Re-wilding the world: Holly Bantleman (Wild and Wave)

Holly Bantleman launched Wild and Wave to create eco-conscious, affordable and beautiful pieces of art that spark conversations and drive action to protect our wild, in the hope of re-wilding the world. Holly shares how her love for marine life has fuelled her mission to protect beautiful animals that face extinction and how the brand intends to improve representation and diversity of marginalised groups in the art and conservation space. Find out how we can reduce our human footprint further with simple, small changes and how artists can practise art more sustainably.

Everyone doing it imperfectly is a lot better then a few doing it perfectly.

Tell us about how the Wild and Wave brand came to be and what the brand seeks to promote?

Wild and Wave is a relatively new venture for me. I started painting with watercolour last year when my partner bought me a set of paints to help me through a phase of burn out and the recovery of surgery. Little did we know then that I would not be able to put the paint brushes down!

I’ve always been really into scuba diving, wake-boarding, and falling off a surfboard! – I love being on, in or near water. I have a particular fascination for humpback whales; their size and how little we know about them has always made my problems feel pretty insignificant, and I have found a lot of comfort in that. 

For the last decade or so I’ve worked with marginalised communities; building locally led projects, campaigning and advocating for social change and as a TV camera operator. This year, my partner Sam and I decided to become Dive Masters in Mozambique. I resigned from my job and off we set for our 6 month trip but 3 weeks in, COVID happened and we found out we were pregnant. I used lockdown as a time to get creative and use my new found love of painting to connect more people to nature and inspire them to protect it. So, I launched Wild and Wave with the hope of creating affordable but beautiful pieces of art that spark conversations and drive action to protect our wild. 

I like how Wild and Wave contributes to marginalised communities and conservation projects – talk us through some of these projects and why these causes are especially close to your heart?

My aim is to have a charity partner for every Wild and Wave collection. Having run a small charity in the past, I know first hand how impactful donations to grassroots groups and the larger organisations supporting them can be. I’ve volunteered at many international charities over the last ten years or so and so creating a business that was mindful of its supply chains; that uses ethically sourced and made products; and uses its platforms to raise awareness of critical issues, was very important to me from the outset. 

One of the charities I’ve recently partnered with is The Manta Trust. I’ve been fortunate to have been diving with Liquid Dive School who put a lot of focus on marine conservation and it was through them that I really started to feel passionate about Manta Rays. I learnt how they are often caught as by-catch in fishing nets, target fished for their gills plates, hit by boats and sadly hindered by tourists that don’t respect their boundaries.

The Manta Trust focuses on research to support effective marine management and international policy. They educate people about the long term solutions needed to protect them and they collaborate with governments, individuals and local communities all over the world to create a collective approach that protects Manta Rays. 

It also feels particularly poignant at the moment; knowing that so many incredible animals are becoming extinct and increasingly endangered. I often wonder if generations after us will get to experience some of the amazing animals we still have today or if it will be too late. The thought that coral reefs could be completely destroyed by 2050 is frightening to me. Coral reefs are something that myself and Sam have spent so much time enjoying and experiencing but that our own child may not get to in the same way really saddens us. So it’s even more important on a personal level that we act now and play our part in trying to prevent the destruction of so many beautiful creatures and living organisms. I’m hopeful that there is time for us to fix the problem if we all play our part, and that’s one of the many reasons Wild and Wave has committed 10% of profits to conservation projects. 

Winston – Manta Ray
What does the ocean mean for you?

There’s something really magical about being in the water for me. I’ve tried to capture some of the way the water moves and the colours and vitality in the ocean in my paintings. There’s something about being in the water that is very calming for me. It’s where I go when I’m low; when I need to think; and when I’m happy. Somehow it always seems to work as a reset for me and leaves me feeling refreshed and recharged. 

I love watercolour for that; the way it flows and takes on a life of its own when it hits the paper

For readers looking to reduce their human footprint and make a change, where do you suggest they start? 

Plastics is the obvious big one. We’re lucky that the UK just announced a ban on straws and cotton buds, but there is still so much plastic we use everyday without thinking. There’s a lot we can do as individuals to make a huge impact, for example:

  • Shopping: Bar shampoo, beeswax and cloth covers (instead of cling film), reusable coffee cups, buying clothes second hand. 
  • Clean-ups: The Marine Conservation society often hosts beach clean ups which are a fun way to get children involved and talking about plastic pollution from an early age
  • Food: If we all ate locally and sustainably and treated meat and fish for the luxury it is, we’d make a big dent in reducing the overfishing of our oceans. The Marine Conservation Society has a guide to eating fish sustainably.
  • Waste: A recent UN study showed that 40% of what we produce is wasted. Check out low waste Chef Max La Manna – he has some great ideas and tips for maximising our use of ingredients.
  • Energy: Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is contributing to increased acidity in the ocean which is weakening the calcium in the corals. Opt for using a green energy provider such as Bulb, Octopus or Green energy UK, and choose to walk and cycle rather than drive.
  • Vote: Vote for green policies, sign petitions, support organisations running advocacy campaigns. But most of all, just start doing – it really does make a difference. Everyone doing it imperfectly is a lot better then a few doing it perfectly.  
Holly – Wild and Wave
Where have been some of the places that have impacted you the most with regards to social change and conservation?

I lived in Kenya on and off for nearly a decade, working with individuals, grassroots groups and national governments – my time there definitely shaped who I am today. I experienced some of my best and worst moments in Kenya; from the loss of children we were supporting to the opening of a vocational training school. I also  learnt some of my most humbling and biggest life lessons so far. 

