Author Archives: Alison

When in doubt, choose change.

You know that feeling when you find an artist whose work you love, and then they start changing direction, and you’re not so enthralled by the new work? You wish they’d just carry on creating the work you loved. But if an artist never changes, then they have either stopped learning and experimenting, or they’ve stopped caring – and either way their art will eventually stagnate. 

Alison Nicholls artworks

Older artworks in pastel and on yupo paper.

I’ve been painting African subject matter for almost 20 years now, and here are some of the changes I’ve made during that time. 

  • I began, as many artists do, by creating realistic studio art, including both animals and landscapes in watercolor.
  • In the studio, landscapes gradually disappeared from my work and instead my animal subjects became immersed in watercolor washes.
  • I became bolder with my color choices (I went a bit over-board with color on occasions if I’m honest).
  • My experiments with color turned me towards pastel, and I spent a couple of years working in both pastel and watercolor. Eventually I decided to focus on just one medium, and of course I chose watercolor.
  • I started drawing animals from life in pencil, adding watercolor washes afterwards. 
  • I made a conscious effort to loosen up as I began to understand animal anatomy. 
  • In the studio I started using my sketches as the ideas behind my paintings.
  • I began limiting my color palette to 3 or 4 colors in each painting.
  • I started a series of conservation-themed paintings.
Artworks by Alison Nicholls

Recent field watercolor and older lion demonstration drawing.

  • I started sketching and painting people – a scary prospect but one I now thoroughly enjoy.
  • I investigated new painting surfaces and mediums. For a couple of years I painted only on watercolor canvas in fluid acrylics. 
  • I spent more time sketching & painting from life in Africa and started using pen for my drawings, with watercolor washes on top.
  • Back in the studio I tried to replicate the life drawing I loved by creating daily sketches, lasting 10 minutes each. These were often a mix of pen and watercolor on yupo paper.
  • I found a stack of heavier watercolor paper and realized I’d forgotten how much fun it was to paint on a heavier paper, so I threw myself back into stretching watercolor paper and using watercolor paints.
  • I started painting watercolor landscapes again, sometimes including wildlife and sometimes pure landscape. 

Until I wrote this, I had no idea I had made so many changes over the years. I feel like I learn something, forget it and rediscover it again a few years later. I’ve come full circle. When in doubt, definitely choose change!

Artworks by Alison Nicholls

Conservation themed art and a recent giraffe watercolor.

Let me know how your art has changed or, if you are not an artist, how your taste for art has changed.

“When in doubt, choose change” is a quote by Hong Kong actress Lily Leung.



I Saw a Lion

As I looked at my paper, covered in loose watercolor washes, lines and splashes, I saw a lion, dozing under a tree. (Check out my previous post What Do You See? to see why I painted the washes without knowing what they would become.)

Dozing Lion by Alison Nicholls

Painting like this, with no specific species or composition in mind, is a complete change to the way I normally work, and that’s what makes it so much fun. When I ‘saw’ the lion, I knew he needed to blend into his environment, as a lion does in the wild. A simple silhouette seemed the best way to go, so I drew the shape out on paper first, then (using the same colors I’d used in the washes) I painted the lion. The painting reminds me of several lion encounters I’ve had over the years, and I’m pleased with the result – the simplicity of the painting process and the finished result.

watercolor by Alison Nicholls

What Do You See?

what do you see

Turning the painting around to view all angles.

‘What do you see’ is the question I ask myself when I’ve painted watercolor washes but haven’t decided what the subject of my painting will be.

Why would I want to start a painting without knowing what the subject is?
Some days I need to just get in the studio and paint, without spending hours planning my painting. I’m a great planner and love to have everything under control, but too much planning also saps my energy. Some days I know I’ll be more productive if I just start mixing color and laying down washes. So that’s what I do.

Once the washes are dry, I start asking myself ‘what do you see’. I turn the painting around, looking at it from all 4 sides, until something jumps out at me. In this case, what jumped out at me was the possibility of the left-hand side of the painting becoming a huge tree trunk. But that may change. We will see!

January Snow 3

Now Paint It Again

So, you finished your painting. Now paint it again.
I’ve seen and heard this advice several times but often ignored it, not wanting to recreate a painting unless I felt it was a disaster. But now I know better and have learned that ‘paint it again’ is excellent advice.
Here is a plein air watercolor (painted from life outdoors) created as part of my Painting 10573 project. It was early afternoon and bitterly cold outside, so I sat in my car to paint, but I had started later than I planned so I found the shadows racing across the snow before I even completed the simple pencil drawing. 

January Snow 1 by Alison Nicholls

January Snow, watercolor from life, 11×14″

I completed the painting in one and a half hours, which was fast considering the watercolor was taking a very long time to dry. When I finished, I wasn’t sure how successful the painting was and wondered if it was a bit messy and rushed. The next day I looked at it with fresh eyes and realized it was quite lively, full of light, and had accurately captured the feeling of a really cold, bright day. Although I liked the sketchy quality of the piece, I also felt the composition could be simplified to create a lovely studio watercolor, so I decided to paint it again. Here’s the result: 

January Snow 2 by Alison Nicholls

January Snow 2, studio watercolor 10×15″

This time I simplified the wash behind the house and made no attempt to define specific trees in the background. I also simplified the distant areas of snow, making the road less visible and highlighting the snow-laden hedge. Once again, I think there are areas that worked well and areas I was disappointed in, specifically that the shadow of the foreground tree is too wide and the long blue shadows in the snow on the right seem to come out of nowhere.
So, the next day I decided to paint it again.

