Submitted as part of the Women Mind the Water (WMW) digital stories project produced by Pam Ferris-Olson, in conjunction with Stories from Main Street and the traveling exhibition "Water/Ways." This story is one in a series created for a podcast in 2020-21, featuring regional and international artists whose inspiration blends conversation, activism, science, and water. Find earlier stories from the WMW initiative by searching for "Women Mind the Water" on this website.
Janina "Nina" Rossiter is an author, illustrator, and graphic designer. Nina has written a dozen children’s books including Diamonds, Hearts & Sea Stars! and 123 Who’s Cleaning the Sea? Through these books and other endeavors, Nina shares her love of the sea and hopes to make a difference in fighting climate change, plastic pollution and much more. These things are important to Nina who believes that the future depends on our actions today.
Nina Rossiter (00:00): Where are you exactly?
Pam Ferris-Olson (00:01): I'm in Maine.
Nina Rossiter (00:03): In Maine? Yeah.
Pam Ferris-Olson (00:04): Yeah. So it should be cool here, but it's not. Thank you global warming. Yeah.
Pam Ferris-Olson (00:11): All right. So we'll get underway because I know you have children and it's the season of a cause, so you should have time to enjoy.
Pam Ferris-Olson (00:23): Today on the Women Mind the Water Podcast, I'm speaking with Nina Rossiter. Nina is an author, illustrator, and graphic designer who says she is happiest when she's creating images of the ocean. The Women Mind the Water Podcast engages artists in conversation about their work and explores their connection with the ocean. Through their stories, Women Mind the Water hopes to inspire and encourage action to protect ocean and her creatures.
Pam Ferris-Olson (00:52): I'm extremely pleased today to welcome Nina Rossiter to the Women Mind the Water Artivist Podcast Series. Janina lives in Paris, France. She is a multi-dimensional artist. She's an author, illustrator, and graphic designer. Nina uses her talents to help protect the ocean. Nina is the author illustrator of the children's books, Diamonds, Hearts, and Sea Stars! and 1,2,3, Who's Cleaning the Sea? Through these books and her other works, Nina shares her love of the sea and hopes her voice can make a difference in fighting climate change, plastic pollution, and much more.
Pam Ferris-Olson (01:31): These things are important to Nina and she believes that the future depends on our actions today. Welcome, Nina. Thank you for joining me on the Women Mind the Water Podcast. I'm really looking forward to hearing why you were inspired by the ocean and about your development as an artivist, working to call attention to the issues that impact the ocean. Nina, you are, in addition to being a multi-talented artist, you have a multicultural background. You were born in Germany, and have lived in the United States, and now in Paris. Nina, what is it about your background that planted and nurtured the seeds to developed into your passion for the ocean?
Nina Rossiter (02:11): First of all, thank you for having me. It's a great question, but I think for me it came all very naturally. So, I grew up in Hamburg, Germany, which is near the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. So when I was small, we often went to the seaside. But I also started competitive swimming at the age of four, five, very early. I had, therefore, always been in the water several times per week. I felt a very deep connection, always, to water because I spent a lot of time in it. I think when you love water, you love the ocean, you love the sea. I think there is the connection between the happiness that water can bring and where you can find it. So I think this is how my love for the sea started.
Pam Ferris-Olson (03:08): So how did you come to focus your art on the ocean and particularly on issues that impact the ocean?
Nina Rossiter (03:15): It was a natural development, I would say. So I started writing children's books about eight years ago. Before I started focusing on the ocean, I had recently written an ABC children's books and I was looking for background fonts for... I was drawing with ink and I was looking for colorful background fonts to put in the background, drops to put in the background. I looked at different art techniques and I found an art technique that was called alcohol ink, which is very liquid and it's very beautiful. Mostly when you look on the internet, the artists mix it with a little bit of gold, with a little bit of silver. I loved that technique so much because it almost reminds you of looking at the ocean from above. It looks like little islands. So I used that art technique in my first ABC book.
Nina Rossiter (04:20): It reminded me of the ocean, of water, and I thought the ABC book was an animal book that wasn't with ocean creatures. So for me, it was quite natural that the second book I wanted to write was just to focus on ocean life because of the art technique I discovered that I found so beautiful. Then I discovered another art technique, which was fluid art, which I wanted to use that one for the next book. I wanted to write a concept book, which went from [inaudible 00:04:53] so my very first book was an ABC book and the second one I wanted to write about numbers. And I wanted to connect the numbers to the sea creatures, an octopus has eight arms, that's quite obvious, but with other sea creatures, from one to 10, it was more difficult to research.
