Category Archives: Blog Posts

Artist Alison Nicholls in her studio

Working From Home

Working from home is something I do almost every day. As an artist I am used to being alone, creating and adhering (mostly) to my own schedule. When I look at my calendar and see an empty week ahead, with no interruptions, I’m usually very happy as it means I have a week of painting ahead. Of course I love to meet up with friends, and with other artists, but I do need my alone time to be creative.

Artist Alison Nicholls in her studio

Studio time

As the Covid 19 situation develops, more people will be working from home, and it can be quite an adjustment when you are used to the routine and social nature of working in an office. So here are my tips for working from home and maintaining your sanity!

Decide what time you need to get up, in order to start work at your normal time, then set your alarm clock. Don’t wake up at midday because you stayed up till 2am watching movies.

Shower and get dressed. Don’t work in your pajamas. Start work at your normal time.

Sit at a desk or table to work. Don’t work lying on the sofa, in bed, or in front of the TV.

Take breaks as you would at work. Take your normal lunch break. Finish work at your normal time.

Keep to your usual schedule for eating, sleeping, shopping, doing laundry, exercising. Don’t spend the morning doing laundry then realize you’ll be doing work till 1am to catch up.

If it helps, find a colleague to keep you accountable. Check in with each other when you start work and during your agreed break times.

If you don’t have a lot of space, be sure to tidy your work area at the end of the day, so you don’t feel like work is all around you when you are off the clock.

Given the ever-changing news situation it’s tempting to keep an eye on the news at all times. When you work from home it’s easy to eat breakfast in front of the TV then keep it on throughout the day, so you hear the breaking news as it happens. We all know this isn’t conducive to being productive, but its so easy to do. I can tell you from bitter experience that you won’t feel better at the end of the day if you do this. (You probably also won’t feel better informed, but that’s a whole other story!) Obviously you will want to keep yourself updated on developments but try to limit it to your break times.

If you are falling asleep while working (it happens), try a 10-minute power nap. I swear by these. Set an alarm for 10 minutes and put it out of reach so you have to get up to turn it off. Or, if you aren’t a power nap person, try a quick dance instead. Or play with the dog. But then remember to go back to work.

Chase-and-Rocket

Powernaps are great

Get outside as much as you can when you’re not working. Get some spring sunshine. Being outdoors is the best cure for stress.

Of course I’m assuming that you do want to be productive while working from home. If you don’t, here is my advice: Wake up late. Keep the TV on all day. Work on your laptop while lying in bed. If you get tired, sleep whenever you want and for however long you want. Spend hours on the phone with your friends alarming each other with talk of the latest breaking news. Don’t leave the house. Don’t exercise. Stay up late. Eat fast food as often as possible. Repeat.

Just think, when all this is over, you might be really, really happy to go back to your workplace. But I’ll still be really, really happy in my studio!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica

Tea Stall sketch by Alison Nicholls

International Women’s Day

On this International Women’s Day, I would like to highlight Mama Helena Mbarnoti, an inspiring Maasai woman from the village of Loibor Siret in northern Tanzania (mama is a respectful term for a married woman in Tanzania).

Tea Stall sketch by Alison Nicholls

Mama Helena at her tea stall, painted in watercolor by Alison Nicholls

African People & Wildlife’s headquarters, the Noloholo Environmental Education Center, is built on land donated by the surrounding community, where Mama Helena lives. I met her each time I visited APW and over the years have seen her strong support of APW’s work with her community. She is now a member of a women’s bee-keeping group, supported by APW, and the delicious honey produced by wild bees is sold, bringing the women their own income.

On one visit to APW, Mama Helena invited me to sketch her in her tea stall at the weekly market (above) and on my latest visit I sketched her at a meeting of the women’s bee-keeping group (below). I send copies of my sketches to everyone who features in them and when I returned to Loibor Siret in June 2019 she showed me the copy of the tea stall sketch, which she keeps at home.