January Snow 3

January Snow 3, studio watercolor 10×15″

Much of the painting was improved in this version. I used a warmer color palette and softened the silhouette of the lone tree, so it didn’t dominate the foreground so completely. However, I had reduced the lovely effect of the snow-laden hedge by painting too much hedge and not leaving enough snow visible. And although I like the warmer color palette, it meant I lost the feeling of bitter cold and the stark shadows from the first painting.

I might paint it again, and I’m sure the 4th version will also have it’s own distinct charms and annoyances. While I prepare my paper, I’d be interested to know which version you prefer and why? 

Leaoprd in Magenta, painting by Alison Nicholls

Very Peri Painting

2002 will be the year of Very Peri paintings (and Very Peri everything else) because Pantone chose Very Peri as it’s 2022 color of the year. 

Pantone’s 2022 Color of the Year – Very Peri

As you can see, I’ve been painting with this, and similar hues for a long time – knowing that the day would come when my paintings would be fashionable!
And now that day has come…
How shall I celebrate?
Perhaps with even more Very Peri paintings!

Leaoprd in Magenta, painting by Alison Nicholls

Leopard in Magenta, acrylic on canvas 20×16″ by Alison Nicholls. Sold

Okavango Palms

Okavango Palms, watercolor 20×16″ by Alison Nicholls. Sold.

Lone Wolf by Alison Nicholls

Lone Wolf by Alison Nicholls

Have a Very Peri 2022!

Moose watercolors by Alison Nicholls

Moose of Rocky Mountain National Park

The moose of Rocky Mountain National Park provided a wonderful spectacle during my recent visit.

Moose watercolors by Alison Nicholls

Watercolor silhouettes of moose, sketched from life in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, Sept 2021.

One evening we were leaving Sprague Lake, when a sudden commotion ahead of us turned out to be a mother moose and 2 calves rushing towards the water – so we also rushed back to the lake. They had run beside the boardwalk to the far end of the lake (probably giving a few visitors a fright in the process) and we found them in the water, caught in the last light of day.


Moose in Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colordao. Photos by Alison & Nigel Nicholls.

The 2nd occasion we saw moose was also at Sprague Lake. This time it was a female and calf, and a young male. Soon they were joined by a much larger male and the younger male retreated. They were right at the edge of the water so although the light was fading, I still had perfect silhouettes to sketch. Blue and purple seemed the most appropriate colors for the situation!

Moose watercolors by Alison Nicholls

Watercolor silhouettes of moose bull, created from life, in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, by Alison Nicholls, September 2021.

These were painted directly in watercolor, with no preliminary drawing. I’ve never sketched moose before and was constantly convinced I’d made their faces too long and their chins too pronounced, but gradually I got used to their strange anatomy. Although it was getting darker and my fingers were getting increasingly cold, I kept on sketching because I knew this was an amazing opportunity that I may not see again!

Next time – Rocky Mountain landscapes.
Take care

elk watercolor by Alison Nicholls

Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

What could be better than sketching elk in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, during the rutting season? 

I decided to go straight for watercolor, with no drawing underneath. Painting this way definitely works best with animals who have recognizable silhouettes, and the elk were perfect. I started with the head or body, making sure this is correct before adding the antlers as the finishing touch. The antlers are complex shapes and even a slight change in the angle of the elk’s head gives you a totally different view of them, so I had to concentrate on sketching exactly what I saw, even if it looked strange and I couldn’t really tell one antler from the other. Working in just 2 colors was very effective for the elk with their darker necks and heads and paler bodies.

elk watercolor by Alison Nicholls

Watercolor sketches from life of elk bulls by Alison Nicholls Sept 2021.

The elk bugles – high-pitched calls you wouldn’t expect from a male deer – carried eerily through the trees. One very chilly morning, before the sun warmed the valleys, 6 or 7 bulls bugled at each other, approaching from all directions to try their luck in stealing some cows from a bull with a large harem of females. The smaller bulls (with 4 or 5 tines – points – on each antler) didn’t try to take on the bigger bulls, they all just hung around the edges adding to the tension and hoping that in the chaos they could possibly snatch a female. Fights break out when 2 well-matched bulls encounter each other, and we could antlers crashing together as the big bulls fought among the trees. 

Elk photos

Top row: 2 big bull elk & 1 interested bystander. Bottom row: bull elk with harem, tired bull resting his head.

Its an exhausting time for the bulls, even when they’re not actively fighting, because they are in a constant state of alert, trying to gain, or keep, their harem. They barely have time to eat, and they expend a lot of energy at a time of year when they need to be building up their reserves to get them through the winter. As a result, some of them will die during the winter from starvation, while others may die due to injuries received during the rut. The sleeping bull shown above had a tine from another elk lodged in his neck right behind his ear. It stuck out about 4 inches. Imagine the force needed to break a piece of an antler and then have it remain stuck in your neck. He seemed OK, but it can’t be comfortable. I’m sure if he could talk he’d just be saying “you should see the other guy”. It didn’t seem to be affecting his ability to keep other bulls away from his harem of females. 

