Painting a Future for Wildlife: An Interview with Artist Kitty Harvill - RAINFOREST TRUST

May 6, 2014

Based in Paraná, Brazil, Kitty Harvill is an award-winning wildlife artist and illustrator. Last year, Harvill supported Rainforest Trust’s efforts to expand Bolivia’s Barba Azul (Blue-throated Macaw) Reserve by auctioning a Maned Wolf portrait. She is currently working on a project to paint the critically endangered Northern Brown Howler, a primate species facing extinction in Brazil’s Atlantic Rainforest. Reintroduction efforts are now underway at the Serra Bonita Reserve, managed by Rainforest Trust’s Brazilian partner Instituto Uiraçu, to help save the Northern Brown Howler.

You often choose endangered species as subjects. What makes them appeal to you?

All my art is done to raise awareness. Wildlife is rapidly going extinct around the world and it’s not happening for natural reasons. It’s happening because of us. If you focus on saving an endangered species, you are essentially committed to saving its habitat and by doing so you are going to provide refuge for all the species found within the area it occupies.

A lot of your art focuses on the Atlantic Rainforest. Why is that?

I have a deep connection to the Atlantic Rainforest, and with it a sense of responsibility to care for it. Ninety-three percent of the Atlantic Rainforest is already destroyed, and 70% of Brazil’s population lives in what used to be this forest. Not only does it provide habitat for many species, but it’s also an absolutely essential source of water for Brazil’s human population.

In some ways, the Atlantic Rainforest is Brazil’s other, forgotten rainforest. It’s often overshadowed by the Amazon, and a lot of my friends have never even heard of it. This forest is just as important as the Amazon, but it lacks the same kind of conservation support.

How did you learn about the Northern Brown Howler Monkey? And what made you want to use it as a subject?

For a long time, I’ve wanted to do a series of paintings featuring Brazil’s endangered primates. So when I received a mailing from Rainforest Trust recently with photos of the Northern Brown Howler, I knew right away I wanted to do a portrait of it.

Lecturing about threats to the Atlantic Rainforest will only take you so far. I’m hopeful that if I can capture the spirit of the Northern Brown Howler in my paintings it will resonate with people in a way that words can’t. When you look into the eyes of the Northern Brown Howler – a species on the edge of extinction – it’s hard to think, “I don’t care if its forest is destroyed.”

Can you describe your artistic process?

I like to have an in-person experience with the animal before painting it. If I take the time to absorb an animal’s individual energy, it comes through in my artwork. If I’m successful, the finished product is not just pastel on paper, or oil on canvas, it’s something more. The spirit of the subject comes through evoking an emotional response.

To paint the Northern Brown Howler, I traveled to the Serra Bonita Reserve several weeks ago to photograph and spend time with the young male and female that live there.

Before painting, I like to do smaller works in pastel so I can get a feel for the subject and its features. I’ve done one, so far, of the female howler and plan on doing another of the male. Rainforest Trust will be posting updates of this process on its Facebook page. I will also be posting updates on my Facebook Page, and there is more about my work on my Artists for Conservation site.

Once finished with these, I will be starting a larger work with oils that will depict Northern Brown Howlers together and I also plan to create a watercolor showing the Howlers within their natural habitat at Serra Bonita.

What will you do with your work when you are finished?

A portion of the proceeds from my work will go directly towards efforts to protect Northern Brown Howlers and their habitat. I will also be giving reproduction rights to Rainforest Trust to help promote future campaigns aimed to expand the Serra Bonita Reserve.