Using Art to Inspire Action

Words and illustrations by Xavi René, Wildlife Conservation artist.

I’ve always had an unconditional love for nature. As a child I was passionate about illustrated books on animals, whether they were field guides or encyclopaedias (at that time, the internet was nowhere near what it is now). I spent hours looking at those illustrations and tried to imitate the drawings. I also loved TV documentaries about wildlife and loved learning more about animals and places all around the world. I especially remember a documentary about Costa Rica, with frogs, macaws and many other animals. I had it recorded on VHS and I think I watched it about a thousand times. 

My life took many turns before I became committed to illustration. In fact, it was not until 2009, when I was 21, that I began to study a degree in illustration. There I discovered that it was possible to dedicate my time and career to the difficult and very competitive world of illustration. The first years were especially hard and full of doubts. Then, in 2016, I received the first great opportunity to work as a wildlife illustrator for the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, Australia (I’d like to say a thousand thanks to Akane Hatai for believing in my work). I made several commissions, both for scientific illustrations and a more graphic style and from this point on, step by step, things began to happen in my career as an illustrator. Although, to be honest, even today I am still struggling to achieve stability, frequent commissions and to live fully from illustration. I can’t deny it’s an extremely difficult industry but when you like your job and feel passionate about it, you should never give up! 

The world is at a critical point. So, if we love animals and the planet, how can we watch what is happening and not do anything to come to its aid? I am deeply convinced that if we all contribute, we will be able to change the course of things. For this reason, I started to prepare several illustrated books about endangered wildlife. I was looking for a way to help but was lost in a sea full of ideas that didn’t advance. It wasn’t until I participated in a fundraiser by Lone Pine Koala for the Australian bushfires (2019) that everything became clearer. There, a new world of opportunities became visible, and I started to dedicate part of my work to help environmental organizations. I wanted to contribute my slice of expertise, both for a cause that I truly believe in and for myself, knowing that I have put my all into it. I wanted to use illustration as a tool to help spread awareness. 

Over the last few months, I’ve had the honour of collaborating with several campaigns for diverse and incredible organizations and have worked with magnificent people. For example, the #stopthekill campaign, to ban wildlife killing contests in the United States, the Nakawe Project (many thanks and admiration for Regina Domingo and her entire team) and the Comfort Theory production company team. I’ve also worked with the European citizens’ initiative #StopFinningEu, fighting for the European Commission to introduce laws to make finning completely illegal and the National Protest for Sharks in Costa Rica. Other projects included working with Green Wolf Costa Rica (with my dear friend Ellian Villalobos), Unidos Por Los Tiburones (with the incredible Carolina Ramírez) and Operation Rich Coast (with the energy of Sandy K Schmidt) amongst many others. And now I’m excited to be joining Chris Storey’s GhostNetWork team! 

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When I’m starting a new illustration, I have to really focus on the image and impact I want to create. It has to be clear, powerful and very visual. Sometimes almost poetic. Even if it’s hard to face and sad. For this kind of job, I work in digital format, for two reasons: firstly because of the depth and power that can be transmitted through the illustrations, especially those in colour. And secondly for the speed in which you can create the artwork. This allows me to make art for non-profits in my spare time, without compromising on quality. 

There is certainly no formula to the process, it’s the inspiration of the moment that turns it into reality. Each organization and each campaign are different, although the goal is the same: fight to protect wildlife! Within organizations there is a strong energy and will to achieve this which is vital to the success of the mission. They are large teams of scientists and professionals but also volunteers who decide to dedicate their time and skills to help the cause. Each and every one of them is incredible and essential. The strength and motivation of these people should be an inspiration to us all.  

To see more of Xavi’s art or enquire about his work, please see his Instagram @wildlife_erra or find him on LinkedIn: Xavi René.

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