For our final installment of our Mindfulness, Cannabis & Ritual edition of Conscious Counsel series, we sat down with artist and designer Sarah Lesher. When Sarah's not working as creative director for a California based cannabis brand, she can often be found in the studio working with cannabis inks and experimental materials. We discussed everything from how cannabis enters her art practice, to how sustainability informs her work as a designer as well as what materials have her excited these days.

Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I have been working in design since 2012, and in cannabis since 2007. I started learning graphic design tools when I was studying screen printing in school. Becoming a designer was an organic process and in the beginning I was using it mostly to make graphic prints. I opened my first design studio with a partner in 2013, and continued to work in cannabis on and off until the 2016. I quit my farm job the day after the election when cannabis was legalized in California, and started designing full-time. I was lucky to have a supportive network of people in the cannabis industry who were starting legal businesses. I started getting hired to do branding and packaging jobs right away, and also had the opportunity to do branding for the The Humboldt County Grower's Alliance, Humboldt's first non-profit cannabis trade association.

What was your perception of the cannabis industry growing up in Humboldt
I actually didn't know very much about it! My parents weren't involved in the industry and I didn't start working in it until my early 20's.

 What's your personal relationship to cannabis?
Cannabis is super special to me, but I actually don't consume it very often. When I do, it usually helps me work through some physical feelings of fear I need to experience and let go of. I love herbal tincture blends and low-dose edibles. I also really like CBD products. I would say my strongest aspect of relationship to cannabis has been farming outdoors. I loved working with the plants, and I'm obsessed with pruning techniques.

How has the change from prohibition to legalization effected the industry in your eyes?
There is a lot more accountability for sustainability, good business practices, and working conditions, which are all positive things. However there are so many taxes permitting processes that cannabis businesses have to navigate, and most jobs aren't as high paying for workers now, especially processing and trimming. Also the packaging problem is out of control in terms of how much plastic waste is being created because of child-resistant requirements. But legalization has also created opportunities for people who didn't want to be involved in the grey market, and there are so many new inspiring people doing innovative things across the whole industry now. But no one should still be in prison for weed!

What does the future hold for the cannabis industry?
I'm hopeful that things will only get better over time. There are a lot of people working towards making the industry more equitable and inclusive, and more sustainable.

What prompted your move into packaging design?
My first packaging project was designing labels for a small herbal skincare business, then I worked on some wine labels which was super fun, and some food packaging. Then I learned how do do printed boxes and tubes when I started working with cannabis.

How does the idea of sustainability enter your practice?
I think about it constantly, its so important! As a designer, its a huge responsibility to choose materials that are better for the planet. I always recommend more environmentally friendly material options, and in 2021 I'm making it a requirement for new clients to use materials that have been vetted by A Better Source.

Do you have any words of wisdom to share with artists/designers trying to advocate for sustainable options to their clients/employers?
Have empathy for your clients. A lot of small businesses don't have huge budgets for packaging production and materials, and even if they care about sustainability, sometimes they will have to compromise their choices to sustain their businesses in the beginning. Always help them as much as possible to start out on the right path towards sustainability. Know your sources so you can find good solutions for their aesthetic and budget. This is one of the extra challenges of being a designer that I really love. Every time you can help someone be more earth friendly, its a very satisfying win for the planet!

What materials have you excited these days?
Mushroom packaging inserts, hempcrete, lime plaster and paints.

You work with hemp and cannabis in your art practice, can you tell us a bit about what these materials add to your practice? Why use them?
When I was trimming during harvest, I would work for days on end doing meditative but also very monotonous work! I had a lot of time to daydream and think about what I wanted to create when I got back to the studio. I remember noticing the jars of alcohol for cleaning our scissors in turn green, and at some point I had the idea to experiment with using the pigment to make screen printing ink. I liked the idea of using a natural material that was such an integral part of my daily life, and using parts of the plant that would often be discarded. Each strain creates a different color variation, and I hope to create a large catalogue of colors someday.

How do you see packaging evolving with the explosion of online shopping?
I think people care more than ever about things that are intentionally designed, and when you buy online (which we ALL do now), all of the materials matter! There are some really inspiring examples of sustainable and beautiful DTC packaging out there, and I'm really excited to explore this industry more. I love the opportunity to make someone's day brighter when they receive a beautiful and thoughtfully designed package in the mail.

Do you have any resources to share?

        • Podcasts: Well Made, Design Matters
        • Websites: A Better Source, Broccoli Magazine, The Last Prisoner Project, Fonts In Use, Typewolf
        • Brands: Seed Probiotics, By Humankind