Blog

Join me as I blog about art; Africa; conservation; field sketching; studio painting; wildlife; art safaris; life as an artist; and a few other topics as they grab me!

Recent Posts

Rock art in Savute Botswana

Learn from the Masters

If your goal is sketching wildlife and you want to learn from the masters, you could do far worse than look at rock art by the San (Khoi-San or bushmen). With a few simple lines they catch the essence of an animal, so you immediately know it. And through their lifestyle as hunter-gatherers they are unparalleled in their knowledge of the animals they depicted in their rock art.

Rock art in Savute Botswana

Rock art in Savute, Botswana

Over the years I’ve seen rock art in many locations in southern Africa including Matopos (Zimbabwe), the Tsodilo Hills (Botswana) and Twyfelfontein (Namibia). Most of the paintings are not in caves but are on the underside of overhanging rocks, while many of the petroglyphs (images chipped into the rock surface) are on fully exposed rocks.

How I start an elephant sketch by Alison Nicholls

How I start an elephant sketch by Alison Nicholls

Last year I was in Savute, Botswana, and revisited a rock art panel on one of the small hills in the area. I sketched the 3 main animals – an eland, elephant, and sable antelope. A few months later I was creating a video for my Art Safari guests, showing how I start my sketches of elephants. I remembered the elephant painting in Savute and realized the 2 main shapes I start my sketches with (a large block for the body and a smaller block for the head) are the same as the main shapes for the elephant in the Savute painting.
Maybe the rock art I’ve seen has influenced me more than I knew!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Twyfelfontein Namibia

Petroglyphs, Twyfelfontein, Namibia

Murals in Tanzania

Painting on a wall while standing on a wobbly plank balanced between 2 wobbly supports, is something many artists will have done I’m guessing. I was visiting African People & Wildlife, near Tarangire National Park, learning about the organization and their successful work with communities to allow people and wildlife to co-exist on the Maasai […]

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Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

We were looking forward to a quick cuppa, a nice mid-morning tea-break, but when we reached the big baobab in Savute, Botswana, we found that our spot was already taken. Let sleeping dogs lie… The dogs made excellent sketching subjects, once I figured out whose legs and ears were whose. Painted dogs or African wild […]

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Earth Day is all Wrong

Earth Day is all wrong. We seem to have everything backwards. Once a year we celebrate Earth Day; World Environment Day; World Oceans Day; National Tree Day; or World Wetlands Day. Sure, we should celebrate them because they are absolutely essential to our continued existence on this planet, but these “days” are a reminder of […]

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10-Minute Daily Sketches on Etsy

A 10-minute daily sketch is a great way to start the day, keep my sketching skills up to speed, and experiment with line and color. Every piece is unique. They are available at my Etsy Store priced at only US$60 each and 50% of the proceeds are donated to African conservation organizations. I begin each […]

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What are your Big Five African trees?

What are your Big Five African trees? If you haven’t been on safari in Africa, you may not know what I am talking about. It all started with the “Big Five” – a term coined by hunters, describing the most dangerous animals to hunt – the lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo. Over the years […]

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Artist At Work!

I need a line of T-shirts made with the phrase Artist at Work, because we artists are always at work. When I’m walking down the street I’m seeing the contrasting values between the sunny side of the street and the shady side. At the grocery store I’m looking at the piles of fruit as a […]

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Sketching Strong Shadows

Mid-afternoon in Khwai, the hottest part of the day, and I’m sketching strong shadows. We’re sitting by the beautiful ribbon of water that winds gracefully through the grasses and off into the distance. A Nile crocodile lies on the bank with its mouth open, and elephants drink in the river. The light is harsh and […]

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10-Minute Wildlife Sketches

It was only a matter of time before I started doing 10-minute wildlife sketches. It all started with the Portrait Party, where I really enjoyed doing 10-minute portraits of people. Every week day in February I did a 10-minute portrait at the start of the day. Then March arrived and I decided to switch to […]

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Sketching Villages from a Moving Car!

