From the bottom of the sea to the highest peaks! In light of the favourable reviews of the guide to the flora and fauna of the Mediterranean written with Kike Ballesteros a couple of years ago, at Brau Edicions we have now decided to publish a guide to the Pyrenees — in six languages!!
This new guide describes over 800 species of plant and animal – as well as fungi, lichens and mosses – found throughout the Pyrenees, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, from the humid north face to the scarp slopes of the southern-most pre-Pyrenean cliffs. David Guixé, multifaceted biologist and naturalist from the Forest Sciences Centre of Catalonia in Solsona has written the texts, chosen the species and acted as the coordinator of all the contributors that have provided expert advice for each group of flora and fauna, both from the Spanish and the French side, where the guide will be published by Biotope Éditions.
The time spent on my part of the work, as – alas! – so often happens, was spent more in front of a computer screen than in the field, and I only left my study to go up to the Pyrenees to photograph landscapes for the habitat panoramas. However, I have had to illustrate 225 new species, often varieties and subspecies found only in the Pyrenees, which has involved far more hours of meticulous work than I had planned for — as always, my enthusiasm for a new exciting project got the better of me!
This summer I received one of those challenging commissions that you just cannot turn down. To express myself in a rather lofty – but totally sincere – fashion, it was a true honour that the Catalan Ornithological Institute (ICO) should ask me to produce a work as a homage to Lars Svensson. This Swede, perhaps the most eminent of all European ornithologists, is the author of a number of exceptional field guides used by both ringers and general birdwatchers. The ICO had decided to name Svensson an honorary member during this year’s Delta Birding Festival and wanted to mark the official presentation with an appropriate gift for the occasion: hence the commission, which you can see here:
The ICO had told me that one of Svensson’s favourite birds is the Woodlark and suggested that this species be the object of my work. This small lark that frequents fields and stubble is not particularly spectacular. Its habitat is somewhat run-of-the-mill, it breeds on the ground in the grass, it behaves fairly discreetly — a challenge indeed to produce a work fit for the occasion.
But, I was in luck. In recent years I have spent a lot of time with the local Woodlarks. In the field where we keep our donkeys, full of stones and bang slap in the middle of the village, there are Woodlarks all year around. In winter groups of a half a dozen birds feed, while in spring, if the tall lush grass has not yet been chewed away by the donkeys, there is always a breeding pair (whose nest, by the way, is always very hard to locate). To avoid detection by predators, the adults always land a few metres away from their nests and then casually walk there almost invisibly through the grass. After a few preliminary sessions spying on the Woodlarks as they try to conceal the site of their nest, every breeding season I manage to locate the nest and enclose it with an electric fence to keep it and its young safe from the hoofs of our donkeys. A small but welcome satisfaction. One year I even managed to hide a camera inside a paper-maché stone: every day I moved it a little nearer the nest and was able in the end to film these images when the chicks were already quite well grown.:
All these hours of fieldwork represent many hours of observing Woodlarks, which I depict here as part of an image of our donkeys grazing, with the first rays of a June sun just touching the old bales of straw, the skyline of our village in the background and the larks on the ground in the foreground — all this as a synthesis of my personal links to these larks. My aim was that, despite the detail, the larks – one with a spider in its bill waiting to enter the nest and the other actually feeding its chicks – would not play too great a role in the final composition. I felt that this particular piece of Catalan landscape, with the rounded bales, the church bell tower and the even the donkeys, should play a very important and, in some way, predominant part of the work, as if the contemplation of my work and the finding of the birds was in fact a kind of birdwatching ‘test’.
My work was presented to the great Lars Svensson during a simple but emotive-for-many ceremony held in the main tent of the Delta Birding Festival, packed to the proverbial rafters with an enthusiastic audience drawn by the presence of the great man himself (rather than my work!). The act, attended by important ornithologists of Catalan and international repute, including José Luis Copete, a personal friend of Lars Svensson, Gabriel Gargallo the ICO coordinator, and Jordi Baucells its president (and not forgetting Svensson, of course), was for me a humbling experience and a very special moment.
