Illustration

The Inspiration Behind My Wildlife Art

‘Rough Gecko’, watercolour painting based on reference photo by Grant Macredie. © Auntie Betty Illustration, 2020

The Background

I have always loved animals. I was blessed growing up with many pets: dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, a tortoise,  African grey parrot, rosellas, pigeons, budgies, canaries, love birds, various finches, chickens, geese, quail, pheasant and more. I always wanted a horse and nearly got one but was advised that he was a vicious brute and my parents backed out at the last minute. My dream pet was a Komodo dragon and I would still very much like having a lizard and some fish, however, I have three large greyhounds and live in a very small house and there is simply no space for a menagerie.

When I was eleven or twelve, I had to do a school project on endangered species. Mum suggested that I research the rarer endangered species in South Africa (where we lived at that time). I learned about the Riverine rabbit and insectivores like the aardvark, aardwolf, pangolin, etc.

The Turning Point

It was then that I realised how fascinating the animal world was and hoped to write and illustrate children’s books about animals. Ten years of effort did not give me a foothold in the picture book industry. Experience taught me that publishers and writers generally regard illustrators as far less important than authors – illustrators are often paid very little for work that takes weeks and months of effort and employs very expensive materials, and they receive little or no credit in comparison to the author. Publishers determine which art style they will promote at any particular time and will not even consider work that does not fit the prescribed fashion. It is extraordinarily difficult to break in as a new artist and I decided to focus on wildlife drawing and painting, my other love, where I can deal directly with clients rather than through an agent.

The Goal

There are so many endangered and rare species. We are aware of the plight of orangutans, gorillas, rhino, elephants, pandas, turtles, etc. I have painted some of these, and plan to paint more; however, I also have a deep concern for those species which are so rare that we never hear about them, even when they live on our doorstep. For example, there are twenty-one species or subspecies of endangered GECKOS in New Zealand, and most people here know nothing about them. https://www.doc.govt.nz/nature/native-animals/reptiles-and-frogs/lizards/geckos/#:~:text=Twenty%2Done%20species%20or%20subspecies,as%20Nationally%20Critical%20by%20DOC.

I would love to raise awareness for these species through my art. They deserve exposure and are just as fascinating as koalas and pandas.

I am extremely excited to be embarking on two projects:

  1. Painting New Zealand mudfish species, which are all threatened. I am grateful for the help I am receiving from Angus McIntosh, Professor of Freshwater Ecology, University of Canterbury, who is kindly allowing me to paint from his beautiful photographs.
  2. Creating embroidered artworks and developing embroidery kits, using the gorgeous Strand embroidery yarns, manufactured in New Zealand by Mary at http://nancys.co.nz/store/

You will be able to follow the ‘works in progress’ on my Facebook page or Instagram account. I am painting another pink katydid and then some mudfish.

In my next blog, I am looking forward to interviewing Kiwi artist, Bella O’Mahony. I hope to interview more Kiwi artists in the future too.

Until next time…

4 thoughts on “The Inspiration Behind My Wildlife Art”

  1. Kia ora Aunty Betty, I am a New Zealand writer and videographer, see my stuff here
    I’ve just embarked on an exciting journey to bring to life an online community of artists, writers and musicians who care about animals, the online community will help them to network, promote their art and meet other likeminded naturalists and animal lovers. It will also be a consumer website all about the palm oil in our products. The website will showcase all of the animals threatened by palm oil expansion. I hope to stay in touch with you as I would love for you to post some art about species that are threatened by palm oil extinction. It is always nice to meet a fellow Kiwi who loved animals too 🙂 take care, Awhina

    Like

    1. Hi Awhina, Thank you for your comment. I was very excited to hear about your project and would very much like to be involved. I am constantly horrified to see how many products contain palm oil and dread to think about the impact on the wildlife and plantlife as a result. 2021 is dedicated to painting some of the threatened species of Canterbury – there are over 100! In early 2022, I hope to hold a small exhibition with these works. With your project in mind, I would love to spend 2022 painting species at threat because of palm oil plantation expansion – so watch this space. I will check out your website too. 🙂 Thank you for introducing yourself and look forward to getting to know you and other artists through the community. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Also…and this is very sad, I have only seen geckos scuttling away very fast under rocks and I had no idea they were endangered, I wish a bit more focus was given to them as native animals instead of just the birds.

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    1. Absolutely – I wish we all knew more about the reptiles, insects and marine life too. I recently discovered that there are 28 species of native bees in NZ (which are in decline) and there is so little information available. It is impossible for lay-people to identify them as there don’t seem to be any photographs online either.

      Liked by 1 person

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