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

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Alison Nicholls' watercolor field kit

My Watercolor Palette – Limited but Changing

You might have heard me banging on about how I use a limited palette of colors and how this gives many of my paintings a tranquil feel. But a limited palette shouldn’t mean a stagnant palette, so for my latest sketching trip to Africa, I changed some of the solid half-pan colors in my Windsor & Newton field watercolor set.

I’ve noticed over the years that some of these half-pan colors can be difficult to tell apart when I’m painting outdoors, because they appear very dark in their solid form. When mixed with a little water, of course there is no problem, but I often need to get straight to the correct color when time is of the essence. So I made myself a little color chart before I left home. Here it is.

Alison Nicholls watercolor chart

It fits nicely inside the lid of my field box set and is covered in wide cellotape back and front.

Alison Nicholls' watercolor field kit

Alison Nicholls’ watercolor field kit

For all you artists out there who are interested in these things…here’s the list of colors I took with me this year (exactly as shown in the photo). Those in red were new this year.

Cadmium Red   Cerulean Blue    
Alizarin Crimson Lemon Yellow Cobalt Blue Davy’s Gray Titanium White
Magenta Cadmium Yellow Windsor Blue Leaf Green Burnt Sienna
Ultramarine Violet Naples Yellow Ultramarine Blue Oxide Chrome Burnt Umber
Venetian Red Yellow Ochre Indigo Hookers Green Sepia

I immediately loved the Indigo, Sepia, and Davy’s Gray – which I mixed with almost everything – notice the large hole I created in the half-pan! I had to remember which of these I was using though, because Davy’s Gray is a very subtle hue, requiring several brush-loads to make its presence known, whereas the Indigo and Sepia required just the slightest touch of water to shout their presence to the world!

So it appears that the number of colors in my field box set is increasing…but the number of colors used in each painting is still limited to 2 or 3.

Until next time…keep painting.

Elephant Watercolors at Shimuwini

Shimuwini is a lovely Bushveld Camp in Kruger National Park, on the edge of the Letaba River. The view is river, rocks and riverbank for 180 degrees, so every time you look somewhere you see an animal or bird you hadn’t noticed before. Egyptian geese noisily make their own part of the riverbank known to […]


Video: Watercolors from the African Bush

My September visit to South Africa and Botswana was full of sketching opportunities. Check out a couple of them here!   Want to learn some of my sketching techniques? Then consider joining me on an African Art Safari Until next time, take care. Alison


So what is an Art Safari anyway?

Art Safari /a:t , sə’fa:ri/ noun Definition: A trip of a lifetime…filled with fun, learning and lots of laughter¹; truly an amazing experience²; one of the best ‘Africa’ experiences I have ever had³.   A means of filling your sketchbook with memories of Africa’s iconic wildlife; to really look at an animal and see things […]


Art Eclipse!

Art, Science and Kids – what could possibly go wrong? Yes, there is nothing like combining cardboard, binoculars, colanders and art on the driveway on a hot day in August. Can you tell I am desperately trying to reproduce a segment from Blue Peter? (I’m showing my age and UK background with this reference.) Just […]


Is it a Field Sketch?

“Sketch – a simply or hastily executed drawing or painting, especially a preliminary one, giving the essential features without the details” (from On each visit to Africa I fill several sketchbooks with pencil and watercolor art. I have always referred to these artworks as ‘field sketches’ but as my work evolved I began to […]


Generic Giraffe & Other Pitfalls

After sketching in the African bush for a number of years, I know the shapes of many of the commonly seen species. Right now, from memory, I can create a quick drawing of a giraffe, elephant, lion, leopard, painted dog, cheetah, kudu, impala, spotted hyena, buffalo, gemsbok, zebra, wildebeest, white rhino, baboon or aardvark (OK, […]


Normality is a Paved Road

Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it. Vincent Van Gogh Like most great quotes, you can apply this to so many aspects of life. I, of course, will apply it to art and artists! The paved road is a flat, monotonous, man-made surface, running from one destination […]


Gigantic Giraffes!

Today is World Giraffe Day. So, in honor of these towering tree-nibblers, here are a variety of giraffes in art. We all know what a giraffe looks like, right? Well I challenge you to sketch the giraffe above. Now, tell me, aren’t giraffes put together in a strange way? Its amazing that they can stand […]


Fascinating Vultures!

Yes, I really do believe that vultures are fascinating! I imagine you either agree with me, or you are pulling some kind of disgusted face. So let me explain. I’m a fan of vultures and love to sketch them (I haven’t created many studio paintings of them, but am hoping to remedy this over the […]


An Artist’s Fear

Many artists find blank canvas or white paper intimidating, because they want the very first mark they make to be perfect. I understand this, but for me, its the final stages that are more intimidating – the last few brush-strokes which can make or break a painting. When I think I’ve nearly finished,  I put […]


Endangered Species Day Donations

Today is Endangered Species Day.  This is not a day we should need on our calendars, but unfortunately it comes around every year, with more and more species falling into the ‘endangered’ bracket.   We hear about the plight of charismatic species like lions, cheetahs and painted dogs, but habitat loss, the bushmeat trade, the […]


What Does Endangered Look Like?

