Into The Wild… Life Drawing
Wildlife is something that a lot of people do not explore despite it being so close. As more and more of us move to cities we become increasingly detached from nature and the natural world we used to be so content with. Recently, I joined Jennie and class at Charter House Aquatics (FYI it’s free to just pop in and have a snoop about) in London for a drawing class as a pre-Teleman gig activity and was infatuated by the lax atmosphere to roam free, use any of the drawing materials and admire the sea creatures. Before painting we were walked around the tanks and informed of the fascinating habitats and conservation issues surrounding certain species.
Wild Life Drawing is a drawing class with a difference. Instead of life models, the subjects are real animals and the theme of exploration is at the heart of it. They work with the finest animal sanctuaries and organisations to put on these events. The project is the brainchild of Jennie Webber, a London based visual artist, educator and animal lover. The aim of the project and Jennie’s art is to inspire a sense of appreciation and understanding for the animals and conservation issues around the world.
When did your desire to protect and share awareness of conservation issues begin?
I grew up in the countryside in Yorkshire and my mum was a big conservationist and would always encourage an appreciation for the natural world — so I started quite young! I ran a ‘Save the Whales’ stall at my school around age 8 and would sell cakes, biscuits and little salt dough whales to raise money to donate to their conservation. It made sense that my illustration work was always inspired by the natural world, and that interest has just grown and developed through research and experiencing wildlife first-hand.
What do most people not realise about conservation of our wildlife until they become involved in its protection?
That it’s never as simple as you think. The conservation of different animal species depends on so many different factors working in unison — communities, science, government, environment plus all the financial and social issues that are always closely intertwined. It is also important to remember that all ecosystems are carefully balanced — so for example, the campaigns to research and conserve tiny plankton in the ocean are just as important as the campaigns to save the whales, as the whales wouldn’t be able to exist without their primary food source.
With such a high demand for the Wild Life Drawing Classes, is there any advice you would give to those that cannot make it?
Join the mailing list, that’s where I release all the new classes each month. And if there’s a class you like the look of — don’t take too long to book it. I have recently just gone freelance to focus on Wild Life Drawing — so there will be many more opportunities to experience drawing animals from life.
What advice would you give to those wishing to create and start a project such like Wild Life Drawing classes?
Make sure your business idea is fuelled by a positive purpose — a need to create, change or better something.
You say “truth is stranger than fiction, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the natural world.” So, in accordance, what is your favourite fact about an animal/species? And/or what’s the most misunderstood animal/species?
I have so many favourites! I recently met a couple of chameleons which absolutely astounded me. I saw them change the colour of their skin before my eyes — they’re one of the very few animals able to do this. Chameleons are born with special cells in their outer skin that have a colour or pigment in them. When these pigment cells receive messages from the chameleon’s brain they enlarge or shrink to make certain colours, like mixing paint.
Most misunderstood has to be the octopus. They are SO CLEVER. As well as being incredible escape artists they can also mimic other sea creatures to confuse predators, change their colour and texture to blend into their environment and even use tools.
When did your passion for art begin? And what material do you favour and why?
Creativity was always encouraged in our house and I continued to study art in various forms all the way up to an MA level in Illustration. For quick sketches I love graphite, fine liner or drawing with coloured pencils. Etching is my true passion though — a very laborious, traditional form of printmaking. I bring it up to date by adding watercolour to the prints.
With your art (or if you prefer a new art project), how does your creative process work?
Whether it’s a commissioned brief or personal piece I start by doing tonnes of research, both visual and factual. It’s important to me to make sure the information I’m communicating is rooted in fact even if the composition or content is abstracted in some way. Then I test things out by sketching and often rejigging the layout before I go ahead to create the final piece.
Tell us your favourite place, environment to draw? Drawing essentials you pack?
Any aquarium, botanical garden or area with wildlife. Sea creatures really do fascinate me, they’re just so thoroughly different to humans. So the jellyfish, hermit crabs and eels at the Horniman Aquarium would be one of my favourite places to draw. But sketchbooks really come to life when there’s a collection of drawings made by noticing and recording interesting things in the world — there is natural beauty in all kinds of unusual places.
What led to you being commissioned to illustrated pocket square for Sir David Attenborough?
A friend of mine worked for the Society of Biology and they were putting on a fundraising evening at the Science Museum where the wonderful Sir David would be interviewed onstage by Alice Roberts, a British anatomist and television presenter. To thank David, they wanted to create a special gift for him and so I was put forward to design a pocket square for him, illustrated with all the animal and plant life species that have been named after him over the years. I was able to present it to him in person, and he was as kind and gracious as you’d hope to expect. What Sir David talked about that evening truly inspired me and really underpinned the purpose of Wild Life Drawing.
Is there a book and/or artist (can included musicians) you have read/seen/listened to multiple times?
Books: Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger (I read this every winter). I’m very interested in historical exploration — I’ve read Escape from Antarctica by Ernest Shackleton and The Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard a few times. Currently reading Sir David Attenborough’s autobiography Life on Air.
Artists: I love the large scale sculptures by Adrian Villar Rojas — especially My Family Dead, which is a giant life size sculpture of a beached whale in a forest that examines the relationships humans have with nature. Polly Morgan‘s taxidermy art, and Kate MccGwire, a British sculptor whose practice probes the beauty inherent in duality, employing natural materials to explore the play of opposites at an aesthetic, intellectual and visceral level.
If you had a time machine and you could go back and tell your 20 year old self anything what would it be?
Keep working hard, you’ll get there.