Womens Meeting sketch by Alison Nicholls

Women’s meeting (Mama Helena on left) in northern Tanzania, by Alison Nicholls

All around the world women are doing incredible things (Dr Laly Lichtenfeld, co-founder of APW is another obvious example) so lets celebrate that each and every day, not just on International Women’s Day.

Mama Helena Photo: African People & Wildlife/Laura Milton

Mama Helena Photo: African People & Wildlife/Laura Milton

More next time!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Read more about APW and Mama Helena

Alison Nicholls Sketching

1 Second Everyday

I discovered 1SE (1 Second Everyday) a couple of years ago and it works exactly as it sounds – you select 1 second (of video or a photo) for every day and add it to your timeline, then you mash the seconds together to create a video. There’s also a Freestyle option, which doesn’t associate each entry with a date. We all know that video gets far more attention online than photos, so even if I have a selection of photos of artwork I can combine them to create a video. It’s really helpful in marketing my art and Art Safaris. I just got the Pro version ($30 annually) which allows you to remove the ISE branding and date stamp, add music etc (should have done this long ago!).

Here’s my January in Art video…

It’s also great for personal videos and it’s amazing how much 1 second of video can do to remind you of an event or day in your life. So check it out. You might just become a convert like me!
More soon.
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Vines and Giraffes acrylic by Alison Nicholls

Vines and Giraffes

I changed Vines and Giraffes significantly when I was half-way through the painting. It’s not unusual for me to make changes when the background washes dry because I start seeing new things in a painting, but I rarely change anything as late in the process as I did in Vines and Giraffes.

Vines and Giraffes acrylic by Alison Nicholls

Vines and Giraffes acrylic by Alison Nicholls

I had completed the background and the twisted vines were well underway when I caught a glimpse of them from the side. Immediately I knew this was a better composition when it was turned 90 degrees, and luckily for me, vines grow in all directions, so I turned the painting around. I had to rethink the giraffes, but they fitted into the new composition nicely and I’m pleased with the contrast between the hard lines of the vines and the soft washes surrounding them.

I drew on the canvas with archival pens to create detail on the vines, to highlight the edge of some of the washes and to create impressions of the giraffe coat markings. I’m a bit of a purist when it comes to watermedia (even though I’m using fluid acrylic on watercolor canvas) so had to give myself ‘permission’ to draw on the canvas! It’s not realistic detail I’m after, it’s abstract markings in various colors, which give the painting a level of interest when seen close-up.

I’d be interested to hear what you think of the mix of washes and pen.
More soon!
Alison

www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

2020 Portrait Party

The 2020 Portrait Party was organized by NYC Urban Sketchers, who bring dozens of artists together at the High School of Art & Design in New York City. We sit in circles and create 10-minute sketches of each other on 9×12″ cold press watercolor paper. My group had 12 people so we all did 11 sketches – using a variety of media like markers, watercolor and charcoal.

Alison Nicholls at 2020 Portrait Party

Here I am sketching one of the other artists in my group. When you pose or when you sketch, you remain in your chair in the same position in the group. This way we all sketch each other from different angles.

And here I am posing for the group. Initially you’re very aware that everyone is looking at you, but after a while your mind wanders and it becomes quite pleasant!

2020 Portrait Party

At the end, every group creates their own grid of portraits. When you look vertically down the grid, you see all the sketches of 1 person. When you look horizontally across the grid, you see all the portraits by the same person. Very clever, right!

And here are a few of the portraits I created.

I noticed a vast improvement in (most!) of the sketches I did this year compared to those I did in 2018. I’ll definitely plan to attend in future years and would like to thank NYC Urban Sketchers for organizing this great event!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Paws Trails Explorer article about Alison Nicholls

Paws Trails Explorers

I and my art inspired by Africa have been featured in the beautiful Paws Trails Explorers digital magazine. The article is in the Wild Arts Showcase and focuses on my watercolor and ink work created from life in the African bush. I talk about why sketching from life is so important to me; how I gathered the courage to start; which materials work well and which were disastrous; how my work changed when I connected with conservation organizations; and how my art now benefits those same groups.