Recently I discovered that sketching villages from a moving car might be more difficult than sketching wildlife! These rural scenes were sketched as we drove down from Kasane to the Tuli Block in Botswana. Although we are driving quite slowly through villages, it’s still a challenge to sketch and you need to develop a photographic […]

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Even in front of Nature, one must Compose

“Even in front of nature, one must compose” is attributed to Edgar Degas. There are some who will argue that nature is perfect and it’s arrogant to compose, to rearrange things, in your art. But we all do this, all the time. You are composing when you move left or right to get that perfect […]

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Zebra Painting Demo!

Zebra Painting Demo is my latest video. I started a larger zebra painting which didn’t quite go to plan (it happens to us all), so I started again. But this time I painted on a smaller, pre-stretched watercolor canvas. Although the painting looks quite complex, when you watch the video you’ll see that it was […]

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Portrait Party – Sketching Strangers in 10 Minutes!

Last Saturday I did eleven 10-minute sketches of complete strangers at a Portrait Party in Manhattan. I signed up because I knew it would be good for my sketching skills and take me out of my comfort zone. As the day approached I was excited but also concerned by my lack of experience sketching faces. […]

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Watermedia – Mud and Magic

One artist’s mud is another artist’s magic in watermedia – that’s the conclusion I’ve come to recently as I spent time mixing interesting greys. Here’s a good example. I used Raw Sienna, Cobalt Blue and Cadmium Red Medium Hue to create the dark purple-grey-blue you see below. Wait a few minutes and the hues start […]

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Painting Scorecard

In an art-related email newsletter, I came across the excellent idea of the painting scorecard. I can’t find the original article so, with apologies to the author, here’s how it works. You create your own painting scorecard, with relevant categories (composition, values etc) and use it to give each of your completed paintings an overall […]

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Lion Painting Demo

My lion painting demo shows how I used fluid acrylic and colored inks on canvas to create the painting, Preoccupied Pair. I started this painting in December and added the finishing touches a few days ago. Miraculously, I remembered to video nearly all the painting sessions so I could create this lion painting demo from […]

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Resolutions? Nope. Planning? Oh Yeah!

New starts have always appealed to me, so it’s no surprise that I look forward to New Year. I do like the revelry and fireworks but I also love spreading big sheets of paper out in my studio and having a brainstorming session. I relish setting objectives for the year – its like starting a […]

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Zebra Crossing

I know its a cliche, but Zebra Crossing was really the only name I could give this video. This small herd crossed the road in front of us as we returned to camp one morning. Its unusual to be on a real road like this during an Art Safari, but the light made this a […]

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Its World Giraffe Day!

Lets celebrate World Giraffe Day by watching giraffes in South Africa. These 2 bulls are practicing their fighting techniques. When its serious, their huge, bony heads hit each other with a ferocious force which can knock a giraffe off its feet. Not the kind of behavior you’d expect from a giraffe, right? I’ve seen a […]

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Art Tips by Alison

There are many Art Tips I can think of but this is perhaps the most important one, if you want to be a productive artist… Sorry about the psychedelic video towards the end. Although its quite appropriate I suppose! Alison www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

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Quintessentially Quelea

Red-billed Quelea are the world’s most populous bird and when you watch this video I took in Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana, you might see why! In case you are wondering – no, I didn’t try to sketch this! Alison www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

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Art Tips: ChARTing My Progress

Charting my progress is fun as well as helpful, when I’m floundering a little. I’ve just taken down an exhibition of my work, and I’m left feeling a little uninspired, a little unmotivated. There are too many ideas whizzing around in my head and I’m not getting started on any of them. So I decided […]

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Looking Back…to move Forward

Looking back can show you how much has changed. So here are a few things that have changed about my art over the years. And a few really old paintings too! I used to paint or draw animals from photos, in a far more realistic style. When I painted from life (en plein air), I […]

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What Happens to Failed Paintings?

Artists make mistakes. Its true. Shocking, I know! So what happens to my failed paintings? If you liked the penguins you just saw (which it seems many people did) then here’s a look at the next version, which I’ll be sending to Artists For Conservation to feature in their Silent Skies Mural, showing all 678 […]

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Giraffes – Paintings in Stages by Alison Nicholls

Giraffes are unique in so many ways – which makes them perfect for painting. As you’ll see in this video, I started with simple washes of fluid acrylic on watercolor canvas. When they were dry I looked at the washes from every angle and suddenly the compositions jumped out at me – 2 bulls browsing […]

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