Franco Zacharzewski and I met at Creature Conserve, which brings artists, creative writers, and scientists together to “study, celebrate, and protect animals and their habitats.” His illustrations address everything from climate anxiety and mental illness, to Uyghur cooking. His striking colors, textures, and subject matter always draw me in. So when he agreed to create a graphic for TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND, I was ecstatic, and equally excited when he agreed to answer a few questions for the blog. We also get a sneak peak into his studio where the magic happens!
Q: What got you into conservation work?
A: My generation grew up with a lot of great T.V. programming on the natural world. As a kid, my curiosity for animals was definitely sparked by Animal Planet and Discovery Channel shows. More recently though, I feel like my interest in conservation has been fueled by the professors I met in college that have been working in this field for a long time.
Q: How do you use art in service of conservation?
A: Art speaks to us in a way nothing else does. Even at its most representational and literal, I think art is always imbued with a sentiment that can only be felt. With that in mind, I try to use art to strike a chord with people in a way science can’t. Not to tell people about the value of wildlife conservation—to show them.
Q: What does conservation mean to you as an artist?
A: I’m not sure how my meaning of conservation differs to a scientist’s, or anyone else’s for that matter. In broad terms, I guess I see it as the responsibility to understand the creatures we share our planet with and work towards providing them with the best quality of life possible. As an artist, I’d say I channel that responsibility into making pictures.
Q: What inspires you?
A: Lately I’ve been inspired by cities and the stories unfolding in them. I like how small cities can make me feel, and in turn, how small a city can feel in relation to nature. There are so many fun visual compositions too that it’s hard not to find something to draw.
Q: What’s your favorite animal to draw?
Q: If you could say one thing to a young artist who wants to use their art for activism, what would you tell them?
A: If I had to summarize, I’d say: Art for activism is an act of love, so love wholeheartedly. Do your research. Make sure you understand what the issues are and how your art addresses them. Ask the affected community about their needs, see if they have proposed any solutions already. Assess how your art will impact the community who you are trying to support. And be ready to make mistakes, and correct them.
Q: What was fun about designing this image?
A: My favorite part was finding out how to use the least number of colors and shapes to convey the Blanding’s Turtle’s habitat and personality. I really appreciate the humility in trying to make an image as simple and clear as possible so that the greatest number of people can understand it.
Q: Did any unexpected challenges come up when creating this image and if so, what?
A: Designing text was something new for me! It was exciting to find ways to accommodate both the type and the art in a relatively small image. I had to be mindful of striking a balance between retaining the most important elements in the frame and making the text legible when printed.
Q: What’s your process like when you come up with ideas? What goes into your thinking?
A: As of recently, I’ve been trying to start my compositions from photographs. I like to get lost in pictures and find the painting within them. Then it’s just a matter of removing elements from the frame until I am left with the most synthesized composition possible.
Franco Zacharzewski is an Argentinian illustrator raised in Paraguay, Colombia, and the United States. He graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and is currently based in Brooklyn, NY. Franco is an advocate for climate action and environmental justice. He is currently the art director at Creature Conserve. Occasionally, you may find him relaxing by the waters of Prospect Park Lake.