Category Archives: Field Sketches

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

Elephants in Brown, field sketch by Alison Nicholls

Field Sketches & Daily Sketches – What is the Difference?

So what exactly is the difference between my Field Sketches & Daily Sketches?

Elephants in Brown, field sketch by Alison Nicholls

Elephants in Brown, field sketch by Alison Nicholls

My Field Sketches are created from life, in Africa. I usually start by sketching in pencil or ink then add watercolor, but sometimes I sketch directly in watercolor. They are either 8×10″ or 11×14″ on watercolor paper and sell for US$200-$300, with 25% of the purchase price donated to various African conservation organizations.

Daily sketch by Alison Nicholls

Turqouise Elephant, daily sketch by Alison Nicholls

My Daily Sketches are created in the studio, in 10-minutes, from photos by my talented husband, Nigel. They are pen sketches, sometimes with watercolor added and sometimes drawn on a colorful acrylic background. They are 8×10″ on yupo paper – a bright white, synthetic surface – and sell for US$60, with 50% of the purchase price donated to various African conservation organizations.

Working from photos is obviously easier than working from life, so I set a time limit on my Daily Sketches, to keep the work fresh and give myself a challenge. 10 minutes goes by very fast, but its a great way to start each day and excellent practice for when I’m sketching in the field.

In June I’ll be in Tanzania for 2 weeks, so my daily sketches will be field sketches!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.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

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

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

Rural village scenes sketched in pen in Botswana by Alison Nicholls

Sketching Villages from a Moving Car!

Recently I discovered that sketching villages from a moving car might be more difficult than sketching wildlife!

Rural village scenes sketched in pen in Botswana by Alison Nicholls

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 memory by looking, memorizing, then sketching. However, I soon found my stride because these rural scenes are etched in my brain, from my years of living in Botswana. I wanted to capture the typical sights of a village – people sitting by the road; herds of cows in the shade of a tree; donkeys and goats; village bars and small houses with satellite dishes. Pen was the perfect medium and I particularly love this pinky-gray ZIG Memory System writer. And sketching made the long drive go by much faster!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Elephants-at-Water-ANicholls

Even in front of Nature, one must Compose

“Even in front of nature, one must compose” is attributed to Edgar Degas.

Giraffe Bulls Browsing by Alison Nicholls

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 photo of a landscape. And artists are certainly doing this all the time in their paintings. Even those who paint wildlife in minute detail using photographic reference are likely to be moving things around and combining several photos to compose their painting.

My style of art doesn’t rely heavily on photos or often include a landscape element, so composition choices in the studio are wide open for me. This can be both daunting and liberating, which is why I spend an inordinate amount of time deciding on the composition for my paintings. How many animals? What are they doing? Are they close to the viewer or far away? These are some of the numerous questions I ask myself when composing a painting in the studio.

Elephants-at-Water-ANicholls

I used to think I wasn’t composing when I was field sketching in Africa, but I realized I was wrong. For example, if I see a herd of 20 elephants, I’m not going to just start sketching the closest one, then move on to the next until I’ve sketched every animal in turn. If I tried that I’d be hopelessly confused because the animals would change places and keep moving – my sketch would never be completed and would most likely be a mess. Instead, I usually I pick an animal in the herd who I will base my sketch around. Once I finish that animal, I look for another, in a different pose, which will complement it. Then I pick a 3rd and a 4th. I may not have an idea of how the finished piece will look, but I’m definitely composing as I sketch.

So I’m not about to argue with Degas on this point – “even in front of nature, one must compose”!

Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

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 start to finish!

Preoccupied Pair is based on my watercolor field sketch from Botswana (below). The watercolor shows a mating pair of lions walking through grasses. You’ll notice the 2 pieces are quite different, because I rarely recreate a field sketch as a studio painting. In the studio painting I felt the lions needed to be larger and closer to each other, and I wanted to eliminate most of the background vegetation and the termite mound.

Mating Lions watercolor by Alison Nicholls
Mating Lions, field watercolor 11×14″

They are 2 very different pieces of art, but each reflects my intentions and the different ways I work in the field and in the studio. Both pieces are for sale with a 25% donation to African conservation organizations.

Do you have a preference for 1 piece or the other?
Alison

See my watercolor field sketches.
See my studio acrylics.

Zebra by Alison Nicholls

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.

Zebra by Alison Nicholls

Zebra pastel from mid 90’s, by Alison Nicholls.

