Wildlife Conservation Art with Xavi Reñé, Illustrator for Rewilding Europe
Xavi Reñé is a Barcelona-based illustrator with over ten years of experience. He illustrates in the field of wildlife conservation art, having worked for various commissioners from sanctuaries to foundations. Xavi currently works as a conservation illustrator and artist for Rewilding Europe, a non-profit foundation working on rewilding on the local, national, and continental level across Europe.
Channelling his passion for illustration into a conservation career, Xavi managed to find the sweet spot in doing what he loves and contributing to a cause dear to his heart. Read on to discover how Xavi brings key species and habitats to life via his illustrations, the trials and triumphs of an illustration career in the field of conservation, and his vision for how art can be conducive to a sustainable future.
Why do you work in the field of conservation?
With the situation we currently live in, I think it is essential that we all get involved in some way. Whether it is with small everyday actions, or more direct actions such as actively participating in organisations, signing petitions, etc. There are many ways to be part of the movement. In my case, I found a way to get involved through my work with conservation aid.
What role do you think art and illustrations play in conservation and sustainability?
Traditionally, both art and illustration have been tools in struggle, vindication, and denunciation, both in large mobilisations and in pivotal historical events. In the case of conservation, it can be of great help to share and disseminate knowledge about things that are happening around the world, that are putting wildlife at constant risk.
The visual impact that an image can achieve has great potential for capturing people’s attention and interest. It can be key to getting messages across quickly and effectively.
What are the main activities of your current role?
I am creating a set of illustrations about wildlife in the greater Côa Valley with the Rewilding Portugal team. Each illustration is focused on one of their rewilding areas, with some specific details of the landscape, plants, and animals. This is part of Rewilding’s work across Europe and the world, with the aim of returning native species to their habitats and restoring the natural balance that is essential to safeguard the future of our ecosystems.
I have also been working with Rewilding Europe on some illustrations for their #WildlifeComeback campaign for their new report on the statuses of animal species they are working on. This includes species such as vultures, lynxes, wolves, and the European bison, among many others! The report details the progress that has been made over numerous years.
What is the best part of your work?
I would say the creativity it allows, that’s the most fun. Normally, when I get a commission I have a few small guidelines, mostly technical, like which species I have to draw and some of their more specific features. But the composition of the image is totally free, so I can decide how to approach each job and the best methods for representing what is needed, to give the maximum value to animals and plants.
Similarly, when real landscapes appear, they must be quickly recognisable. Each illustration is like a challenge, that’s my way of dealing with it! Besides being a motivator, it is a constant learning process.
What is the most difficult part of the job?
I have been dedicating my life to illustration for a little over ten years and it is a difficult and often very precarious world. I must admit, in fact, that it has been very hard to get to where I am today with this job. A lot of stress due to personal finances because of jobs that don’t come… I hope that the future will be better and that I will have the minimum stability to continue to realise this beautiful dream.
Speaking more technically, the difficulty could be in the type of illustration. If it is very detailed, there are many hours of work that go into it, both in drawing and colour, and the complexity is much greater.
Also not repeating oneself – it is not always easy to make each illustration different. Apart from the animals and the backgrounds that appear, each illustration must have a refreshing and lively atmosphere, reflecting the most characteristic aspects of the area being represented.
What are the highlights of your career and what are you most proud of so far?
Without a doubt, it was when I decided to go into conservation. It was definitely a turning point in my career. I am very proud to have taken that step.
From my first collaboration with the Nakawe Project to my latest work with Rewilding or Sea Shepherd teams. I have done a variety of commissions, for many different organisations, meeting many amazing people, all with a common goal: protecting wildlife.
Being a part of this is so much more than any other job. Sometimes I stop to think, and I feel that I was born for this, that I am where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to be doing. I would love to continue to be part of this challenge throughout my career for many years to come. That would be awesome.
What key steps have you taken in your conservation career?
For me, I think it’s all about one thing: hard work. Always being on your toes, although it can be exhausting at times, especially mentally. But it is fundamental for growth. Facing every situation as a learning experience and trying to give the best of yourself in every job. I think that all of this is reflected in what you do and make people see it and want to bet on you.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all the people who saw my work and wanted me to be a part of their project. It has been incredible to share this path and learn so much from all of them and their love for nature. If today I feel more than ever that there is hope for the future of our planet, it’s in large part thanks to all of them.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Work hard, don’t despair, be patient and be eager to learn. With all of this, you already have a great base. Then there are many other things to keep in mind, such as looking for contacts, sharing your work to make it visible and, above all, being humble and loving what you do!
Author Profile | Natalie Cru
Natalie Cru is a graduate student completing her MSc in Governance of Sustainability at Leiden University in the Netherlands. With a background in communication management, she writes in her free time to bridge the two disciplines and raise awareness about the vast possibilities for careers in sustainability. Connect with Natalie on LinkedIn.