How can art help shark conservation?
Art has the power to change perspectives and promote awe and wonder – can it do the same for sharks? We chat with ocean-artist Rachel Brooks about putting pen to paper in the name of shark conservation.
Rachel is our first return guest to the podcast, so we switch things up a little bit by asking about her most memorable experience from this basking shark season in Scotland, where she works as operations manager for Basking Shark Scotland (3.40). We spend a little time discussing Ariel, the friendly seal with a penchant for freediving fins! We then discuss Rachel’s childhood in a landlocked village, where the sea was a far-off, mystical place, until her teenage years when she learnt to dive on holiday (7.37). Rachel talks about how although marine science came later in life, art was always a constant, and she had a passion and talent for drawing from a very early age (9.35). In fact, until the age of 17, Rachel’s chosen career path was as an animator for Disney (10.20)! She always wanted to draw wildlife and help bring nature to life, like Finding Nemo. It wasn’t until she volunteered for the Atlantic Whale Foundation that a “switch was flicked” (12.09), and she switched from her long-term plan of becoming an artist to taking on Zoology at university.
We then talk about Rachel’s career in the dive industry as a guide and instructor (16.49). Working in places like Australia and Indonesia, Rachel found peace under the waves and discovered a real passion for the small and the weird! That interest inspired her artwork, and she describes her drive to share that with other divers and non-divers (19.37). Her artwork is now almost exclusively marine life. After returning to the UK, she decided to pursue art and is now a professional illustrator, specialising in ink and watercolour (22.22). Her earliest creations were of charismatic species she thought people would know and love – whale sharks, turtles, manta rays – but then she decided to stop ‘people pleasing’ and showcase the lesser-known, weird and wonderful species (23.50). People seemed to resonate with that, and she now specialises in scientific illustrations of species that don’t often get the spotlight – including a diversity of sharks (27.00). She endeavours to show how many shark species there are and how different and unique they can be.
Linked to her shark artwork is ‘Artivism’, which is like activism but through a creative medium (30.00). We talk about the power of art to communicate complex issues in an accessible way, engaging people with the subject and allowing them to make their own conclusions. People may resonate with a piece of art differently from how they might react to statistics or scientific theory. In this way, art can contribute to shark conservation. We discuss the negative language used around sharks and how this is what most people see – but art can show the opposite and help to change those negative perceptions (35.20). Rachel says her mission is to show people the beauty, strangeness and intriguing nature of sharks so that people want to know more – the first step to getting support for their protection. This is at the heart of her recent campaign, ‘Living Not Lurking’, which aims to combat the negative portrayal of sharks in the mass media (38.36). Aside from her campaigns, Rachel has also collaborated with shark-focused charities and organisations. We talk about how these collaborations can work and how other artists can get involved in similar relationships to help promote causes for conservation (40.40).
We wrap up our conversation by asking what is next for Rachel (44.20), one thing she wished people knew about sharks (46.34), and her dream art expedition (48.00). It’s a pretty special place, once visited by one Charles Darwin…which takes us on a last-minute tangent about old-school scientific illustrations (sharks with feet, anyone?).
About our guest
Rachel is an internationally-selling British wildlife artist living between the West Highlands of Scotland and the Hebrides. She has a deep understanding of the natural world from studying Zoology, which connected her to the field of scientific illustration. She has fallen in love with the ocean, having spent years working beneath the water as a Scuba Instructor and wildlife guide. Her mission as an artist is to convey her passion for conserving biodiversity by celebrating its beauty and sharing it with the world. She has developed a unique style of celebrating the intricacies of nature and hopes to introduce others to these wonders.