Nina Rossiter (05:10): I often went into the aquarium to just look at sea creatures, to study them, to see which one could be in my book. Because I have two young children, it was obvious that sometimes I just take them with me and enjoy the aquarium together. They always have a show on once a day where they entertain the kids, and that one time we went, they had a show on about ocean pollution about the plastic in the ocean. We were sitting there and my daughter wanted to help and she was really eager to be picked and to be involved and that really caught my attention because I noticed that she wanted to protect the animals.
Nina Rossiter (06:00): I don't know what it was, but there was something inside me that really caught my attention. I felt really proud at that moment that she wanted to protect the animals. And I often see that as well in schools that the kids want to protect the animals really, really quickly when they notice they're in danger. When we came home that evening, it didn't really leave me alone. I wanted to find out more about ocean pollution, what I can do myself to protect the ocean. And I came across images that I hadn't seen before, like kids growing up by rivers fully polluted, living in houses under plastic. Just images that really shocked me to the core, I would say, where I couldn't believe that today we allow that to happen. I think it's what often happens with people when they realize there's a problem, they kind of want to help or do something to make the world better.
Nina Rossiter (07:05): And I decided at that point that my book, which had no subject, instead of just talking about numbers and sea creatures, I wanted to link it to ocean pollution because I wanted to ask the kids in the aquarium that day, I wanted them to feel that they need to help the sea creatures, to protect them from plastic pollution. This is really how 1,2,3, Who's Cleaning the Sea? came along. That was the beginning of my journey as an artivist, I would say, because I noticed that we, as we live in our Western world, we are part of the problem a lot, by the way we consume, the way we buy, the way we consume, the way we live, everything. I felt there was so much more I could do myself before I start teaching others, just like change your home, buy less, buy second hand, all these things. That was the beginning of my journey, which completely came by coincidence, I would say.
Pam Ferris-Olson (08:17): Yes. How fascinating, the chain of events. Who would have thought that discovering a font would lead you through this chain to developing books that are conscious about what's going on with our oceans. One of my recent guests was Lexi Doudera. She has a nonprofit she started called Saltwater Classroom, and it works with students in grades three through six. Lexi says that this is an optimum age to teach environmental education. She points out the kids in this age group are curious and old enough to understand the relationship between cause and effect. What is your motivation for creating books for children?
Nina Rossiter (09:01): In Paris, I worked for cosmetic brands and one of the last job I worked at before I quit my job was on a suncream lotion. They asked me to come up with some designs and I created some penguins and some little illustrations for the sun lotion. And that was just before I quit my job. And when I quit my job for personal reasons, I was at home and I continued drawing the same character. That was the first character, that was my first students books, because before I've written the environmental books, I started this series which was called Tovi the Penguin. This is the little penguin who looked a bit different on the suncream lotion, which never made it into the market, but that was the development I was working on. He became my first character of my children's book, because when I stopped my job, I stayed at home and I started writing children's books because that's really what I wanted to do. I didn't publish or I didn't do anything with that book until my daughter was born.
Pam Ferris-Olson (10:14): So would you describe the process of creating a children's book? Does the artists create the images first and then you think about text?
Nina Rossiter (10:22): Because I studied communication design and I learned a bit about advertising, I think the way I write my books is more by having a storyline. I write the book first in terms of little pictures. I imagine the pictures first and then I put the text to it.
Pam Ferris-Olson (10:46): So what inspires you to choose the subject matter for the book?
Nina Rossiter (10:53): For the Tovi books or for the environmental books?
Pam Ferris-Olson (10:57): For any of the books. How do you choose your subject? What comes to mind?
Nina Rossiter (11:03): Funnily enough, I felt that the whole... I have written, I think, 13 books by now, and I felt that each book was a journey of my life. My life gave me the subject and then I wrote the book, which is... So 1,2,3, Who's Cleaning the Sea? was really the visit to the aquarium. Then the next book, Diamonds, Hearts & Sea Stars! Which is here which is complete different style to Tovi was... After I've written 1,2,3, Who's Cleaning the Sea? I felt I wanted to do more than just write one book. I wanted to raise awareness. I wanted to make people aware. And so I had an art expert exhibition in the central fonts. And I didn't just want to show artwork, I wanted to also raise awareness of plastic pollution. And there was an organization who supported me at that time, which was called [Bluish Mudge 00:12:06].
Nina Rossiter (12:06): And they gave me videos of that team members. And most of that team members were underwater photographers and divers. And I spent a whole week at the art show and sometimes the videos were up on one wall talking about underwater photography, talking about the world underneath. And I was watching that quite a bit. And because sometimes we didn't have that many visitors. And two of the team members were protecting sharks, and they were talking about the misconception of sharks and how we view them in a different light. And I was really listening to them. And after that, I felt inspired to create an illustration that loves sharks, which is this it's a little heart it's made out of different sharks. And so that was a heart shaped out of sharks. And then I did another illustration which was the [whale 00:13:16] .
