On Monday 29 December the EmpordàNA’T exhibition, a showcase of the natural protected areas of the Empordà region, finally opened in the Farinera Ecomuseum in Castelló d’Empúries, in the presence of the Catalan Minister of Culture, Ferran Mascarell, and the Mayor of Castelló.
The 80 linear metres of this exhibition contain hybrid panoramas constructed from photographs and hundreds of illustrations, as well as almost 500 text boxes. Two years of hard work were necessary to create what turned out to be the longest, most forbidding and most painful project of my whole professional career.
We worked with an excellent graphic designer (and great cousin), Eric Milet, a wonderful set-builder from Figueres, Guille Góngora, and the indefatigable and always upbeat team from Roger Fotocomposició
(Roser, Lurdes and Lluís) who were in charge of the printing, all under the flexible and optimistic supervision of the staff from the protected areas involved in the project. Other people such as Santi Font, Eduard Marquès and Josep Clotas helped too with their priceless (and unpaid-for!) photos.
Here you’ll find a few photos of the ‘making of’.
And here a few more of the finished product.
I hope you will take the chance to visit the exhibition if you are in Castelló d’Empúries to discover EmpordàNA’T for yourself. It’s an excellent way of getting a feel for the natural, cultural and scenic values of the protected areas of this part of Catalonia, presented in images chosen with the utmost care and in the best possible taste.
I just produced six illustrations to put “a face” (quite ugly in some cases, let’s face it!) to some over-exploited deep sea fish species, treated in a report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF), written by Aniol Esteban and Griffin Carpenter.
The report identifies which are the EU countries supporting fishing quotas that in some cases double (!) the Total Allowable Catch recommended by scientists. And the winners are… Spain, France and Portugal!
The fight of NEF and many conservation organizations to halt overfishing is a hugely important and difficult one: short-term economic interests of industrial fisheries –backed by EU Ministers- are far more powerful than the long-term benefits –in terms of jobs, support to coastal communities and ecological- of a sustainable fishery.
My graphic contribution to this individual report is just a drop in this inmensely deep and wide fight, but they say every drop counts!
As an artist I spend 99% of my working hours, almost half of the day, alone. And the other half, as a parent, is spent -and enjoyed- with my family. So there’s not much time for socializing when you are a rather workaholic (and fatheraholic) wildlife artist like me.
That’s why last weekend’s Delta Birding Festival was a double (if not triple) pleasure. It gave me the chance to meet countless old time friends, birdwatching pals and knowledgeable colleagues, share with them my art and enjoy some high quality bird-watching and even family time, as it was a totally children-friendly event.
The DBF is the Catalan new-born equivalent to the British Birdwatching Fair, held anually in Rutland Water reserve, in South England, with tens of thousands of visitors and a birding fever in the air, I am told. Our local event was open -as we Catalans tend to be- to the Spanish and wider European public, and included first class icons of the birding universe such as Irish bird artist Killian Mullarney (co-author of the illustrations of the bible of birdwatchers, the Collins Guide), among others, like our autochtonous top global birdwatcher and editor, my dear friend Josep del Hoyo, alma mater of the Handbook of the Birds of the World and head of Lynx Editions.
Bird-watching at the Punta de la Banya saltmarshes with Josep del Hoyo, Jose Luis Copete, Oriol Clarabuch and Martí Franch
The Delta Birding Festival had been audaciously conceived by Francesc Kirchner (head of Oryx, the reference naturalist shop in Barcelona) and Miquel Rafa (director of the Fundació Catalunya la Pedrera, which provided its nature centre “Món Natura Delta” as the perfect spot for such an event), and organized by them with the support of the ICO (Institut Català d’Ornitologia), with its team of top level ornithologists and enthusiastic volunteers, joined by locals from the Ebre Delta who saw the importance of the event for their area. The Natural Park also supported the Festival, and allowed and guided us, the lecturers, to discover the wildest and seldom seen core areas of the Park. What a privilege to spend time bird-watching in such a setting with such a high level company!
Drawing live with such an inquisitive public… what a challenge!
Through an open live illustration exhibition held on Sunday morning, the DBF gave me the chance, almost for the first time ever, to respond to the question that friends and colleagues had been asking me for more than fifteen years now, since I started digital art in 1997: “how do you manage to paint birds, animals and plants that look so real, so organic, with a digital tablet and a computer?”. From what I could see after the show, I think that, in general, everyone appreciated the answer to that question.
Signing books by Killian Mullarney: for every ten he signed, I signed one… quite an instructing and humbling experience! However, it was a pleasure to deal with the users of my field guides.
Beyond that ego-centric event, and the opportunity of meeting a high level, kind and focused public, having the chance to chat and socialise with a wide array of knowledgeable -often wise, almost unvariabily humble, always friendly- figures was the best part of the Festival. Learning about art and communication, Lesser Kestrels’ wintering habits and even considering future partnerships with Juanjo Negro, director of the Estación Biológica de Doñana, discussing about rewilding with Miquel Rafa and top wildlife photographer Andoni Canela, chating with generous and friendly field ornithologists like Joan Estrada, Toni Curcó or Pep Arcos, birdwatching with Oriol Clarabuch, José Luis Copete o Ricard Gutiérrez, discussing ICO’s projects with Gabriel Gargallo and Sergi Herrando, sharing experiences of wildlife-watching hides with my colleagues at Naturaprop Esteve and Xavi and our “competing” friends and high level wildlife photographers like Jordi Bas or Oscar Dominguez… a seemingly endless array of experiences and conversations.
An after dinner brief and friendly but intense discussion with Killian Mullarney about bird and wildlife art, work and ego management and future projects was, to me, the most knowledgeable and privileged input from the Festival. Together with Martí Franch -a younger, more recently “digitalised” though super-crafted computer (and organic) bird artist-, we also had the honour of introducing Killian -a classic “organic” bird artist- to the wonders of digital art applied to wildlife illustration. I think that sharing this momment with Killian and Martí was the top momment of the DBF to me.
Chating between two big -and tall- bird artists: Martí Franch and Killian Mullarney. Next to us, little Adrià Arcos waiting for his Cap de Creus guide to be signed by me.
So again, and I think that already more than thoroughfully explained why, let me say a very big THANK YOU to everyone involved in making his first Delta Bird Festival. See you next year (hopefully, too, with all those birding friends who couldn’t attend!!!)
It’s months now since I started working on a new field guide to the marine flora and fauna of the Mediterranean sea with Enric Ballesteros, a true ‘monster’ of marine biology, doctor in the Centre d’Estudis Avançats de Blanes (CSIC) and National Geographic explorer of the world’s most pristine seas in his spare time. Enric – or Kike – is the author of the texts and has selected the species for the guide; with his enthusiastic but always exacting eyes, he is also the scientific supervisor of my drawings. Between expeditions – he is just back from three weeks in the seas off Mozambique in the Indian Ocean – we work together with Jenar Fèlix, our editor at Brau, in jam sessions of plate composition and supervision.
This guide is a true boyhood dream come true: a practical and profusely illustrated field guide that will make it possible to identify most of the beasts that you will find in the waters of the Mediterranean. How we would have enjoyed having it in our youth!, when my friend Aniol Esteban and I (among many others) organized sea discovery camps in a remote cove on Cap de Creus, then still unprotected as a natural park!
Being able to illustrate such a book under the direction of a marine biologist as talented as Kike is a real joy: a lot of work – more than 400 new species still to draw! – but also a pleasure and an honour. If everything goes as planned, it will be ready in 2014 and will be published in Catalan and five other languages, including English, by Brau.