Conservation Biology, Quotes, Sustainable Design, Work In Progress

How a bad illustration can inspire something deeper

The Cape Perrot Plants an Idea (WIP illustration, Arlene Ellis, 2013)

What you’re seeing above is a fashion illustration gone wrong. I had a completely different vision in my head. Initially I used a vintage fashion illustration to inspire the pose and silhouette.  In this case I was more concerned about drawing the textiles than the construction of the garments.

The Cape Perrot Plants an Idea (Sketch, Arlene Ellis, 2013)

Half-way through the drawing I thought to use a bird’s head instead of a human head, so I googled “parrots, National Geographic.” One of the first results was a National Geographic article about the endangered green and gold Cape parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Cape parrots are endemic to South Africa and are on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss. They usually eat yellowwood fruits but because the yellowwood forests are being cut down for agriculture the birds no longer have a steady food supply and are becoming malnourished, which makes them more susceptible to infections.

After I read the National Geographic article I replaced the human head with a Cape parrot head. Then I infused the textile with elements of the parrot’s life: the colors of its feathers, the shapes of the yellowwood fruit, the color of  vasculature to hint at infection and finally the color of the sky. Still not satisfied with the illustration I tried to salvage it digitally. Needless to say, things didn’t turn out well :).


So why am I explaining all this? I’m terrible at maintaining journals or even sketchbooks because I’m my own worst critic. When drawing or writing for myself, I can’t help but rip apart everything I’ve created (not literally). However, because my blog is public it offers an audience and weirdly enough I feel more compelled to create for an audience than just for myself. In the end though, the main audience member I’m speaking to is my future self. The future me who will have accomplished her dream of becoming a successful fashion designer. The future me who will ask, “How did I get here?” She will look back on these posts and chuckle about how seriously I took myself and my mistakes.

After I finished this fashion illustration, I watched a video of conservation biologists Steve Boyes discuss his dedication to saving the Cape parrot. I was so moved by the plight of these beautiful birds, that I realized I wanted to help them. Yes the first illustration the birds inspired was crap, but it has inspired me to dig deeper.

“Just two weeks ago, I was in the Okavango Delta…but when you’ve come to this place it’s not a wilderness area anymore. We’ve changed it too much. We’ve lost too much of it. And now we must give back.” -Steve Boyes

The main reason I started Organic Lyricism is to instill an appreciation of the natural world in other people. I was growing frustrated by how so many of us take from nature but don’t care to protect it. People like Steve Boyes inspire me to keep making mistakes because there is a greater goal beyond satisfying my ego. If I can harness my talent to create something that people will buy to help protect a species like the Cape parrot, then I’ll keep taking risks.

By the way, if you’re interested in art designed to give back then I invite you to check out my limited edition posters. I hope you have a great day!