Meet the Author Interview with Dominique Navarro – AUC Press September 2013 E-Newsletter

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Meet The Author

Dominique Navarro is a natural history artist and writer. She is the author and illustrator of the new Nature Foldout series in Egypt, published by the AUC Press.

Ancient Egypt’s Wildlife
Dominique Navarro with Salima Ikram

Egypt’s Prehistoric Fauna
Dominique Navarro with Matthew Lamanna

Birds of the Nile Valley
Dominique Navarro with John Wyatt

Egypt’s Flora and Fauna
Dominique Navarro with Richard Hoath

Dominique has collaborated on numerous environmental publications, as well as science and history documentaries for television. She is also a trained forensic artist, producing illustrations and sculptural reconstructions of unidentified persons and ancient archaeological remains. The combination of Egypt’s marvelous human history and extraordinary natural environment was her inspiration for the AUC Press Nature Foldouts. She is currently working on the translation of the series into Arabic.



AUC Press:     You are a writer and natural history artist, but you also have a background in forensic illustration. How do these different and very specialized areas connect?

Navarro:     The AUC Press Nature Foldouts are a culmination of all my skills as an artist and storyteller. My background as an artist may seem diverse, but my main objective remains the same: I want people to experience a connection with my artwork, without thinking about the person who made it. Art has been a tool for me to bring an idea or awareness of something to people, which would otherwise be difficult to convey. For example, I have taken a human skull and reconstructed the face of the person as they might have looked in life—suddenly archeological remains become a portrait of a person we can identify with. Similarly, I am depicting animals in a way that hopefully connects with people more intimately than just seeing them in a photograph or disjointed from their natural environment. This is also why I often draw both humans and animals with eye contact: there is a magical connection that takes place when eyes meet, and it gives the image a glint of life that can create the sense of an emotional bond or solidarity.

Glyphs   Gods

Dinosaurs Ancient Whales
Illustrations by Dominique Navarro

AUC Press:     How did the AUC Press Nature Foldout series develop and why did you decide to do them?

Navarro:     I had the opportunity to work at an excavation near Luxor and spent several months living on the west bank. The environment intrigued me—the Nile and the mountains, and the agriculture thriving on the fringes of the desert—and I wanted to know more about the many species of animals, birds, fish, and plants that inhabited this remarkable, rural area. Most of my Egyptologist companions and Egyptian friends were unable to assist me, and I spent the next year reading book after book, publications that were often extremely academic, decades and sometimes centuries old, such as the beautifully illustrated Description d’ Egypte from the early 1800s. During one research trip, I took a suitcase filled with books. Later on, I made use of libraries such as the one at Chicago House in Luxor. But one thing was apparent: to acquire the information I sought about the natural history of Egypt was no simple undertaking, for myself or for anyone else.

So I decided to make the Nature Foldouts as a way of compiling comprehensive, unique information into a condensed, lightweight, inexpensive publication that would be accessible and enjoyable to everyone: adults, students, children, tourists, and locals—we are currently working on translating the first four Nature Foldouts into Arabic.

AUC Press:     How do you conduct research for illustrations in the foldouts?

Navarro:     Naturally, the best way to illustrate anything is to experience it in person. I became a much more astute observer in both the natural environment and especially in temples and tombs where sculpted reliefs, paintings, and hieroglyphs are filled with depictions of flora and fauna. Ancient Egyptians were truly the first naturalists, noticing details that could set species apart from one another: the crown feathers of a hoopoe, the posture of a baboon, or the blossom of a lotus. The artwork of the ancients is certainly a huge inspiration to my work and is wonderful to learn from.

In addition, I pursued adventures on foot, by felucca, and by train throughout Egypt, especially enjoying Lake Nasser as I attempted to see crocodiles. It was very disappointing to not find papyrus and lotus growing in the wild, but I became very fond of the giant milkweed and its beautiful purple flowers. I also spent time in the agricultural fields near Luxor where at dawn and sometimes dusk, I was able to glimpse foxes running through the sugar cane. And of course, there are wonderful birds wherever you go, desert, field, wetland, or city.

AUC Press:     What are the stages to making an illustration?

Navarro:     Each illustration for the AUC Press Nature Foldouts is incredibly time consuming involving endless amounts of research. I regularly consulted with all of my wonderful scientific advisers throughout the process of creating the artwork: Richard Hoath has been an excellent guide to species identification and the geographical location of plants and animals; John Wyatt has faithfully assisted me with features and coloration; and Salima Ikram was fantastic lending her knowledge of natural history and ancient artwork. Working with paleontologist Matthew Lamanna was invaluable, helping me with the specific details of Egypt’s dinosaurs and prehistoric environment, of which there is sparse imagery to refer to.

Many times, I draw and redraw artwork to get it right. Careful consideration is given to the overall layout of the entire Nature Foldout—there is only so much room to fit text, illustrations, diagrams, and maps. I want them to feel full, but never cluttered or overwhelming. In this way, the Nature Foldouts provide an immediate introduction to plants and animals of an environment, which hopefully lends itself to further curiosity and investigation by the reader.
AUC Press:     How do you see the AUC Press Nature Foldouts contributing to Egypt’s environmental education and conservation?

Navarro:     Egypt and its people are enduring very difficult times with terrible suffering and conflict which can make environmental concerns appear insignificant in the immediate despair. Yet issues concerning the environment—water, agriculture, energy, pollution, climate change, endangered species—are perpetual concerns, which effect people no matter where they are on the planet.

The AUC Press Nature Foldouts are a means of inspiring positive consideration toward the environment, reminding us of the value of a healthy and diverse ecosystem. It would be wonderful for them to help stimulate new opportunities for conservation jobs, eco-tourism, and education programs. That is why I am determined to see them translated into Arabic. But in the meantime, the English Nature Foldouts have drawn attention from throughout the world because the environment has no borders, it is something we all must share and care for.

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