Art & Conservation

Bring together 500 talented artists and see what kind of impact they can have on the world. That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Artists for Conservation (formerly Worldwide Nature Artists Group), an international organization founded in 1997 by Canadian artist, author, biologist and software engineer Jeff Whiting. Artists for Conservation (AFC) is an online community that currently brings together artists from 27 countries to promote preservation and protection of the natural world. To be considered for membership, artists must not only demonstrate excellence in their chosen medium, but also show a genuine commitment—financial or otherwise—to conservation.

“All of our artists maintain their own online gallery page, or portfolio, if you will, on the AFC website,” says Whiting. The site (www.natureartists.com) gets 10,000 to 15,000 visits per day, which offers great exposure for its members. And because AFC requires no commission on the sales it facilitates, artists have the option of pledging a portion of each sale to a conservation organization of their choice. When an individual purchases a painting of a koala, in other words, 20 percent of that sale may wind up in the coffers of a wildlife sanctuary in Australia. And this is only one of the many ways member artists support the organizations near and dear to their hearts: Some assist in field research; others spearhead publicity or education efforts; and many donate their art to be auctioned off at fund-raising events.

“I think member artists like being part of a community that’s trying to make a difference,” says Whiting. Last year, the group launched its first-ever juried exhibition at the Hiram Blauvelt Art Museum outside of New York City, featuring 120 works by member artists. The exhibit was held in conjunction with the Wildlife Conservation Society, which received a portion of the funds raised.

Another exciting AFC program called Flag Expeditions provides a modest stipend to artists, assisting them with travel to remote parts of the globe to draw, paint or sculpt the subject of their choice. By telling the stories of these lesser known regions and their inhabitants—rare seals in Russia’s Lake Baikal, painted dogs in Zimbabwe, or flora and fauna of Bhutan, for example—member artists raise awareness about wildlife and wild places that might otherwise rest in obscurity.
To Whiting, art and conservation are a natural pairing. “Art has a very special role to play in terms of reaching out to the public in a visceral way, in communicating with them in a nonscientific manner,” he says. “Protecting biodiversity, and the world’s habitats, needs more than science; it needs an emotive response from the public. Our role at AFC is to galvanize artistic talent and make this happen.”

Deb Gengler-Copple and Leslie Delgyer are two AFC artists who’ve chosen the medium of pastel as a way to express themselves artistically and to communicate their powerful connection with nature and wildlife. Here are examples of their work.

New Growth (pastel) by Deb Gengler-Copple

Pastel by Leslie Delgyer

To learn more about the artists, look for the feature article on Art & Conservation in the October 2009 issue of The Pastel Journal.

For more on painting wildlife, check out the new book Painting Realistic Wildlife in Acrylic: 30 Step-By-Step Demonstrations by William Silvers, a new publication from North Light Books.


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