Artist Niki Firmin creates wildlife biro pen art & animal biro pen art for wildlife conservation. This time she created a new Cross River Gorilla portrait; an intimate image which capture the essence of a young baby gorilla in her signature style. The painting is called ‘Hanging On’ referring to the young gorilla hanging on to its mother, and to survival.

In this ArtSavingWildlife interview Niki talks about her love for wildlife art and how she is making a difference.

ASW: How and why did you become an artist?

NF: I’m a self-taught artist who has had a passion for drawing for as long as I can remember. My favourite subjects to draw are animals and people, both of which I am drawn to because I love to convey real passion and emotion in a piece and, for me, this is best achieved with these subject matters. In particular, I love eyes, which are truly the window to the soul. If I can achieve this in my art I feel I can really pull in the viewer which definitely helps with pieces that are trying to raise awareness of a cause, such as the plight of the Cross River Gorilla. We share the earth with these magnificent animals and cannot just let them slip away into extinction.

ASW: How would you describe your art style and what is it about your style that makes your art different from others?

NF: I would describe my style as fine art; I love detail and realism. While my children were growing up I did very little art but once they were old enough I began to look at myself again and think about what I loved to do. As a consequence I took up my art again. With time still being a bit of a premium, I tended towards picking the nearest and least ‘messy’ implement, which happened to be a biro. I had worked with them in the past and have always found them really versatile in that unlike other pens you can easily shade, much like pencil, but with a sharper, more defined result. I also like the challenge of not being able to make a mistake!

ASW: What is the best thing about painting animals?

NF: The best thing about painting animals is the combination of the emotion in their eyes together with the textures that their skin/fur/etc. offer. It’s such a pleasure to challenge myself to convey the differences from fur to face to eyes, for example, with one simple ordinary biro pen. It’s also the buzz that I get from the viewer when they find it extraordinary that I have managed to achieve it with such an everyday item that they generally think of having only one simple purpose. I think it is for this reason that the use of the biro as an artistic tool holds little regard within the art establishment, which is a great shame because ultimately, the method is less important that the result. I also use coloured pencil, again not highly regarded, primarily I think because it’s a medium associated with use at school as a child and therefore most people just don’t realise what can be achieved with them.

ASW: Do you have a favourite animal species that you like to paint?

NF: I love to paint all animals especially those with which the selling of my art may help save.

ASW: Who or what inspires you as an artist and why?

NF: It would be more interesting if I were to tell you that I had some defining moment or some fabulous artist that has inspired me but in truth I just love to draw. Inspiration comes to me through the process of what can be achieved with a pen or pencil and the awe and enjoyment people receive from what has been produced and if they are moved enough by my conservation pieces to buy them and then raise money this will inspire me all the more.

ASW: What do you feel is the biggest problem for wildlife conservation in Africa, and in the rest of the world?

NF: The biggest problem for wildlife conservation I think is the lack of awareness of the impact human activity has. I hope to be able to play my part through my art in helping to address this. However, there are so many other issues that people face in their own lives on a day to day basis that it’s difficult for other causes to get heard. If we all understood the wider impact of what we do in our day to day lives we would be able to make far more informed choices.

ASW: Is there a message in your art?

NF: Whilst I don’t create a single message with my art as a body of work, I do attempt to create a message with each individual piece. The message varies with each piece according to the subject of the piece and why I have been commissioned or chosen to do it. For example, a family portrait needs to convey the characters of those in the portrait and the bonds between them. This makes the piece more than just a picture, it makes a connection with the viewer. This is very different from a wildlife piece, such as the Cross River Gorilla, where I am trying to build an emotional connection with the viewer so that the viewer sees the baby gorilla as a living being and thereby can sympathise with it’s plight. As I mentioned earlier, this is why the eyes are so important; the eyes are where the real emotion is. While there may not be a direct message in my art I like to think they all have one defining characteristic, FEELING. I don’t just mean the emotion but the textures of the skin, fur, etc that makes you feel as though you could reach out and stroke the animal.

ASW: How do you use your art to support wildlife conservation?

NF: I hope that through the exhibition and selling (both originals and prints), of my art, I will be able to help raise awareness of the difficulties that some species are in. The sale of my art will help to generate funds that will go towards specific conservation campaigns such as the one for Cross River Gorillas that the ACF are undertaking. There is so much great work that can be done for conservation but that means a constant demand for funds. Every bit of funding helps.

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