Nina Rossiter (13:16): And so I kind of had these shapes. So that was the heart, that was the diamond shape, and then as I've written concept books like ABC, 1,2,3, but shapes was just the next thing for me to do. And because it kind of again, came natural in the thought process I saw the shapes and then I decided to write about creatures that need protection. So they need protection because they are endangered because we don't treat them the way they should be treated. And so that's really how Diamonds, Hearts and Sea Starts! came about. And it's a collection out of nine poems. So it's nine different sea creatures I'm focusing on. And each of them, I talk about why they need to be protected, what the problems are, and how we can make a difference.
Pam Ferris-Olson (14:12): I appreciate the personal look and it's very powerful. And I know that you've written that when you first became an artivist, you felt lonely and out of place. Why was that?
Nina Rossiter (14:23): I've worked in graphic design, cosmetic industry, I worked in packaging. I felt like I was more part of the problem than being on the good side in my previous life. That all the sudden I discovered this problem, and I wanted to make a difference. And I felt a bit embarrassed almost to then call myself an artivist or an activists.
Pam Ferris-Olson (14:50): How did you move beyond that? How is it that you now feel more comfortable?
Nina Rossiter (14:55): Well, I think it was the people I met through my journey. So when I published 1, 2, 3, Who's Cleaning the Sea? I didn't really know what to do. I felt this passion about protecting our planet, but I didn't really know what to do next. Because as I said before, I've done different things. So I started contacting people who have been already been on the journey for a long time. And I think it was mainly through Instagram that I try to look for like-minded people. And then it was mainly beach cleaners who were really open and positive to be supportive.
Nina Rossiter (15:36): And I had two conversations with two beach cleaners. One is Anna [inaudible 00:15:43] who is from beach cleaner. And one is Pat Smith, who's the action man. And they were both really, really supportive. Anna said, something really important to me. She said, "Forget what was before. The moment you realized, it's the moment you change and you protect our planet and don't feel bad about it." I mean, I wasn't bad in terms of... I was polluting the planet, but I felt personally bad because I wasn't an activist, or I hadn't really spoken out for our planet before. I think it was more that level.
Nina Rossiter (16:16): And then I think what really changed me was when I got invited by a local school, it was British School of Paris near where I live and asked me if I wanted to come and do a speech about plastic pollution. And it was the first time I've done that. And they sent me into a big room with 400 kids. And it was the first time of I've done a presentation like this. And the kids were just absolutely captivated. They wanted to learn more, they had lots of questions. They wanted to know what kind of difference they can make. And to the end, so many kids came towards me and said that they loved it and that they want to help. And that they want to hear most speeches like that. And it was just such a confirmation of that this is the right way to continue, so.
Pam Ferris-Olson (17:13): Well, Nina you've really embraced the idea of, or taken to heart the term artivist and you're involved in so many inspiring projects. Can you tell me a little bit more about the artivist chat that you started on Clubhouse? And it probably would be helpful for listeners who don't know what Clubhouse is for you to begin by explaining what Clubhouse is and how they can access it.
Nina Rossiter (17:40): Yeah. Clubhouse is an audio drop in social media. And I think it started because lots of people were at home during the confinement and they felt lonely and it was the first time you could actually join groups and listening and contribute. And it's something that all the other social media apps didn't have yet, because on Instagram, you post an image, you can be whoever you want through the image. But on Clubhouse it's more about what you say and who you are personally. And I think that's a much more personal way of connecting to people. And I think a lot of people who were joining Clubhouse and finding it really reassuring to connect with like-minded ocean warriors, I would say.
Nina Rossiter (18:32): And so people started creating clubs and they started hosting rooms every week. And I just really wanted to connect to other people because I haven't really started this artivism journey as a career, it was a passion. It was a passion to protect our planet. And I always feel, I wouldn't say lost, but I feel connecting with people who have the same passion and who have the same struggles when it comes to hearing too many environmental issues and how to deal with this. It's really a way of the connection and to support each other is really what keeps me going as well.
Nina Rossiter (19:23): And so there was one club, which was the scuba club, which is created by Norbert Zi. And he asked me if I wanted to host a regular artist room. And I said, why not? But it would be an artivism room because I really want to know how... Because activists are mainly artivist because something happened in their life, something turned around where they decided to switch their art to protect the planet.
