The Ocean Storyteller - Using Art to Celebrate Biodiversity

Rachel Brooks

In the quaint Scottish Highland town of Oban resides a master of her craft – Rachel Brooks, an internationally acclaimed Wildlife Artist and Scientific Illustrator. Specialising in marine wildlife and renowned for her ability to capture intricate detail using ink, Rachel's work offers a glimpse into the captivating world beneath the waves.

I have always aimed to showcase the beauty of the natural world, loving the ocean and all of it’s inhabitants are the first step in wanting to protect this special environment. As a scuba instructor and wildlife guide I was able to do this in person, seeing the amazement and curiosity in peoples eyes as they see a bustling coral reef or wild dolphins for the first time. I wanted to continue to showcase the ocean and all it’s inhabitants, but this can’t be done without telling the stories of what is happening to our blue planet.

Marine Conservationist at Heart

Drawing from a rich tapestry of experience in Zoology, Marine Biology, and the Scuba Industry, Rachel has immersed herself in the study of her fascinating subjects, spending years delving into their habitats, behaviours, and intricacies. It is this deep-seated passion for the natural world that infuses her art with a sense of authenticity. We sat down to find out more about Rachel's creative process and inspirations.

Can you tell us about your background as an artist and how you got started in your creative journey?

"I had already drafted my first university application for an Art course but a summer spent volunteering on a whale and dolphin research project in the Atlantic changed everything! Living with a group of young passionate conservationists really shifted my perspective of the world. I changed my already written Fine Art application to study a BSc in Zoology at the University of Leeds.

I left the UK in 2014 with a one way ticket to India. The vibrancy of India stole my heart and is still one of my favourite places. The colours captured my imagination and inspired me to pick up my camera and a set of crushed petal powder paints. After leaving India I made my way through Indonesia before settling in Australia which was to be my home for the next few years.

Being on Australia's stunning coastline drew me closer and closer to the ocean. I started a career in the dive industry which allowed me to keep travelling and doing what lit my soul on fire. As a PADI instructor, I worked and lived in places I had only ever dreamed of visiting, from swimming with whale sharks in the Ningaloo Reef to managing a dive centre in a remote island in Sulawesi, my adventures have inspired a lot of my creations. Spending 8 years and over1,300 dives under water I have spent a great deal of time observing my subjects in their environment. I understand their movement, behaviour and minute details in a way I could never have appreciated before."

Your art is a reflection of your work in conservation and ocean advocacy. What inspires this relationship?

"I have been really fortunate to live and work in the places I have, and I’ve seen so many incredible things - but I have also seen, first hand, the devastation we are causing to our planet. From bleached corals on the Great Barrier Reef, to Ghost Nets entrapping sea birds in the Hebrides. It is heart breaking to descend onto a dive site to see it has been dynamite fished since you were last there, and seeing hermit crabs scuttling across the beach wearing plastic caps instead of shells. These are things that really impact how you see the world."

Could you walk us through your creative process, including how you overcome any challenges?

"I use a lot of my own reference photography, and start by freehand drawing the outline in pencil, before adding shading and definition in ink with a technique called pointillism. I often get told I must have a lot of patience, as pointillism builds shade by adding lots and lots of tiny dots but the hours really drift away whilst I am creating.I mix my ink with watercolour to bring out the rainbow of life which can be found in the ocean. I think the main challenges for me are wanting to do everything at once, and working alone - sometimes you just need a second opinion! The art community online are incredible and I have connected to so many amazing ocean lovers across the world, some of which have become dear friends."

Where is your favourite place to dive, and why?

"This is such a hard question, as I love so many places for different reasons! But I do have a soft spot for our Scottish waters. I don’t think people are aware of just how many species can be seen around the British Isles. Though there is undoubtedly more challenge to plunging into the brisk Atlantic waters, the kelp forests, seagrass meadows and spectacular marine life that can be seen makes it all the more worthwhile. Over the past three years I’ve seen basking sharks, humpback whales and the last remaining orca of the West Coast Community. Not to mention the countless seals, seabirds, dolphins and beautiful underwater gardens. It’s a haven for ocean lovers and I feel so fortunate to have this on my doorstep."

It’s all incredible. But, do you have a favourite piece?

"Yes! John Coe, my orca piece. It’s an easy favourite for me, not only is the story behind it so special, but it was the first piece in a style that has defined my career and my first piece to be exhibited. John Coe was shortlisted in Wildlife 100 Artist of the Year by Sketch For Survival, in the final 15 artworks out of over 3000 entries -which was so exciting. I got to see it exhibited in Londons Southbank - so it has a very special place in my heart. Having seen this enigmatic orca four times over the last few years living in Scotland I really wanted to create a piece to highlight the plight of this unique orca pod and share their story."

I aim to use my art work to open conversations about conservation, and invite the viewer to explore their thoughts and emotions on these themes without using graphic or upsetting imagery. Art is a really powerful tool for story telling.

Find Out More

Visit Rachel's website here to explore her range of products and prints.

Rachel Brooks Arist
Rachel Brooks Artist
Rachel Brooks in Seashell
Rachel wearing shark beanie
Basking Shark Drawing by Rachel Brooks
Artist Working

Come and join us!

Join us every Saturday at 10am at the Fittie end of Aberdeen beach for invigorating dips in the sea. The refreshing waters will not only revitalize your body but also uplift your spirits, offering a perfect blend of mental clarity and physical well-being.

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