Each month Shark Guardian selects an artist that goes above and beyond 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 have 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 May is the wonderful Jess from Jessica Jane Illustrations!
Please introduce yourself and share your journey!
Hey! 👋 Thank you so much for asking me to be your Eco-Artist of the month – I'm honored.
I would describe myself as an animal illustrator who mostly does digital drawings. I try to raise awareness about lots of different animal rights issues through my artwork. My goal is to create art with meaning and help people connect with the issues animals are facing. I care about all animals, but my main passion is definitely helping sharks and other sea creatures.
How did you get involved with art?
I’ve always loved drawing and doing anything creative from a young age. I think Art & Design was the only subject I was actually good at in school! I went to college to study Art after High School and I planned to go to university to study it further, but then after a trip to Thailand, I decided to quit so I could go travelling. I did continue drawing in sketchbooks as I was travelling. However, I ended up having too many sketchbooks to lug around with me, so I decided to start using a tablet to create my artwork instead.
Your talent is endless! We can see you draw a whole range of animals and you are involved in different projects. Please share more about these.
Aw, thank you! Right now I’m doing commissions for various animal charities and working on my own crochet coral reef shark project. Basically, I’m going to stitch crocheted coral reef pieces onto a canvas in the shape of a shark – I have no idea how it’s going to turn out, but fingers crossed it works! I’m really loving crocheting at the moment. I want to continue doing more of that, and tying it into the themes of coral bleaching and plastic pollution in the future.
In the past I've been fortunate enough to create artwork for some amazing farm sanctuaries, the animal rights film “Dominion" and the animal charity PETA. I’ve also illustrated a children’s book about fish and created my own "Compassionate Colouring’" book. I sell some of my designs on t-shirts and tote bags and as digital downloads on Etsy. I’m always up for taking on a new project, especially an ocean related one!
What is your favourite sea creature/animal and why?
This answer is an easy answer for me: definitely sharks! I’m not sure why I love them so much, but I just always have! I think I became fascinated by them from watching shark documentaries when I was a kid. Maybe it’s because they are so alluring and mysterious. They just seem to command people’s attention because of their beauty and power. Besides, some are just super cute and goofy that you can’t help but love them.
Tell us about your scuba diving journey and how that has impacted your passion for art and the oceans?
I did my open water certification in Scotland and got my advanced in the Philippines. I definitely want to get my rescue diver qualification at some point, but somewhere hot - not Scotland! I can remember after seeing the effects of coral bleaching first-hand on the Great Barrier Reef and the lack of marine life there, feeling really sad and compelled to do more to help. Also, the plastic pollution you see whilst diving has made me change my ways and inspired me to create some plastic-related artwork in the past.
You used to live in Hong Kong, tell us about that and how that inspired you to help sharks.
I actually didn’t even know, after months of living in Hong Kong, that it was the hub for the shark fin trade. I had somehow managed to avoid the famous “dry seafood street”. For some reason, I assumed because people in Hong Kong didn’t eat dogs, that they didn’t eat sharks! It wasn’t until I met a group of activists at an animal rights event that I was made aware.
After I saw the horror of the thousands of shark fins on the dry seafood street, I decided to quit my teaching job so I could get a part-time job and spend my spare time volunteering for the amazing Hong Kong Shark Foundation.
What projects were you involved with the Hong Kong Shark Foundation(HKSF)?
A lot of what HKSF do is education-based, so they do talks at local schools about the plight of sharks. A lot of time I would help with these projects as well as fundraising events and demonstrations. Whilst volunteering there, I started a petition to get Cathay Pacific to ban shark fin on their flights and organised some airport protests, which were successful. It was whilst I was volunteering here that I realised I could combine my passion for art with my love of sharks. So, I started creating shark-related artwork and highlighting other animal issues, and I haven't stopped since!
You've done a lot of volunteering for animals, what has been the most impactful experience to you personally?
I’ve been lucky enough to volunteer at some amazing animal sanctuaries whilst I’ve been travelling. After going to India and seeing all the poor street dogs there I felt like I needed to do something to help dogs. So, when I arrived in Thailand, I started volunteering at the amazing Soi Dog Shelter in Phuket and have since been back a further three times – it's that amazing!
Then, whilst living in Hong Kong I decided to visit the Yulin dog meat festival in China, just to write about. That trip was really upsetting and I ended up going back a week later to help out with the dogs that had been rescued because I just couldn’t stop thinking about them.
When I was living in Japan I volunteered with Ric O'Barry's dolphin project in Taiji for a week, which was an amazing experience. The activists that go there every year do such hard work. I’d never really seen dolphins so close up so it was a weird mixture of emotions: awe and sadness all at once. Knowing that they were about to be killed or taken for captivity was extremely sad. Even worse was seeing the tanks and pens that the dolphins were kept in at their local "Dolphin Museum".
You recently told us that you would like to draw more sharks! What is your favourite shark and why?
That’s like asking a mother to choose her favourite child haha! If I’m feeling fancy, I would say the Epaulette shark because the fact they can walk on land is insane. I think they are amazing! But if I’m just being basic, then I would say a Great White because they are just so frickin’ massive and stunning. But it’s such a hard question when you love them all!
And is there a shark you would love to draw but haven't yet?
Oh, good question. There are definitely a lot more sharks I would love to draw - too many to list! I think in the future I would love to create more manta ray artwork as well as focusing on some shark species listed on appendix II of CITES.
What are your other passions in life?
Aside from sharks, I really love creating artwork that focuses on all types of animals. I’ve been vegan for nearly 10 years, which stemmed from a love of animals, so I’m always trying to use my artwork to highlight issues that they face. So definitely Animals and Art are my two main passions!
What's next for you? Tell us about a dream project.
Well it would really be my dream just to draw sharks all day, but I don’t know how feasible that would be! I want to continue with my crochet projects for now and keep doing commissions for people. I’m hoping to see some basking sharks whilst I’m in Scotland, but really I can’t wait for the restrictions to be lifted so I can go travelling again. It’s my dream to be able to help animals full-time, so if I could do that via my art that would be amazing. Otherwise, I would really love to work for an animal related charity!
You can find and support Jess and her animal art on Instagram and Etsy using the links below.
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