Climate Change Data Becomes Beautiful Nature Illustrations

All images courtesy of the artist

For artist Jill Pelto, communicating the seriousness of climate change has become a personal mission. She does so in an unconventional manner— by using graphs as the compositional basis for her art.

At first glance, the pieces don’t look like they are based on hard data. But a closer look reveals an underlying grid of faint lines. One piece, for example, shows glaciers and water rendered in shades of blue. The peaks of each glacier reach toward the middle of the composition, becoming points on a graph. Other pieces make the melding of visuals and data more obvious. In an illustration of wolves near icy white glaciers, the peaks of the masses of ice are punctuated with dark dots that signify data points.

Though she uses a range of mediums from acrylic to printmaking, Pelto enjoys working with watercolor because of the fact that "it can be manipulated in so many interesting ways with only water,” as she tells The Creators Project. Pelto developed her skill and love for watercolor painting through field sketches she completed in the North Cascades of Washington, the Dry Valleys in Antarctica, the Falkland Islands and more. Her passion for making art comes together with her ability to research natural phenomena.

“I use a wide range of sources depending upon the topic: I research a specific issue in order to find information and graphs that I think will communicate best,” she says. “I use scientific papers and also articles from groups such as NOAA, NASA, and ClimateCentral. I also use research from my father Dr. Mauri Pelto from his research as founder and leader of the North Cascade Glacier Climate Project.”

The pieces combine both Pelto’s artistic and scientific background. The two worlds come together seamlessly, resulting in works that are both visually engaging and informational.

“As a scientist I make and read a lot of graphs, yet I forgot that many people do not,” writes Pelto. “Using actual information... provided an intellectual context to my work while my illustrations around the graphs created an emotional story that can inspire people to promote environmental justice.”

Through her pieces, she hopes to reach a “broad audience” and communicate the message that climate change is quickly altering the natural landscapes around us. Through the data she has gathered so far, Pelto has noted everything from “rapid decline in glacier volume” to “rises in temperature and sea level.” Through her research, she clearly sees that these changes are happening at a rapid pace.

“I am rarely shocked by data,” Pelto says. “Sometimes I am sad or angry by the continued trend of humans mistreating the environment; but sometimes I am happy or hopeful to see species doing better, or renewable energy quickly growing.”

Even if viewers don’t know much about climate change, Pelto hopes her pieces can at least make them a little more aware of its effects on nature.

“My hope is that my artwork can share this message of change yet also ignite a passion to help prevent further environmental damage,” she writes.  

To learn more about Jill Pelto's work, click here


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