ARTIST INTERVIEW: Emilee Dziuk of GARA Skincare
Company: GARA skincare
Artist: Emilee Dziuk
GARA Skincare is a unique collection of organic, herb-infused skincare remedies designed to soothe the skin and heal the body. We focus on small batch production, growing, harvesting and processing herbs in season to create natural topical remedies that help to heal the body, inside and out. Each product has been formulated to showcase specific medicinal herbs that create a unique, overall synergy. Using complimentary herbs imbibes the true intention of a natural apothecary.
Each batch is seasonal, distinctive and handcrafted. We grow or ethically source all of our ingredients, distill and process many of our own oils, and make each product with care and attention. Our philosophy is to work with the body’s natural defense and regenerative mechanisms for overall skin and body wellness.
GARA, which represents Grass and Root Apothecary, was founded in 2013 as a personal quest for skincare products with high integrity and truly natural ingredients. We strive to provide fresh, organic personal-care products while engaging in the manufacturing and production process in a hands-on manner.
Describe the path that led you to the work you do now.
In 2013, I met Paul. I had been working with medicinal plants for several years prior, but when we met, it became one of our shared passions. After a year in San Francisco, we moved to Ojai, where we started cultivating aromatic and medicinal plants. We took a distillation course later that year and learned more about hydrosols, essential oils, and the alchemy of distillation. We were both hooked. The art and process of distillation complimented a decade of Paul’s research exploring Jungian psychology and scent. We bought a copper alembic still and started adding hydrosols to the topical line of healing products we had developed.
What would you say is the driving force behind your creative work?
Simply put, plants have enticed me to work with them, to propagate, to learn, to explore, and to share them. Over the years of working with medicinal plants in California, I have been introduced to many new plants, local natives and rare, unique species that utterly consume me. I am specifically drawn to aromatic plants, as they provide a direct pathway to the emotional centers of the brain through scent. Through the unfiltered experience of scent, we can unlock insights unknown to ourselves. Scent is an entirely personal yet paradoxically universal experience. That’s what I love about exploring natural aromatic compounds.
What criteria do you use to evaluate your own work?
We strive to create balanced, natural skincare products that truly work. As a small business, we focus on customers’ feedback and the generous support of our community. Connecting with others is one of my favorite aspects of my work at GARA. When someone writes to us about their experience, we always take note. I’m so inspired by the creativity with which people use hydrosols, as there are endless applications for them.
Topical products provide direct communication with the body through our skin, the largest organ. With the topical application of a product, you can stimulate a more targeted, localized effect and, at the same time, get an entire body effect. The added benefit of a transdermal application is the absorption rate. Unlike the stomach and digestive tract, which account for most of our nutrient intake, nutrients can be absorbed directly through the skin and into the bloodstream without damaging delicate enzymes and compounds. The skin is an excellent receptor for people to experience the healing benefits of plants, both on our skin and throughout our entire body. At GARA, our intention is to carefully extract and combine natural compounds to produce potent, lasting results.
How is your work inspired by or influenced by nature and your surroundings?
In the Ojai Valley, where we have been for five years, the climate permits exploration with many species of medicinal plants, offering a unique environment for discovery and great biodiversity. We carefully observe the surroundings in which plants grow, what they cohabitate with, and in what conditions they thrive, changing as little as possible as we move through the stages of processing.
The night sky is filled with stars, and as we move into the winter months, many mornings are engulfed in coastal fog. This valley, its climate, and its dense history are truly magical.
Do you see your work as part of an artistic tradition? Where does your work depart from artistic tradition and move into new territory?
Coaxing the essence from the plant is an art that requires time, attention, and focus. Alchemists have practiced this art form for nearly 4,000 years; much of the process feels unchanged and timeless, even in its evolution. Distillation is a journey of the senses and incorporates elements of earth, metal, fire, water, and air. From the smell of the first drops of distillate to the silky-smooth touch and feel of the finished hydrosol, distillation is an act of consciousness and creativity.
Metaphorically speaking, the process can be used as a guide for navigating our internal emotional environment. The art of distillation is like a map of our internal and external entanglements, guiding and revealing truths unknown to the participant. Moving through this territory with plant allies as guides can be truly transformational. Hydrosols take aromatherapy to a whole other level as they contain the most volatile essential oils, many of which are not present in commercial essential oils. They are the watery expression of the plant itself and are a powerful tool when used for navigating our emotional worlds.