When I painted from life (en plein air), I painted landscapes with an occasional animal but now I paint animals with an occasional landscape feature.

Okavango Delta by Alison Nicholls

Okavango Delta by Alison Nicholls

Mabuasehube by Alison Nicholls

Mabuasehube by Alison Nicholls

For a long time I used to draw only in pencil, now I can’t imagine my art without color.

Gecko by Alison Nicholls

Gecko by Alison Nicholls

Yes, my art has certainly changed.
But if your art is not changing then you’re probably not improving.
(And if you prefer these older artworks, please don’t tell me!)

Keep on changing..
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Birds & Beasts: See The Paintings

March 22 was the Opening Reception for Birds & Beasts: Near & Far – my current exhibition with artist Sean Murtha, at the Rye Arts Center, Rye NY. We had a good turnout and are holding more events associated with the exhibition, including Sketching Workshops from Live Animals on March 24 and an Artists Talk on April 17 at 11am. If you live in the area, please come and see the exhibit. If not, you can see all my artworks in the exhibition here.

Alison Nicholls Alison NichollsReception1 Reception1

Enjoy the exhibition!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

travel africa

Travel Africa Features my African Art!

A few months ago I was interviewed by Travel Africa, answering some interesting questions about my trips to Africa and the way I sketch and paint. Today the online article has been released and you can read it here. If you can. please leave a comment as this may prompt them to feature me again in their print magazine too. Thank you and enjoy the article!
Alison

Meet the artist: Alison Nicholls

Birds & Beasts at the Rye Arts Center 2018

Birds & Beasts: Near & Far

Birds & Beasts: Near & Far – that is the title for my next exhibition, shared with artist Sean Murtha, at the Rye Arts Center, Rye NY, from March 22 – April 21.

Birds & Beasts at the Rye Arts Center 2018

Giving an exhibition a title can be remarkably difficult. You want to get it right – to indicate what the exhibit is about – but leave a little mystery that will make people want to attend. Its especially difficult to come up with a title when you are are sharing an exhibit with another artist. So (despite my husband’s objections to the word ‘Beasts’) I am pretty pleased with this title and feel it nicely represents my art of large African mammals (some of which are of course, beastly!) and Sean’s art consisting mostly of birds who dwell near or on Long Island Sound.

Drinking Impala by Alison Nicholls

Drinking Impala by Alison Nicholls

Of course, I wonder how much the title means to anyone else. After all, artists often squirm over titling each individual piece of artwork, only to find that viewers don’t really care what the title is. I hate to admit it, but I don’t have a clue about the titles of most of the art in my own home (those pieces not painted by me), so I wonder if all the angst is really worthwhile. Anyway…even if the title is irrelevant, I do hope you will come and join us for one of the many events associated with this exhibit – the Reception, the Artists Talk or the 2 Sketching Sessions with live animals provided by Animal Embassy, including (I am most excited about this) the wonderfully named Quilliam, the African crested porcupine!

Quilliam the African crested porcupine with Chris Evers of Animal Embassy

Quilliam the African crested porcupine with Chris Evers of Animal Embassy

Read more about the art of Sean Murtha
Read more about the Rye Arts Center
Read more about Animal Embassy

I hope to see you at the exhibition for a wild time!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Spotted Hyena watching Impala by Alison Nicholls

Spotted Hyena Watercolor

In this spotted hyena watercolor, I made a conscious decision to add more habitat and landscape features, rather then just concentrating on the animals, as I often do. One morning, driving in Kruger National Park in South Africa, we came across this spotted hyena lying right next to the track, with its head resting on its forelegs. It was too good an opportunity to miss so I started sketching.

Knowing that the hyena was likely to move its head, I started sketching from the back end. With the body and front legs sketched out, I had the opportunity to watch the hyena and choose whichever head and neck position I preferred. As I watched, a small group of impala appeared, browsing their way through the bush, probably heading towards the nearby river for a morning drink. The hyena turned its head to watch them and that was the pose I chose to sketch. A few moments later the impala spotted the hyena, barked in alarm and moved away. The hyena got up and casually walked right up to the car until its nose was just inches from me, at which point I did my window up! Then it walked around the car, stared in the windows on the other side and walked away.

Spotted Hyena watching Impala by Alison Nicholls

Spotted Hyena watching Impala, 11×14″, US$300 by Alison Nicholls

Before we drove on, even though the hyena and impala were gone, I added some more details of the bushes behind the hyena, and drew the simple shapes for the impala. Paint was added back at camp (without photo or video reference), as you can see from this short video of my spotted hyena watercolor.

