Mirror Magazine


For the love of nature
By Dilrukshi Handunnetti
A water-colour painting of a tusker bears silent testimony to his creative acumen. The tusker, a Navam Perahera elephant whose beauty attracted the eye of this artist whose forte is black and white drawings, was special. The elephant deserved colour.

This slim, soft-spoken youth's mission in life is to conserve nature. A conservationist and nature lover, Shantha Jayaweera has discovered a creative medium to impart his message about caring for mother nature; his reflective ink drawings.

The childhood habit of doing sketches for 'pure enjoyment' developed into an ardent interest in wildlife painting when he joined the Young Zoologists' Association(YZA). There he met many like-minded youth and was inspired to paint more. He founded the art group of the YZA along with others and with the passage of time, Shantha's drawings grew more in-depth and detailed.

"It is important that a wildlife or nature artist acquire a degree of artistry in paintings, but he/she should be mindful of the need for authenticity. Many draw sketches that are not proportionate," notes Shantha.

With his keen eye, Shantha first began sketching fish, and later developed an interest in birds and elephants.

"This is time-consuming work. First, I study the species and make mental notes. It is at this stage that I decide on the angle to paint and make a rough sketch. The nuances change from angle to angle. The light and fine details are important to achieve technical perfection in a drawing," he says.

When he did his very first set of paintings, he used the myriad tones of water colours to paint freshwater fish. Later he shifted to ink. "There is a certain serenity in black and white work. A certain peaceful and soothing effect. Like the Japanese sketches that supplement the nature-inspired Haiku verses. A distinct quality that is eclipsed by the use of colour."

Shantha's technique seems more refined due to the use of tiny dots to shade the drawing instead of lines. "Lines are exact and give drawings a severe look while dots retain a special softness," he notes.

Each of his sketches takes over two months. He shows us the first elephant he drew which took him more than three months of painstaking effort. "I cannot rush my work. When I am pressurized, the quality drops and imperfections appear. This is one reason I dislike doing large-scale commercial paintings. To-date, it is mostly a case of drawing for pleasure," he smiles.

Currently conducting research on the highly threatened slender loris and also preparing to compile a freshwater fish guide, Shantha is passionate about fish. He feels that they are not focused on as they are not considered glamorous.

"This is why I am slowly shifting my focus to fish. They deserve more attention from conservationists and researchers. Birds can at least fly. But fish cannot swim beyond the confines of the particular water resource," he said.

He has also assisted in a book titled "Farming like the forest- traditional home gardens in Sri Lanka". Having done a series of sketches for the book, he released a unique collection of post cards with garden scenes drawn with ink.

"In a way, it was a silent appeal to conserve nature. Each drawing was distinct. But they all provided an insight into Sri Lankan heritage. I often think that theoretical conservationists with their stiff approach do more harm to nature. Conservation cannot be a reality when we do not impart a message properly. I often try to evoke a feeling, a certain love for nature through my sketches," explains Shantha.

Recently, Shantha and six other nature enthusiasts/painters formed a 'wildlife art group' where they conduct regular lessons for YZA members. Shantha does the entire junior course for those below 12 years.

"Nature and wildlife art are special areas. Technical perfection is mandatory to become a wildlife painter. The seven of us who are into nature painting in a big way, share our knowledge to harness their skills. Through that, we inspire them to become conservationists and nature lovers- two aspects that go hand in hand.

They recently held a workshop at the Bundala national park for youngsters and shared their knowledge on how to paint a particular species, colour selection and even the drawing techniques.

"There is a lot of potential in rural areas. They are also blessed with the kind of scene that painters need to come looking for. We hope to create a new breed of young nature/wildlife painters so that they may learn the need to conserve and appreciate mother nature. Investing in the future generation is the only way to protect the earth and prevent further environmental destruction," he explains.

The painters discuss with the youngsters the issues affecting nature, how to prevent pollution and destruction. The children are guided to start with the habit of observation and appreciation of what they have been blessed with. "We attempt to bring people close to nature, make them one with it. Through that to develop a desire to conserve," says Shantha.

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