Native bird artist Hannah Shand hails from the unspoilt landscape of Kapiti Coast where she crafts beautiful, photo-realistic pen drawings inspired by her love for endangered birds.
Words Emily Bell
Growing up in a family who are passionate about wildlife and developing a love for fine art enabled her to break free from her high-flying city job in fashion, and into the artistic landscape. Her art is now stocked in galleries across New Zealand and she actively works alongside New Zealand conversation groups such as Zealandia and Forest & Bird to raise awareness about protected birdlife.
Good: How did you get into drawing birdlife?
Hannah Shand: As a child, my mum was a big inspiration. She used to take us on hikes to experience wildlife and has always been a huge bird lover, so it’s been really amazing to grow up in that environment. As I got older, one of my first jobs was in the fashion industry, which involved a daily commute into the city. But on a weekend, I would go bushwalking, draw and sew. Eventually I found myself getting pulled in another direction, I wanted to be more creative. I wanted to be outside and have a different lifestyle. I thought that still meant working in fashion, but I just didn’t feel fulfilled. I started carrying my sketchbook and pen and drawing on the train to practice, while creating larger pieces at home.
What’s the process of creating one of your drawings?
I started drawing from photographs of my friends, or people I had met online and would ask their permission. I’ve made a lot of really good friends who are doing similar things, and I was fortunate to borrow one of my friends’ cameras and take the photos myself. The first time I did that was at Zealandia, which was one of the best days I have ever had, I couldn’t believe how much I would enjoy it. So, it just kind of clicked. I also love being out in the bush and hadn’t been able to afford a camera so being able to borrow one was amazing.
The first stage of the process is to decide what bird I want to photograph, and research where I might find it. I’ve been to quite a lot of predator-free sanctuaries and islands to take pictures, like beautiful Kapiti island. A lot of birds choose to live there and not on the mainland because of pests. Once I’ve taken the photograph I begin to draw, often using Photoshop to layer the birds if I want to paint more than one.
My original drawings are large — A2 or A1 — and I begin with a rough pencil sketch. Though the art looks like they are drawn with pencil from afar, my medium is fine-point black pen. So I don’t make a mistake, I have to draw quite slowly. My original drawings can take anywhere from 30-50 hours, depending on the size. Drawing quite large means you can get a lot of detail in. I will then scan it or use a professional scanner to create limited edition prints, which can then be downsized whilst still retaining quality. I will then sell the original and the prints myself through bird sanctuaries and galleries around the country.
I love the babies of the forest picture.
I was so lucky to draw that. I originally saw the picture on Facebook, when I was first starting out and loved it so much. Eventually I found the photographer, who lives in Auckland, who told me that the photo was taken in Wenderholm Regional Park. When he allowed me to draw it, I was really grateful, and people really love it so much that I’ve sold out.
Tell me about your work with wildlife conservation groups and bird sanctuaries.
When I decided to do art full-time, I didn’t want to just draw animals, I wanted it to be more than that. I was drawing these birds that were threatened and had really low numbers, so I wanted to be able to do something that would help them at the same time and spread awareness.
So, I thought about the organisations that I would like to work with. I contacted Forest & Bird, who had recently opened an online shop and agreed to stock my art. I’m also passionate about the bird of the year competition, where I was a campaign manager. It’s a big yearly competition where you promote a bird and get people to vote, but the main reason really is to spread awareness. I was the campaign manager for the New Zealand Robin. After that finished, I donated a portion of my sales to them, too.
I also have my prints stocked in Zealandia’s gift shop and have done a solo exhibition there, too. It’s such an amazing place.
What’s next for you?
I am wanting to be more actively involved within the community to learn about conservation. I have recently volunteered with the Waikanae Estuary Care Group with a big planting of natives down at the estuary. I walk down the Waikanae River and estuary to photograph birds all the time, so I’m really happy I can help to encourage more of them into the area.
With the help of Predator Free NZ I have also started trapping pests in my backyard. Introduced predators are a huge threat to our wildlife, especially this year due to a ‘mega mast’ with a boom in fruit production. The pests become out of control with the additional food source, so I wanted to do my part and start trapping and also sharing the experience online to encourage others to participate.
I’m also keen to continue to travel and photograph more birds. There are a lot of birds, and I have a long list of what I want to draw!
Shop Hannah Shand’s work and read more about her conservation work at hannahshandart.com