You can learn these sketching and painting techniques from me on an Africa Geographic Art Safari in South Africa. There’s nothing quite like sketching from life in the African bush. But don’t take my word for it – come and see for yourself!
Alison
Purchase Spotted Hyena Watching Impala.

Sketching lions in South Africa 2015

I’m Not An Expert Artist, Can I Still Do An Art Safari?

If I’m not an expert artist, can I still do an Art Safari?

This is a common question, because most of us have an underlying fear of not being good enough. But it’s a very easy question to answer. The answer is “Yes, an Art Safari is for you!”

Art Safaris with Alison Nicholls

Art Safaris are a unique way to experience the African bush and over the last 7 years I have had the pleasure of meeting and teaching guests with a wide range of skills – complete beginners who want to try a different kind of safari; artists who sketch regularly but have never been on safari or sketched animals; a jeweler who wanted to try sketching for a change; those who studied art but haven’t picked up a pencil for years; photographers and non-sketching partners who were intrigued and decided to try sketching for themselves; and occasionally one of our professional safari guides has also been tempted to follow along!

Alison Nicholls Africa Geographic Art Safari 2016

Join me at The Bush House, September 15-20, 2018.

What makes it easy for anyone to join in and learn is that we are all working at our own pace, with our own choice of materials. There is no competition on an Art Safari, just a friendly, fun, learning environment. You can do this safari with just pencil and paper, so there’s no need to be a painter or watercolorist. I start by showing you how to look at animals and see simple shapes. Yes, even the strangest animals like giraffes or white rhinos can be sketched using simple shapes! Its amazing how quickly you can improve when you spend 4 full days sketching from life. Its the best way to learn and gives you a real sense of accomplishment too.

Sketching lions in South Africa 2015

If you’re not already convinced, here are some comments from Art Safari guests.

High Praise for Alison Nicholls’ and Africa Geographic’s Art Safari! I guarantee there is something to gain in this experience for everyone. Viewing and sketching the animals live gives you a greater understanding of their movements and their enviroment.  
Angie M from Canada

For myself the time with you and our Art Safari was the highlight of 2017. 
Susanne B from Switzerland

My art safari experience with Alison was beyond my wildest dreams.  I learned so much about drawing the animals I saw.  We went out on two game drives a day and it was such an intimate experience.  Alison gave each of us individual attention and tips on our sketches.  It was so helpful and encouraging.  I cannot describe how wonderful it was to experience really looking at the animal when you are trying to sketch them.  We came back to the lodge to do some watercolor and more intimate instruction, as well as watch Alison work on some of her marvelous work she had done in the bush.  It was a trip of a lifetime filled with fun, learning and lot’s of laughter.  Thank you, Alison for a wonderful experience. 
Debra S from USA


Join me at The Bush House, September 15-20, 2018.

If you still have questions, let me know.
Come and join us!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

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.
Alison

www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Elephants on the Move by Alison Nicholls

Elephant Watercolors at Shimuwini

Shimuwini is a lovely Bushveld Camp in Kruger National Park, on the edge of the Letaba River.

Elephant in Kruger National Park

Elephant in Kruger National Park

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 potential rivals; hippos saunter out of the water and graze along the banks; elephants appear from nowhere, dwarfed by the expansive view; waterbuck stand in the shallows; impala delicately pick their way up and down the bank; crocodiles lie quietly on sandy spits of land, jaws agape; saddle-billed storks strut in the rippled water; a brown-hooded kingfisher catches insects in the grass; a hamerkop flies lazily past contrasting with the frenzied hovering of the pied kingfishers.

Waterbuck in Kruger NP

Waterbuck in Kruger NP

There is too much to watch and too much to sketch. The view as a whole is too big for me to sketch on the size of paper I have available, and I find it nearly impossible to focus on one small area, so choosing a sketch subject is extremely difficult. Even the rocks are interesting – some jagged and dark gray, others smooth and pale. The river itself has several channels – all containing their own daily dramas as every species lives its life. I really do need a week here next time, along with some much larger paper! But, in the time I had – a measly 3 days – I sketched a couple of herds of elephants. 

Shimuwini

View from Shimuwini Bushveld Camp, Kruger National Park

Elephants on the Move (below) was sketched late one afternoon as a small herd left the river after drinking, heading uphill into the bush. You can see the soft pastel afternoon colors and how the elephants blend in perfectly with their environment, despite their size. This painting has a calm feeling – all the elephants are moving slowly in the same direction.