I’ve been told that my work depicting a corner of our ornithological landscape has already found a home on the walls of Svensson’s study in Sweden. These little details are still very important for me. I must thus give thanks to all those who made it possible: the members of the ICO and, once again and above all, to the organizers of the Delta Birding Festival –Ricard Losarcos, Miquel Rafa, Abel Julien and Francesc Kirchner – who dreamed up this marvellous annual event for bird lovers from Catalonia. And, naturally, an even bigger ‘thank-you’ to Lars Svensson, from whom so many European ornithologists who use and trust his identification guides above all others have learnt so much.
And, unwittingly, they are the reason why I had to sign 2,500 of my plates.
At 10 seconds a plate – pick up the plate, sign it, put it in the correct pile – works out at 25,000 seconds. That’s just over seven hours signing, a whole day’s work. Wow! The solution? Take advantage of any free five minutes to sign a couple of hundred — in the patio as the kids play, in a hide waiting for birds, a few minutes peace and quiet outside after dinner …
When Lynx Edicions found itself faced with the tricky – and unviable – task of including the over 2,500 species of rodent in single volume of the Handbook of the Mammals of the World, it had in the end no alternative but to devote two volumes of this opus magnum to this large group of mammals. These two volumes include far more than just mice and rats, for they also take in animals as attractive as porcupines, capybaras, squirrels, marmots, dormice, hamsters, shrews and, naturally, rats and mice.
However, before beginning, the ‘mainstays’ of the purchasers of the HMW, i.e. the subscribers, were consulted. By means of an questionnaire, they were asked if they agreed with the idea and whether they would buy both volumes. To encourage people to participate, we decided, rather frivolously, that we would give away a signed plate from the HMW with my drawings of all the world’s lynxes — a logical choice given the publisher’s name. The response was overwhelming and the over 2,500 subscribers who answered the questionnaire gave a clear majority of 93% in favour of two volumes of rodents.
And so, to finish off the sixth volume of the Handbook, the first devoted to rodents, I had to sign the appropriate number of plates. I finished the signing, here and there, but with the satisfaction – if you will permit me this pleasure – of knowing that each signed plate would go to an unknown person in an unknown corner of the world, and to each and every one of the keenest subscribers to the Handbook of the Mammals of the World. I offer my thanks to all these animal lovers who support this project, which, on a more personal note, has represented the main body of my work for almost a decade, and will continue to do so for a few more years to come.
At the beginning of June I had the pleasure of undertaking a wonderful wildlife ‘safari’ through some of the natural areas of two of the least ‘wild’ countries in Europe, Belgium and the Netherlands. My guides on this new project were Bart Muys, Professor of Ecology at the University of Lueven, and the botanist Hans Baeté, two unstinting and priceless companions in the field.
I’m currently working with Bart Muys on a new series of guides to the flora and fauna of the natural areas of the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg). They will be published by the Dutch publishers KNNV, specialists in natural history publications, and will benefit greatly from the expertise of Hans Baeté, the author of the guides’ texts. The original proposal came from Bart, who suggested a couple of years ago that we ‘export’ the style of compact guides to biodiversity at local level that I have been working on with Brau for Catalonia since 2008.
Part of the work involved in preparing the content of the guide is the fieldwork, which consists of photographing the most representative habitats and the way in which people use these spaces, and then visiting and viewing these areas through the eyes of a humble ‘visitor’ to select the species that have to be highlighted in the final guide. And so these last few days were spent in Belgium and the Netherlands visiting sites such as the limestone hills of the Viroin valley in Wallonia, full of orchids and open-space birds, the polder of Oostvaardersplassen, grazed by herds of red deer and semi-wild horses, the spectacular beech- and oakwoods of Zonien south of Brussels, the coastal marshes of Zwin, and, finally, the dunes, meadows and pinewoods of Veluwe.
Now it’s time to get down to working on the drawings. First of all, I highly recommend a quick tour of a small selection of the photos I took during my five Benelux days, as a means of discovering the beauty and diversity of a part of Europe which is decidedly not just fields of cabbages and tulips! Enjoy!