Apart from the elk, there were many other attractions in and around Rocky Mountain National Park, including moose and of course, stunning landscape.
More about those next time.

Zebra at Waterhole


Inspiration – it’s a funny thing. Normally I would argue that an artist should get into the studio and paint, in order to generate their own inspiration, but recently I’ve found myself avoiding the studio and feeling uninspired and unmotivated. What? Really? Yes!

I don’t enjoy working from photos and haven’t been to Africa since September 2019, so my mental library definitely needs topping up. As I’m writing this I realize I need to follow my own good advice, given some months ago, and start watching African waterhole webcams and live safari links. I also have a lot of my own video, taken in Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Maybe now is the time to watch some of it and turn it into memory-jogging clips I can share with you.  

So here’s one – a waterhole scene from Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana. The snorts and sniffs you hear are impala (mostly out of sight) and you’ll also hear a weird call that sounds a little like a creaky gate but is in fact a grey lourie (go-away bird).

Ah, I feel better already!


Honey Badger & Civet

Honey Badger meets African Civet

Honey badger meets African civet. What happens next?
My copy of The Safari Companion by Richard Estes describes the African civet as “a remarkably unspecialized, basic sort of mammal” that “eats whatever is digestible”, is “poorly equipped to climb or dig efficiently”, and is “relatively slow-moving”. That all makes it sound very unthreatening, but as you’ll see in the video, it has a crest of hair along it’s back that is 4 inches long and can be raised to make it look quite intimidating. Civets are related to genets (and less closely to mongooses) but this is a group of animals which have changed very little in the last 40 -50 million years. You know what they say – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – so although it may be basic, I guess the civet is doing just fine.

Honey badgers are better known and have a reputation for being fearless and having no natural enemies. It (and the civet) are happy to snack on puff adders – which says almost everything you need to know! Honey badgers love honey and risk numerous stings to gorge themselves on honey and bee larvae. They have very loose skin, which protects them from too many stings, but this also means if a honey badger is picked up by the scruff of it’s neck, it will be able to turn around and bite it’s attacker (as many an inexperienced lion has discovered).

So, to this video, where honey badger meets African civet!
One evening I, my husband, and 4 friends, were sitting around the fire in Botswana. We were on a mobile safari, with Phillimon from Walking Stick Safaris and had planned to spend 9 nights camping in Moremi, Khwai and Savute. Phillimon and his great team took care of everything, so we felt like we were traveling in the lap of luxury, even though we were in tents. We’d eaten dinner and had moved to sit around the fire and had been visited by a honey badger there, but soon we heard a call from the ‘kitchen’ and this was what we saw. I think we all would have bet money on the civet giving in to the honey badgers. But what did happen?

Well, it turns out they both seemed quite intimidated by each other!

Later that night a honey badger raided camp again – climbing into the back of one of the 4x4s, then up and over the 4-foot high wire cage enclosing the cargo area, to see if there were any scraps available. One afternoon in this same campsite a group of 7 or 8 bull elephants appeared, browsing their way through and then out on to the grassy plain, heading for the next tree-island. And on our final night we decided to call an early end to the evening’s fire-watching as calls from lions got closer and closer until we thought they might be in ‘our’ trees.

In short it was a lovely spot with a wealth of wildlife and beautiful views. Ahhhhh…..

More soon.

Check out The Safari Companion: A guide to watching African mammals by Richard D Estes.
Our mobile safari was booked by Africa Geographic and our safari team were guided by Phillimon from Walking Stick Safaris. 

Yellow-billed Hornbill by Alison Nicholls

Every Camp comes with a Hornbill

It seems that every camp comes with a hornbill in African reserves. You only know you’ve truly settled in when you see one (or more likely several) of these big-beaked birds bouncing around.

Yellow-billed Hornbill by Alison Nicholls

Yellow-billed Hornbill III, ink and watercolor on 6×6″ cradled board. Available on Etsy, $180

They come in different sizes and colors but the 2 you are likely to see in camps in southern Africa are the yellow-billed and red-billed hornbills. They can be difficult to tell apart. OK I’m kidding – these 2 species, unlike many others, have been given sensible, descriptive names!

They both have the same long eyelashes, the same habit of quizzically angling their heads, and the same ability to pick up the tiniest seeds with their over-sized beaks. They also add a lovely soundtrack, a background conversation almost, to hot afternoons in camp.

One final note – they’d both be absolutely terrifying if they were the size of an ostrich!
This artwork is available on Etsy, priced at $180 with free shipping in the US.
More next time.

Sketching in my Car

What do I Sing when I Paint?

I realized recently that I sing when I paint.
But first, I talk to myself. It seems that I talk when drawing, and sing when painting. Of course! 

I talk to myself when I’m figuring out my sketch, looking at the light and shapes and getting them down on paper. I use lots of phrases like ‘Right, let’s see, what’s next?’.

Sketching in my Car

My setup for painting watercolors in my car. If the weather is good, I sit outside instead.

