Silver Linings That Made This Year!

Over twenty workshops since September, Chimpanzee Community mural installed at BALTIC, four new artworks, a book and a project that has gone global…

Beyond the anguish of 2020 many have experienced silver linings, life’s warming rays of hope. Here are a few personal SL’s that involve the most incredible humans and animals in what has turned out to be perhaps my busiest year on earth! 

Chimpanzee Community mural, BALTIC

The corner turn for my Where Did All the Animals Go? (WDATAG?) project began a life-time ago in 2019 at a Christmas family reunion. Catching up with my cousin Kirsten Rogers I mentioned the art and environmental education project which I founded in partnership with international wildlife charity Born FreeKirsten lives with her family in California and suggested “why don’t you come out and do some project workshops?”. So I did

Postcard from Laguna - with cousin Kirsten

In February I flew out to LAX for a 12-day stay under an azure sky within a gold and pacific blue painting that is Laguna Beach, dappled with vibrant flowers and the fleeting shadows of iridescent Anna hummingbirds. Six workshops delivered to children and adults saw the creation of beautiful Biro (ballpoint pen) drawings of vulnerable Californian species and the fireworks of belief ignited in those who thought they couldn't draw.

It was a privilege to meet with members of the prestigious Laguna Art Museum's inspirational staff including Executive Director Malcolm Warner, Marinta Skupin Curator of Education, Caitlin Reller Assistant Curator of Education and Kristen Anthony Education Associate, as well as Danelle Hickman, Education Outreach Manager of Ocean Institute, to discuss future partnerships. Many thanks for the Stubbs and the Horse book, Malcolm - it is treasured!

Marinta, Danelle, Kristen and Caitlin with their beautiful drawings

While travelling to the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach for an uplifting workshop I mentioned to Kirsten my vision for the project: to give the gift of drawing and wildlife to as many children and communities across the globe. Kirsten, an esteemed UK Dentist (and also WDATAG? PR!) who has undertaken several momentous international humanitarian missions delivering dental care communities in countries such as Guyana, suggested she reach out to her friend Mayor Waneka Arrindell of Linden Town. So she did!

Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach workshop

Back in the UK, I continued delivering WDATAG? workshops at the wonderful Robinson-Gay Gallery, Hexham including a Northumbrian Wildlife workshop . 

Rosie age 6 with her red fox drawing, Robinson-Gay Gallery

Invited by BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art in March to make a new artwork in response to its Animalesque exhibition, I worked with children from four Gateshead schools to create chimpanzee Biro drawings inspired by the exhibition artworks and the chimpanzees of Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection (LCRP). I began installing Chimpanzee Community mural in BALTIC Learning Lounge - then the curtain of the first lockdown fell and BALTIC closed its doors while the mural remained unfinished. During that time I liked to imagine that the Biro chimps were running riot through BALTIC! 

Chimpanzee Community mural drawings

Meanwhile Laura Gosset, Born Free’s Head of Education, David Bolton Education Officer and I were able to continue planning the 2021 WDATAG? Great North Museum: Hancock, (GNM) exhibition virtually with GNM's Adam Goldwater, Learning, Engagement & Research Manager and Kate Holden Learning Officer, during lockdown.

The exhibition involves children from 10 North East and 13 international schools creating around 600 drawings in my workshops. The drawings will be featured in a mural I will be installing in the museum’s Living Planet Gallery.

GNM's Living Planet Gallery

I also began making an artwork to be displayed in the exhibition. Sneak preview below!


Detail of biro drawing in progress

In March our beautiful and beloved Northern Inuit dog Lily who is also my muse became poorly. The most precious silver lining of 2020 for my husband Rob and me remains the quality time we had with Lily during lockdown. She was in her element as were we!

Lily, 26 September 2007 - 2 May 2020

On 2nd May Lily passed away. The grief my husband and I have experienced is indescribable and our hearts remain broken at the loss of Lily. As a friend told me, you learn to live with the pain.

Sweet 2013 Biro drawing featuring Lily

Memories fade in time and I was acutely aware that I must grieve and remember Lily in my own way. A few days after her passing, to commemorate what for us was Lily’s remarkable life and record our priceless memories, I began writing a book about her and the art she inspired. There are many things that have occurred this year of which I am proud, but above all it is Lily’s book and all that she was.

