The Art of Conservation: Endangered Species of the Otways

Looking into the large enclosure, I hold my breath, my eyes darting around for signs of movement. Next to me, my guide Karlijn points to a rattling bush. I barely have time to glance over there before a beautiful spotted creature darts out, scurrying onto a fallen branch, where it pauses, watching us. It’s perfectly posed, its pink nose twitching and its spots bright and white against its dark fur. I gasp, because, quite frankly, it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Karlijn explains next to me, as I stare at it, awestruck, that this gorgeous marsupial is the Tiger Quoll, a species thought to be extinct in the Otways until it was rediscovered in 2012. Since then, the Conservation Ecology Centre has used it as a focal point for their mission –  a safer future for Tiger Quolls and other endangered wildlife in the Otways, created through research, understanding and working with our community to bring about informed and effective management actions. 

A tiger quoll. (Image: Wikimedia Commons: Michael J Fromholtz)

A tiger quoll. (Image: Wikimedia Commons: Michael J Fromholtz)

The Conservation Ecology Centre is tucked alongside the Great Otway National Park, just outside of Apollo Bay. The Centre is dedicated to protecting and understanding native environments, particularly that of the Otways, through research and engagement. Some particularly interesting research projects are underway, such as the Otways Conservation Dogs and the Otway Threatened Species Research Network. For the founders of the CEC, Lizzie Corke and Shayne Neal, community engagement has always been a key part of their mission for conservation. All of their research projects have a component related to community engagement, with a hotline set up for the public to report sightings of native animals, and public events run to encourage planting of native trees in the area. One of the most exciting avenues for engagement is the Great Ocean Ecolodge: an ecoretreat run by Karlijn Sas and Stephan Ras, with all funds raised from the lodge going back into the research programs run by the CEC. More recently, the CEC has looked at another way to engage the community – through art.

Art and Ecology: Endangered Species of the Otways is an initiative started by the CEC to promote engagement through the creation of art. The CEC encouraged people to send in their art for a gallery exhibition, with the funds raised supporting the programs run by the CEC. The only criteria was that at least one of the 40 threatened or endangered species in the Otways had to be featured in the artwork. There was a great response, with both national and international artists contributing, and the community surrounding the Otways jumping at the chance to have their work displayed. As well as schools sending in artwork, a famous American print-maker and several highly regarded national artists such as ADi have submitted their work. Currently, it looks like a second venue will have to be sought out to accommodate all of the amazing artwork presented to the CEC - that’s an exciting example of community engagement done right.

Image: Mary Shuttleworth

Image: Mary Shuttleworth

Sitting down and chatting with Karlijn and Mark Le Pla, a research assistant for the Centre, I picked their brains about what made them come up with this particular method of engagement.

Karlijn explains the general premise for the inclusion of art in community engagement: “Most native animals are only seen from a distance, and art allows characteristic features of those animals to become more apparent.” In encouraging the local communities to create their own art, the communities become more aware of the key attributes of the native animals in their area.

“Maybe you draw a long-nosed potoroo and its nose is too long in the picture, but it means if you’re driving along and see a small hopping creature with a long nose, you’ve got a good idea of what it could be.”

As well as making communities more aware of the amazing diversity at their doorstep, it helps researchers create a more solid idea of the landscape. If people start to look for and identify rare species, they’re more likely to report their findings to the hotline or website provided by the CEC.

“We have limited resources to monitor the area,” Mark explains, which makes it difficult to create solid statistics of the prevalence of endangered animals; “So simple information helps a lot.” Researchers are often limited by time and funding, and conservation goals are going to be met much faster if scientists and communities work together to ensure a future for endangered species. Mark is adamant that the key to ensuring a long-term future for species such as the Tiger Quoll is communication with the communities. “Half the battle is engagement,” Mark tells me, “Getting people on side is the important part.”

This is definitely true. Victoria, and indeed Australia, is in a biodiversity crisis. Our native species are threatened by climate change, development, invasive species and disease. Dozens of Victorian species are threatened or endangered, and face regional and national extinction if we don’t try to ease the pressures they face. While we all know that action must be taken, what’s less clear is the best way to go about it. While scientific research into conservation will give us some answers, alone it may not be enough. Our native species are often fond of areas that people also like to frequent, and this means that conflicts are inevitable. In the face of so much adversity, apathy and disengagement from the public can be the final nails in the coffin for many of our species.

