Back in 2015, heartbroken over the near extinction of the vaquita, I created several pieces of vaquita art in an attempt to help raise awareness. I had hopes of helping people empathize with this rare, beautiful, disappearing cetacean through visual connection. There are no existing photos of the vaquita alive and underwater, so I painted my digital piece "Treacherous Waters" to place the viewer in the realm of a vaquita mother and calf, as they swim by a derelict gill net grasping up from the depths. I drew my vaquitas freehand and had to imagine much, due to the lack of photos of these animals.
Currently, there are less than 30 vaquitas left alive. (2018 update - less than 12.)
The vaquita is the smallest cetacean (whale and dolphin family member) in the world, endemic to a small section of the Gulf of California. They are easily entangled in gill (fishing) nets. The illegal poaching of the critically endangered totoaba fish in the Gulf will be the demise of the vaquita very soon if things continue as they have. The totoaba’s swim bladder is sold on the black market in China, as it is prized as a superstitious “medicine.”
Net fishing has been banned in the vaquita’s range, and several conservation groups are heroically fighting hard to save the porpoise, but the animals continue to rapidly decline in numbers.
*** November 2017 Update: The VaquitaCPR sea pen effort, (which was a plan to capture the few remaining porpoises, shelter, and attempt to breed them) has been canceled after two captures were made. One young vaquita showed life threatening signs of stress and was released, and a breeding-aged female also showed signs of stress, then died after being captured. I am devastated over this news, and am researching charities for a hands-on conservation efforts, ones that are actively defending the vaquita year-round. My 2017 year end gift to a conservation charity will go to CEDO.
To support community work, alternative fishing, and environmental and conservation education in the Gulf of California, check out: [CEDO]
To support Sea Shepherd, which is actively patrolling the Gulf and removing gill nets from the vaquita habitiat, check out: [Operation Milagro]
• Click here to Shop - Amber's Vaquita Art - Prints & Stuff •
(I've donated half my commission from my vaquita art to conservation since 2015, every time the pot reaches $25. It's not much money at all... art of an animal people don't recognize is not easy to sell. It's all about the statement - if you own one of my vaquita items, they make great conversation pieces! Tell the story!)
Making a LOUD statement - Not all heroes wear capes!
Dr.Grey Stafford is campaigning to save the vaquita. Here he is on the news, wearing my crazy (crazy awesome) "Song of the Vaquita" yoga pants!
"Song of the Vaquita"
This painting stayed true to my usual watercolor style. Using tiny brushes, I carefully paint a finely detailed animal illustration, then I set the watercolor paint free with a flowing background. I was feeling hopeful when I painted this, and I think that emotion transferred into the art.
(Prints are available, click on the image. ♥)
Digital painting, 2015
This was my big project: I wanted to bring more images of these animals into existence in hopes of helping people connect with them.
This was a digital painting that began with a blank slate in photoshop. Over the course of a month, it went from my rough freehand sketch of the animals, to painting the shades and texture of the background, painting the vaquitas stroke by stroke down to the tiny scars on their skin, to every wave and bubble, to finally painting every fiber and moss strand in the ropes of the net. This painting is absolutely massive, it can crisply print 8 feet long.
My early crowd of Instagram followers watched this piece come together back in 2015
Zoom of finishing touches on mama vaquita:
This art has traveled far and wide across the web in news articles and other publications, (including a video by the United Nations Environmental Program!) and has several edited versions. (A few stolen commercial versions; ouch! Come on, internet - give an artist a chance!) All said and done I am SO glad that my little creations have been able to help lend a voice to these beautiful animals. It has been very uplifting to see people care about a previously unknown animal, and it has been very encouraging to me as an artist to continue my work.
Digital Drawing, 2015
This was a simple freehand illustration that I digitally painted, depicting our tiny cetacean subjects as they spiral toward extinction, or hopefully miraculous recovery. This piece has also gotten the spotlight in a few news/awareness articles.
(Prints are available, click the image. ♥)
New Art in the Works!
I am currently working on TWO new pieces featuring the vaquita! (artist brain, I somehow get more work done when I have a ton of half-finished projects!)
Here are the sneak previews of the works in progress, which I post on my Instagram!
Unnamed Digital Vaquita Illustration:
"Rare Cetaceans," a watercolor illustration of six of the world's rarest, critically endangered or functionally extinct odontocetes: vaquita, Irrawaddy dolphin, humpback dolphin, baiji dolphin, finless porpoise, and maui's dolphin:
(Legal notice: all images displayed here are original works of art and protected by copyright and intellectual property laws. Do not alter or plagiarize these artworks, and do not use these artworks in any way, especially not for sale, without prior written permission from the artist.)