Marini Ferlazzo works with not-for-profit organisations to support wildlife conservation and animal welfare. Its founder, artist Nathan Ferlazzo, shares his love of nature and wildlife through his intricate illustrations. His aim is to inspire others to engage in the conservation of, and respect for, animals. A percentage of each sale is donated to partners including Edgar's Mission Farm Sanctuary, World Animal Protection, Australian Wildlife Conservancy and Australian Koala Foundation.
“When they pick up a print or a greeting card, we want people to be curious enough to find out more. There’s a story behind every animal I’ve drawn.”NATHAN FERLAZZO
Nathan Ferlazzo has been drawing all his life, but never thought he could make a living out of it. After studying multimedia at Monash University, he settled on the “next best thing”, a career in graphic design, which he worked in for eight years.
But the urge to get back to drawing was strong, as was Ferlazzo’s desire to start a family business with his mother, Clare. “I didn’t really know what the business was going to be; just something in art and design. So I started drawing again because I loved it so much - I’d been drawing since I was four and missed it.”
At an exhibition in Melbourne of 19th-century artist Eugene von Guérard’s works, Ferlazzo happened upon Guérard’s notebooks of pen-and-ink landscape drawings. “I didn’t really know what ‘pen and ink’ was, so on the way home I stopped off at an art supplies shop and a lady showed me the traditional nib and little pot of Indian ink. I tried them out there then and just loved it.”
He started by drawing plants, then thought he’d combine it with an animal, which became his first “floral animal”, a cockatiel. “I really liked the look of it and became addicted to using pen and ink, doing more and more drawings. Finally, I said to mum, ‘If we’re going to start a business, let’s start with these illustrations.'”
That business, Marini Ferlazzo, was born in 2011 (Marini is Clare’s maiden name). Over the course of the following three years, Ferlazzo continued to work full-time as a graphic designer, drawing after work and at weekends, as they experimented with what they could do with his illustrations. Slowly, he cut down on the hours at his day job until he could devote himself to the business.
They launched at Melbourne Spring Fashion Week in 2014 with a range of illustrations and a line of clothing. “That was our first idea, to use the illustrations to develop a fashion brand. But it just wasn’t gelling with what we knew, or how it worked with the illustrations. Plus, we wanted to produce everything in Australia, which was extremely expensive and just not sustainable. So we took our ‘passion’ hats off and put our ‘business’ hats on to come up with a sustainable option. We’d already had some success with my illustrations at a few market days at Federation Square. By then I was donating some of my profits to the World Wildlife Fund, and people liked the stories behind the animals.
“From the beginning, I didn’t want to create more ‘stuff’ that didn’t have a purpose. We had to do something positive. I love animals, and I love drawing them, so we thought that maybe we could help out conservation this way. But at first, it wasn’t a key part of our identity.”
It is now. “We’re trying to help these organisations spread their word. Often, they find it hard to cut through with their message. Posting graphic imagery tends to turn people off, and what we wanted to do was not come at it by telling people what to do or how to think, or trying to shock them. We wanted to go the other way, to show them individual animals and how they’re connected to the world, and that maybe we should all be a little more connected to the world. Positive messaging was a much better approach for us, to tell stories, to educate and perhaps inspire people to take action rather than telling them to.”
This led to Marini Ferlazzo contacting animal conservation organisations to work officially with them, rather than simply donating profits on the side. “We thought it would be better for people to know what we were doing, because it would help people make that purchase decision. When they pick up a print or a greeting card, we want people to be curious enough to find out more about, say, Australian Wildlife Conservancy or Edgar’s Mission. And there’s a story behind every animal I’ve drawn.”
Founded by Pam Ahern, Edgar’s Mission (named for her first resident, Edgar Alan Pig), is a not-for-profit sanctuary for rescued farm animals in the Macedon Ranges near Melbourne. “They contacted us last year,” says Ferlazzo. “At that time I’d not heard of them, but they asked us to help them get their message out through a collection of illustrations, and invited my mum and me to visit. It’s an incredible place, and their philosophy really aligned with ours; not ‘telling’, but inspiring people with the idea that these living creatures deserve respect and kindness.”
Each illustration begins with Ferlazzo looking through dozens of photographs to find the best pose. “It’s actually quite difficult getting the right one, because something that works beautifully as a photo isn’t going to work necessarily as an illustration, especially as I fill it with plants! I often use some artistic licence to get the right pose for each animal. I’ll do a rough freehand pencil sketch, which is probably one of the harder parts, getting the proportions right. For the record, big cats are the hardest - they’re so symmetrical and beautiful. If a big cat doesn’t look right, it really shows. You can cheat a bit on other animals!
“Then I go through photos of the floral elements and add the major ones, still in pencil, to see what’s going to complement the body of the animal. When I’m happy with that, I start on the pen and ink process, still keeping that style quite free. I’m not chasing realism; my illustrations are graphic - which is more for me and my sanity!
“The flowers are based on photographs I take, or from botanical books. Again, I’ll sift through images to find the shapes that will fit certain sections of the illustration, because you can’t just pop something anywhere on the body, otherwise you’d get weird shapes happening.”
Each illustration takes between 20 and 30 hours, which, considering Ferlazzo now only gets to draw for a couple of hours every few days, is a slow process. “But I’m a fast-paced person, so it’s good way to settle down a bit - to put on some music and meditate.”
Now the Edgar’s Mission collection has launched, Ferlazzo is working on a children’s book, whose illustrations are each taking about 60 hours to complete, “because they’re filled not just with flowers and plants, but with other animals. I’ve written it as well. It takes you around the world to each continent, with little rhyming stories that give you clues to find one of the animals hidden within the main illustration.”
One day Ferlazzo hopes to open a flagship store in Melbourne, offering a range of stationery and homewares. “I want a site where people get to consciously decide, well, this time we’re going to support Edgar’s Mission, or Australian Wildlife Conservancy. So when they buy a luxury item, it’s having a positive impact along the way.”read less