by Justine Woosnam
Throughout my childhood, I’ve always been passionate about animals. And not necessarily traditional pets like cats and dogs. There have been guinea pigs, mice, ponies, calves, rabbits, fish and when my family lived in Australia, parrots, magpies, and even a snake necked turtle.
One of my first wildlife drawings of this amazing cheetah - Hemmingway at Cheetah Outreach, South Africa
After leaving high school, I attended Perth Technical Design College for 3 years, where I attained my Diploma in Graphic Design. I majored in Illustration and this was my very first introduction to coloured pencils — a full set of Faber-Castell Polychromos, at the age of 18.
For 10 years, I worked as a Graphic Artist, until everything became computerised, and I decided that was not for me. Sitting in front of a computer 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, wasn’t my idea of a career. After an overseas trip to Canada and North America, I decided to move somewhere beautiful with mountains. So I moved to the South Island of New Zealand. When I arrived, I saw an ad in the paper looking for volunteers at a Wildlife Park. So I applied, and was soon volunteering. I learnt about a 1-year Zoo Keeping Certificate. I just knew that this was what I wanted to do next.
“I’ve always been passionate
Following on from this, I worked as a zookeeper for 10 years, at Orana Wildlife Park in Christchurch, and Auckland Zoo. I finally had the opportunity to work with some amazing animals, and in particular, be involved in the breeding programme for the Sumatran tigers. Whilst at Auckland Zoo, I was privileged to work with the female tiger, Molek, with whom I developed a close bond. She was such a beautiful tiger.
A drawing of Sumatran tiger Dumai
When I think of all the animals I worked with over the years, she is one that stands out. The most exciting time was when she gave birth to 3 cubs. I was the first one to hear them, then to see them. I will never forget that time in my life.
“Follow your heart,
draw what you love
and the rest will follow”
Also, whilst at the zoo, I travelled, on a field trip in 2007, to South Africa for 6 weeks to spend time at Cheetah Outreach. I was involved in taking care of 4 cheetah cubs who were hand-raised, to then go on to become ambassador cats at various zoos around the world. Another incredible experience which has helped mould me into the person I am today.
Even when I was working as a zoo keeper I still did drawings with my coloured pencils. I did drawings of the tigers, including the 3 cubs, the cheetahs, and the zebras. I also had an exhibition and sold my artwork, raising $5000 for wildlife conservation.
This is Mahale, a Western Lowland gorilla I worked with at Orana Park
I made the hard decision to leave the zoo industry in 2010, but my passion for animals remains. I now have a vast collection of my own photographs to draw from and many incredible memories to share. For me, there is nothing better than drawing a beautiful animal like a tiger. It takes me back to my time with Molek and being so captivated by her beauty. I have done numerous commissions of people’s animals, many wildlife drawings, as well as extensive works for exhibitions. As time has gone by, I’ve honed my skills and techniques, learning from other coloured pencil artists over the last 5 years.
I now have my own business called “Drawn To Nature”. The majority of my work is Pet Portraits of mainly cats, dogs, and horses. However, I always make sure I fit in some wildlife art. It’s food for my soul and fills my heart with joy. My message is to always follow your heart, draw what you love and the rest will follow.
Justine lives in beautiful New Zealand. She has drawn and loved animals her whole life. After working as a zookeeper for 10 years, with a huge variety of many amazing animals, she has some wonderful memories. She tries to capture the beauty in every animal she draws. Her work has been in magazines, art galleries and personal collections.
Facebook: Drawn To Nature