Paws Trails Explorer article about Alison Nicholls

To read the Paws Trails Explorers article, click the image above and go to page 92 or you can find it online here at http://www.pawstrails.com/  (Dec 2019 / Jan 2020 Issue #20). The photography in the magazine is quite stunning and I’m delighted to have my art featured in the Wild Arts Showcase section. You might want to consider joining the Paws Trails Explorers mailing list so you receive future issues.

Enjoy!
Alison

www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

 

Lion in ink by Alison Nicholls

Lion in Ink

Lion in ink was completed after the lioness (see previous post) and although 1 is vertical and 1 is horizontal, I think they make a great pair.Lion in ink by Alison Nicholls

Lion in ink took me 20 minutes to create, and is 1 of my daily sketches on yupo paper, based on a photo taken by my husband, Nigel. You can see this is a young male because his mane has started growing in. Males have to leave their natal pride and often struggle as they improve their hunting skills and avoid territorial pride males. Eventually, if he is smart, healthy, and lucky, he may be a pride male himself.

My daily sketches are for sale at my Etsy store, with 50% of the purchase price donated to various African conservation organizations. 10-minute sketches are $60, and 20-minute sketches are $80, with free shipping in the US (and very reasonable shipping elsewhere in the world!).
Enjoy!
Alison

www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com
My Etsy Store: https://www.etsy.com/shop/AlisonNichollsArt
Follow Nigel on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nigel.nicholls_photography/

Elephant and Impala by Alison Nicholls

Elephant and Impala

I’m quite proud of Elephant and Impala (though I say so myself!). Its a typical waterhole scene where the big bull elephant makes everyone else wait until he’s finished before they can drink. I sketched this in pen, concentrating on the elephant bull and adding feint markings for the landscape features and impala rams.

Elephant and Impala by Alison Nicholls

Elephant and Impala, 8×10″, $200 by Alison Nicholls

The watercolor I added later that day, from memory and imagination. I used just 3 colors – my favorite combo at the moment – Naples Yellow, Cerulean Blue and Quinacridone Magenta. I kept the warmest colors on the elephant bull, to draw him closer, and allowed the distant vegetation to fade into the background.

25% ($50) from the purchase price will be donated to African People & Wildlife in Tanzania. So, let me know if you’d like it, before I decide to frame it and hang it on my own wall.
Alison

www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com
Learn more about African People & Wildlife in Tanzania.

Sunlit Elephant by Alison Nicholls

Pros and Cons of Joining My Mailing List

In these social media saturated days, what are the pros and cons of joining my Mailing List?
Here are the Pros:

1.Preview my new Paintings
Yes, before I even post them on social media or put them on my website, you get to see all my new paintings in my newsletter. Which means you can snap up your favorite piece before the big wide world even knows it exists!

2.Win a Watercolor
If you Join My Mailing List before December 1st 2019, your name will be entered into the draw to win Sunlit Elephant – an original 10×8″ watercolor, created from life in Africa and valued at $200. Using some ingenious method, a subscriber’s name (hopefully yours) will be selected at random. The winner will be emailed and she/he replies within a week, Sunlit Elephant will be shipped free to the winner, anywhere in the world (if the winner doesn’t reply within 1 week, another winner will be selected at random). All current subscribers are automatically entered into the draw.

Sunlit Elephant by Alison Nicholls

Win this Watercolor: Sunlit Elephant, 10×8″ watercolor and pen by Alison Nicholls.

3.Art-filled monthly newsletters
In my colorful newsletters you’ll see paintings, photos, news about conservation organizations, information about my upcoming exhibits and lectures. Usually you’ll get just 1 lovely, colorful, email each month but around the holidays you might get a couple more. For example, on Black Friday you’ll receive my Colorful Friday email. And at New Year you’ll get my animal-themed, hopeful, New Year message. I certainly won’t bombard you with emails and you can unsubscribe at any time. 

4.Contests and Surveys
You can take part in my occasional contests and surveys, helping me make my newsletters even better in the future.

5.Insightful Content
Your newsletters will contain my insightful witticisms, bad puns and photos of my dog!

