Each month Shark Guardian selects an artist that goes above and beyond the call of duty for the sake of the ocean and all its inhabitants. We believe that artists, like photographers, play a vital and often underestimated role in ocean conservation. They inspire, educate and cultivate passions that may never had been sparked. Each month during 2021 we are shining a light on some of the great artists we’ve had the privilege of working with - come join us!
Our eco-artist for March is the wonderful Janina Rossiter!
Please introduce yourself for those who haven’t seen your work before.
Hi, my name is Nina and I‘m a German born artivist now living in France and the author of 12 children’s books. I studied Communication and Illustration design at University and after I graduated I started working as a graphic designer. My love of writing and illustrating children’s book had always been there and after my first daughter was born I decided to publish my first children’s book. At first it was about a little Penguin called Tovi the Penguin but after a few years of doing that I wanted to explore a more artistic style and started a concept series books in 2017. I explored different art technics and fell in love with alcohol ink and fluid art, a technique that reminded me of the water. After I discovered the extent of plastic pollution in 2018 it felt like it was my calling to look after the oceans, and my last two books “1, 2, 3, Who’s Cleaning The Sea?“ and “Diamonds, Hearts and Sea Stars!” are about raising environmental awareness in children and protecting our oceans.
What happened in 2018 that brought plastic pollution to your attention?
A visit to the aquarium changed everything for me. That day, the Paris Aquarium was putting on a show about plastic pollution and asked the children if they would volunteer to help clean up the plastic in the sea. I came home that night and researched ocean pollution. What I read, shocked me to the core. I had tears streaming down my face. It made me realise that I had to go on a mission to help protect our oceans and to raise awareness of their problems.
When did you first become interested in the ocean?
My love for the Ocean has been something that has always been present in my life. I have felt very attracted to the water and happy being near the sea ever since I was a child. As a competitive swimmer from a very young age, I feel very connected to water and the ocean. I feel a sense of happiness floating in the water and, as it is something I’ve done for so many years, it’s also a sense of security. No matter how hard the day has been or what kind of problems I am facing, being in the water lets me forget about it all.
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen underwater?
Since I’m not a diver, I cannot answer this question from a personal experience perspective.
I love learning about the ocean, and seeing documentaries about our wildlife in the oceans is just fascinating. However, the picture of Justin Hofmann with the seahorse and the cotton bud changed my life. It was the moment, I knew I had to turn my counting book into an environment book to protect the sea creatures. They should simply not be surrounded by our trash and we should all feel the need to protect them.
Although this is probably a very unexpected answer, one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen in the water was a Capri Sun juice packaging, completely covered in algae and floating around as if it was part of nature. I found it after I had written my book “1, 2, 3, Who’s Cleaning The Sea?“, a book in which the sea creatures find our trash in their living environment. And this Capri Sun juice box was just a great reminder that our trash is everywhere and was confirmation for me that raising awareness of these issues is important and that I need to continue on my journey.
Your thoughts on sharks?
I must say, I had no particular relationship to sharks. I always respected them but I wasn‘t overly in love with them. That is until, I was putting on an art display about art and raising awareness of plastic pollution. The title of my exhibition was “PROTECT WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE” and at that time I was trying to help an organisation called Blue Ocean Watch with a few of their campaigns. I asked Terence Bulley if he wanted me to show any videos of their work, so he created a short loop video for me of some of the team members, explaining their work. These were mainly wildlife photographers, including Ellen Cuylearts and William Winram. William put a particular emphasis in his video on how sharks are generally portrayed wrongly in the media and that they are not these human killing machines. The first day, the exhibition was pretty empty and I ended up watching the videos over and over again. I felt inspired to create a heart shape made of sharks to raise awareness to the misconceptions we have of them. From then on, I saw sharks in a different light and although I still have a lot of respect for them, I now feel I understand these predators much better. They are beautiful creatures and I have learnt so much for myself. I know want to pass on my learning experience to others through education.
Please tell us about your books. What inspired them?
I am the author of the children’s book series Tovi the Penguin (nine books in the series) and the concept series: The ABC Animal Picnic, 1,2,3, Who’s Cleaning the Sea?, and Diamonds, Hearts and Sea Stars!
After University I would have loved to just be a children’s book illustrator, but one of my professors advised me to focus on commercial work as that was where the jobs were. I think everyone is desperate to find a job after university and the thought of depending on government handouts while trying to make it as an illustrator was scary for me. So I spent years working for brands in the commercial field, even if there were some I didn’t approve of. At a young age it can also be hard to find your voice. When I wanted to get pregnant with my first daughter, I experienced some difficulties and realised that I couldn’t stand the high pressure of agency work anymore. So I decided to quit my well-paid job in order to concentrate on having a family.
During my first three months at home, I got inspired by my mother-in-law to rewrite a book that she had started and to also start work on a little story about a penguin, inspired by a creation I had made when working on a sun tan lotion packaging idea in my previous job. I loved the character so much that I decided to make him into a new character for my own book, and that’s when Tovi the Penguin was born. A month later I was pregnant and when my daughter was born I decided to continue with Tovi and finally published my first book.
How long did each one take and how did you find the process of creating them?