Nina Rossiter (19:53): And I'm really interested in what this journey was and what the moment was that changed their lives. And it's probably the same for you by creating this podcast. And we've been hosting five rooms so far, and it's been really magical because we always feel at the end, it's mainly lost for two hours. And I would say that we always feel very connected. So we chill out work afterwards. We talk to each other and often that's not the case with artists. They often feel like people could copy from them or they want to do their own journey. And I think with the artivists, there's a big community out there because the planet is more important than the personal journey or the success. At least that's how I feel about it. And yeah, that's really... It was again, a bit natural how it came together and it's been a great journey and I have also two co-moderators.
Nina Rossiter (21:00): So, Norbert supports the room and also Janavi co moderates with me, she's another artivist who creates images of the ocean, which are very beautiful. And yeah, it's really it's teamwork. And it's nice to connect to people. And in one of the rooms, we had the grandson of Dr. Silvia, which was complete coincidence. And because I found them on Clubhouse in one of the rooms, and I looked at his Instagram profile and it was raising awareness of plastic pollution to fishing nets. And so I contacted him if he want it to join our rooms. And afterwards, I found out that he was the grandson of Dr. Silvia, which was really, yeah. Amazing, so.
Pam Ferris-Olson (21:52): Oh, really Amazing. So another project that you're involved in is the Marine Diaries. And I would like to know more about that and why it was important for you to get involved in that project.
Nina Rossiter (22:04): So, the Marine Diaries is again, a non-profit organization, which was super supportive. So when I first started with my book, 1, 2, 3, Who's Cleaning the Sea? I contacted them and they didn't really say, "Who are you? How many followers do you have?" They were just completely open to my work. And they said, do you want to do a Instagram takeover? Which is basically you go into their account for a day and posts through their account. And that was the first time I made the experience of the ocean community. Not having been in that ocean community that was like the first kind of experience where I absolutely loved it. And so the Marine Dairies and me have been friends since the beginning of my journey.
Pam Ferris-Olson (22:58): Do you ever feel you have too many competing demands? How do you manage your personal projects with all of this collaborative?
Nina Rossiter (23:08): Yeah, it's a bit complicated sometimes. But I feel, especially to people who have been very helpful to me, I feel like there's no question of not doing it. So there's always, of course I do it and it has become a bit much at some points I have to sometimes stop a little bit. But I think it's difficult when it's the passion that you really feel. You want to make a difference. You feel like you have a lot of ideas and it's a bit complicated sometimes.
Pam Ferris-Olson (23:46): But, I can hear your passion and to have a community to share that passion with. It's very inspiring and apparently gives your wings to be able to handle all the competing demands. So What is it vice? Can you offer listeners who want to help to protect the ocean?
Nina Rossiter (24:06): I actually get that question quite often, especially from people who I met on Clubhouse in a way. They contact me afterwards and say, they feel like they want to do something and they want to make a difference. And my answer is always quite simple. I just say, "If you want to do it, do it. If that's what you feel like is your passion go for your passion." I think sometimes I can't give too much advice because I am focusing on the ocean while other people might be more comfortable focusing on the SDG, to do something else. But for me, it's a hundred percent the ocean that's where my love is. That's where my passion is, but I feel that it was helpful for me to not give up my job because this is a hundred percent not how I can live from.
Nina Rossiter (25:10): I don't know how to say it, but it's not what supports my living. So the way I make my money is by graphic design jobs. And then this is what I do because I feel like it's what I need to do, but it's not where I could live from. So I think everyone who wants to do that should start doing it as a hobby next to what they're already doing. Because I think it's complicated. Because lots of organization will ask you to volunteer. It's difficult to switch from one job and go into environmental work as a full-time job.
Pam Ferris-Olson (25:53): So, Nina, I am grateful that you made time to be on the Women Mind the Water Podcast. I find your work as an artivist, truly inspiring. Bravo [foreign language 00:26:03].
Pam Ferris-Olson (26:04): I'd like to remind our listeners that I have been speaking with Nina Rossiter for the Woman Mind the Water Podcast Series. New series can be viewed on womenmindthewater.com. An audio only version of this podcast is available on the Woman Mind the Water website, on iTunes, and now on Spotify, Stitcher and Google Podcast. Remember that the water is grateful to Jane Rice for the song Women of Water. All rights for the Women Mind the Water, name and logo belong to Pam Ferris-Olson. This is Pam Ferris-Olson. Thank you for listening.
Asset ID: 2021.02.23
Themes: Education, children's books, ocean, plastics, publications, environmental education, marine diaries, community, illustration, graphic design
Date recorded: August 28, 2021
Length of recording: 26:40 m
Related traveling exhibition: Water/Ways
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Women Mind the Water
More information: https://womenmindthewater.com