Here are the Cons:

1.Insightful Content
Your newsletters will contain my insightful witticisms, bad puns and photos of my dog!

So, having (hopefully) decided that the Pros outweigh the Cons, here’s where you can Join My Mailing List!

Good Luck in the draw for Sunlit Elephant!
Alison

www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Shepherd's Tree and Giraffe

Shepherd’s Tree and Giraffe

Trees, rocks and landscape features will be making more of an appearance in my upcoming paintings and here’s a great example – Shepherd’s Tree & Giraffe.

Shepherd's Tree and Giraffe

Shepherd’s Tree and Giraffe, 24×16″ acrylic on canvas by Alison Nicholls. Sold.

Shepherd’s trees are not tall but can be very sculptural, and they’re frequently browsed by giraffes, which of course also have elegant lines. I took the giraffe silhouette from a sketch I made in South Africa, and the tree shape I created in the studio, after studying my Shepherd tree sketches from Botswana.

The painting has a limited palette of only 3 colors – Naples yellow, cerulean blue & quinacridone magenta. Naples yellow is one of my favorite paint colors and I’ve added it to my field sketch kit too as it’s perfect for dry season grasses and the coats of many animals. These 3 colors make a wonderful range of grays, browns and pinks and even greens.

Shepherd’s trees have tiny leaves which spiral around the spiky branches but the overall effect is that the branches themselves often look green. I knew I needed to paint them boldly and left them until the end because I was afraid of ruining the painting at this late stage. To try and prevent that potential disaster I practiced painting the leaves on a separate piece of canvas, then dived in and painted them in bold strokes.

I’m delighted with this painting and would love to hear your opinion too. My newsletter subscribers always see my new work* before I post it on my website or on social media, and this painting sold when it featured in my October newsletter. So if you want first view of my new work, you can subscribe here. I’m donating 25% of the purchase price to African People & Wildlife to help in their ground breaking work in Tanzania.

See you next time!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

* except my 10-minute daily sketches, which are posted to my Etsy storeInstagram and Facebook.

Learn more about African People & Wildlife.

Elephant and Impala by Alison Nicholls

New Botswana Watercolors!

Here are my new Botswana watercolors.
In the past I’ve usually sketched in pencil (then added watercolor), giving a myself a little room for error as I could erase any incorrect lines. However, these pieces were all sketched from life in pen. I’m a real believer in simplicity, making as few lines as possible on my paper, so trying to work like this in ink can lead to a lot of frustration and can be an easy way of getting through lots of paper when things don’t work out. At the beginning of my trip, in my 1st sketchbook, I was being too tentative (and was sketching a leopard, which I find one of the most difficult species) so I ended up tearing 2 pages out of my book and burning them. But as time went on, sketching with pen became a fun challenge, and I found myself wondering how how much I could say with a minimum of lines.

Elephant and Impala by Alison Nicholls

A large bull elephant makes impala wait for a drink as he stands at the waterhole, painted in watercolor by Alison Nicholls

In these two pieces, you can see how simple my pen sketches were. The elephant is sketched in a just a few lines, with no shading, and the impala are really only identifiable by their horns. I know that the addition of color will make all the difference so I don’t need to overdo the sketching. Similarly, on the piece below, I’m only concerned with sketching the simple shapes of the jackals and the stunted trunk of the bush one of them lies under. I know that watercolor will be better for the coloring on the jackals’ coats and for the leaves of the bush, so I don’t sketch those with the pen.

Black-backed Jackals by Alison Nicholls

I didn’t expect these jackals to hang around for long but it turned out they were waiting patiently for lions to leave a kill.

Knowing which materials will be best for which purpose is key. I can keep my pen sketch simple because I know where I will use watercolor to complete the sketch.
See you next time.
Alison

www.ArtInspiredByAfrica.com

Soccer Game in Botswana

The Soccer Game

Soccer (or football) is huge in Africa. Almost every person has a favorite team, often from Europe. So when we heard there was a soccer tournament going on at Limpopo-Lipadi while we were there, we wanted to go along and support the team. I decided to sketch the game too. It was extremely hot and my paint was drying very fast, which made it quite challenging, but it was fun. Unfortunately, the Limpopo-Lipadi team (in green) lost to the police team (in red). Or maybe that was just as well!

