On Environmental Education

Nature has been central to Mark Trinham’s life since he was a child–and much of his adulthood has been about teaching others to appreciate the living world. His career bridges styles, encompassing graphic design, mural painting, sculpture, landscape design, music, and more—and virtually all of it revolves around environmental education in one way or another.

From the beginning of Mark’s career, most of his projects came to him through the environmental groups he worked with. Like the other activists, he planted and weeded and organised, even swimming in front of cargo ships that were bringing rainforest wood from Borneo, but he also created logos, brochures, informational signage, and thereby laid the foundation of his professional reputation.

These organisations were mostly engaged in education. To organise a successful boycott of rainforest-grown timber, as Mark helped to do, requires educating the public about the issue, teaching as many people as possible why tropical deforestation is a problem and how consumer decisions can make a real difference. For almost any campaign, raising awareness and eliciting support is critical; if the only people who care about the natural world are activists, the activists will fail.

Some projects teach only indirectly, by reflecting and responding to the spirit of the land and its people. Mark has spoken about the research he does prior to creating a public sculpture or mural in terms of finding out what the land wants to say through his work. But in other cases Mark has a very specific educational mandate, such as with the environmental centre he designed in North Geeling where the structure of the building itself is part of its message—such as the hallway that mimics a giant waste water pipe.

In recent years, one of the most obviously educational projects has been the SCIPN Wildlife Cards; Mark and his collaborators decided to create a series of collectible cards after realising that similar wildlife cards had helped inspire each of them as children. The goal was for the cards as a group to function as a kind of basic children’s field guide to one particular region. To promote the cards, Mark and his collaborators visited schools in the region and spoke about the project and the animals with children.

Some of the schools included an art education component in these programmes, encouraging the students to make their own wildlife observations and to create art based on those observations. So Mark’s work not only is effectively getting kids interested in learning about the natural world, it is also encouraging more naturalist-artists, another generation of people able to do the kind of work that has sustained Mark’s life.