Category Archives: Workshops

Trotting, painted dogs, acrylic by Alison Nicholls

Three is a Crowd-Pleaser

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

Rule of Thirds

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

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

Trotting, painted dogs, acrylic by Alison Nicholls

Trotting, painted dogs, acrylic by Alison Nicholls

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

Stay well

Kambaku Art Safari

2021 Art Safari

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

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

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

Streaming from my studio

Streaming from my Studio Every Wednesday

Yes, I’m streaming from my studio live every Wednesday at 2pm EST (7pm UK time).
If you’d like a look behind the scenes; a view of what’s on my easel; a glimpse of my German Shepherd; a peek at my art materials; or a sneak preview of my next painting, join me live on my personal Facebook page.

Streaming from my studio

I’ll be here, come rain or shine, every Wednesday at 2pm EST (7pm UK time).
If you missed the earlier sessions, here they are:
March 25, 2020
April 1, 2020

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  (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.



Kambaku Art Safari

2019 Art Safari Video II

In August I led two Art Safaris in South Africa for Africa Geographic. Here is my short video of the second Art Safari.

Both safaris were held at Kambaku Safari Lodge, in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, part of the Great Kruger National Park. Kambaku was a great place to hold an Art Safari as we had amazing wildlife sightings, beautiful accommodations, great food and wonderful spaces for daytime workshops.

2020 Art Safaris
We’ll be returning to Kambaku for 1 of my 2020 Art Safaris and we have only 2 places remaining, so if you’d like to join us please let me know. We also have only 2 places available on the 2nd 2020 Art Safari, which will take place at Pungwe Safari Camp in Manyaleti Reserve, also part of the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa.

2020 Art Safari Details

We welcome only 6 guests on each safari and they may have any (or no) experience of sketching. We also welcome non-sketching friends and partners.
So if your idea of fun is spending time in the bush with wildlife, art and like-minded travel companions, sign up for 2020!

Kambaku Art Safari with Alison Nicholls

Art Safari Video

In August I led two Art Safaris in South Africa for Africa Geographic. Here is my short video of the first Art Safari.

Both safaris were held at Kambaku Safari Lodge, in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, part of the Great Kruger National Park. Kambaku was a great place to hold an Art Safari as we had amazing wildlife sightings, beautiful accommodations, great food and wonderful spaces for daytime workshops.

2020 Art Safaris
We’ll be returning to Kambaku for 1 of my 2020 Art Safaris and we have only 2 places remaining, so if you’d like to join us please let me know. We also have only 2 places available on the 2nd 2020 Art Safari, which will take place at Pungwe Safari Camp in Manyaleti Reserve, also part of the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa.

2020 Art Safari Details

We welcome only 6 guests on each safari and they may have any (or no) experience of sketching. We also welcome non-sketching friends and partners.
Enjoy the video and watch out for another video next week!

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!

Learn more about African People & Wildlife.


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.


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”!


NYC Portrait Party 2019

Portrait Party – Sketching Strangers in 10 Minutes!

Last Saturday I did eleven 10-minute sketches of complete strangers at a Portrait Party in Manhattan. I signed up because I knew it would be good for my sketching skills and take me out of my comfort zone. As the day approached I was excited but also concerned by my lack of experience sketching faces. I had tried 3 or 4 practice sessions but those made me realize that 10 minutes is not long to capture a likeness.

10 minute watercolor and pen sketch from life by Alison Nicholls, painted at 2019 New York City Portrait Party with NYC Urban Sketchers

Shawne, one of my 10 minute watercolor & pen sketches

The Portrait Party is organized by some members of NYC Urban Sketchers who go out twice a week to sketch in New York City. Fellow sketch-artist Hazel Jarvis and I arrived at the portrait party to find loads of artists and a little organized chaos. Here’s how it worked. Artists were divided into teams. The 12 members of my Yellow team sat in a circle and one by one we took turns to pose for 10 minutes as everyone else sketched. When the 10 minute timer went off, you got your next piece of paper ready and then you all started sketching the next person in the circle. After 3 or 4 sketches we would have a short break, but basically it felt like we sketched virtually continuously for about 3 hours.

NYC Portrait Party 2019

Nearly 100 artists in 1 room – what could possibly go wrong?

NYC Portrait Party 2019

The Yellow team

NYC Portrait Party 2019

Anna, me and Jessica hard at work.

When we had sketched everyone in our team, the art was laid out in a grid. Looking horizontally showed you all the sketches by the same artist. Looking vertically showed you all the sketches of the same person.

NYC Portrait Party 2019

Setting up the Yellow team sketch grid.

NYC Portrait Party 2019

Yellow team sketches in the grid.

At the end, the floor was covered with big colorful grids of sketches of every conceivable style. It was amazing to walk around and look at them all. Some artists used watercolor, others used marker pens, charcoal or ink. It was very inspiring and there was a real buzz in the air.

10 minute watercolor and pen sketch from life by Alison Nicholls, painted at 2019 New York City Portrait Party with NYC Urban Sketchers

Janette, one of my10 minute watercolor & pen sketches

And how did my sketches turn out? I was pleasantly surprised by many of them. Here are a few. The great thing about having only 10 minutes is that you can’t get too stressed by each one – you just don’t have time.

10 minute watercolor and pen sketch from life by Alison Nicholls, painted at 2019 New York City Portrait Party with NYC Urban Sketchers

Tim, one of my 10 minute watercolor & pen sketches

I learned that sketching older people is easier – lines and creases are an artist’s friend. I also learned that a simple color palette gave me more time, because mixing colors just up took too many valuable seconds.