I was commissioned by Els Ports Natural Park to produce a small field guide to the fauna of this wonderful protected area in an original format: a pocket-sized, reinforced plasticized leaflet that is ideal for taking out into the field. The texts were written by the Park itself, and the design was the work of good friend Abdón Jordà. I produced the drawings and took the photograph of a fantastic spring sunrise from the top of Barranc de la Vall, with my friend Marta Gibert as an ‘extra’.
This guide has enabled me to enlarge my portfolio of drawings and deepen my knowledge of a number of animals, above all of various age classes and behavioural aspects of the best-known mammal of the area, the Spanish Ibex. I was also able to study the tracks and signs – dens and excrements – left by other mammals in the area.
The guide will be published in two bilingual editions (Catalan and English, Spanish and French) and the hope is that it will help visitors appreciate and discover one of the most important –and, paradoxically, often one of the least well provided for – reasons for visiting our protected natural areas: the ‘large’ wild animals such as the ibex that populate our mountainsides.
It’s strange but drawing animal excrements is more interesting than it might seem. Animals – we humans too – never move their bowels each time in exactly the same way. The challenge thus is to find the ‘perfect’ stool for each species. And a good fibreless meal is not the same as a feast of figs, and this is reflected in the variety of forms, colours and textures that can be found, for example, in the excrements of the small carnivores inhabiting Catalonia (genets and beech martens) that also eat a lot of fruit. Likewise, old excrements that have been exposed to the sun for days don’t much resemble fresh ones.
Once the ‘model’ stool has been decide upon, then it’s a question of drawing the texture – granular, shiny, velvety, loose, …
The result: a useful tool for naturalists that can be used to reliably identify some of the signs left behind by our mammals.
Last spring I had the luck to go on a fantastic micro-expedition one morning to a micro-jungle just an hour away from home. I visited some hay meadows on the slopes of El Montseny with an exceptional guide, Narcís Vicenç, one of Catalonia’s most erudite and knowledgeable of all naturalists. He would be somewhat disdainful of or even surprised by such words if he ever found out that I had described him in this way. He’s more a field naturalist and not one for blogs and so he may never read this — but he is that good, just as everyone in our small world of naturalists will testify.
The aim of the excursion was to gather information and graphic material for a series of explicatory panels dealing with the fabulous biodiversity of two environments that are a priori somewhat less than glamorous: hay meadows and the dead wood of the forests of El Montseny Natural Park -a forested mountain 30km north of Barcelona-. I spent a couple of hours moving around and photographing at ground level with Narcís and I felt as if I was discovering a fantastic jungle. My task then was to convert all this into a single image, and here you have it.
Reproducing a natural environment by blending photographs and my own illustrations of the most representative species of flora and fauna is always a gratifying task. First of all, it obliges me to leave my studio for a few hours and go out into the field and submerge myself in a landscape, impregnate myself in it, and visualize and imagine it in my head as a single image. Then it’s a question of bringing together all the parts that need to be assembled: foregrounds, details, textures, backgrounds, light, shade, overviews and all the photos I need to make an aesthetically pleasing collage that both represents and explains the scene in question.
Next I have to compose the images, a real challenge since, if truth be told, what I create is pure illusion and a visual deceit. I blend various images into a single panorama, in which all the animals and plants to be depicted have a space that is both appropriate in terms of the ecosystem and the composition as a whole.
In the case of the hay meadow, the challenge was to highlight different species of plants amidst the chaos of grass stems, as well as to fit in all the minute insects and relatively large birds. A true microcosm, just like the film.
With the dead wood, it was a case of playing with very close-up foregrounds, perspectives and – there was no alternative – detailed zooms to illustrate all the mosses and invertebrates (many of which were smaller than 1 cm), as well as a huge old trunk of a fir tree.
Now the panels have been printed and are about to be erected in El Montseny Natural Park. We hope that they survive the attacks of the graffiti ‘artists’ and other vandals, and that they wake up a certain curiosity amongst visitors for the biological diversity present in these environments.
Going out into the field – be it climbing a mountain, heading off into a forest or diving in a lake – and impregnating myself with the knowledge gleaned from others is the part of my work creating habitat panoramas that I most enjoy. Taking the required photos is always a challenge as I need a vast number of images to be able to create a collage that is both detailed and believable.