Luckily, there are organisations like the CEC doing their best to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Art and Ecology: Endangered Species of the Otways will be held from the 29th until the 30th of July at Art Inc. Gallery Apollo Bay, and the CEC gallery at Cape Otway from August 2016 - Janurary 2017. For more information, visit the Conservation Ecology Centre website.

Mary Shuttleworth

Mary Shuttleworth is a Masters graduate from the University of Melbourne, where she pursued her interests in ecology and parasitology. She is interested in science communication, education and community engagement.

Find her on Twitter at @muttersworth.

Time + love = the wildlife art of Rachel Hollis.

The wildlife here is just so varied and colorful. Seeing it through British eyes was amazing. I loved it.

In the cities here, the wildlife is almost on your doorstep, you don’t have to go far to get to a National Park. Whereas, you know London – nature seems to be squeezed out of it.

Ian: Last month I was privileged to interview three amazing, up-and-coming wildlife artists about their work. In previous posts, Milly Formby and Kate Cranney talked about their art. This week’s post features the beautiful drawings of Rachel Hollis.

Rachel: I’m really pleased when I’ve drawn something that has a real likeness to what I am trying to illustrate but, at the same time, I’m not trying to get a photo-realist picture.

I want to create something that lets you see the character of what I’m drawing and something that triggers an emotional response in people: something they’ve seen before or that reminds them of their childhood or where they used to live.

Sometimes I think a drawing looks finished but I just know there’s something left that needs to be done. I’ll leave it there for a day or two and I’ll keep looking at it, and then suddenly I’ll think, “hang on, that needs to be changed.” It’ll just stand out.

It’s a feeling. You’ve got to give it a few days to realize it, but once those final details are in, then I know: that’s it.

I’m from the UK originally and we lived in Spain before we came to Australia.

I’ve always had a love for art and nature, but my wildlife drawings didn’t really come to life until I’d traveled more and had been to some stunning places and seen different species of birds and animals. Those experiences really encouraged me to start connecting the two: the wildlife and my art.

It’s only this year that I’ve started drawing wildlife, it’s still quite new for me.

Before I moved to Australia I mostly painted people in watercolor. My wildlife work is mainly in pencil and I haven’t tried wildlife in watercolour yet.

You never stop learning as an artist. You always try new techniques and different types of inspiration. I’m still learning.

When I’ve drawn something that I’m really happy with, I tend to put a little bit more extra time and love into it as well. Whereas if I’m struggling with a piece – I’m enjoying the process but maybe I don’t put as much emotional energy into it. And I think people can see that.

I’d encourage new artists to get out in nature and to find something they really enjoy – whether its birds or insects or anything – something specific that really touches them and moves them, and to use that in their art.

When you put a lot of love and time into something, it works out better.

All illustrations are by Rachel Hollis, used with permission. You can view more of Rachel’s work at her web site. Many thanks to all three artists for their enthusiastic conversation. The original transcript has been edited and condensed to improve readability.

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Beautiful like a blowfly: Kate Cranney’s wildlife art

I love trying to share how surprisingly beautiful ugly things can be – [like] centipedes crawling through the stomach of a dead sheep.

Ian: Last month I was privileged to interview three amazing, up-and-coming wildlife artists about their work. Last week’s post showcased Milly Formby. In this post, Kate Cranney talks about her love of nature and drawing. Stay tuned for next week’s instalment.

Kate: I grew up on a farm in western Queensland. I loved art as a kid, and I always loved being creative. I think the title pages on my projects in primary school were far more elaborate than the contents they held. Mum and dad always encouraged us to look closely at nature: at bower bird nests and cocoons and snake skins.

Growing up on a farm during the drought, there were lots of carcasses and flyblown sheep and dead fish in the dams. Maybe I was a little insensitive to, you know, how gross that might seem to other people, but I was always curious about that stuff. It was intriguing: seeing centipedes crawling through the stomach of a dead sheep.