Lily book manuscript page

Laura and Kirsten’s support during this busy time for the project is incalculable and remains much appreciated.

In May Mayor Waneka Arrindell contacted Kirsten with news that she would love Guyanese children to participate in the project and had invited the effervescent Dr Raquel Thomas, talented artist and biologist Arianne Harris and Human Resources Co-ordinator Rehana Ragoobeer of Iwokrama International Centre who form the Guyana Outreach team.

The Guyana Team's boundless enthusiasm saw Phase One: the submission of drawings of Guyana’s exquisite wildlife for WDATAG? online gallery featured on Guyanese TV and Radio. Astonishing drawings by all ages which can be viewed here, began pouring into my inbox 

Drawings by Guyanese children and adults
Thanks to the commitment of so many the project is now reaching children and communities across five continents with the founding of a further three Outreach Teams in California, Kenya and Malaysia. Meet the WDATAG? Team here.

We were, however, sad to see David Bolton leave Born Free although elated to hear of his new position as Director of Communities and Wildlife at Sussex Wildlife Trust. David had worked tirelessly with me on project since its inception and we wish him continuing success in his new position.
Chimpanzee Community mural, BALTIC Learning Lounge
BALTIC re-opened its doors in August and I was thrilled to complete Chimpanzee Community mural that not only features the children’s chimpanzee drawings, of which I am incredibly proud but also highlights our closest living relatives and the plight of orphan chimpanzees rescued by

Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue & Protection founded by the extraordinary Jenny and Jimmy Desmond.

To celebrate both the children’s art and chimpanzees, I made this short video which includes images and footage with kind courtesy of LCRP:

Sadly Princess, LCRP's beautiful dog and chimp foster mother who featured in the video passed away a couple of days ago. With deepest sympathies to Jenny and Jimmy for the loss of global treasure, the remarkable and adored Princess. 

Image courtesy of Jenny Desmond

September through to December I was invited to take up the position of artist in residence at Cramlington Village Primary School (CVPS) working with over 100 children from years 3 - 6 every Monday to create Biro drawings of Cramlington wildlife. Such exciting and expressive drawings were made by each child.

Cramlington small birds by Aysha, Year 3
In October, I was also fortunate to deliver a virtual workshop for Leeds University Union Art Society (LUU Art Soc) to students in lockdown. LUU Art Soc delivered pens and paper to participating students who made outstanding drawings of vulnerable wildlife for WDATAG? online gallery.
LUU Art Soc virtual workshop

The re-opening of schools brought with it many difficulties for both teachers and children yet all North East teachers involved in WDATAG? 2021GNM exhibition overcame COVID-19 challenges to organise workshop bubbles for virtual or live workshops. Between October and December I worked with the amazing children and teachers of the following eight schools:

Mortimer Primary School, South Shields, Y4 with Mrs. Lawrenson & Mrs. Allan / Oceania species (live)
Corbridge Middle, Y6 with Mrs. Batchelder / Madagascar species (virtual)
Our Lady St Anne’s RC Primary School, Newcastle, Y5 with Mr. Ramsey / Arctic & Antarctic species (virtual)
Jarrow Cross CE Primary School Y2 with Mrs. Peacock / Africa (virtual)
Laurel Avenue Community Primary, Durham Y6 with Mrs. Lawson & Mrs. Walters / European species (live)
St Mary Magdalen RCVA Primary School, Seaham, Y4 with Miss Punshon / North American species
Beech Hill Primary School, West Denton, Y5 with Mrs. Scott / Ocean species (live)
Bexhill Academy, Sunderland, Year 5 with Mrs. Letton / South American species (virtual)

Virtual tutoring at Corbridge Middle workshop!

Organising the workshops during the pandemic has I admit, proved a logistical challenge getting pens and paper to each school, picking them up and delivering them to the next school. I owe Rob the biggest debt of gratitude for helping achieve this and for his steadfast support over the years!!

Endangered Aye-aye by Henry Y6 Corbridge Middle

When I started delivering workshops in 2012 at The Customs House Gallery I was rather shy but I knew what I wanted to communicate - my passion for drawing and wildlife. I teach how I see things both visually and internally. Everyone has the capability within them to draw and that's what I encourage. That empty page can be daunting but my personal top tip repeated at every workshop is:

Before I start drawing I say to myself "I can do this!" believe in yourself, everyone can draw

Drawing is also wonderfully therapeutic. Give it a go, draw your favourite wild animal and send a photo to me at to be featured in WDATAG? online gallery

Lion by student of Kibera Hamlets Nairobi

Early November, Ivy Malemba and Phoebe Odhiang of Born Free Kenya called for submissions of drawings for the WDATAG? Kenya Gallery and the response from Kenyan’s of all ages was overwhelming!