Elephants on the Move by Alison Nicholls

Elephants on the Move, watercolor 11×14″, US$300, by Alison Nicholls

This contrasts with the 2nd piece – Elephants at Noon (below) where the colors are much harsher. Another small herd had come to drink, but in this painting you can see that I’ve emphasized the jagged rocks, along with the harsher colors.

Elephants at Noon watercolor by Alison Nicholls

Elephants at Noon, watercolor 11×14″, $300, by Alison Nicholls

Self-driving and sketching in Kruger is great, especially when you have a husband who likes to do the driving, but when you stay at Shimuwini you don’t even need to go out for drives to see wildlife. If you are thinking of a self-drive visit to Kruger, I’d highly recommend the small Bushveld Camps. As the SanParks (South African National Parks) website says, Bushveld Camps “provide accommodation in smaller, more remote restcamps…do not have shops or restaurants….access is restricted to overnight visitors with reserved accommodation…open verandas often serve as kitchen/dining room.” Some of them have dirt roads that are only accessible to guests at the camp, so you can drive quiet roads and see the bush as it is supposed to be seen – alone!

Why not join me on an Art Safari in the Klaserie (a private reserve which is part of the Greater Kruger National Park), then spend some time staying at a Bushveld Camp in Kruger? Is this your kind of safari? Let me know!

Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Drinking Impala by Alison Nicholls

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

www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

So what is an Art Safari anyway?

Art Safari
/a:t , sə’fa:ri/
noun

2017 Art Safari at Africa on Foot

photo by Angela Matthews

Definition:

  1. 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.  
  2. A means of filling your sketchbook with memories of Africa’s iconic wildlife; to really look at an animal and see things that you don’t see from photos⁴, with thorough, humorous, knowledgeable, and patient² instruction from Alison Nicholls. I can’t believe in such a few short days how quickly I improved my sketching⁵.
  3. A way to share a unique adventure with fellow enthusiastic artists/travelers⁵, although you don’t have to be an artist to fully enjoy yourself.
  4. And…if the 2017 Art Safari was anything to go by…an Art Safari is a way to see honey badgers in camp every night!

¹ Debra S         ² Celia C           ³ Alistair G
⁴ Bobby B        ⁵ Barbara W    ⁷ Penelope B

2017 Art Safari at Africa on Foot

photo by Angela Matthews

Example Sentences
My Art Safari experience with Alison was beyond my wildest dreams. Debra S

The Art Safari with Alison Nicholls was a quality experience in every respect…I would definitely recommend ‘following the dream’!  Judy H

I would not hesitate to recommend Alison or this Africa Geographic Art Safari to my closest family and friends. Butch M

Word Origin
Circa 2011, from Africa Geographic Travel.

Hope you enjoyed my attempt to ‘define’ an Art Safari!

Why not join me on an Art Safari in 2018 and see if I got it right?

Alison

www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Cheetah Trio by Alison Nicholls

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 Dictionary.com)

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 wonder if ‘sketch’ is still the appropriate term.

Lets go back a bit. For 10 years I have marketed my art through my website and social media sites because I want people to see, enjoy, learn from, and buy my work. Sketching in the field from life, without any photo or video reference, is vital to my artistic process; great fun; expands my knowledge of animal anatomy and behavior; and makes me a better artist. From a marketing perspective it also separates me from artists who work only in the studio from photos, and I try to make this crystal clear to everyone who sees my work. In a face to face conversation I can explain all this quite easily, but when you see my work briefly on the internet, I need to get this point across as quickly as I can, so terminology becomes very important, hence my use of the easily understood term ‘field sketches’.

Cheetah Trio Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls

Cheetah Trio “Field Sketch” by Alison Nicholls

Over the years, as my skills improved, I began to experiment with my field sketches. First, I started thinking more about composition while I sketched. The underlying pencil sketch for Cheetah Trio was created while I watched wild cheetahs in Botswana. But the cheetahs were lying further apart than they are shown in my sketch. I moved them closer together to create a better composition. I used both my ability to sketch from life, and my compositional skills to create the field sketch you see. Maybe you think I should sketch exactly what I see, but I would suggest that every piece of art has been composed to some extent by the artist. Even a field sketch artist has chosen which pose to sketch – if they sketched exactly what they saw, you would come across more sketches of animals relieving themselves! Secondly, as you see in Cheetah Trio, I began adding watercolor to my pencil sketches. As animals don’t remain still for lengthy periods of time, I usually have to do this back at camp – adding color from memory and imagination in varying proportions.