In this case, the challenge was multiple. First of all, we had to climb up to the lakes of Colomers in the heart of the Aigüestortes National Park, in the high Pyrenees, fully laden with photographic equipment, thick Neophron suits, goggles, snorkels, weights, etc., and then dive into its glacial waters – with all the required permits, I may add! My guide was the ecologist Marc Ventura, Director of the LIFE Project Life Limno-Pirineus, from the Blanes Advanced Study Centre belonging to the Spanish National Research Council – CSIC, not only an expert limnologist but also a great mountaineer who sometimes forgets that we’re not all in such good form as he is …. Nevertheless, I reached the lake and managed to hide my laboured breathing as I followed in his tracks.
Once in the cold water of the lake at over 2,000 m, the main difficulty was to keep afloat at just the right height so as to not disturb the sediment on the lake bottom. I was able to photograph the submerged and emerged landscapes, populated by numerous singular plants and animals, many of which float on the surface.
A further challenge was to photograph in detail and then reproduce in a satisfactory way two very special environments: mires and calcareous springs. These two habitats are populated by small, often almost imperceptibly small plants that thrive in specialised microhabitats with very specific levels of humidity and relief features, that it was my job to reproduce. Also with us was Empar Carrillo, an eminent botanist, who took us to the calcareous springs of El Pla de Beret and the mires in the Vall de Molleres in the Vall d’Aran and Alta Ribagorça, respectively.
All in all, I’ve produced four great panoramas of these aquatic Pyrenean habitats (lakes, rivers, mires i calcareous springs ),for use in displays, leaflets, pedagogical material and in the (highly recommendable!) website of the LIFE Project Limno-Pirineus. It was a pleasure to be able to collaborate with the project, which is already having an obvious positive impact on these fragile upland ecosystems, knowledge of which will filter down into the local population and help perpetuate this positive conservation dynamic. Congratulations to all those who made it possible.
I must admit that this guide is one of the most gratifying results of my work — as pleasing or even more so than illustrating a scientifically rigorous, dense, lavish, prestigious magna obra that will be sold around the world.
You have here a small – albeit that unfolded it measures almost 1 m – pamphlet (eight ‘faces’ in all) that describes 125 Catalan birds that you ‘should’ get to know. A light-weight, pocket-sized, attractive, cheap and appealing guide that everyone can afford. I’m looking forward to seeing kids and adults alike using this ‘small but large’ guide to take their first steps as birdwatchers and as naturalists in general. Here are a few examples of some pages:
Along with friend and designer Lluc Julià. whose designs are so precise and elegant, we had the idea of this guide a number of years ago. But it wasn’t until another friend, Francesc Kirchner, from ORYX, the ‘nature-lover’s shop’ in Barcelona, offered to publish it that it has seen the light of day. Our miniguide also forms part of a beginner’s birdwatching kit (guide+binoculars+notebook+bag) that was produced by ORYX to mark the holding of the second Delta Birding Festival and the emission of the birdwatching TV programme “Tocats de l’ala”, on Catalan TV3. It can also be bought separately for just 5 €.
We trust that this miniguide will be successful and that we can begin to produce dozens of such guides. Indeed, we already have a number of other guides half-finished, having worked in collaboration with experts in the choice of species and the writing of the texts. Can you imagine how great it would be to have guides to the wild mushrooms, grasshoppers and crickets, orchids, butterflies, snails, gastropods, reptiles or vegetables of Catalonia? We can!
Just occasionally I’m lucky enough to be able to share my fieldwork with my family — and in this case we took things to an extreme.
I had been commissioned to produce a panorama with a photographic background of the subaquatic environments of the lower reaches of the river Ebro, which would depict the four species of threatened (or even extinct!) migratory fish that are the object of the LIFE Project MigratoEbre.
We chose a site just downstream from the weir at Xerta, a stretch of river with clear calm water, splendid underwater vegetation, good access and, most importantly, the weir itself, which was to appear in the background to the poster as an example of an obstacle that, happily in this case, fish can overcome thanks to its fish-ladder.