I learnt a lot from communities I collaborated with; I was fortunate that they were willing to teach and show me paths that I often hadn’t considered when looking at solutions to social problems we were addressing. 

I think as a result, I have a deep appreciation and understanding that local knowledge and working alongside impacted communities as the lead voice is absolutely key. Too often organisations run in with assumptions about a situation and a solution to a problem they believe will work, without any consideration of how this will play out on the ground; what local risk there may be, reasons that uptake may not happen, adjacent issues that could be caused, lack of involvement of the community form an ethical point of view. All of these contribute to a waste in resources and lack of trust from the people you need it from the most to address a social problem. I’ve been guilty of this and very quickly learnt my lessons. 

When I started a small charity in my early 20s I set out with the goal to make ourselves redundant. Lots of people questioned why my goal would be to not be needed anymore; that’s one of the early decisions I am glad I made. In  my opinion, that’s when a project has succeeded, when it’s no longer reliant on donations or outside help and is locally funded and managed. 

I’m listening and learning from others; adapting as I go and focusing on the purpose of the art, and using that to guide me. 

How can we as artists practise art more sustainably? 

Looking for cruelty free and vegan products is a great place to start. This article by Sadrine Haugy is really helpful  and explains all the ways in which products we use might not be as animal free as we had hoped. Some pigments are made from animal bone for example, and binders often contain animal fats,  but the article lists lots of brands which are more sustainable. Here’s a list of vegan watercolour brush alternatives to sable/ squirrel too. 

Another way is to think carefully about our supply chains. Where are the products we use made and how can we reduce our impact on the planet by choosing more eco or green options and support local businesses rather than mass produce our product. 

All of our Wild and Wave packaging is plastic free and either recyclable, made from recycled materials or compostable. Eco-craft have some great options for this type of packaging. 

We have committed to small print runs to prevent waste and working with local independent prints, which I think with the current economic climate, is more important now than ever. 

Holly – Wild and Wave
Walk us through your creative process .. what are the different stages of your work? Do you have any art rituals?

I’d love to think I have a strict process that I followed or that it was organised in any way, but in all honesty, I’m just not that systematic. But, I do often start out with wanting to paint an animal I’ve either had an encounter with, or one that I’m fascinated to learn more about. I probably spend a day sketching out different angles and compositions, looking at how the animal moves and trying to capture some of the motion in the drawing. I then play with colours; I often look to places I’ve been or things I’ve seen that caught my eye for colour palette ideas. African fabrics and exotic bird feathers have influenced some of my colour choices. 

I tend to listen to something that I can ignore in the background, or I throw on a music playlist; although I have found that to also influence my colour design. Listening to David Bowie while painting a thresher shark for example resulted in some pretty interesting shark eye make up. 

When the painting is finished, I work with a local  independent fine art printer; we work together to match the colours, so that limited edition prints look and feel just like the originals, and we print in small batches to prevent waste. We really want to make fine art more accessible, so maintaining quality and using elite materials is really important. 

The only real ritual I now have is to create a completely tidy space. I wish this was because of something more spiritual but honestly, I’ve had too many accidents and near misses with other paint pots lying around, old water jars and things that can cause me to make a mess. So my main ritual is to create a completely tidy space before every time I start a new painting. 

I have a particular fascination for humpback whales; their size and how little we know about them has always made my problems feel pretty insignificant

How does art and creativity affect your overall well-being? And how do you feel when you create?

It’s the reason I started painting to begin with. I’d had a really hectic and stressful job and needed something to help get me off the hamster wheel. For me it’s a bit like meditation; I was never able to actually get into mediation but painting has had the same result for me. I find myself totally captivated by watching the colours and the water move. I love watercolour for that; the way it flows and takes on a life of its own when it hits the paper. I’m so much calmer and relaxed when I paint. I have to admit though that I’m learning not to get frustrated when a piece doesn’t work or come out how I’d hoped it would. I’m trying to teach myself to put it down to a learning curve. I think that’s something we don’t talk about enough: the failures. I’m quickly learning that I’m not alone and that many artists don’t create masterpieces every time.

Maravilha – Humpback Whale
What are your hopes and dreams as an artist?

With Wild and Wave I’m trying to get as much in the right direction as possible early on. My big dream is to use art as a way to re-wild the world. I want to create something that will strike conversations and give people ways they can directly take action.

So my current dreams are:

~ to make beautiful, high quality, affordable pieces of art for our homes

~ to spotlight and raise funds for awesome orgs and individuals working hard to protect animals and their habitats

~ to improve representation and diversity of marginalised groups in the art and conservation space

~ to learn and share information about some of the vulnerable and endangered species across the world and how we can all do more to protect them

~ to use high quality and low impact products

~ to create art that sparks conversations and drives action to protect our wild

The time has also come to work for myself again and to get back a bit of balance that I’d lost in the last few years and to bring creativity back into my life. To build a life that allows me and my little family to live near a beach and paint beautiful creatures – that would be a dream come true. 

I’m listening and learning from others; adapting as I go and focusing on the purpose of the art, and using that to guide me. 

What have you got coming up that we can look out for?

So, I’m hoping to get a safari collection out before Christmas. It’ll be inspired by days on safari in East African and some incredible experiences with some of the world’s most endangered animals. I’m also starting to run watercolour workshops which is really exciting. I’m working on partnerships with local groups and businesses like SUP4, so our collaboration will see a combination of time on the water and then learning to paint with watercolour (on a boat, because what could be more on theme, right?)- a whole afternoon of water based therapy. 

To view more of Holly’s work:



Holly – Wild and Wave

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