So according to the definition of a ‘sketch’, my works in pencil definitely qualify – they are executed hastily and contain only essential details. I add watercolor in a more leisurely manner, so does the painted piece still qualify as a field ‘sketch’? Or as field work? Or as a watercolor painting?

I’m sure I’m being overly pedantic, but terminology matters, particularly on the internet, and yet I’m guessing every artist has their own very specific ideas of what these terms mean. (As an aside, one of my pet peeves is seeing artworks described as ‘sketches’ when they are small, detailed pencil drawings, which obviously have taken many hours to complete from photographic reference.)

So…does any of this matter?
When you search for ‘field sketches’ online, what do you expect to find?
I can’t wait to hear what you think!

Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Generic Giraffe & Other Pitfalls

Field-sketches-by-Alison-Nicholls

Field-sketches-by-Alison-Nicholls

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, I’m kidding, I’ve never seen, let alone sketched, an aardvark).
 
This knowledge helps me immensely when I’m sketching in the bush and catch a brief glimpse of activity that I want to capture in my sketchbook. If I see a young elephant chasing guinea-fowl or lion cubs pouncing on each other, a particular turn of the head or twist of the body might attract my attention so I quickly sketch it, but then, using my knowledge of the anatomy of the animal, I can add further details to complete the sketch.
 
But recently, I questioned whether this knowledge also leads me to sketch a generic giraffe, a standard spotted hyena, a basic buffalo or a common cheetah. Am I now doing what I always tell students to avoid – drawing what I think I know instead of what I see?
 
If I do fall into this trap (it happens to us all at times) then at least I’m aware of it, so this year in Africa I will be tutoring myself as well as my students. We’ll just have to see who follows instruction better!
 
Do you have any bad art habits you are prepared to share?
Go on, make me feel better.
Alison
 
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

Gigantic Giraffes!

Today is World Giraffe Day.
So, in honor of these towering tree-nibblers, here are a variety of giraffes in art.

Browsing Giraffe Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls ©2015

Browsing Giraffe Field Sketch, 11×14″ by Alison Nicholls ©2015. Limited edition available.

2 giraffes, painted in blue, look out over the bush, by Alison Nicholls

Giraffes, 6×4″ watercolor. Original Sold.

Stages of a giraffe sketch by Alison Nicholls

How to sketch a giraffe. Photo by Nigel Nicholls.

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 up, let alone walk or run anywhere. Or drink.
As with so many large mammals, their numbers have been dropping far too fast in recent decades due to habitat loss & the bushmeat trade among other things.
So, I’m donating 25% from the sale of my remaining Browsing Giraffe limited editions (see above) to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF). One of the limited editions has been donated to Longnecks for Longnecks a fundraiser for GCF in Orlando, Florida on Thursday. So join them for an evening out in support of gentle giants!
Alison
www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com
Elephants in Brown by Alison Nicholls

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.

Restful Field Sketch © Alison Nicholls

Restful Field Sketch – 8×10″ original watercolor on paper, unframed, US$200. A donation of US$70 will be made to Cheetah Conservation Botswana from this sale.

 

We hear about the plight of charismatic species like lions, cheetahs and painted dogs, but habitat loss, the bushmeat trade, the pet trade and human-wildlife conflict are pushing a huge percentage of our Earth’s species towards ‘endangered’ status. It is downright depressing.

Lioness and Cubs Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls ©2016

Lioness & Cubs Field Sketch – 11×14″ original watercolor on paper, unframed, US$300. A donation of US$105 will be made to African People & Wildlife in Tanzania from this sale.

So what can we do?
A lot.

Dog Pack Field Sketch © Alison Nicholls 2015

Painted Dogs in the Morning Field Sketch – 11×14″ original watercolor on paper, unframed, US$300. A donation of US$105 will be made to Painted Dog Research Trust in Zimbabwe from this sale.

Get involved, particularly in your own local area. Make sure your local politicians know how important the environment is to you. Stand against destructive development projects and stand up for sustainable long-term solutions. Protect invaluable wetlands, forests, plains and wild places, not just because they are beautiful and provide necessary habitat for numerous species, but because they provide us with recreation and employment opportunities, and because they are essential to our own well-being.

