How illustrator and activist Ailie Banks is advocating for ocean conservation through her creativity

With its immense size, the ocean is powerful enough to solve many of the environmental problems we currently face as a planet. And while protecting our oceans is key to combating climate change, that change won’t happen until there is greater awareness and understanding of its magnitude.

There are countless ways to advocate and create change for our ocean. Creativity has the power to drive transformation, engage communities and evoke emotion – using this powerful tool we can raise awareness about things that matter, including ocean conservation.

As part of Adobe’s #CreateWaves campaign in partnership with The Ocean Agency and UNESCO, creatives around the world are using their creativity to make change possible, raising awareness of the importance of our ocean and the critical impacts of change climate on the planet.

A Dharug and Gundungurra-based illustrator, content creator and violence prevention worker, Ailie Banks is driven by her passion for advocacy and activism. Hosting weekly youth art workshops with a local non-governmental organization (NGO) and contributing to violence prevention projects, her work aims to improve the experiences of people who have often been excluded by the status quo. More recently, Banks has focused on the interconnection of the ocean and the human experience – advocating for greater care for ourselves and the natural environment in which we live.

We spoke with Banks about what the ocean means to her, the inspiration behind her recent self-portrait, and how she thinks the creative community can encourage greater environmental protection and conservation.

What role do you think creativity and art can play in something like ocean conservation?

We are now collectively exposed to millions of images every day, all with a different purpose, all part of a different conversation. It’s potentially harder than ever to post something that makes us pause while fate is scrolling. This is why artists and creatives are more valuable than ever. Each designer draws on their unique experience of artistic creation. This means you won’t get the “cookie-cutter” image that’s easy to miss. Art can be used in ways that tap into our attention and emotions, start conversations, and hopefully foster progress and change.

On a personal level, what is the link between creativity and social change?

For me, art and activism have always been linked. I spend as much time as a professional illustrator as I do community service and advocacy work. I’ve been lucky that these two passions intersect a lot, so I know how one can inform the other. For this reason (and more), I jump at any opportunity to use my art to amplify an important cause.

Let’s talk more about your passion for protecting the oceans – how has that influenced your most recent work for Create Waves?

The piece I created was a reflection on the importance of biodiversity and how everything is connected in a beautiful, complex and often very delicate way. I am not going to pretend that I could single out one particular issue of importance that deserves emphasis over another. However, I often think about the impact of coral bleaching on a once thriving ecosystem. One cannot survive without the other. This is what we also often forget about ourselves as humans and how we behave within this system.

We love your portrayal of the ocean – can you tell us more about the idea and the story behind it?

My first thoughts were devoted solely to reflecting on my personal relationship with the ocean. I always find myself drawn to water when I’m in doubt or in distress. I think the ever-changing tide, the mystery, the vastness and the life below reminds me that I am small and in turn my worries are small, at least in the grand scheme of things. I then reflected on how the mistreatment of the ocean, the pollution, the overconsumption reflect our disconnection with our environment and, ultimately, with ourselves. I wanted my room to be busy, maybe chaotic, but also emotional. I wanted the human face to be integrated with ocean life, and I wanted to reflect connection and disconnection at the same time; also, jellyfish are cool.

When you create a work of art like this, what is your typical creative process?

I have been using the Adobe Creative Cloud suite since my studies. Those who follow my artistic career know that I create my digital drawings using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Fresco. I love how Adobe makes it easy to switch between all of its apps. For this piece, as it is a self portrait, it was great to be able to take photos and start sketching a concept through Fresco, but then to be able to seamlessly transition from that same piece to Photoshop through my desk.

Original artwork by AIlie ​​Banks of the ballot.

If there was one thing you could ask your community to do to support ocean conservation and the environment, what would it be?

As I mentioned before, I now spend just as much time working in community service and youth advocacy. I have had the privilege of working closely with young people from the region who form a deeply passionate, intelligent and active cohort. My role is to help get their advocacy heard by those who should be listening, often using our creativity as a vehicle.

Ailie's group of students holding signs

An example of this was facilitating a poster-making workshop and then transporting and accompanying a group of teenagers to a climate change protest rally. Like me, they are deeply concerned about our lack of action on climate policy and environmental conservation. My wish for my community and all the communities of the world would be to listen to our young people and act in their interest. Taking care of our oceans is part of this vision.

Join Ailie and be part of the generation saving the ocean. Find out more in The Ocean Agency’s creative toolkit for ocean awareness here and create your own work that stands up for ocean conservation and protection.

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