Zoology inspiring Art

By Amy Deacon, founder of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists’ Club Art Group

As the hybrid offspring of an artist and a biologist, combining painting and the natural world has always seemed quite an obvious thing to do. The attendance register from the inaugural outing of the Trinidad and Tobago Field Naturalists Club Art Group proves that I am not alone: twenty people turned up at 9am on Saturday 14th April to enjoy a morning of drawing, painting and photography at UWI’s Zoology Museum.

Taking full advantage of TTFNC’s excellent connections, the group was treated to a personal tour by the museum curator, Mike Rutherford, who showed us around both the main Zoology Museum and the beautiful insect collection next door. Initially entranced by the stacks of jars, cabinets, bones and stuffed creatures, eventually we had to remind ourselves that we were not only in the museum to gaze at and learn about the fascinating specimens (although I’m sure any one of us could have easily done so all morning). This left us with no choice but to face up to the first challenge of the day: selecting a subject! The variety was somewhat overwhelming, but one by one we settled on a creature, found a comfortable seat and opened our paint boxes, pencil tins and camera cases…

Subjects chosen included alien-like marine creatures such as the horseshoe crab and nautilus, skulls of horses and marine fish, scary giant centipedes, spectacular harlequin beetles and pickled snakes and starfish. This was where many of us faced the second challenge of the day – getting started. Happily, the trip coincided with my father, Paul Deacon, an artist and retired art teacher, visiting Trinidad from the UK. He spent the morning floating between the two rooms offering encouraging advice to nervous or hesitant artists, providing starting points and explaining techniques wherever such help was requested.

Apart from a brief break to view a stunning example of a ‘sun dog’ or rainbow-like halo around the sun, we kept going until lunchtime. As well as a wide range of subjects, the group also embraced a great variety of media – pencil, watercolour, oil pastel, digital photography, to name but a few. Some even found the time to document the event by photographing fellow artists and their work, as well as taking artistically-minded photos of the specimens themselves.

For many, this day in the museum was the first time they had opened a sketch book in years, despite enjoying drawing and painting in the past. Everyone was extremely positive about the experience afterwards and grateful for the opportunity to rediscover a passion for art. It seems that art is one of those interests that sound so easy to keep up as a hobby in theory, but in reality often get neglected in the rush of everyday life. It is my hope that this new group will provide an outlet – a time and a place – for all of us, to make sure we do not forget how relaxing and satisfying it can be to spend a few hours observing and interpreting nature through art.

Our second trip in September took us to the Emperor Valley Zoo, where artists enjoyed the challenges of capturing swinging spider monkeys, flamingos drinking and tapirs feeding! The idea is that future trips will take us to locations equally rich in natural history subjects – for example the Pointe a Pierre Wildfowl Trust.

The TTFNC is a great club to get involved with for those living in or visiting Trinidad & Tobago, who are interested in going on some excellent natural history-orientated hikes and attending interesting monthly lectures. See ttfnc.org for more details.