Banner image: close-up photographs from Jack Haslam's 'Ark,' commissioned by Shape Arts as part of Shape's Sustainability Season, 2021. The full painting will be available to view later this year.

Shape’s Sustainability Season continues with a peek behind-the-scenes into the creative process. Artist Jack Haslam has been working on a painting, commissioned by Shape, that explores our current environmental crisis. Here, he takes us through his artistic method…

The commission

The brief: to explore the idea of a flaming ark for a work that will be used to promote awareness around environmental sustainability using materials which are vegan, sustainable, and made without cruelty to animals.

The design was to feature an ark full of animals taking sanctuary aboard, sheltering from the forest fires, the rising sea levels, and environmental threats from humans. Even though they are safe aboard, some animals don’t make it. Sparks and small fires fall onto the ark and surrounding sea, creating an atmosphere with smoke and clouds.


First, I took a look at past images of the imagined ark from way back in the past to modern day. I looked at many ancient interpretations made mainly from very early drawings.


This was a big challenge as there were many differing opinions relating to ‘sustainable’ art products. I tried to weave my way through the information until I found what I was looking for. I used sustainable and environmentally-friendly vegan pigments, eco gouache, pencils made from recycled newspaper, all made without cruelty to animals. 

I found vegan brushes with sustainable wooden handles and ink made from walnuts, too. I had tried to make watercolours myself but I read that honey was used and it was difficult to find a good reliable source of gum arabic. There are now a large selection of vegan art materials available, more than I originally thought!

Collage of three photographs of line drawn animals created by Jack Haslam.


The challenge I had was that there were almost too many options and I went down quite a few dead ends with this project until I pretty much went full circle. I had some helpful guidance from Shape Arts along the way as I was overthinking it a bit.

Using the new materials was quite daunting as I had no idea how they would behave on the paper. Fading was a big issue to consider when choosing the paints as I didn't want the image to deteriorate with time.

Working on a large A1 image, I was concerned about the colour palette and how it would all come together in the end. My personal style can be quite colourful and graphic and finding a way to create the right atmosphere to deliver the message was the most difficult part of the project.

Planning through collage

When I am planning a complicated piece of work, I create a collage. I have a vast archive of animal drawings from way back and I worked with the drawings almost like a jigsaw. I wanted to give Shape a good idea of what to expect the finished design would look like and we could discuss the process with improvements and changes along the way.

Photograph that shows how Jack plans through collage. Small, cut-out drawings and images are layered atop one another in order to plan the layout of the final painting.

The painting

When I started the painting, I first drew the image out with the help of a light box. I worked in sections, as then I could protect the paper from damage and accidents along the way. It took a very long time! It was during the lockdown, so I could stop and start when I felt like working on other projects along the way. That way I tried to keep it fresh and maintain the enthusiasm.

The most difficult part of working in that way is at the end you look at the whole image and it’s a bit like, “Oh! Maybe that bit is a bit odd, or that bit needs work.” 

Seeing it as a whole takes quite a few viewings over several weeks because it’s hard to really "see" it anymore. There were quite a few things that needed work, it was quite confusing with nowhere to rest your eyes, but eventually I think I was happy with the result. 

It was hard at times but I learned a lot in so many ways!

Jack Haslam’s work is about friendship, loyalty, and control. His love for animals has been a major influence in his life and is a driving force in his work. What others may consider minor and unimportant details are the things that inspire Jack’s work. If you want to know more about Jack and his practice, check out his artist profile on our website.

Banner advertising Shape Arts Sustainability Season of commissions.

Sustainability Season branding designed by Mina Owen.

Read the first instalment of Sustainability Season: a Q+A with artist Anne Deeming!