So the whole family went down to the Ebro. The small HEP station on the weir was designed and constructed by my dear father 15 years ago – what memories! With Valentina and the kids, we hired two canoes from Aiguadins (good people, good service) and whilst my mother – for she too was there! – waited on the riverbank, we paddled up the river to just under the weir. Uff! The current was strong, above all for those of us used to the rather gentler waters of our humble local river Fluvià. Once below the weir, we all jumped into the water with our goggles and snorkels to explore what resembled an underwater jungle, which tricked us into thinking for a minute that we were in fact in the Amazon! Exuberant 2-m-long pondweeds and watermilfoils dancing in the current, with small groups of chub, enormous mullets and colossal carps, swimming in-between … but sadly no sign of any of the four migrant species of fish that appear on the poster.
And then, back home and to work in the study and on the computer classifying the 300 photos – underwater and from the surface – I took to create the ‘ideal’ panorama, and to draw the fish in perfect perspective and with the right light to fit in with the background. Here you have the result, with details of the four target species:
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.
At the moment we (myself and the team from Edicions Lynx) are finishing off the final lay-out of the fourth volume of the Handbook of the Mammals of the World (Lynx Edicions), dedicated to marine mammals – basically, pinnipeds (seals, etc.) and cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). As a result, I have had to put aside for a while the drawings for the fifth volume dedicated to the marsupials.
The task of concluding the plates requires a great deal of precision and care to ensure that there are no errors – no matter how small – in the scales, colouration and details of the drawings. The editorial support from Albert Martínez-Vilalta at Lynx is key in guaranteeing that the plates are not only attractive but also highly exact. A typical e-mail from him contains phrases such as “Are you sure that the dorsal fin of the female Inia geoffrensis shouldn’t be slightly higher and wider?”
Part of the problems I’ve had in this latest volume of this handbook is that I have had to work almost as a forensic artist. For volume 2 of this handbook, dedicated to the ungulates, I had to work with, amongst other sources, hundreds of photos of animals killed by trophy hunters (the typical first-world nouveau-riche pictured next to the beautiful animal he has just slaughtered).
With the cetaceans, I have sometimes had to resort to photographs of animals stranded on beaches, often somewhat putrid, or of animal parts photographed in a Japanese ‘fish’ market. Sometimes, the main reference material is just a skull.
Fortunately (or otherwise), many of these rare species are still unknown to most people – and may be forever. There are bound to be fewer readers of the HMW – always incredibly demanding – who will canalize the illustrations of this volume with as much zeal as the average can comment drawings of wolves, zebras or gorillas!!
We are, at last, entering the home stretch in the work for the EmpordàNA’T exhibition.
My role in this – in my opinion – grandiose project is to multi-task: original idea, content, concept, images and texts. Fortunately, I have worked in close harmony with Eric Milet, a master of graphic design, spaces, branding, naming and, above all, organization.
And timing, which is the hardest thing of all to control!
I’ve been lucky too to come across on the way other excellent people such as the incombustible Guille Góngora, who has organized the exhibition space. Likewise, I’m thankful to Abdon Jordà for helping solve problems with the models, to Mike Lockwood for his precise English translation, and to numerous collaborators including photographers and photographic ‘extras’, as well as to many friends and family. And, of course, nothing would have been possible without the positive spirit of the natural parks involved!
EmpordàNA’T will be – rather, is about to become – a permanent exhibition in which visitors can get a taste of the Empordà’s protected areas and discover their rich natural and cultural heritage, the products of its soils and the leisure activities on offer. Four protected areas in one!
In all, a vast panorama of almost 70 m in length unites the landscapes of the four natural parks in L’Empordà. Over 40 days of fieldwork were needed to take the photographs, as well as I’ve-no-idea how-many-and-don’t-want-to-know days (weeks and months) of projections, concepts, design, writing of texts, meetings, retouching of photographs, illustration and painting.