Endangered looks like this… And this… and this… Endangered is losing 99% of your population in just over 100 years… And no longer being found in 25 of the 39 African countries you once roamed… The Painted Dog (also known as the African wild dog) is endangered. Approximately 500,000 of these never-domesticated wild canids existed […]


New Elephant Field Work by Alison Nicholls

Yesterday I got back from my latest trip to South Africa and Botswana, where I had a number of great elephant sightings. One memorable morning included a herd of 40 elephants who spent time carefully touching and smelling the bones of a dead elephant cow (more about that coming soon). This new sketch shows a […]


Sketching in Africa!

During my sketching trip to Botswana and South Africa I will be trying out some new painting surfaces, although I’ll still be using my trusty watercolor sketchbooks by Holbein. (Yes, the 14×11″ size sketchbook with the incredibly catchy and colorful name: Multi-Drawing Book 5F. I suppose the workhorse-like name and plain cover might help prevent me from spiraling dizzily out of control […]


Do You Know These Hamerkop Facts?

First, the obvious – Hamerkop means ‘hammer-head’ in Africaans. Don’t think I need to explain why! Second – the Hamerkop is only a medium sized bird, but it builds huge nests, often 6-8 feet across, made of thousands of sticks usually wedged between the branches of a large tree. Third – the Hamerkop nest has […]


A Different Kind of Desert

The deserts I usually frequent in Africa do contain a lot of thorny, spikey plants, and Namibia in particular does have some outlandishly beautiful flora, but recently I visited Arizona and was struck by the cacti. Not literally of course – I just thought I’d share some images! There was a mini heat-wave going on while I was there (117F […]


2 New Spaces on 2016 Art Safari!

Someone’s change of plans could start your Artistic Flight of Fantasy… That’s right – we now have 2 spaces available on the 2nd sold out 2016 Art Safari in South Africa. The dates are September 14-18 and the venue is the Klaserie Game Reserve in South Africa on the edge of Kruger National Park. Its prime […]


An Exhibition In Images: Children Sketching Animals!

Part III of an exhibition in images features Children Sketching Animals. Chris Evers from Animal Embassy brought scorpions, an African bullfrog, a monk parakeet, an emerald tree boa and a rabbit. 25 local children arrived to sketch and sculpt with tuition from artists Alison Nicholls, Karryl, David Rankin, Susan Fox and Sean Murtha. All in a […]


An Exhibition in Images: Opening Reception

Part II of an exhibition in images features the Opening Reception. The exhibition is Wildlife Art: Field to Studio at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut, which features field work and studio work from 7 Signature members of the Society of Animal Artists. Each artist works in a different region of the world: Alison Nicholls (Africa); David Rankin (India); […]


An Exhibition in Images: Setup

This is the story of an exhibition…in images. The exhibition is Wildlife Art: Field to Studio at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut, which features field work and studio work from 7 Signature members of the Society of Animal Artists. Each artist works in a different region of the world: Alison Nicholls (Africa); David Rankin (India); Karryl (Rocky […]


Wildlife Art in the Flinn Gallery

Soon my paintings, including Zebra in Mopane, will be hanging in the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut. We have some great events scheduled around this exciting exhibition, so come and see the wildlife of Africa, Mongolia, Alaska, India, the Rocky Mountains, Central America and the Long Island Sound from the unique perspectives of a diverse […]


Start the Weekend with Chittering Dogs!

Start the weekend with chittering painted dogs! Join me to hear Dr Greg Rasmussen of the Painted Dog Research Trust talk about the unique, endangered and beautiful Painted Dog (African wild dog). Dr Rasmussen will talk about the years he has spent with painted dogs and the challenges facing them, particularly in Zimbabwe. I recently […]


Spot my New Cheetah Painting!

I’d like to show you my new cheetah painting, Strides, but I can’t – not yet! It will be revealed in late March when it hangs in the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, CT, as part of the exhibition Wildlife Art: Field to Studio. In the meantime, enjoy the preview! Flinn Gallery Greenwich Library, 101 West Putnam […]


Painted Dog Playtime by Alison Nicholls

Playtime is based on my recent sketches and memories of painted dogs in Botswana playing around a tall clump of buffalo grass. So where is the grass, I hear you asking? Well the composition did originally contain the grass, but I removed it because I felt that the obvious playful energy of the 2 dogs was […]