Connecting the Dots

Rachel Dillon - AFC
March 8, 2011 share
Through Endangered Eyes - Book by AFC Artist, Rachel Dillon


I have one goal when I walk into an elementary school classroom: to teach kids why they need to care about endangered species. I'm not a biologist, or a scientist, I'm an artist with a slightly different approach to things.

My presentation starts with what inspired me to create my non-fiction children's picture book, "Through Endangered Eyes - a poetic journey into the wild" - my passion to help animals in trouble. I tell them that I believe every creature has a job to do on the planet, and when one species disappears, the world becomes unbalanced.

To demonstrate this I ask for volunteers to stand up in front of the class to help measure the length of a Mekong giant catfish. As they assemble shoulder to shoulder, I tell them what the giant bottom-dweller's job is and what its river habitat will look like when it is gone - very, very messy.

We move on to measure how far a snow leopard can leap; the wingspan of a California condor; and the size of a Comoro Black Flying Fox. I love to watch how excited the kids get when they are interacting, answering questions, and participating in front of a class.

After talking and reading about the fascinating animals in my book, I move on to my artwork. My painting technique was inspired in 1992, when I was in Australia. The first time I saw an Australian Aboriginal acrylic dot painting in an art gallery, I was hooked. Combine that technique, and my fascination with Pompeii's aquatic mosaics and one can see how my painting style came to be.

All of the animals in my book are painted in acrylic dots. My style changed and matured over the three years it took me to complete all 22 paintings. I think it is important to show kids that even as adults, we are constantly changing and growing as artists.

My epiphany in the process of creating my book, although it was late in the project, was how powerful an image can become when inspired by words. I was never taught that in art school and I am delighted to share this insight with the students I work with.

The last thing I do with the class is paint. I bring printed outlines of several of my illustrations, like coloring book pages ( The children are given pallets of paint and a paint brush. They are instructed to use the end of the handle on the brush to do the dots, not the bristles. It is incredible what happens when they are focused on the process of painting - it becomes quiet, and to me quiet means, thought, concentration and connecting art and animals together. 

"Through Endangered Eyes - a poetic journey into the wild," was published by Windward Publishing, an imprint of Finney Company, in 2009 ( I am currently working on my second endangered species book, "Through Desert Eyes."

Learn more about Rachel and here work at


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