I moved to Melbourne to study art but then I missed science so much that I changed my degree to a Masters of Botany. My artwork is focused on insects and fish; I do fine ink drawings with collage and watercolour. I started drawing with ink when I was taking public transport to uni. I couldn’t study on the ferry and bus or I’d get car-sick, so I drew.

I enjoy doing works that are aesthetically pleasing and educational as well. I’m working on a series called “Drawn to Science”. I’ll interview a research scientist and then do a drawing of their study subject. Recently I’ve been working on a project on insect ecology. Flies are beaut-i-ful underneath a microscope: they have metallic greens and blues and patterned wings. They’re stunning.

My favourite type of drawing is when I don’t know what I’m going to do before I start. Suddenly I’ll draw something and it’ll be something that I saw yesterday without realizing it. I think I store up memories of things that I’ve seen.

Paul Klee said, “drawing is taking a line for a walk” and I love the spontaneity of that. In a similar vein, I think the joy in creating makes it far easier for me to part with the work because I know that I had such a lovely time with that piece of paper.

You can draw wherever you are – when you’re on the side of a road in the middle of nowhere when you’re traveling. I always make sure I have access to pen and paper so that it’s always there.

I’m so happy to have art as part of my life now. It’s a core part of me. I squeeze it in – in the corners of the week. If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t be nearly as happy.

All illustrations are by Kate Cranney, used with permission. You can view more of Kate’s work at her web site. Many thanks to all three artists for their enthusiastic conversation. The original transcript has been edited and condensed to improve readability.

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Drawing the essence of a bird: the art of Milly Formby

Last month I was privileged to interview three amazing, up-and-coming wildlife artists about their work. “Interview” is perhaps too strong a word as the three artists prompted more insights from each other than I did. Over the next few weeks, all three stories will be published at Wild Melbourne. This post features Milly Formby, who grew up in West Gippsland and now lives and draws in Perth.

I’m always going down to the Swan River here, and I love just walking along the sand and feeling the sand between my toes and walking in the water and looking at the reflection of the light on the water, and the shells and the colours, and wishing that I could capture every tiny little bit of it on paper.

But you can’t, you have to process that somehow, and I process it in my artwork.

I’d probably describe myself as a zoological illustrator. My artwork is inspired by nature and the world I see around me, especially bird life. I work with pencils on paper mainly but I’ve tried all types of media.

When I’m drawing a bird, I guess I’m trying to capture some kind of essence of the bird. I’m trying to capture a moment. I see a lot of beauty in the world around me and I want to capture that and share it with people.

I started drawing when I was in primary school but I didn’t take it seriously until I was about 16. I did an art degree and worked as a weaver for a while and then went on to science.

It wasn’t until I did my zoology degree that I had this light bulb moment and realized, “Oh I love animals and I really miss being creative,” and I put the two together. That’s what I’m working towards now; building up my folio so I can do this as my job. It would be amazing to be a full-time artist.

I think people connect with nature really easily. Kids love going to the park and the zoo and seeing animals. As we get older we lose that a bit but people often re-connect with nature through art. When you’re an artist you’re able to draw people’s attention to all those beautiful details.

I couldn’t tell you how many hours I put into a picture. When I’m doing something I’m passionate about, time doesn’t matter.

I went through this incredible creative block for a while because I felt like everything I did had to be perfect. It wasn’t until I was able to let that go, and say, “You know what, I just don’t care, I’m just going to do what I enjoy,” that things started to flow.

It’s a really satisfying experience to create something and then go: “Oh wow. I did that – wow”. You kind of surprise yourself.

I have a real desire for my art to be used in science communication and to promote the conservation of birds. I’ve donated some of my work to Birdlife Australia to use in field guides and greeting cards. I love that they can use my work to raise money because I’m so passionate about conservation.

I have a quote that I’ve stuck on the wall of my studio and it says: “The doing is the thing.” It just reminds me to sit down and “to do” because that’s what it’s about. It’s not about the finished product – it’s a wonderful bonus that you end up with this beautiful artwork at the end of it, but it’s not what it’s about. It’s about the process.

All illustrations are by Milly Formby, used with permission. You can view more of Milly’s work at her web site. Many thanks to all three artists for their enthusiastic conversation. The original transcript has been edited and condensed to improve readability.

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