A grid of birds in eye-catching colours, captured digitally in their natural habitat greets you at the Instagram page Art &The Environment (_campcreative).
“I developed this series Windows to my World to put the spotlight on birds found in India,” says Mumbai-based artist Neha Arte. One of her latest illustrations is the white-rumped shama. “I saw the shama, also called the nightingale of the Western Ghats, around Bhagwan Mahavir Sanctuary in Goa. Their habitat is under threat now because of development projects there.”
Neha, who is also an environmental architect and works with sustainable designs and green buildings, started her Instagram page to spread the ‘love for birds’ and ‘keep the conversation going on biodiversity’. “We recently ran an email signature campaign to express protest against the Etalin hydroelectric project in Arunachal Pradesh, which if cleared might lead to the felling of 2.8 lakh trees. Old growth forests, like the ones in the Etalin project area, have evolved over millions of years and support a diverse species. We have to exercise our rights and make our voices heard. I have chosen art and digital illustrations to do that.”
Agrees Gaurav Patil, a marine biologist and an artist, who is part of this growing tribe of environmentalist artists. “Illustrations communicate better”, he says. His Instagram page @seasawarts is teeming with images of sharks, dolphins, whales, starfish, and turtles.
“People don’t treat marine life as wildlife,” he rues. “The biodiversity of intertidal zones also matter. My illustrations drive home the point. Species like seahorse and giant groupers face threat from hunters, for meat and other superstitions. Besides pollution and plastic, the marine life also faces trouble from ghost nets that fishermen discard in the sea. A digital route is the best way to reach out.”
For artists like Tanishka B’lyma (@hues_and_words), Nature is calming. One of her recent works is a digital image of pied kingfisher.
“The image now graces a book cover,” she adds. A regular at Nature walks in Mumbai, she recalls a boat ride to watch the flamingos. “It was a sea of pink and white. In one of the trips, I was fascinated to watch the shrikes. The bird would wait for hours to spot a prey from a pond below… when you start recreating birds digitally, you become instantly aware of issues like habitat loss and put the spotlight on conservation,” explains Tanishka who has illustrated over 50 birds including the flamingos and barn owls.
“Birds are always a first choice in digital work,” says Neha who started a series on the sholas that she describes as an incredibly diverse ecosystem. “I came across a National Geographic article on them and was inspired to create the series. The shola grasslands is a unique habitat of stunted evergreen forest found in the Western Ghats and has to be protected.”
The series features the critically endangered ashambu laughingthrush that has a very limited range and can be found only in the shola grasslands. There is also the Indian scimitar babbler, a bird with a distinct banana-yellow bill and bright white eyebrows that is rarely spotted. It is often heard in the forests singing antiphonal duets with a partner!
Once you appreciate the beauty of Nature, you become a spokesperson of it, says artist Silvia Mukherjee (@sillytulip) who has illustrated a series of owls. One of them is a stunning image of an owl staring out of the balcony. “I digitally edited it, made the beak sharper and then posted it on my Instagram page. I am not vocal about conservation, but my art work of birds, be it bee-eaters, egrets or sunbirds, do talk about habitat loss.”
Most of these artists draw digitally on iPad, or use paint brushes and colour palette of the Instagram app, and other apps like Adobe illustrator or Photoshop.
Says Neha “I use the Procreate App with my iPad. Digital illustrations can take anywhere between four to 10 hours for a single bird. I pay attention to express the beauty of the bird, highlight the colours or capture an expression. In a digital medium, you have flexibility. If you use multiple layers and want to change one, it can be easily done. The background can be changed in the same way.”
Her next series she hopes will be on climate change. “We have heard of the term. But the impact of climate change and what we can do about it is not very clear. I want the series of illustrations to promote climate literacy, especially among our younger students.”