I photographed the sketch and gave it to Limpopo-Lipadi to hang in the office. As a result, the photo of the finished piece isn’t great, but you get the idea. There’s something about live sketching like this that inspires me so much. Of course I can always see vast improvements I could make in the sketch, but when I look at it I remember the heat, the dust, the shouting and laughter. Magic!

Learn more about Limpopo-Lipadi game reserve and their wonderful Motse volunteering and community program.

Alison Nicholls
Art Inspired by Africa
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Sketch of rural women in Tanzania, by Alison Nicholls

Women in Tanzania

Rural women in Tanzania usually have a fairly low status in society and are often completely dependent on their husband, even though women do much of the work in rural households.

Loibor Siret Womens Meeting

Loibor Siret Women’s Meeting

African People & Wildlife (APW) works in conjunction with many rural communities in Tanzania, and together their initiatives are helping women become financially independent, giving them a voice in the decision-making of their families and their communities. Bee-keeping is one such initiative and has the added advantage of protecting habitat because Tanzania has a strong Bee-Keeping Act which ensures that land cannot be farmed or cleared around beehives.

Sketch of rural women in Tanzania, by Alison Nicholls

Women’s Meeting, ink and watercolor sketch from life by Alison Nicholls

Learning about the bee-keeping initiative, which involves more than 1200 women, and being able to sketch after a meeting of the Loibor Siret women’s bee-keeping group, is a thrill. There can be few things better for a sketch artist than sitting in a rural village, surrounded by the sights & sounds of everyday life, while sketching a group of women chatting under a shady tree. This was my 4th visit to APW and it is wonderful to be recognized and greeted enthusiastically by women I have sketched on my previous visits.

Mama Helena sketch by Alison Nicholls

Mama Helena Beading, ink sketch from life by Alison Nicholls

Mama Helena, shown beading in the sketch above, invited me to sketch at her homestead afterwards, and sent one of her grandchildren to fetch a sketch I did of her last time I was in Tanzania, 5 years ago!

Alison Nicholls Sketching

Alison Nicholls sketching in Tanzania

Sketching with an audience is something I am completely used to and it’s fun to see the children’s faces as the sketch progresses and they recognize the person I am sketching.

Alison Nicholls Sketching

Not all my sketches go to plan!

I’m making copies of my sketches to be sent back to Tanzania, but I hope my next visit to APW will be in the very near future.
Alison

Learn more about African People & Wildlife.
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Art in Tanzania with Alison Nicholls

Art in Tanzania

I see natural artistic talent every time I teach a children’s art class but it is particularly striking to see when you know the children have no art lessons at school, no access to art materials at home, and little exposure to art online or in print. Unfortunately, this can describe children anywhere in the world, including many parts of the the US & Europe, but on this occasion I am thinking of children in classes I taught while visiting African People & Wildlife (APW) in Tanzania.

One class was for students in the APW Summercamp and one for students at Loibor Siret Elementary School (this class also included teachers from other schools who wanted to see the classes in action). I have animal drawing cards which show a photo of an animal (wildlife & livestock) then the simple shapes and lines you can use to create a drawing of the animal. We aim to do 4 in an hour-long class, so the children concentrate on drawing the shape of the whole animal, not the detail on their faces or coats. As you can see, the opportunity to draw is really appreciated by the children and the teachers too!

The children you see in this video are members of their respective schools’ Wildlife Clubs (set up with help from APW). The highest achieving and most involved children in the Wildlife Clubs can earn a much sought-after place at APW’s Environmental Summer Camp – a week-long camp of learning activities at the Noloholo Environmental Center. Children who attend Summer Camp become eligible for selection for an APW Noloholo Environmental Scholarship, giving that child a full scholarship to secondary/high school at a good boarding school in the town of Arusha.

