Panama calling for intrepid illustrator, Amy

A Senior Lecturer from the School of Arts & Creative Industries at Teesside University experienced the trip of a lifetime, visiting the Panama to capture the life stories of animals in her drawings and illustrations.

Illustrator Amy Dover

Amy Dover has written the following blog telling a brief story of her travels.


Panama has one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity in the world where species from both North and South America live, from strange bugs to colourful toucans, howling monkeys, sleepy sloths and prowling big cats. Naturalists, artists, and illustrators have travelled to be inspired by nature in Central America for 100s of years.

Toucan in tree

But, what was once drawings made of new discoveries, are now drawings of a world which is fading due mostly to the impact of the developed world. I was incredibly fortunate to be given the opportunity to experience an artist’s expedition to learn from the nature and communities there and create artwork telling the story of animals that live in this biome.

Monkey in tree

In a remote area of Panama between the sea and one of the world’s most dangerous jungles lives one of the last surviving indigenous communities of central America. With special permission from the tribal council, I went on an artist’s residency to live in this community and learn about their unique relationship with nature. The Kuna’s (of sometimes called Guna’s) live across their own district and islands known as the Guna Yala (Kuna land).

The Kuna community

The community that I went to live with are located close to the Columbian boarder next to a jungle known as the Darién. To reach it involves a very small plane into the jungle and a boat over some quite ferocious waves.

Kuna collecting bananas from the jungle

The residency involved many treks into the jungle exploring the flora and fauna, the sounds and smells. I lived within the community for three weeks learning about the mythology, lifestyle and artwork they embroider into the women’s clothing. Creating drawings and printmaking in this environment produced unusual results, with a conscious effort to conserve and not take anything from nature.

Magnificent birds of prey

Travelling on to The Smithsonian Tropical Research Island, I was trekking with an expert learning further about nature through their jungle in quite intense heat. We were followed around for hours by a troop of monkeys who never showed themselves, but you could smell their sweet fragrance in the trees above. The island also echoed with the sounds howler monkeys who’s chorus can be heard for up to three miles. The water around the island hosts a community of crocodiles who could be seen on the banks, as well as many tropical birds and raptors.

Amy trekking through the jungle

Panama city is unusual as it has both tropical and dry forests, the exploration of this showed how closely nature can live to humans. I next  ventured to the islands of Gamboa which is a tropical area close to Panama city, and met some quite gregarious monkeys as well as more crocodiles, birds of prey and a greater collection of mosquito bites. It also hosted the spectacular sloth rescue where these ancient creatures lived their slow lives eating flowers.

Sleepy sloths
Sketches and notes

This was a hugely inspiring trip and I will continue to make work from this adventure, which will be exhibited early next year, as well as the release of a book. The trip would not have been possible without the support of both Teesside University and Newcastle University as well as numerous private clients and Craghopper’s for the clothing.


Amy Dover is Course Leader of BA Illustration as well as Senior Lecturer on BA Graphic Design and MA Visual Communication. She is also a PhD candidate.

Illustration courses at Teesside University:

BA Illustration

MA Illustration