party” with things collected there plus, for example, a big appliance box, maybe some glue, whatever. Kids are amazingly creative!
We donated back what hadn’t been “repurposed” when the kids were no longer interested. You’re right of course about all the excess art work, but still, better than store bought.

10 years ago

This is really outstanding. I think a lot about art and creativity and making things. My daughter is a true artist, it has been fascinating to watch her talent emerge.

When my kids were in pre-school their teachers had a centre called: Creation Station. Parents were invited to bring in used items that were destined for the trash that could be used for creating objects. It was wonderful to see what the kids came up with. Better than any store bought toy activity. Creation Station used their imagination and developed their fine motor skills.

The only draw back was that once these works of “art” were completed, what then? I kept a few because parents do that kind of thing, but one just can’t keep it all. :(

karen kuehn
10 years ago

Tess Greene is a bold empowered artist. Her mission is one to be inspired by. I am. To be fully responsible and to care for the Earth and how we relate to her. Gathering trash off her beach and transferring it to buckets that are all bout the color for her palate to create. How kewl she is and I can say she’s a dear friend. I ‘ve watched from afar her passion grow. She is a Visionary that is simmer to boil. An artist to watch and yes patron if you will. Support her for the works will make a difference. The young and old enjoy her works. She is masterful. A warm heart and soul that always leave you wanting more. Artist and a sexy mermaid swimming across the planet creating awareness.

Tracey TieF
10 years ago

You both went off the Richter scale of coolness!

Ann M. Clark
10 years ago

Wow, that is really great Tess!

Jennifer Creek Sant'Anna
10 years ago

You look amazing in plastic. Tess’s work is so powerful, thank you for sharing your post and this photo!

10 years ago

Absolutely incredible! Awesome work Tess!

10 years ago

teaandolive Be the leader in your family for change….maybe encourage experiences as gifts, too…I totally understand about the “appearing ungrateful” but the “scale back” guideline is also voicing your parental rights and values…if tht was asked of me, I would honor that. If anyone is offended, that’s on them.

10 years ago

Such beautiful work out of such an ugly epidemic.

10 years ago

Captivating captures, though in your case it doesn’t capture your signature dazzling smile, understandable since the problem at issue isn’t smile inducing. Using your book cover as a size standard, it appears the works are life-size. It might be interesting to weigh one and then calculate how many times over a person can reproduce their own likeness using per-capita plastic consumption for the country in which they live…

10 years ago

I need your help. Is there a

10 years ago

Congratulations, Terry! You are absolutely a huge part of the innovative ocean advocates. I am following your footprints! (Trash Zombie)

Ryan Elizabeth Cope
10 years ago

This is absolutely incredible!

Melissa Brown
10 years ago

Elizabeth Saxon – trash art can look cool.

10 years ago

She is amazingly talented. AMAZINGLY. I agree that those need to be a traveling display that goes to libraries, schools, etc. I cannot believe how so few people still understand the impact of plastics on ourselves and our world.

10 years ago

Awesome. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if some of her pieces ended up in public places either prone to plastic discards, or with huge exposure?
You should have a place of honor in Oakland’s main public library or at one of its other most visited public buildings.

10 years ago

This is so cool, Beth!