Mark Trinham’s illustrations for the SCIPN Wildlife Cards Series combine original full-colour paintings with informative text to depict the animals of the Thomson Creek and Spring Creek catchments on the South-West Coast of Victoria. The series was planned as three sets of 45 cards, or 135 cards in total, so obviously it does not have every single species native to the area. The cards do include every fish, reptile, amphibian, and mammal, plus a selection of insects and birds.
Mark and his collaborators drew inspiration from the popular Wildlife Collector Cards they remembered collecting as kids. Those and other sets of nature-themed cards and stamps helped steer many towards natural science and conservation, and Mark wanted to be able to do something similar for a new generation of young naturalists.
The informational text of the cards was a shared effort from a group of naturalists, each responsible for some of the cards in the series. They worked from published references and from their own observations. Mark created all the paintings and completed the layout and design of each card. He drew from his own photos, plus his experience of each animal’s behaviour and ecology to compose memorable, naturalistic settings. An accomplished naturalist himself, he needed no guide or special reference to identify the animals; he simply knew them all already.
The original images are painted on archival-quality paper using water colour washed for backgrounds and acrylic paints for the featured species in the foreground. Mark favours sign writers acrylic paints rather than artist’s paints because he likes the colours and because he is comfortable with that medium from his experience creating informational and interpretive signage. After producing each image, he added an acrylic glaze to bring out the colour and then scanned the painting so that he could create each card digitally.
Besides the cards themselves, Mark Trinham uses his wildlife images to create poster-sized prints and he offers the originals for sale as well in hand-made wooden frames. Because the posters are also on archival-quality paper with an acrylic glaze, there is no discernible difference between the posters and the originals.
Mark says that the first two originals he sold—the echnidna and the blue wren–were snapped up by his parents, who love to display his work around the house. Otherwise, the paintings have done very well and have allowed him to at least partially recoup his costs for the project, which has definitely been a labour of love. The more colourful birds, especially, have proven popular. He has yet to sell a snake, but does not regret painting them. After all, the educational value of the cards is first and foremost and snakes are an important part of the ecosystem, too.
Graphics have been a major part of Mark Trinham’s work and was the focus of his formal education. Much of his fine art training was actually through an art and design course followed by a Diploma in Graphic Design, back before the widespread use of computers (which is not that long ago), when designs had to be rendered entirely by hand.
He got his start working in a Melbourne Design Studio before going solo to focus on doing design work for environmental groups, creating logos and brochures and that sort of thing. He has really never stopped, although the scope and variety of his work has expanded. His interest remains with the natural world and he has built his professional reputation primarily with those who share his environmental concern. Mark has never had any desire to get involved in mainstream advertising, although he would like to see environmental issues become more mainstream.
He has advanced his career by following his design skills into some pretty varied and interesting territory. There are the silk screens he made for the clothing company he ran in his twenties, Blue Earth. There is the environmental education centre in North Geelong he created in a process he refers to as a three-dimensional form of graphic design. There are informational signs that grade into public art. There are the Wildlife Cards, for which Mark not only illustrates the images but also does all the layout and design.
One thing leads to another for Mark and each project or collaboration leads to new opportunities and ideas. For him, there is no firm line between the trade of graphic design and his other creative pursuits. Drawing logos and doing the layout for newsletters has led to designing murals and huge outdoor sculptures—naturally.