Captured, conserved and reinterpreted: Marcos Navarro and the Wilderness

Wilderness: Earth’s Amazing Habitats (Prestel Publishing) is a book teeming with color, wildlife, and, most of all, soul. The product of a collaboration between Mia Cassany and Marcos Navarro, the book focuses on habitats around the world that are under threat from rampant deforestation, uncontrolled urbanization, and runaway climate change. According to author Mia Cassany, “As the habitats of rare plants and animals, these wildernesses need our protection.”

Navarro’s illustrations make the case for conservation with a vibrant, playful, and assured eloquence. A bold palette conveys the spirit of the wilderness. Compact spacing demonstrates nature’s interconnectedness. Close-ups allows reveal the wonderful intricacies that make plants and animals and even insects amazing. Most striking of all, Navarro’s subjects — an Amur tiger, a Qinling panda, Eastern Lowland gorillas, a Sri Lankan blue magpie — all stare out at the viewer, challenging them to engage and most of all assume responsibility. It’s a call to action that’s hard to ignore.

He set aside the time to answer some questions about Wilderness and his work.

SCIENTIFIC INQUIRER: What inspired you to make this book about threatened habitats around the world?

MARCOS NAVARRO: I have always been inspired by nature, looking into all its shapes, forms, colors and behaviors.

Living in the Basque Country, surrounded by both mountains and oceans, greatly influences my creativity. I also conduct research on documentaries, Wikipedia and mid-century scientific illustration’s books.

SI: There are so many beautiful and important habitats. How did you settle on the ones in the book?

MN: Sometimes when I have been truly interested in a certain animal and I start studying it, I discover how deeply interesting its habitat is, due to the range of weird animals and plants that happen to be in the same ecosystem.

Other times, I just look for a specific natural environment and I select the most interesting place according to the animals living in the area.

SI: How did the collaboration for this book come together?

MN: Mia Cassany, editor and author of the book, found my work on Instagram and started to look at it. Also she attended one of my exhibitions at Miscelanea Gallery (Barcelona) where I presented some of my paintings based on animals and nature elements as part of my personal work.

SI: What came first, the words or the images?

MN: Images. Mia wanted to give me full-freedom to create the scenarios, so it was a bit challenging at first, as normally you illustrate a book based on its text. Although I believe this upside down process has made the book even better.

SI: The color palette in the book is striking. How was it decided?

MN: I was a bit shy at the beginning regarding the colour palette, so I used a more realistic and common color as it is a non-fiction book. But Mia encouraged me to use a more vivid color palette as that’s what I normally use on my work.

As a result, the book has a more different and fresh style than other books and it follows my style.

I’m glad that people appreciate and enjoy the colors.

SI: Many of the central animals in the book are looking directly at the viewer, engaging them actively. There’s something slightly surreal to it and calls to mind the female lions staring out from behind the Bush in Henri Rousseau’s The Dream. Was this by design? Why the eye contact?

MN: The collection is called ‘Eagle Eye’, so definitely there is an eye contact with the spectator.

Rousseau’s paintings have inspired me since I finished my studies, so it is quite easy to see a bit of his work on my illustrations.

SI: The perspective in “Daintree National Park” is really imaginative. How did that scene come together?

MN: We were talking about the Daintree Forest, and how amazing the leaves are. When I sketched the layout, I imagined a page with this point of view, almost like a pattern design, where you can see these rounded leaves creating a beautiful repetition.

One of my goals was not to make any artwork the same, therefore I started every one in a different way too.

SI: What ideas would you like readers to take away from the book?

MN: I would be happy to hear that kids love nature a little bit more after reading Wilderness, as well as gaining different insights into the non-fiction genre. Not only scientific illustrations but creative artworks can inspire young readers.

I would love to see people become a bit more conscious about endangered species, feeling the importance of ecosystem conservation, and support initiatives against global warming.

SI: What is next?

MN: A lot of things are happening, but the most remarkable is that we are working on the next book about Oceans.

Also, I’m stoked to be working on my next solo show at Antler Gallery in Portland, so I will be in USA next July.

Wilderness: Earth’s Amazing Habitats can be purchased at the Prestel Publishing site or on Amazon. For more information about Marcos Navarro and his work, visit his website

IMAGE SOURCE: Pablo Axpe; Prestel Publishing (Cover Art)

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