Want to Work With Wildlife?

We talk with Na­ture Artist Aleta Karstad

Wild - - NEWS -

Do you love to draw? Aleta Karstad does too and she’s spent her whole life cap­tur­ing Canada’s crit­ters in her art­work — from slugs to snakes. For her cre­ative imag­i­na­tion and hard work she was hon­ored with the Cana­dian Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion’s Robert Bate­man Award this year. Want to fol­low in her foot­steps? Keep read­ing!

When did you first pick up a paint­brush and what made you want to paint wildlife?

AK: From the time I was three, I drew an­i­mals all the time. The world of na­ture was fas­ci­nat­ing and beau­ti­ful, and I ac­tu­ally thought that peo­ple were rather bor­ing. My par­ents bought me two books about the art of John James Audubon, and I mem­o­rized the paint­ings. As I be­came a teenager, I fo­cused on horses, draw­ing them from mem­ory. Ev­ery­thing I drew was from mem­ory. I painted mice on Christ­mas cards, and made a tiny story book about a Garter Snake and a mouse as a present for my lit­tle brother.

What is the coolest wildlife draw­ing ses­sion you’ve ever had?

AK: I was do­ing a wa­ter­colour of a Win­ter Floun­der that was be­ing kept in an ocean flow tank. I had de­cided to paint a side view of the fish, but it kept fac­ing me, cock­ing its eyes (one on the top of its head, and the other on the side) to look at me. I even­tu­ally got two paint­ings done on the same piece of pa­per, as the Floun­der moved around the tank — one side view, and one lit­tle por­trait of its face from the front — be­cause it spent so much time study­ing me through the glass!

Where has your sketch­book taken you in Canada?

AK: I’ve drawn and painted all across Canada, from New­found­land on the At­lantic Ocean, to Haida Gwaii on the Pa­cific Ocean, and I've trav­elled and camped in all the prov­inces be­tween. I took the train to Churchill, Man­i­toba, on the shore of Hud­son’s Bay, and painted wa­ter­colours of tun­dra plants.

Have you ever drawn an­i­mals that are at risk? Do you think it’s im­por­tant to cap­ture im­ages of these en­dan­gered an­i­mals?

AK: I painted all the En­dan­gered fresh­wa­ter mus­sels of On­tario, for the De­part­ment of Fish­eries and Oceans, and since then, my bi­ol­o­gist hus­band and I have dis­cov­ered new pop­u­la­tions of al­most all the rare species of fresh­wa­ter mus­sels in east­ern On­tario, within two hours of where we live. A lot of my il­lus­tra­tion work has been de­tailed wa­ter­colours to help with the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of kinds of an­i­mals that peo­ple don’t usu­ally think of as hav­ing dif­fer­ent species — like cray­fish, slugs, snails and mus­sels. I have painted all the rep­tile and am­phib­ian species of Canada and it’s re­ally won­der­ful to get to know the per­son­al­ity of each one!

What an­i­mal is hard­est to draw or paint? How do you man­age to get a good like­ness of the an­i­mal?

AK: Shy an­i­mals are the hard­est to draw and paint — some­times I’ve waited for over half an hour for a shy kind of slug to poke out its ten­ta­cles and de­cide that it was safe enough to be­gin to ex­plore the damp piece of bark I was hold­ing so that I could draw its por­trait.

What should kids study to be­come a na­ture artist?

AK: You don’t have to study any­thing be­fore you start. You just need cu­rios­ity, and re­spect for na­ture, pa­tience and per­se­ver­ance. Draw­ing from na­ture will ex­er­cise all of these parts of your char­ac­ter. Prac­tice, prac­tice, prac­tice!

If a kid wanted to start draw­ing or paint­ing wildlife species, do you have any tips for them?

AK: Keep your pen­cils sharp, and count and mea­sure the parts of your sub­ject. Pay at­ten­tion to pro­por­tion — like count­ing how many widths of some­thing would fit into the length. Use your fin­ger and thumb to com­pare an­gles.

What sub­ject would be a good sub­ject to paint or draw if you’re just start­ing out?

AK: Start by draw­ing plants: leaves, seeds, fruits, twigs and flow­ers. These are good for prac­tice be­cause they don’t move much. Shells are good too, be­cause you have to get their curves right! For mam­mals and birds, you can prac­tice sketch­ing your pets at home, or an­i­mals in a zoo. Snails, slugs, and in­sects of all kinds are won­der­fully di­verse and ex­cit­ing, and they are all around! Spi­ders are also awe­some to draw. These in­ver­te­brate crea­tures are small and ac­ces­si­ble, and easy to keep as guests for a while as you draw or paint them.

Do you have any ad­vice for kids that want to be­come na­ture artists when they grow up?

AK: Ev­ery de­tail that you no­tice may be an im­por­tant de­tail — maybe no one but you has ever no­ticed this par­tic­u­lar de­tail. An ob­ser­vant and care­ful wildlife il­lus­tra­tor can make im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tions to sci­ence! Learn to use Pho­to­shop to edit your draw­ings and paint­ings for pub­li­ca­tion. If you’re us­ing pho­to­graphs as ref­er­ence, take as many pho­tos as you can, and don’t rely on just one, be­cause pho­tos of­ten dis­tort or ex­ag­ger­ate fea­tures, or fail to show im­por­tant de­tails.

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