It seems that I sing (or hum, as there are rarely words) when I’m painting, especially when working on detail. I’ve been sketching in my own neighborhood recently and it’s been cold, so I’ve been working from my car. So what I sing is likely to be whatever I last heard on the radio. If that last song was something particularly appalling, I might have to leave the radio on, until I hear something better. Interestingly, I don’t sing-along when the radio is on – I only sing when the radio is off. If I can’t get a song out of my head and want a new one, I often go to something by my all-time favorite band – The Waterboys. 

Of course sometimes I leave the radio on (not the engine, just the radio) but it automatically turns off after an hour (you get to know these features of your vehicle when you sit in it to sketch). I turn it back on. Another hour goes by and it turns off again. I’m usually nearly finished by then, but it takes me a little while to pack up. Then I drive home. Or, as happened a couple of weeks ago, I try to drive home and find the car battery is totally dead. This shouldn’t happen from 2 hours of radio use, but it did. So at that point my singing turned into talking again – but with a much more aggravated tone! 

Keep on singing, humming or whatever it is that you don’t realize you are doing.

Black-backed jackal by Alison Nicholls

Black-backed Jackals

For me, black-backed jackals are synonymous with the Kalahari Desert. Their jaunty trot carries them here and there within their territories as they expertly hunt and scavenge, surviving in one of the toughest places on Earth. Then night falls, and their howls pierce the darkness – a beautiful sound, but sharp and cold as the starlight above. 

Black-backed jackal by Alison Nicholls

Black-backed Jackal III, ink and watercolor on acrylic, 5×5″ cradled board

The other image of black-backed jackals that sticks in my head is when jackals converge on an area where lions are feeding on a kill. If there are too many lions and it’s dangerous to try stealing, they wait patiently, curled up under different bushes nearby, until the lion pride moves on. Then they all dash in (along with the sharp-eyed vultures which have also congregated) to grab their share of the meat. They eat nervously, frequently scanning the area in case the lions return. Then, when they’re done, off they trot.
Jauntily, of course!

Black-backed jackal by Alison Nicholls

Young Jackal, ink and watercolor on acrylic, 5×5″ cradled board

Both these artworks can be purchased from my Etsy store, and I’ll donate 25% of the price to Cheetah Conservation Botswana.
Until next time, stay jaunty!


World Wildlife Day images from Alison Nicholls

World Wildlife Day – Good News Stories!

On this World Wildlife Day lets look back at some of the good news stories about wildlife from 2020. Yes, there really were some!!

World Wildlife Day images from Alison Nicholls

World Wildlife Day – a selection of Daily Sketches, available on Etsy with 50% of sale price donated to conservation.

China gave pangolins their highest status of protection, and removed them from their list of approved traditional medicine ingredients.

Colorado voters approved a measure to bring back gray wolves, after an 80 year absence. They will be reintroduced into the southern Rockies in 2022/23.
Go Colorado!

Much of the world’s wildlife benefitted from our lock-downs and expanded their ranges and activity, while we took more of an interest in our gardens and parks, and the creatures that share them with us. Many of us created space in our gardens specifically to attract pollinators & birds or provide shelter for reptiles and amphibians. 
Way to go, people!

Australia reintroduced Tasmanian devils to the mainland after they were hunted to extinction there almost 3000 years ago. Their scavenging should help restore healthy ecosystems.
Good on ya!

The 4th annual international effort to stop the illegal trade in flora and fauna was a success. Operation Thunder 2020, led by Interpol and the World Customs Organization, involved more than 100 countries and confiscated thousands of wildlife products and some live animals.
Good work!

Several high-profile private zoo owners in the US faced charges relating to their abuse of animals in their care.
Excellent! Hopefully, the public will see these facilities for what they really are, and will decide not to visit them. 

France banned wild animals in circuses

We have far to travel but we know the right trail to take. So let’s get going!

My daily sketches are available on Etsy, with 50% of the sale price donated to African conservation organizations, and free shipping within the US.


Hyenas and Vultures by Alison Nicholls

Hyenas and Vultures

If you spend enough time in the African bush, it’s inevitable that you will come across a carcass and, if you’re lucky, hyenas and vultures. Finding a carcass can provide amazing sketching opportunities, as long as you can sit upwind!

Here’s a video I took in South Africa of a hyena and vultures feeding on a dead zebra. Most of the vultures are white-backed but you may see a larger, paler bird, which is a Cape vulture (when the vultures are all over the carcass, look for it standing on the left). 

I would happily sit and sketch beside a carcass all day (or until the wind shifts) but usually I’m traveling with other people and weirdly, many of them would rather see a live animals than dead ones. Ah well…

Hyenas and Vultures by Alison NichollsThis is the sketch I created after I finished taking the video. Spotted Hyenas (there were 2 at one stage) and White-backed Vultures, watercolor on paper 11×14″  

Just for the record, spotted hyenas are very good hunters and are not the cowardly scavengers they are often made out to be – they are one of animals I most look forward to seeing when I’m in the bush. Vultures are true scavengers, feeding only on carrion, but they too are an absolutely necessary part of the food chain. Without vultures, rotting carcasses would pollute waterways and spread disease. In recent years there have been devastating incidents where carcasses have been laced with poisons and in some instances over a hundred vultures (plus hyenas, jackals, raptors and numerous other species) have been killed. Poachers may poison carcasses to actively rid the skies of vultures (whose circling can alert anti-poaching units to the presence of poached animals) or farmers may poison a carcass to kill predators who threaten their livestock. The use of vulture parts in traditional medicine is also a threat, as are collisions with electrical cables. So think better of the vulture – it’s existence saves lives, even if it eats the dead. 