The cost for each scholarship is US$1200 per year. If you are able to offer a child this invaluable gift of education, please Donate via the APW website and choose this option:


(Please note: No child is selected for a scholarship unless funds are available for their entire secondary/high school education, so there will never be a case of a child receiving a partial education. However, although it is desirable to donate annually, you can choose to make a 1-time donation of this amount too.)
Thank You!
Alison

Learn more about African People & Wildlife.

Murals in Tanzania

Mural Magic in Tanzania

A major reason for my return to African People & Wildlife (APW) in Tanzania was to help with murals in 3 rural schools. The students created the designs using their own drawings and some images I supplied, then I made stencils to help transfer the outlines onto the walls quickly. The stencils proved very helpful and as a result it took each set of students only 1 day to finish their murals.

The name of the school and village (Loibor Siret, Kangala or Narakauo) is shown at the top of each wall, and the school’s Wildlife Club name is at the bottom. The Wildlife Clubs were set up with help from APW, and Noloholo is APW’s Environmental Center and headquarters. So Noloholo Simba Klabu means Noloholo Lion Club in Swahili. The other schools have twiga (giraffe) and faru (rhinoceros) as their symbols. I am making more stencils out of canvas (featuring different animals for other Wildlife Clubs) so more murals can be created by the students with help from APW.

I have visited APW 4 times, and every time I am struck by their continued success in “finding the balance for communities & wildlife”. There will be much more about my recent visit coming soon!

Learn more about African People & Wildlife.
Read about my previous visits to APW.

Thanks for watching!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Music on this video is royalty free, titled Acoustic Breeze, from www.Bensound.com

Alison Nicholls art materials for Tanzania

Packing for Tanzania

I’ll be off to Tanzania again in a couple of weeks, visiting African People & Wildlife to help with some murals in rural schools and do some art classes for teachers and students. Somehow, I hope to do some of my own sketching too, so here’s my latest video showing what I’m taking with me. You can read about my previous visits to APW here.
More soon!
Alison

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 at APW

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.

Alison Nicholls in Loibor Siret

Drawing out the initial mural design                                                African People & Wildlife

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 Steppe. Part of my visit involved art-related activities and on this occasion I was drawing out the design for a mural at the Loibor Siret primary school, so that the students could paint it. We were designing as we went along but it worked out well.

Mural design at APW

Mural design                                           photo: Deirdre Leowinata / AfricanPeople&Wildlife

Some of the paint literally slipped off the wall as we painted it on, so we have nothing red in the finished mural. And the brushes lost so many hairs that the lions took on a far more realistic look than I could have possibly hoped for!

Murals at APW

photo: Deirdre Leowinata / AfricanPeople&Wildlife

But many enthusiastic and capable hands made the whole experience great, and sometimes the trials are what the best memories are made of. I’m going back in June and this time the designs are being drawn up by the students, winners will be decided in advance, and with a bit of luck, 3 schools will end up with colorful murals designed and painted by members of the school community. However, this time I’m bringing brushes with me, and we’ll buy a different kind of paint. Live and learn!

Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie by Alison Nicholls

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…

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie by Alison Nicholls

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie – sketched from life in pen and watercolor, Savute Botswana 2018

The dogs made excellent sketching subjects, once I figured out whose legs and ears were whose. Painted dogs or African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) are very social and like to lie together in a pile, in very close contact, so identifying which dogs to include in my sketch is the first thing I do.

Savute Wild Dogs by Nigel Nicholls

Painted dogs sleeping in a pile, photo by Nigel Nicholls.

Note the annoying piece of grass in the foreground – the bane of every wildlife photographer’s life. If I had a sketchbook for every time I’ve heard my husband ask why there’s grass in the way, I’d never run out of paper again!

Painted Dog Pile by Nigel Nicholls

Painted Dog Pile by Nigel Nicholls

Here’s the scene I sketched. Its so weird when I get back from our trips, see my husband’s photos and recognize my sketches. You’ll notice that the piece of grass is even more annoying from this angle…which brings me to another advantage of sketching – the artist decides what goes into the sketch and what stays out, so there are no annoying pieces of grass in my art.

