The Artist: A Mermaid Tale

Lauren MacLeod (Photo by Aaron Bristol)

An artist reboots her career—and helps save our oceans in the process

Two years ago, ocean-centered artist Lauren MacLeod was, from a creative standpoint, drowning. At the time, the Boca Raton resident was juggling two artistic practices—as a photographer and as an acrylic painter—with substitute teaching. None of these careers fulfilled her, and the art foundered. Looking back on this transitional period, MacLeod can understand why.

“I did landscapes and portraits and abstract paintings, and it wasn’t my work,” she recalls. “My thought process back then was, paint what’s popular. Paint what’s selling. It never worked out for me, and it’s because I was forcing it.”

Encouraged by her husband to embark on a different path, MacLeod, 32, closed her photography business, left teaching, and looked for a way to reboot her art. She discovered it in 2017 on the Ninth Street Boardwalk in Deerfield Beach: “I’m sitting there with my kids, and they’re playing in the water … and there’s all of this trash underneath me that had been raked into the seaweed. It was just disgusting.

“And … it just clicked. I took a bunch of plastic trash home, and I played with resin-casting it. I poured it into molds and created some mixed-media art with it.”

MacLeod named her new venture Mermaid Trash, a line of oceanic wall art, cutting boards, serving trays, key chains and bracelets, all designed from upcycled plastic and reclaimed driftwood from local beaches. Her 8-year-old daughter, concerned that mermaids could no longer swim in oceans so polluted, is credited with coining the name.

Mermaid Trash not only generated financial success and renewed attention in MacLeod’s work—her Instagram followers shot from 5,000 before last September to more than 48,000 in 2019—but it transformed MacLeod into an eco-advocate.

Proceeds from the sales of her art benefit ocean conservation efforts statewide, and she took part in 2018’s successful Strawless Summer initiative in Deerfield Beach. She continues to pay it forward by being transparent about her art process, posting time-lapse videos on YouTube so that others can replicate her work—and beautify their own beaches.

“Mermaid Trash, from the very beginning, was about teaching people and bringing awareness,” she says. “So when it came to my art, I said, I can’t covet one thing and be free with the rest. I need to share that wealth and knowledge too.”

Now, she says, “people are tagging me in their cleanup efforts. They’re collecting trash on the beach in the name of Mermaid Trash. It proves to me that making it about the mission and the art—and not about me—made all the difference.”

This story is from the May/June 2019 issue of Boca magazine. For more content like this, subscribe to the magazine.