To learn more about the vultures of southern Africa, visit Project Vulture.

Join me for more sketches and stories soon.

Hippo Day!

Its World Hippo Day! And who wouldn’t want to celebrate hippos – those jolly, rotund, playful, animal caricatures?  I’ve seen an immature hippo playing in a tiny waterhole with a stick, ducking it under, rolling on it, retrieving it, even tossing it in the air, and obviously having great fun. But, as is usually the case, there is another side to this story, and it involves an intimidating, potentially-dangerous river monster. 

Hippo Plunge

Hippo Plunge, ink and watercolor by Alison Nicholls, 9×12″, $80

During the day, the hippos of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, tend to be in the lagoons, and if you’re in a mokoro (dug-out canoe) your skilled poler avoids them by crossing these areas of deep water quickly, and at the narrowest points. On a typical mokoro-ride as a tourist, you spend most of your time in the maze of narrow, shallow trails (made by hippos as they leave the water at night to graze on land). These channels can be only a foot wide and just inches deep, or they can be 6 feet wide with water a couple of meters deep. They are often edged with grasses and reeds several feet above your head, and in the narrowest channels they push in on you from all sides. The water is clear as can be, filtered by all the vegetation, and the drifting lily pads are beautiful. The sounds can be mesmerizing – rippling water, the swish of reeds, and plops as frogs drop into the water beside you.  Then comes a loud bellow or grunt from a hippo, a mocking laugh of a sound, and suddenly you remember the the gaping mouth and the unexpected speed and agility of these huge beasts. For a while you imagine what you would do if one appeared beside you right now. Your heart beats quite a bit faster!

One day I remember that we returned to camp close to dusk, and had to to cross one last lagoon. The beautiful open stretch of water that we gazed at daily from camp suddenly took on a more menacing air. The dark waters merged with the darkening sky. Splashes and explosive grunts were the only clue to the pod of hippos close by. Our poler held us back in the grasses on the edge of the lagoon, watching and listening for a good time to cross, and I wondered if the amazing mokoro trip we had experienced had been worth this anxious last few minutes. Then we took off, smoothly poling through the waters, straight across the middle – where I closed my eyes, envisaging the approaching tidal wave of a plunging hippo. But we made it to dry land, and a lovely can of dry hunters too.

Although I’ve spent many hours on mekoro and in self-paddled canoes (definitely a more treacherous situation given my inability to travel in a straight line for long), luckily I haven’t met a really disgruntled hippo. However, the stories I’ve heard remind me that although messing around in boats might be fine, messing with hippos is something you definitely don’t want to try. 

Enjoy World Hippo Day!

Painting by Alison Nicholls of Epomophorus bats, Kenyan fruit-eating bats.

Epomophorus – Bat Painting

I recently completed this commissioned painting of Kenyan fruit-eating bats flying at night. They are circling a bunch of figs which is painted in the shape of Africa from the Gall-Peters map. As you might guess, I didn’t have sketches of bats to rely on for my painting, so I asked permission to use photos from Merlin Tuttle’s Bat Conservation then donated 20% of the purchase price to MTBC. The painting was gradually built up with layers of fluid acrylic, and right at the end I added detail to the bats and figs. I wanted to let the moonlight shine through the bats’ wings, so I let the underlying washes show through in the areas closest to the light.
Painting by Alison Nicholls of Epomophorus bats, Kenyan fruit-eating bats.

Epomophorus. Kenyan fruit-eating bats, fluid acrylic on canvas, 16×16″. 

During my research for the painting I learned a great deal more about bats and thought I’d share a few points, particularly in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and how bats have been linked to the virus. We have a complicated relationship with bats, having feared and reviled them for years, associated them with horror films and Halloween. However, they are incredibly valuable, particularly for agriculture across the world, both for pollination of crops and for their ability to control insect populations (reducing crop loss & crop disease and the need for pesticide applications). In Texas alone, bats are estimated to save agriculture over a billion dollars annually!
Check out this short video, from MTBC – Bat Fears in Perspective.

Bat colonies can be huge, so for scientists it’s relatively easy to sample massive numbers of bats for diseases. As a result, we know far more about bats and viruses, than we do about viruses and any other creature. When Covid-19 emerged, a link to bats was highlighted and instead of starting a conversation about the dangers of the illegal wildlife trade, it had the unintended consequence of compounding people’s fears of bats as dirty, dangerous and disease-ridden. In some countries entire colonies of these invaluable species’ have been exterminated to ‘prevent’ disease.

The problem, of course, is not bats, or any other species. The real problem is our invasion of every corner of the planet, our relentless exploitation of wild animals, and the confinement of wild (and domesticated) animals in cruel and unsanitary conditions. If we continue on this path we will inevitably face more zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted to humans from animals) and possible pandemics.