Now I have to go find my own sleeping dog and take him out for a walk!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Lamar Valley, Yellowstone, USA

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 what is under threat, rather than a celebration.  Here are just a few of the endless examples of “days” we shouldn’t need: World Rhino Day; Endangered Species Day; Lion Day; Vulture Awareness Day; World Wildlife Day; Cheetah Day.

Kalahari, Botswana

Kalahari, Botswana, photo by Alison Nicholls

So I’ve been giving some thought to an alternative reality and some of the “days” we could hope to eliminate or celebrate at some point in the future.

Lake Kyle, Zimbabwe

Lake Kyle, Zimbabwe, photo by Alison Nicholls

Instead of Earth Hour (where we shut down all our electrical appliances and devices for an hour) wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where once a year we had “Power Hour”, when we’d try running all our appliances and devices at once, just for a laugh, knowing that we couldn’t overload our clean, green, renewable energy grid.

Mount Machapuchare, Nepal

Mount Machapuchare, Nepal, photo by Nigel Nicholls

Instead of Car Free Day, we might one day live in a world where “Pollution Day” is on the calendar – not as a celebration but a remembrance of the past and less-enlightened times.

In this world we wouldn’t need any of the wildlife “days” because none of these species would be under threat from habitat loss, poaching, or human-wildlife conflict.

Lamar Valley, Yellowstone, USA

Lamar Valley, Yellowstone, USA, photo by Alison Nicholls

And this could go well beyond environmental issues. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where “Remembering ALS (MND)” or “Remembering Breast Cancer” was held, because no-one suffered from these diseases anymore.

Do you have any ideas of current “days” you’d like to abandon, or future “days” you’d really like to celebrate?
Alison
PS. Yes, for all these reasons I didn’t write this post on Earth Day, although I couldn’t help myself – I had to celebrate the Earth with some photos from my travels over the years!
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Wild Elephants sketch by Alison Nicholls

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 one with an ink drawing then add watercolor or fluid acrylic if time allows.

Wild Elephants sketch by Alison Nicholls

Wild Elephants sketch by Alison Nicholls

These daily sketches began when I attended a Portrait Party organized by New York City Urban Sketchers. There were nearly 100 artists, divided into groups of 12 and we sketched each person in our group, one at a time,  for 10 minutes. I enjoyed this experience so much that I continued doing a 10-minute portrait sketch every day after that.

Leopard Lines sketch by Alison Nicholls

Leopard Lines sketch by Alison Nicholls

Soon I decided to revert to my usual African subject matter as I realized this would be a great way to keep my sketching skills up to speed for when I return to Africa and sketch animals from life.  As my daily sketches started accumulating I decided to sell them on  my Etsy Store, with 50% of the proceeds donated to the African conservation organizations I support. These include African People & Wildlife (Tanzania), Painted Dog Research Trust (Zimbabwe), Cheetah Conservation Fund (Namibia) and others.

Kudu Bull sketch by Alison Nicholls

Kudu Bull sketch by Alison Nicholls

My daily sketches are based on the amazing photos taken over the years by my husband, Nigel. Working directly from photos is not normally something I do, but when I set a 10-minute deadline I have to concentrate on the basics and eliminate unnecessary detail, just like I do when I’m sketching from life in Africa.

Painted Purple (painted dogs) by Alison Nicholls

Painted Purple (painted dogs) by Alison Nicholls

Every sketch is unique, priced at only $60 and 50% of the proceeds are donated to African conservation organizations. I’ll be posting new pieces to my Etsy Store every few days so please join me for my 10-minute daily sketch journey!

Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

See my husband, Nigel’s photos on Instagram.
Visit African People & Wildlife website.
Visit Cheetah Conservation Center website.
Visit Painted Dog Research Trust website.
Visit NYC Urban Sketchers Facebook Group.

baobab

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 it morphed into a marketing term – used to describe places where you could see these animals and other iconic wildlife species.

Real fan palm or mokolane palm.

Real fan palm or mokolane palm.