The project was made possible by the energies of Anna Colomer, when she was in charge of public use in the Aiguamolls de l’Empordà Natural Park. Now, she has started her own new project, a small hotel in Castelló d’Empúries, Casa Clarà, which blends the best of the town’s past with ‘feel’ that it is expected of the tourism of the twenty-first century.
This is the logo that I have designed with Valentina for our ‘consume-local’ and ecological group in our village and surrounding area.
I like the visual impact of the design, which riffs on the inherent humour in the name by effectively ‘catalanizing’ the concept -and sound- “SLOW” (that sounds like “ÉS L’OU”, which stands for “it’s the egg” in Catalan). We support the Slow Food movement and, above all, the organic aspect of the type of daily consumption that we aim for: what better way than to illustrate it withn hybrid of a snail, one of the thousands of such creatures that infest our gardens and eat our artichokes, and an egg, the best of methaphors of a new life about to begin?!
Our ‘local-food’ group progresses in consonance with its logo … The initial meetings took place in spring 2013 under the shade of the oaks of the village square, with a typically Mediterranean supper to boot! Now, in winter, it’s harder to persuade people to leave their homes when evenings are so dark and cold. But, like snails, I’m sure we’ll be out and about again come the spring.
The marsupials are a very heterodox group and we should not think just of the classic kangaroo or the famous koala when marsupials are mentioned.
In fact, many marsupials do not live in Australia but in America and on both continents they seem to fill all the different ecological niches available to small-to-medium-size mammals in these continents’ ecosystems. When I draw these marsupials I can’t help but think that I’m just drawing shrews, mice, weasels, squirrels, moles, genets, monkeys or dormice!!
Despite a few drawings of grapes, most of the drawings in this book are geological cross-sections of various singular French vineyards – or terroirs. They weren’t easy to draw and I had to use as a reference a mix of maps, sketches by the author, 2-dimensional cross-sections and numerous images from Google Earth.
Geology is not my speciality, but it was a stimulating exercise. The way in which different strata are represented graphically in geological texts has always intrigued me (stripes, dots, hatching, etc.) and now I find myself using the same techniques. I have to confess that it was a slightly strange task, but it is a technique that is very practical for separating different types of rock.
The differences in scale of the landscapes was an added handicap – the books includes terroirs of just a few hectares, as well as others that stretch over numerous square kilometres. Nevertheless, I think the result is convincing and easy to understand.
My friend Anna from Celler Espelt, a truly discerning enologist, likes my drawings and says that she would like to have some panoramas/geological cross-sections for her vineyards in the Empordà, from Rabós to Roses. I’ll drink to that!
Two panoramas of the Lleida plains in eastern Catalonia. Unlike my normal way of doing things (see ‘Nature and its Environment’), in this case the photographs are not mine.
The excellent wildlife photographer Jordi Bas, jovial and highly knowledgeable companion of previous professional and publishing adventures, has commissioned a number of panoramas for the Lleida Plains Interpretation Centre. Given the time of year, it was impossible to take fresh photographs for the project and so I ended up using photographs from Jordi’s extensive archive, which had been taken in different places at different times of year, in different lights, without any thought of future projects.
After a lot of work and a serious ‘make-over’, in the end I came up with two panoramas that – if you had no idea of the tricks and time involved in blending together almost a dozen photographs, taken in different places and at different times – you would think were just a single landscape. Obviously, you can’t expect to see the profusion of wildlife illustrated and integrated into the panorama all at once, or in any one place. Nevertheless, it does reflect the biological richness that these non-irrigated croplands in the Lleida Plain harbour, one of the most beautiful landscapes – and one of the most threatened – in Catalonia.
My friend Conor Jameson, British naturalist, conservationist and writer, and author of Silent Spring Revisited (Bloomsbury, 2012), is just finishing writing what promises to be a fascinating book on the Goshawk. It is above all a personal view based on the author’s studies, experiences and observations of this wary, almost phantasmagorical forest raptor.