The way to prevent this is not the eradication of bats or any other species, it is a long overdue acknowledgement that wild places and the species which inhabit them are essential for the health of the planet. So make a point of telling your friends, family or neighbors that many bat species are endangered, their presence is a good sign of a healthy environment, and they consume billions & billions of mosquitoes!

Take care

Limpopo-Lipadi Botswana

Watercolor Wash

I tidied a corner of my studio recently and found this piece of writing:

“A watercolor wash is beautiful to look at and satisfying to produce. You take a large brush, submerge it in watery paint then drag the brush across the surface of the dry, dimpled paper until the paint thins and the band of color breaks and cracks. Then you refill the brush with that color-quenching paint, and the white expanse of paper waits for whatever might be… When I’ve been away from Africa too long I feel like the brush which needs reloading with paint. I need to go back, to flood my senses again with the color and sensations of Africa.”

Limpopo-Lipadi Botswana

Sunset in Limpopo-Lipadi, Tuli Block, Botswana

I wrote this many years ago – I’m not sure exactly when – but it still rings true, especially after a year when I couldn’t visit.
Take care.

Trotting, painted dogs, acrylic by Alison Nicholls

Three is a Crowd-Pleaser

Following on from my previous posts, Boraro – Painted Dogs and Three Painted Dogs is Not a Crowd, here is Three is a Crowd-Pleaser. I didn’t originally intend to write a series of 3 posts, but after a little research I found that we humans like thinking in patterns and 3 is the lowest number we consider a pattern (if something happens once we think it’s chance, if it happens twice it’s coincidence, but if it happens 3 times we think of it as a pattern). So maybe my series of 3 posts is not an accident afterall. As IQ Doodle School’s post explains, the Rule of Three is part of “how we think, make sense of, and cluster information”. Groups of 3 are common in our language (ready, steady, go), music (choruses often occur 3 times), plays (3-act structure), art (rule of thirds) and film-making (trilogies). 

Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds grid is useful in art & photography to create interesting compositions.

In art you’ll often come across the Rule of Thirds grid. The idea is to divide your canvas into 9 equal sections and use the lines and intersections to help create a more interesting composition. For example, in landscape paintings you will often see the horizon line one-third or two-thirds of the way up the canvas, rather than half-way. Or, if your painting doesn’t have a horizon line (mine often don’t) then you can use the red dot intersections as guides for where to place items of interest. If you look at my paintings, you’ll see that the animals who are the focus of attention are usually left or right of center and often high up or low down on the canvas (close to the red dot intersections on the grid). After a while this becomes second nature so you don’t even think of the grid when you compose a painting.  

Trotting, painted dogs, acrylic by Alison Nicholls

Trotting, painted dogs, acrylic by Alison Nicholls

In case you’re not convinced, here are 3 more interesting sets of 3’s: 
I often use only three colors in a painting. There are 3 paragraphs in this blog post. And African wild dogs have tri-colored coats!

Stay well

Painted Dogs by Nigel Nicholls

Three Painted Dogs is not a Crowd

I’ve often seen painted dogs in threes, particularly in the Kalahari. 3 seems an ideal number to include in a painting. It shows multiple animals living together as a pack, without including so many animals that it becomes distracting. My previous post about Boraro – Painted Dogs (which means 3 in Setswana) is a perfect example.

Boraro, painted dogs by Alison Nicholls

Boraro, painted dogs by Alison Nicholls

Sometimes when I’ve seen threes, it may have been groups of young females or males who’ve left their natal packs looking for partners with which to form new packs. However, it could also signify a pack in trouble, with few remaining adult dogs, struggling to survive. Fewer hunters means fewer meals and fewer calories. If they have pups they may be unable to spare an adult dog to leave as a ‘babysitter’, allowing other predators to kill their pups. This is critical because raising pups is key to the future growth and success of the pack.

Painted Dogs by Nigel Nicholls

3 painted dogs in Chobe, Botswana, photo by Nigel Nicholls

Consistently small pack sizes in an area usually indicate trouble – places where dogs are frequently killed by snares, prone to disease, run over on roads or persecuted by people. So in these cases three painted dogs is not a crowd, in fact 3 is not nearly as big a crowd as they need.

Painted Dogs by Nigel Nicholls

3 painted dogs in Botswana, photo by Nigel Nicholls.

Read the last post in this series:  Three is a Crowd-Pleaser.

Stay well and be grateful for your pack!


Boraro, painted dogs by Alison Nicholls

Boraro – Painted Dogs

Boraro means ‘three’ in Setswana, the main language spoken in Botswana. My painting compositions often contain 3 animals because somehow it just works (more about this in my next post “Three is not a Crowd”).

Boraro, painted dogs by Alison Nicholls

Boraro, painted dogs by Alison Nicholls

A couple of days after I signed this painting, I decided it wasn’t finished. So I added an extra wash of quinacridone gold over the existing gold stripe at the top and, on a whim while I had the brush full of color in my hand, I added shadows beneath the dogs. Even as I painted, I realized the shadows could also be reflections, as if the dogs are standing on wet sand.
Which do you see – shadows or reflections? 

My newsletter readers always get to see my art first and this painting was sold as soon as I put it in my July email newsletter.  I am donating 25% of the purchase price to Painted Dog Research Trust in Zimbabwe.

