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

Creative montage of works by Ailie Banks

At its immense size, the ocean is powerful enough to solve many of the environmental issues we are currently facing as a planet. And while protecting our ocean is key to battling climate change, this shift will not occur until there is greater awareness and understanding of its magnitude.

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

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

Dharug and Gundungurra based illustrator, content creator and violence prevention worker Ailie Banks is motivated by her passion for advocacy and activism. Running weekly youth art workshops with a local Non-Government Organisation (NGO) and contributing to violence prevention projects, her work is driven by improving the experiences of people who have often been excluded by the status quo. More recently, Banks has turned her focus to the interlinking of the ocean and the human experience – advocating for greater care of ourselves and the natural environment we live in.

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 protection and conservation of the environment.

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 during the doom scroll. That’s why artists and creatives are more valuable than ever. Every creative draws from their unique experience when making art. That means you are not going to get the ‘cookie-cutter’ image that’s easy to miss. Art can be used in a way to harness our attention and our emotions, start conversations and hopefully assist progress and change.

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

For me, art and activism have always been intertwined. I spend equal time as a professional illustrator as I do working in the community service and advocacy space. I’ve been lucky to have both those 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 ocean protection - how did this influence your most recent artwork 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’m not going to pretend I could select a particular issue of importance that would deserve highlighting over another. However, I do often think about how impactful coral bleaching is to a once thriving ecosystem. One cannot survive without the other. That is often what we also forget about ourselves as humans and how we behave within that system.

We absolutely love your ocean portrait - can you tell us more about the idea and story behind it?

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

When creating a piece of art like this, what is your usual creative process?

I’ve been using the Adobe Creative Cloud suite since I was studying. Those who follow my art career know I create my digital drawings via Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Fresco. I like the way Adobe makes all their apps easy to switch between. For this piece, as it’s a self-portrait, it was great to be able to take photos and begin concept sketching via Fresco but then be able to seamlessly transition that same piece into Photoshop via my desktop.

Original artwork by AIlie Banks of voting 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 equal time working in the community service and youth advocacy space. I have had the privilege to work closely with local young people who are a deeply passionate, intelligent and active cohort. My role is to help make their advocacy be heard by those that should listen, often using our creativity as the vehicle.

Ailie's group of students holding signs

An example of this was facilitating a poster-making workshop and then transporting and chaperoning a group of teenagers to a Climate Change Protest rally. Like me, they are deeply concerned about our lack of action on Climate policy & environmental conservation. My wish for my community and all communities worldwide would be to listen to our young people and act in their interest. Caring for our oceans is a part of that vision.

Join Ailie and be a part of the generation that saves the ocean. Discover more in The Ocean Agency’s Creative Toolkit for raising ocean awareness here and create your own piece of work that rallies for ocean conservation and protection.