Elephants in Brown Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls ©2016

Elephants in Brown Field Sketch – 11×14″ original watercolor on paper, unframed, US$300. A donation of US$105 will be made to African People & Wildlife in Tanzania from this sale.

It is not eliteist to stand up for our stunning planet and its inhabitants. It is absolutely necessary.

Cheetah Trio Field Sketch © Alison Nicholls

Cheetah Trio Field Sketch – 11×14″ limited edition reproduction, printed on watercolor paper, unframed, 25 copies only, US$120 each. A donation of US$36 will be made to Cheetah Conservation Botswana from this sale.

And if donating to African conservation organizations is important to you, you can take a look at some of my work and know that for today, and throughout the weekend, I will be making large donations from any sale. I will also be offering free shipping within the continental US and half-price shipping elsewhere in the world.
Lets make Endangered Species Day unnecessary.
Thank you.
Alison

Alison Nicholls
alison@artinspiredbyafrica.com

Elephants Browsing in the Bush, watercolor Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls ©2016

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).

Elephants Browsing in the Bush, watercolor Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls ©2016

Elephants Browsing in the Bush, watercolor field work by Alison Nicholls ©2016

This new sketch shows a more muted palette of colors than usual, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I decided to use more grays, usually mixed from 3 primary colors. This piece started with a Naples yellow wash, which can still be seen on the elephants, so I mixed the background gray from the same yellow plus alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue. (I never use black and white to make gray. In fact I never use black at all and just removed it from my field box. I use white occasionally, usually with cerulean blue to get a subtle sky blue.)

Using the gray to paint the negative shapes around the elephant made them really stand out, and I finished off the piece with same mixture but with more crimson added to create a lovely subtle brown. I used my rigger brush to pull some of this brown out in the foreground as sticks, and also used it to emphasize some of the features on the main elephant. 

I think another reason for my muted palette is the severe drought which has affected most of southern Africa, leaving bare, parched earth devoid of vegetation. Many grazers and browsers are struggling from lack of food, and their poor condition leads to fairly easy pickings for many predators. Elephants are able to strip trees of their bark, dig up tree roots and even eat unpalatable-looking sticks and thorns, but their search for food can be hugely destructive.

I hope this year’s rains will be slow, steady and long lasting, so the vegetation can recover. On my next visit I hope to be painting with more greens – which also look great with grays and yellows.

Until next time…enjoy the elephants.
Alison

www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com

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 as I happily sketch my way through the African bush!)

Alison Nicholls art kit

Anyway…back to the new surfaces…one of which is Claybord (made by Ampersand). It is described as the ultimate multimedia panel, with an ultra smooth clay surface that is very absorbent. As you might guess from the name, you can scrape through a painted area to expose the bright white ultra-smooth clay surface. Now this goes against everything I have ever done (as a watercolorist you learn to retain the whites in your paintings rather than add them at the end) so I’m not sure scraping will feature heavily in my use of Claybord, but we’ll see. I am taking half a dozen 5×7” panels. If they were lightweight, I would take larger sizes, but they’re not, so the smaller panels will have to do for now. The surface is bright white and almost texture-free. It is good for detail but won’t hold washes. But pencil and pen will look wonderful on it so maybe I’ll try those. My usual extremely pale sketches are very difficult to photograph in the bush, which is why I hardly ever show you the progression of my sketches. So I’ve been thinking that a softer pencil might be the answer. Maybe Claybord can be part of the answer too.

The pieces of square handmade paper are my next experiment. Although they look like watercolor paper, they act a little too much like blotting paper when a wash is added, soaking up the color and showing all the brushmarks, so once again I think simple lines might be the answer. I’ve had these pieces of paper so long I can’t remember anything about them, except that I got them at New York Central Art Supply, a fantastic art store in New York City, which, sadly, will soon be closing. Like Doctor Who’s tardis, it is tiny from the outside but seems to miraculously hold everything I ever need. It is such a shame it will soon be gone.

Elephant sketch by Alison Nicholls ©2015

Elephant watercolor sketch by Alison Nicholls ©2015

Speaking of simple lines, I’m also going to be doing more sketches directly in watercolor, like this one from the 2015 Africa Geographic Art Safari. I used a rigger brush for these, and was painting while it was raining, which is why this looks such a mess. (Bookings are now open for my 2017 Art Safari on the edge of Kruger National Park in South Africa.)

So watch out for my latest exploits and sketches from Africa – coming soon!
Alison

www.ArtInspiredbyAfrica.com