I would say a book takes me about 6/9 months, keeping in mind that this is not my full time job. I write my books in my spare time and with two young children around, so finding time is rather rare. I still work as a graphic designer and have concentrated my focus in the last year on finding clients that are trying to protect the environment. I sometimes take time off my day job to finish a book and during the pandemic I wasn’t able to take on so many clients, as handling homeschooling and jobs at the same time was rather difficult. I still wanted to work, but rather on my own terms. This was the perfect opportunity to concentrate on my second ocean book: Diamonds, Hearts and Sea Stars!, which is a collection of nine poems connected with a shape and a sea creature. One chapter is just about sharks and the importance of protecting them. I was so thankful at being able to create artwork during the Shark Guardian campaign, as I was just finishing this book and it was a perfect opportunity to not just write about them but also put into action what I write about protecting them.
Nina’s art work isn’t the only way she communicates her message of ocean conservation and plastic pollution. She actively educates school children in Singapore and her hometown of Paris.
How was your experience of teaching ocean and plastic pollution in schools?
Honestly, the first talk I did in a school was an emotional rollercoaster. I was so taken by the kids enthusiasm for protecting the sea creatures that it almost made me cry. Some kids raised their hands just to tell me that they enjoyed the talk and thought it was great, while others asked more meaningful questions, such as why are we using single-use plastics if it is so bad for the environment! Also, I had children who explained to me that their parents job is all about plastics… this is also why I think we shouldn’t work against each other. Big corporations have a curial role to play in bringing about solutions, from a economic point of view.
Tell us about #changereaction.
After I published my book “1, 2, 3, Who’s Cleaning The Sea?, which focusses on ocean pollution, I felt quite helpless. I wanted to make an impact, but going around telling people I have written a book and that they should check it out felt very self-promoting and something I wasn’t very comfortable with. So I was looking for other ways to motivate people and make an impact. One idea I had was to create a ‘change reaction’ hashtag, where we can all think of an item at home that we find unsustainable or that is single use, and the next time we need to buy it we instead replace it with a sustainable and earth-friendly alternative. I’m not sure if it has worked but it’s definitely something I talk about when I go on my school visits and try and promote. The idea is not to put too much pressure on people but to allow them to buy in to the fact that the minute we create change, we can feel good about ourselves while having a positive environmental impact. I think caring and being willing to have an impact is really valuable.
Plastic pollution is clearly very close to your heart. If there was one thing you could ask all of us to do, what would it be?
Bring your own items to avoid waste and reduce single-use items whenever you can.
Plastic pollution is a very complex subject. I think it’s important not just to focus on the crisis and the negative effects, but to also think of the solutions. We have to think of what each of us can do and be careful not to exclude any options. Yes, recycling might not be the solution, but not to recycle is also not the solution. Government regulations have to change to favour infrastructures in their own country, as a circular economy is essential to tackle some of these problems. The biggest challenge I see is not to overwhelm those who can make a difference. But if we have the feeling that the problems are too big, we will just create frustration and a disconnect. So for me, I think small steps can be the right way forward. I started a few campaigns in the past that I hope might help. They are listed on my website, where you can also find some tips on how to exchange single-use plastic products with more sustainable solutions.
Where do you see the anti-plastic pollution movement heading in the future?
I was quite hopeful before the pandemic but single-use plastic, including personal protective equipment (PPE), has increased dramatically. I hope that recycled plastic and a circular industry will become the norm. But what I hope for the most is that we realise that the world’s resources won’t last forever and that taking from the future in a non-sustainable way will have drastic consequences for future generations. I hope we come to a common realisation and appreciation of what we’ve got and that anything that is single-use simply can’t be good for the planet. Anything that is wasting our resources can’t be good for the planet.
I’m afraid I don’t have a straightforward answer because we are in such uncertain times that it’s hard to know where things are going. I just hope that everyone will reflect on the impact they have on the environment!
What has been a favourite project of yours?
I loved doing my art exhibition “PROTECT WHAT KEEPS YOU ALIVE” in July 2019. For me, it wasn’t just about showing off my art, it was about combining it with a subject I’m passionate about and getting into conversations with people about the subject matter.
I have also loved working with each of the schools I have given talks in to raise awareness of plastic pollution and I really hope that this is something I can continue doing in the future. I also loved being part of the Shark Guardian campaign and being able to help The Marine Diaries with their ecosystem project. As you can see, I don’t really have a favourite project, as really ‘the ocean’ itself is my favourite project and that inspires all the work I do around it.
What is a hobby of yours outside of creating art?
I love swimming and I have a passion for photography. I love to take macro shots of insects and nature pictures more generally. I think that macro shots of insects are especially inspiring for me on an artistic level, with the different structures and patterns found in nature.
What is a favourite quote of yours and why?
Oh! I have so many favourites that it’s hard to only chose one! Quotes are something that really lift and motivate me. Especially on days were I am feeling a little down or overwhelmed. They inspire me and remind me that my work does matter and that even if it only reaches one person, it has already made a difference. But this one from Dr. Jane Goodall does stand out:
“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”
And of course, Sir David Attenborough’s words are always inspiring:
“No one will protect what they don’t care about and none will care about what they have never experienced.”
I love Sir David Attenborough. In fact, I have sent him a copy of each of my books! (I still check my inbox every day to see if he has written back. This quote of his really makes me appreciate how important it is that I teach children about sea creatures, so that they learn the importance of wanting to protect them. It reminds me, if ever it’s needed, that the work I’m doing is important.
How can people support your art best?
Spread my message. Buy my books or my limited edition art prints. By supporting me you are also supporting others, as I’m always trying to help others through volunteering my work or by donating a percentage of my profit.
If you are a school or a teacher, I hope you can feel motivated to get in touch with me. I’ve been working with a number of international schools in the last seven years, with a focus on environmental issues.
You can also find and support Nina and her quest for a brighter future on Instagram, Facebook, Etsy and via her website using the links below.
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