Since I found out that Conor was writing this book I have been sending him e-mails explaining my experiences with this species. Over the years I have accumulated a number of interesting observations, including an exceptional sighting from a hot-air balloon (the only time I’ve ever been up in a hot-air balloon)! We were flying at low altitude over a pine forest near Fornells de la Selva south of Girona when I was lucky enough to get a bird’s-eye view of a Goshawk pursuing a Green Woodpecker above the pines below the balloon! My other observations are somewhat more mundane, such as the time one took a chicken from our backyard, or surprising, as, for example, when I was able to film with a trail camera a Goshawk with a Kestrel in its talons on the bell-tower of our local church.
In the end, after numerous titillating e-mails to Conor with details of my experiences with the Goshawk, I now have the pleasure of making a small contribution to his book. His publisher’s, Bloomsbury, have asked me to provide the drawings for the chapter headings. What an honour!
The drawings are in pencil style, in black and white, and I have tried to make them as faithful as possible to the content of the chapter they represent and to the author’s needs. Aside from Goshawks and their habitats, I have also had to draw things that go beyond my normal subject matter such as a medal and a grave. But I’ve enjoyed the experience.
Get hold of the book if you can! Stay tuned to know the date of publication!
The campaign Paint a Fish, promoted by a number of European NGOs (New Economics Foundation, Greenpeace, WWF and OCEANA, amongst others), aims to call people’s attention to the need to change European fishery policies. It strikes me as a difficult challenge … but trying won’t do any harm!
The campaign coincides with the final negotiations for the Common Fisheries Policy, which take place every ten years, and is an excellent opportunity to make a decisive contribution to the promotion of sustainable fishery in Europe.
Paint a Fish is also an educational project that uses pedagogical material adapted to different age groups to help teachers and parents alike to tackle the subject of sustainable fisheries at school and at home.
I’ve drawn a tuna fish, as always faithful to (or trapped by?) my naturalistic style, using the tools available at www.paintafish.org. Here you have an example of the illustration process.
If you want to support and enlarge the call for a new, wiser way of managing our seas and fisheries, share the campaign and do Paint a Fish!
Si vols donar suport i fer més gran encara el clam per una nova manera de tractar el mar i els recursos pesquers, comparteix la campanya i pinta un peix!
I have just finished five information boards depicting the natural environments of Els Ports that will decorate the field study centre in the village of Prat del Comte. The work was commissioned by the Natural Park a few months ago and are a good example of how environmental panoramas should be designed with their target audience in mind.
I had already illustrated the Park’s natural environments for my guidebook to this protected area as part of my collection of guides to the flora and fauna. The size of these panoramas, though, was small (11×17 cm), which obliged me to make the animals proportionally much larger so that they could be properly appreciated in the guide. The new batch of redrawn panoramas for the Park are 40×60 cm and all have to be ‘read’ in a different way, more as ‘posters’. They provide more space for adding proportionally smaller elements that are better integrated into the landscape than in the guides, but are still equally visible. I had to redesign the panoramas considerably by returning to the layers of the original document, and then reworking them one-by-one and redoing or adding the animals and elements that were necessary.
The two panoramas in proportion to their original scale. Left, the one originally published in the guide; right, the new poster, 40x60cm.
The same two previous panoramas, shown at the same size: you can spot the differences, with the one on the left showing less, proportionally bigger elements.
…from the Mediterranean and from the next volume of the Handbook of the Mammals of the World. This is a pup of a Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus), an animal that has always fascinated me.
At the moment I’m finishing the final illustrations of the sea mammals for the next volume of this encyclopaedia, which include drawings of the pups of all the pinnipeds (seals and sea-lions). Some of the drawings resemble adorable stuffed toys – above all, the Arctic seals – while others are less surprising – such as the elephant seals. However, the most gorgeous of all are the pups of the threatened Mediterranean Monk Seal, delightful with their delicate shiny black skins, white bellies and such tender expressions on their faces!
Some pups from seals, sealions, elephant seal and walrus
Around 10 years ago, a group of naturalist friends and I paddled in kayaks around the islands of the Aegean Sea in search of these seals. This is my field sketch drawn from the top of a cliff of the only seal we saw, off the coast of the island of Kimolos. One of the last such seals…
An adult monk seal swimming on the surface between the islands of Kimolos and Milos, Greece, 2003. Drawn in the company of Ponç Feliu and Pere Renom.