Hundreds of magical drawings of Kenyan wildlife have since been mailed and I have many more still to upload in the Kenya Gallery here. Receiving the first drawing from Kenya – a photograph from Losioki Somoire of Edward Logela from the Amboseli Ecosystem holding his glorious water buffalo drawing was an exceptionally moving moment in the project's journey.

Near threatened African Buffalo by Edward Logela, Esiteti Primary School, Kenya 

As part of LAM’s annual Art & Nature Family Festival, it was an honour to work with Marinta and Caitlin delivering a virtual workshop on November 8, to children and parents who made stunning drawings of Californian wildlife. 

LAM virtual workshop

A few days later I donated a workshop to Year 6 of Ponteland Primary School through my partnership with Newcastle United Foundation where children created fabulous drawings of ocean species.

Horned Ghost Crab by Year 6 student Ponteland Primary School

November also saw the creation of two new avian themed artworks for an upcoming group exhibition at the Agha Khan Centre Gallery London. The exhibition doesn’t open until January so information and the artworks are under wraps till then but I am tremendously excited about taking part in this extraordinary show by distinguished AKCG Curator, Esen Kaya. Here is a teaser detail of one of the Biro drawings for the exhibition.

New drawing of a nightingale for Agha Khan Centre Gallery 

In December marvellous Charlie Baker who has recently joined Born Free as its new Education Officer also became WDATAG? newest team member. Charlie’s vast knowledge of and compassion for wildlife has been invaluable towards the planning of international exhibition workshops which will commence January 8, virtually with children of Laguna Beach Unified School District Virtual Academy followed by Guyana, Malaysia and Kenya school workshops throughout spring.

Malachai with his Puma drawing at Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach workshop

I'm also looking forward to working again with Royal Grammar School Newcastle's Artist Teacher, Christine Egan-Fowler for the RGS exhibition workshop early next year.

Saying farewell to Years 3-6 children of CVPS with their last workshop before the Christmas vacation was emotional and Mondays just won’t be the same! I can’t thank the children enough for their enthusiasm and compassion for wildlife and drawing.

Every single child’s progression with their drawing skills was phenomenal and I am enormously proud of their achievements. CVPS and I hope in the future to find a space to display the drawings as a new artwork, the Cramlington Wildlife mural.

Barn Owl Biro drawing by Leonardo Year 5

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I completed a rather special drawing commission for a rather special recipient, details of which I will divulge soon...

Another silver lining - Chengeta Wildlife contacted me just before Christmas to ask if I could donate some work for its end of year fundraiser. Alongside a signed copy of explorer Levison Wood's exceptional new book 'The Last Giants', the two working drawings I made for the forthcoming Agha Khan Centre Gallery artworks are available to buy to raise funds for Chengeta's vital work here:

Chengeta fundraiser

Like life for so many others, this year has personally been heart-breaking but its silver linings have been illuminating. I have met the most incredible humans that I am beholden to and without whom I would not have had the opportunity to work with such talented children and adults or had introductions to the awe-inspiring work they do for wildlife and the arts.

Jenny and Jimmy Desmond with orphan chimpanzees. Image courtesy of LCRP

The response to this year’s workshops including the following message from teacher Meryl Batchelder has been heartening: 

Please believe me when I say that the workshop you ran with Corbridge Middle School was the high point of the term!

The following words from Kain, Year 3 CVPS meant the world:
If you draw from your heart and believe in yourself you can draw anything because everyone draw!

Wasp by Kain

A sincere thank you Kain, and for the gift of the pigeon feather that I promise to look after as it took you a year to find!

Heartfelt thanks to all the afore-mentioned for helping to create such unbelievable silver linings. Also to Christine Egan-Flower and Linda Peacock who initiated the idea of an exhibition back in 2018, Katie Lawrenson, Sara Punshon, Sandi Letton and Samantha McCulloch who have been there for the journey, alongside all at Born Free!

Wishing you happy, healthy and peaceful 2021.

Much love, Jane xx


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