conservation, Illustration, Interviews

Interview with Australian Wildlife Artist, Ronelle Reid

I am so excited to interview fellow wildlife artist, Ronelle Reid, who hales from Australia. Ronelle’s work touches a cord in my heart, as she often paints wildlife living a precarious existence, and she is not afraid to paint some of the rarer and more unusual species. Ronelle has even painted some of our own iconic New Zealand native species. I was delighted when Ronelle took time away from her amazing paintings to talk to us.

© Ronelle Reid

What is your background?

I wanted to be an artist from a very young age, I was determined and very focused all the way through university. But I found my passion wasn’t paying the bills and I didn’t have any experience running a business so I got a job working in animal welfare, I worked for RSPCA for 20 years, quietly continuing to make art in the background. In 2020 I made the jump to focus on my art full time again. 

Why did you decide to become an artist?

I can’t really remember what made me decide to be an artist. I was 6 and my dad bought me a little oil painting kit and I painted the tree in the backyard. I remember being very competitive with my older sister at drawing horses as well. It was just always what I was going to be. I never went through a fireman, doctor, princess stage.

What inspired your wildlife artwork?

I have always been fascinated by nature in all of its majesties. When I was in university I was focused on the museum environment and how natural history is portrayed in museums. It was very scientific and cold. Then I worked in animal welfare and saw first-hand the impacts on animals from habitat loss and human impact. My work soon followed that path trying to draw attention to the balance of ecosystems in a quirky way. 

© Ronelle Reid

What media/techniques do you use and what is your art process?

I am a pretty traditional artist. I prefer a solid surface so use birch wood panels. I use oil paint, watercolour pencils and ink in various combinations to get my work on the boards. I paint with tiny brushes and take way too long to make every piece. 

© Ronelle Reid

Do you work from photos or life?

I like to go out and do sketches from life, take lots of photos and then when I am back in the studio I work from a combination of those parts. Often my animals need to move around other animals that they are not normally living with so I need to use a bit of ingenuity to make the magic happen. 

© Ronelle Reid

What was your most challenging artwork and which is your favourite and why?

That is a hard question. The most challenging and hardest is usually the one I am working on at the time. I like to challenge myself so learning new anatomy can be a challenge for me. I recently painted my first pangolin, I had to use reference images as I haven’t met one personally and the bottoms of their feet are totally flat!

What advice or tips can you give to other artists?

Believe in yourself. No one can do what you do and if you stick at it you will become an expert doing your art. If you believe in what you do, it is easy for other people to believe in you as well and buy your magic. 

© Ronelle Reid

What creative project are you working on at the moment?

I always have a few things going at the same time, I am working on a watercolour work of bilbies for the Save the Bilby Fund, a few postcards for an exhibition in New Zealand and a large scale oil painting of a nautilus. 

What is your favourite animal and plant and why?

My spirit animal is the octopus. I love how alien they are, so different to everything else, adaptable and intelligent. As for plants, I love to surround myself with ferns. I think they take me back to a more primitive time when dinosaurs walked the earth. 

If you were stranded on a desert island, and you could only take your most necessary art materials, what would they be?

A sketchbook and I could make charcoal, so I would be set. 

What is your greatest challenge as an artist?

The same as everyone else – making the ends meet. Coming from a nice fortnightly paycheck to sporadic income is difficult but I am making it work. 

© Ronelle Reid

How do you stay motivated, productive and disciplined?

I have always had a really good work ethic with all things I do. I treat it like a job, start at 5 am and going to work. The part I have a problem with is switching off. I find stopping making art and taking a day off the hardest thing to do. I always am making art – everywhere I go, even when I go away. 

What is the biggest challenge in selling your work and where do you sell it?

My work always has a complicated story behind it – a conversation I have with the animals I depict. Sometimes I find I get too immersed in that story and forget to tell people they are actually for sale. I have found that a mixture of online galleries and physical gallery spaces is working for me. 

What are your thoughts about using social media to expose your work?

I like social media as a platform to create a portfolio of your work and to give a look into the background work that goes into making it; but it is a time sucker if you let it. I try to have an idea of what posts I am doing a month ahead ( it doesn’t always work that way)!

Do you have any social media links you would like to share with our readers?

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ronellereidart

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RonelleReidART

Do you have any hobbies when you are not making artwork?

 I don’t have much time for hobbies these days, but I love spending time with my two dogs. Grace and Elwood are Basset Hounds. I often bake cookies for them. 

If we return to being stranded on a desert island, please share your favourite book, movie, food and music, if you could take these with you.

  • Book – would be a reference book like ‘The Origin of Species’ by Charles Darwin.
  • Movie – ‘Rosencrantz and Gildenstern are dead’.
  • Food – corn – in all of its many and varied options.
  • Music – that is a hard one. I listen to so many different types of music, but if I had to choose one to take with me, maybe Blondie or the Pixies. 

Thank you for spending this time with us, Ronelle. It has been fascinating getting to know you and learn about your passion for wildlife and painting.

Please head over to Ronelle’s website to see more of her incredible artwork and read more of her story.

Website: https://www.ronellereid.com/

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…