Then, because we all seem to like lists, along came the Little Five – the antlion, the leopard tortoise, the elephant shrew, the rhinoceros beetle and the buffalo weaver (obviously a play on the Big Five, but yes, they are all real species of insect, bird or mammal). Soon the Ugly Five appeared too – the warthog, wildebeest, vulture, marabou stork and hyena. I object strongly to this list as I love sketching all these animals and birds. In more recent years, the Big Seven has made an appearance – its the Big Five plus cheetah and painted dog (African wild dog).

Baobab

Baobab

On one trip we started discussing the Impossible Five. I think most people would include pangolin (I’ve never seen one), aardwolf (I’ve seen 2) and aardvark (also never seen one) on their impossible list. After that it comes down to your personal experience and where you are in Africa. Porcupine, brown hyena and painted dog are often included but I’d have to add bushpig, serval and caracal to the options.

nyala tree

Nyala tree

And then we get to the trees. As far as I’m aware, there’s no official Big Five tree list, and the trees you include would again depend on where you are in Africa. My list would be baobab; camelthorn acacia; nyala; real fan palm; and leadwood.

sausage-tree

Sausage tree campsite, Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana – don’t camp under a sausage tree when the fruits are falling – they are very heavy!

My list tends to change quite a bit though! Other trees that creep in and out of the list include sycamore fig; mopane; marula; sausage tree; and jackalberry. And of course I don’t have good photos of all my favorite trees, so many of them are not illustrated in this post.

baobab

Baobab

So what are your Big Five Trees?
Let me know!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Baobab (Adansonia digitata)
Camelthorn acacia (Acacia erioloba)
Nyala (Xanthocercis zambesiaca)
Real fan palm (Hyphaene petersiana)
Leadwood (Combretum imberbe)
Sycamore fig (Ficus sycomorus)
Mopane (Colophospermum mopane)
Marula (Sclerocarya birrea)
Sausage tree (Kigelia africana)
Jackalberry (Diospyros mespiliformis).

Alison Nicholls at work in Botswana.

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 bountiful composition. When I’m dozing off to sleep I’m thinking about my current painting, or dreaming up the next one. On the train I’m admiring the skies. When I’m walking my dog, my mind is often in Botswana, thinking about my next composition (until a mail van comes into view when I am firmly dragged back to reality by a terrible knashing of the canines courtesy of my German Shepherd). And this is my life here in the US, so imagine what its like when I’m actually in Africa, trying to get 36 hours of sketching into every day!

Walking my German Shepherd, Chase.

Walking my German Shepherd, Chase.

I keep a list on my phone called Next Time in Africa, and I note all the new art ideas I want to try out while I’m there. And what’s on the list at the moment? Many, many things including videos I want to take (so I can create an online sketching course); tree bark rubbings; and using ink on pre-painted paper.

Alison Nicholls at work in Botswana.

Here I am at work in Botswana.

I should add 1 more thing – get some Artist at Work T-shirts printed!
See you next time.
Alison

www.ArtinspiredbyAfrica.com

Ellies in Ink by Alison Nicholls

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 the strong shadows made me decide to sketch with the marker tip of my pen, putting only the shadows down on the paper. It doesn’t work with every animal, but for the crocodile and the elephants it was perfect.

Crocodile in ink by Alison Nicholls

Ellies in Ink by Alison Nicholls

Next I tried some hippos, a goliath heron and an African buffalo.

Hippo, Heron and Buffalo by Alison Nicholls

I was really enjoying this, so of course the sun went down and daylight was vanquished by the shadows. But next time I think the light is too harsh for good sketching I’ll have a great way of handling it!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

10-Minute Wildlife Sketches

It was only a matter of time before I started doing 10-minute wildlife sketches.

Turquoise elephant by Alison Nicholls

10-minute sketch by Alison Nicholls

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 wildlife, starting with ink then adding watercolor, working on yupo paper. I’m using my husband’s amazing photographs, amassed over the years in Africa, so you can be sure I’ll never run out of options. Its really weird for me to be drawing directly from a photograph, but the fact that I have only 10 minutes keeps my mind focused!

More 10-minute wildlife sketches coming soon.
And yes, they are for sale!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com