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The Tiger's Forest


Qualia - A term coined by philosopher C. I. Lewis - Refer to 'instances of subjective, conscious experience'. For example, running your fingers through cold water, the experience of seeing the color purple, and the struggle of lifting a new PR (personal record in power lifting, or other sport). All of these moments, cannot be shared with anyone else. Human language fails to transfer to moments from person to person. No matter how many words used in just the write way, it is impossible to make the color purple just pop into a life-long blind person's head. Qualia can't be shared.

However, I think that art comes very close. While maybe not sharing actual experiences, art can move an audience to feel the same way about said experience. This is why, I think, it is one of the most powerful tools for wildlife conservation. It can make people feel for the cause, care about the sentience behind the animals, and instill a passion against cruelty. Therefore, I have always wanted to combine art and conservation in a hands-on educational environment.

The Tiger's Forest

In partnership with the Born Free Foundation and Drawing for the Planet I am really excited about the launch of The Tiger's Forest - an art for wildlife conservation initiative. The Tiger's Forest is a series of workshops about conservation of animals found in the forest of the tiger (not just the famous tiger itself), brought to life through biro-style art. The workshops are led by famous wildlife artist and founder of Drawing for the Planet Jane Lee McCracken; Head of education at the Born Free Foundation, Laura Eastwood; and me. The workshops will be held in schools across the USA, the UK, Singapore and India and also aims to reach children in underprivileged schools, some of whom may never have even had an art lesson, let alone a talk on wildlife conservation.

Jane Lee McCracken, Founder of Drawing for the Planet

The Singapore American School workshop

The team and I decided to have the first workshop on my home turf: Singapore American School. This is because it would be a familiar environment, and would act as sort of a dry run to work out any of the kinks. Unfortunately however, due to it being on such short notice, Ms. McCracken and Ms. Eastwood were unable to join live, meaning that they would provide assistance and teaching virtually.

On May 8, the Tiger's Forest, Singapore kicked off after school, in Mr. Koltutsky's middle school art room. At first Ms. Eastwood, talked about how the ecosystem tigers live in and what is causing them to be endangered. There were interactive games and puzzles that helped engage the students and acted as ice breakers to help energize and excite kids about conservation. By the end of it, there were many questions flying Ms. Eastwood's way, and I found it super encouraging to see the energy already high.

After this lesson in conservation, it was my turn to step up. I told the middle-schoolers about my story with conservation, and how from just being another student in their place, I was able to channel my passion for wildlife into tangible action. I told them about The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony (founder of Thula Thula), and how reading this, made me want to be part of the solution for vicious cruelty towards animals. But, it was only after many failed attempts to collaborate with larger organizations that I eventually found a path forward by taking matters into my own hands and setting up to sell my art online.

Now started the best part of the workshop - the art! Led by Ms. McCracken, she explained the basics of Biro art to SAS kids.

In this style, the artist uses a ballpoint pen, to create images with lines of varying thickness, color, and stroke. Detail is created through the intricacy of the penwork and the rest is your imagination.

A lot of people can find Biro art intimidating because unlike pencil, you cannot erase a pen stroke. But this is actually what makes it fun. You have to be more careful and engaged, and learn to turn mistakes into beautiful aspects of the piece. The practical drawing workshop was both intense and fun. Many kids not only asked me for help, but also to see Ms. McCracken on the zoom screen to get her input on work in progress pieces. Some of them even did two or three sketches, and after they got started and into the hang of things, the enthusiasm was in complete contrast to the bitter complaining about not being able to erase mistakes, just moments earlier. During this time, I also worked on my own sketch, a baby Tapir with its beautiful speckled coat. Even my mother, usually terrified of drawing, was inspired to create her own tree frog.


Feeling the Feelings of Conservation

This workshop was magical. Normally I do my writing and showcase my art online, so it is hard to see the powerful effect art has on human emotion. But, it was extremely apparent in this small classroom. The room buzzing with energy as kids noticed cool details about animals from the tiger's forest that wouldn't normally have caught their eye. By making animals the subject of art, we are forced to invest in observing them, appreciating them and relating to them at a deeper level. While it would be naïve to think that these kind of workshops are life-changing, if this experience helped even one kid feel the feelings of conservation, it could make a big difference to the planet.

Jane Lee McCracken was an incredible coach to the middle school art class of the Singapore American School. She taught us a new way to draw, helped us see familiar and unfamiliar animals in a new light, and encouraged the artist in everyone. After the workshop, she created a beautiful mural celebrating SAS's journey with the Tiger's Forest.

It was a pleasure to work with Singapore American School's talented artist's. Their exceptional drawings and enthusiasm to champion vulnerable wildlife is inspirational. I am delighted to showcase such astonishing drawings on the project web page. Enormous thanks Ayan, Mr. Koltutsky, Dharma, Vihan and Priyali for organizing the workshop, Born Free's Laura Eastwood for her brilliant Amazing Tigers workshop and SAS's impressive artist's amazing contribution to the project. - Jane Lee McCracken

SAS Mural  © Drawing for the Planet 2024

How You Can Get Involved

If you live in Singapore, India, the UK or the US and know of any schools who would be interested in hosting The Tiger's Forest workshop, please comment down below with your contact details, and I will be in touch. Additionally, if you would like to contribute to funding these workshops for under-privileged schools - you can click on this link to buy my sketch of an Amur Tiger, or any tiger related merchandize from the shop. All proceeds from this will go towards The Tiger's Forest workshops.

Amur Tiger © Ayan Kamath Mehra 2024

I'd like to end with a big thank you to Mr. Koltutsky, who generously offered us his art room and helped facilitate the first Tiger's Forest workshop in Singapore. Thank you also to Dharma Ramachandran and Vihan Saksena - awesome seventh grade artists and the best volunteers ever, for creating workshop buzz and helping put the session together. And finally to Jane Lee McCracken and Laura Eastwood, for conceiving and supporting this workshop in Singapore, India and around the world.

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Dear Ayan ,

Very interesting to read about this event anchored by you in SAS.

Nice to see middle school students , through art , getting engaged in wildlife conservation activities & becoming aware of the fact that Tigers & co-inhabitants of the Forest share planet Earth with us.

Best wishes to you & your team.

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