Painted dogs greeting card by Alison Nicholls

Painted dogs greeting card by Alison Nicholls

Boraro – Painted Dogs – was inspired by the greeting card above. Since the start of the pandemic I’ve been painting greeting cards and sending them out to my newsletter readers and Art Safari guests. I  paint several greeting card backgrounds at one time, so each set tends to have its own distinct look. Some have traditional washes as backgrounds, some have zig zag lines, some have circular motifs and some, like this one, start with horizontal lines. After the backgrounds are dry I use watercolor and/or ink to add animals, or occasionally people or trees. The cards have been fun to create and have allowed me to experiment, so you can expect to see more greeting card-inspired paintings in the future!

To receive my newsletters and see all my new art before it appears online, just click here. If you add your mailing address you’ll also receive one of my original watercolor greeting cards.

If you’re already a newsletter reader – Thank You!  – but if you’re not sure whether I have your mailing address, you can click the Update Profile link at the end of any of my newsletters to find out. Or you can send me an email and just include your mailing address. 

Read the other 2 posts in this series:
Three Painted Dogs is not a Crowd
Three is a Crowd-Pleaser.

Stay well

Learn more about Painted Dog Research Trust in Zimbabwe.
Visit my website:

Kambaku Art Safari

2021 Art Safari

We’re now taking bookings for my 2021 Art Safari.  There are 6 spaces available and we’ll be staying at the wonderful Kambaku Safari Lodge in Timbavati, South Africa. (Both my 2020 safaris are full but have been postponed until 2021.) The dates are August 26-30. To whet your appetite, here are a few photos from the 2019 Kambaku Art Safaris.  See full details here.

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The 2021 Art Safari price is inclusive of all accommodation, art tuition, twice-daily drives, meals, laughter and wonderful wildlife!
See full details here.

Remember to get in touch soon if you’d like to reserve your place.
See you soon and stay well.

Chase Nicholls

Chase Nicholls

Chase Nicholls

Chase Nicholls

On Tuesday we discovered that our beautiful German Shepherd, Chase, had an inoperable tumor on his spleen which had ruptured and spread to his liver. Within an hour of being diagnosed we had to put our lovely boy to sleep. Some of you reading this will have known him. He could be cuddly and loving and funny and sometimes scary. Here are a few memories of our beautiful, complicated boy. He was nearly 10.

Chase Nicholls

Soon after he joined us – look at those skinny hips.

We got him as a 1 year old rescue. After about a week of behaving perfectly he started to settle in and we realized we had a tough character on our hands. He was handsome, long-limbed and very strong but his back end was just bones with no muscle. If you gave him any attention he demanded more, grabbing at you when you tried to leave him calmly on his mat; he chased sunlight and shadows round the house, whining and obviously upset; he wound himself into a snapping, barking, unhappy frenzy when he saw children, strollers, bikes or other dogs; he didn’t use his nose – he just used his eyes and his huge ears; he didn’t know how to walk on a leash; but he was house trained and he was very polite around food.

Chase and Ali Nicholls

He had a great profile for shadow photos!

Years of training followed. My walks with him were often a battle of wills and, too often, a battle of strength. He walked nicely for a while to put me at ease, then he would completely lose control when we saw someone running, kids playing, squirrels, rabbits, cats, dogs or if he heard a truck with a deep, throaty engine noise. We tried different leashes but he could pull me for a few strides while wearing any of them. To add insult to injury he would try to bite me whenever I tried to regain control of him. We fenced our yard and carried on training, introducing him slowly to other dogs, to lakes and woods and all kinds of other things. Slowly he gained muscle (there were days when I wasn’t sure this was a good thing).

Chase Nicholls

As many of his ‘issues’ were resolved, we saw his loving, playful nature appear.  When he got up to have a drink of water during the evening, my husband Nigel would sometimes go and sit on his mat. Chase would see him there and run over, lying down and snuggling up as close as he could. If we danced to music in the kitchen while making dinner, he would join in, twisting and turning, always wanting to be touched and involved. He didn’t like his ‘pack’ to be separated. He loved going in the car. He believed that if he barked and jumped enough, one day the squirrels in our yard would fall out of the trees (one did once, but he wasn’t looking). He destroyed things that could harm us, like those dangerous expanding hose pipes! He did little leaps of joy when he knew he was getting dinner.  He loved to have his meals outdoors. He loved the snow and while we shoveled the driveway, he would dig in the snow piles, putting much of it back on the driveway for us.

Chase Nicholls

Loved the snow!

He had his share of injuries. He caught the tip of one ear on a thorn bush while we were out on a walk and I saw him shaking his head a lot. We were a mile from home so I stopped at a house to ask for tissues, to see if I could stop the blood dripping down into his ear. A man answered the door and immediately stepped back in shock, but did bring me some tissues. Afterwards I realized his head-shaking had covered my face, hands and clothes with blood!

Chase Nicholls

Not sure about his socks…

He got haematomas in both ears, one after the other, so they both had to be bandaged down to his head and we were afraid they wouldn’t stand upright again, but they did, although not quite straight. He chewed ferociously on bones and toys for years as a stress reliever, then his canines started breaking (the vet said his enamel was weak from chewing on the bars of a crate when he was a pup, before we had him). So he needed root canals on 3 of his broken teeth. Then, because he hates noisy delivery trucks, he tore both his dew claws while running along the fence line and they both had to be removed.

