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PAWS FOR ART: Giving endangered animals a voice through digital art

The digital art movement is ever-growing and one digital artist at UMBC is using his art to promote a good cause. Graphic design major Liam Garrett, a junior at UMBC, is working to spread the word about the plight of endangered species while also asking the viewer to reflect on themselves as depicted in the pieces.

Each of the pieces in his series is inspired by different aspects of nature. Garrett draws upon these nature metaphors to create powerful pieces. In the first piece of his series, “Endangered Animals #1: Tiger,” the head of a tiger stands fiercely with its flame-like fur blazing against the black background. The fur on the tiger mimics flames to represent the fierceness of the predator, therefore, comparing the strength of the tiger to that of fire.

Endangered Animals #2: Elephant” presents the viewer with an elephant composed of autumn trees. The entire scene emanates a sense of sadness; the elephant is alone and is fading away, coupled with the melancholy falling of leaves from trees. The metaphor between the falling of leaves in autumn and the declining elephant population allows the viewer to make a personal connection to the piece. Most viewers have witnessed autumn and experienced the dissipation of the vivacious plant-life colors that disappear as the joy of summer fades away. However, in nature, the plant-life will always return in spring, but the same cannot be said for the elephant population unless humans act to protect these beautiful animals.

In “Endangered Animals #4: Polar Bear,” a weather map of global warming and smog pollution is shaped to depict the head of a polar bear. Garrett states, “The polar bear is made of how I actually think we are as a society right now. Half of it is made of smog, and the other half is made of global warming, and those two sides kind of represent the one side that’s trying to be more informed about their cause and then the other side that just wants to produce and just wants to pollute …”

Endangered Animals #4: Polar Bear helps remind viewers of the effect of their carbon footprint. Global warming is often mentioned in the news and policy-making, but sometimes the effects of global warming on Earth’s animal population is forgotten. By depicting the global warming map in the shape of a polar bear, the viewer is forced to confront both the issue of global warming and its consequential effects on the polar bear population.

The most striking piece in the series, “Endangered Animals #3: Giant Panda” overwhelms the viewer with a chaotic combination of shapes, colors and enormous amounts of detail. When glimpsed over, the piece appears to simply be a giant panda head, but if the viewer looks closely, they can see the many different features that make up the image.

The head of the panda is encased in the winding branches of a bonsai tree contained in a pot. On one of the limbs of the bonsai, a string of panda bears climbs toward a crack in the background. Garrett explains that this represents the confusion surrounding the captivity of panda bears. In this piece, Garrett creates an artificial habitat with abundant plant-life; however, amid this utopia that technically meets the needs of the pandas is an overall sense of dissatisfaction. The pandas are trying to escape captivity, thus leaving their man-made “utopia.”

This is similar to what occurs in zoos. The panda population is declining all the while growing more dependent on humans to survive. Zookeepers attempt to replicate the panda’s natural habitat, but, at the end of the day, the animals are still in an enclosure. Endangered animals are stuck in a lose-lose situation: if they remain in the wild, the populations are likely to become extinct, and if they remain in captivity, their lives become restricted to their enclosure.

Garrett’s series on endangered animals reminds today’s society that our actions have consequences on the animals we share the world with. When asked what message he would like his viewers to take away, Garrett said, “I want them to see that I’m trying to reflect who we are … how we feel, our generation, about these things with my art. I don’t want it to be as much about me. I want it to be a reflection about … how we feel.”

This is an installment in The Retriever’s new creative writing section.  If you would like to submit your creative writing or art for possible publication in The Retriever, please contact


This post includes a correction of the print version printed on April 10 which stated the title of an art piece was “Endangered Animals #3: Panda.” The title of the piece is “Endangered Animals #3: Giant Panda.”