Chase Nicholls

Despite vast improvements in discipline, and many miles walked on our treadmill, he retained 1 trigger – mail vans or any large, noisy truck of any kind. His ferocity towards them increased over the years, as if he needed to keep 1 vice intact as the others receded.

Chase Nicholls

One memorable day, a mail van drove up a hill towards us. Chase’s amazing hearing had informed him of its presence some time before it turned onto the street, so he was already barking and had grown about a foot in height. I stepped into a driveway and of course the van stopped close to us. I had to move out of the driveway because at that moment the homeowner arrived home in her car. As I stepped onto the grass Chase lunged for the mail van, I slipped, and the next thing I knew I was being pulled across the grass on my stomach towards the van. Luckily the mail woman was still inside and I could clearly see her widening eyes and open mouth as I hurtled towards her while mouthing the words ‘sorry’. Another neighbor chose this precise moment to exit her front door to pick up the mail and stood, rooted to the spot, as Chase reached the front of the mail van, barking crazily and trying to bite bits off it. I picked myself up, smiled weakly at them all, and dragged my barking hound away as they gaped after me. Another day of Chase: 1  Ali: 0.

Chase Nicholls

Chase and Nig

But this big bad dog was also highly suspicious of plastic bags and cardboard boxes and would refuse to walk past them. If anything fell over in the house he ran a mile. If a piece of paper fell off a table, he would leave the room. He was nervous of thunder, but only when he was indoors, if he was outdoors he just ignored it. When we were gardening, he thought it was the greatest game to steal an empty plastic flower pot and prance away with it as if it was the best thing he’d ever found. During the day he would come in the house and bounce up to us, ‘asking’ us to come play soccer with him outside.

Chase & Rocket

Lazing around with his mate Rocket

Chase, Gordon, Tiberius

With Gordon & Tiberius

One of the things that made me most happy was that he did learn to make friends with other dogs. Rocket was a crazy doodle who didn’t mind if Chase liked to pin him to the ground in play. Visiting Gordon, Maddison and Tiberius was always the highlight of his day and he used to smile all the way there! Ajax, Paddy & Archie popped over every now and then and although they mostly ignored each other, he loved the company. All these dogs were equally mystified when the appearance of a delivery truck turned their friend into a crazed barking monster.

Chase Nicholls

Chase’s illness took him so fast we feel we didn’t get time to really say goodbye, that he isn’t really gone, that maybe he’s just going to walk back in anytime. We’ll miss his dark shape lying in a shady hole he dug under a bush. We’ll miss his constant presence at our garden gate, and his ears in the rear view mirror of the car. We’ll miss almost everything about him. He was a complicated boy but gave us a life rich with experiences, love and laughter. I’m glad we were able to keep him in a safe home for 9 years. Miss you, Chase!

Chase and me

Chase and me.

May 2020 in Art video by Alison Nicholls

May 2020 in Art

Every month I make a short video featuring paintings, sketches, studio shots & snippets from my life. May was still a lockdown month but the pandemic was overshadowed by the callous killing of George Floyd, and when I looked at the dates, I found there were long stretches where I hadn’t recorded anything. Here’s May 2020.

Stay well.

Endangered Species Day 2020

Support People on Endangered Species Day

We need to support people and wildlife on Endangered Species Day. Everywhere people are suffering physically, financially and mentally from the pandemic and obviously this includes many Africans who work in tourism, wildlife research or conservation.

Endangered Species Day 2020

Endangered Species Day 2020

Much vital conservation work involves people rather than wildlife. Reducing human-wildlife conflict, conducting anti-poaching patrols, or helping rural people find sustainable income-generating opportunities are all conservation activities that help people but also ensure the continued existence of endangered species. Endangered Species Day is May 15, and I hope you will consider helping me support people and wildlife through art.
From May 15 – 22:

~ Every order of my art will include a special free gift, as a thank you from me.

~ Shipping will be free within the US, and half-price to all other destinations.

~ I’ll donate the following amounts to African conservation organizations: 50% from orders of Daily Sketches; 40% from original acrylics on canvas, 25% from limited edition prints; and 30% from original watercolor field sketches.

~ My donations will go to African People & Wildlife (Tanzania), Painted Dog Research Trust (Zimbabwe) and Cheetah Conservation Botswana.

Crash - Rhinos on Endangered Species Day

Crash – Rhinos on Endangered Species Day (photo features my painting, Thandi the rhino and Dr Will Fowlds of WFA).

Speaking of endangered species, last month I was able to donate US$2000 to Wilderness Foundation Africa in South Africa, from the sale of Crash – Rhino Poaching in South Africa. I’m delighted when my conservation-themed paintings help fund efforts to conserve species under threat, and South Africa’s rhinos definitely fall into that category. Read more about the painting and rhino poaching here.

Check out my art for Endangered Species Day!

Stay well.

Read more about:
Wilderness Foundation Africa
African People & Wildlife
Painted Dog Research Trust
Cheetah Conservation Botswana