10 minute watercolor and pen sketch from life by Alison Nicholls, painted at 2019 New York City Portrait Party with NYC Urban Sketchers

Anna, one of my 10 minute watercolor & pen sketches

But mostly I learned that I loved sketching people!
I enjoyed it so much and felt it was so good for my sketching skills that I am planning to do a 10-minute portrait sketch every day now. It might cost me a fortune in paper but the experience is invaluable.

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?

See my watercolor field sketches.
See my studio acrylics.

Giraffe Bulls Browsing by Alison Nicholls

Giraffes – Paintings in Stages by Alison Nicholls

Giraffes are unique in so many ways – which makes them perfect for painting. As you’ll see in this video, I started with simple washes of fluid acrylic on watercolor canvas. When they were dry I looked at the washes from every angle and suddenly the compositions jumped out at me – 2 bulls browsing in the narrow gap between tall shrubs, and a cow and her calf gazing off into the distance.

A donation will be made from the sale of these paintings to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. The original paintings are currently on view at the Rye Arts Center in Rye, New York, until April 21. You can also see them on my website here.

Read more about the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.
The Rye Arts Center is located at 51 Milton Road, Rye, NY 10580.

Take care

Leopard - Patience by Alison Nicholls

Stages of a Leopard Painting by Alison Nicholls

I recently conducted a survey and asked what everyone would like to see more of regarding my art and travels. One request was for more works in progress, and for more about the inspiration behind my paintings, so here’s a brief video about my new leopard painting. It includes the initial inspiration, thumbnail ideas, composition and stages of the painting. It is difficult to video my work as it progresses, because I paint flat on a table. This means I have to place my video on a very high shelf and try to remember not to block the view when I am painting. Not ideal, but I’m gradually improving my video techniques, so watch for more soon.
If you took part in my survey – Thank You! You can see all the results here.
If you haven’t completed the survey yet, you can do so here.

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!

January 2018 Art Challenge

I started 2018 with an Art Challenge and here is a preview of my challenge so far.

Art Challenge 2018

As with any plan, once you get into it you realize things need a little tweaking. I started by thinking I’d paint a whole month of daily colors on 1 piece of canvas, but realized it would be tough to overlay 28-31 color washes without complete chaos being the result. So I started a kind of wheel effect, rolling the washes across and down the page.

I wondered when was the best time to choose the color for the day – at the end of the day (when I’m tired) or the next morning (looking back on the day before). I still haven’t really decided which works best yet.

It seemed like such a simple challenge. Who would have thought that painting one color a day on a piece of canvas would give rise to so many questions?!

Paint on!

Another dead-end. Elephant Calf by Nigel Nicholls

Oh No – Another Art Dead-End!

In many careers you start by studying, learning from others. Those who came before you have created a foundation of knowledge, gathered over the years, so there are many dead-ends you don’t need to visit or experiments you don’t need to repeat – because the answers have been found and are there for you to see and understand. In some careers you are legally obligated to learn and follow this accepted wisdom. A doctor must learn medicine and follow accepted practice, a lawyer must learn the law of the land and (hopefully) operate within it. So how does art differ from this?

Another dead-end. Elephant Calf by Nigel Nicholls

Well, from my years of experience I’d say that being an artist appears to demand that you turn down any number of dead-end roads on your route to improvement. Its true that many people study, that they follow the example of the great masters of the past and learn the history of art, but no amount of theory or knowledge of materials can make you a great artist. Its all about practice, trial and error, and time. Practice leads to competence. Trial and error leads to innovation. Time allows you to develop your own style.

Art is about forging your own path (and trying not to trip over your trunk).
Enjoy the journey!


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!

2018 palette by Alison Nicholls

2018 Art Challenge

Happy 2018!
Want to join me in my 2018 Art Challenge?

I like to think of each passing day as a transparent wash of color. As the day ends, that day’s wash is added to a canvas, painted on top of all the washes from previous days. Some days are light, airy pastels; some are vibrant primaries; some are darker tones; but when you look at the week, or the month, or the year, the canvas tells an exquisite story.

2018 palette by Alison Nicholls

2018 palette by Alison Nicholls

So this year I will be mixing 1 wash of color every day, to reflect how I felt that day. I’ll paint it on a piece of canvas and add a new wash every day. Each week I’ll start a new canvas. (Tip, this will be far easier in fluid acrylic than in watercolor, because you can add multiple washes of color without fear of ‘picking up’ the washes below.) I may even try a monthly canvas, just to see how far I can push this.
Let me know if you will be joining me!

Paint on!

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.

So what is an Art Safari anyway?

Art Safari
/a:t , sə’fa:ri/

2017 Art Safari at Africa on Foot

photo by Angela Matthews


  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?


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, 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.

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!

Art Safaris with Alison Nicholls

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 time for game viewing and a perfect time of year for sketching. If you’re interested in joining me, don’t delay – we don’t expect these spaces to be available for long.


Dreaming of an African Art Safari…?


A perfect setting for art tutorials…


Want to discuss art, wildlife and Africa around the campfire…?

Elephant by Nigel Nicholls © 2012

Sketch elephants with me…(photo by Nigel Nicholls ©2013)

Elephant Drinking Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls

Elephant Drinking Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls

Check out the Art Safari details and get in touch with me or with Africa Geographic as soon as possible.

I look forward to hearing from you!
A donation is made to African conservation from every sale.


Artists Susan Fox, Karryl and Alison Nicholls with an emerald tree boa

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 gallery packed with the artists’ wildlife art from Mongolia, Africa, India, Central and North America.

What could possibly go wrong?!

Children sketching animals at the Flinn Gallery

An emerald tree boa fascinates a young visitor…

Chris Evers from Animal Embassy

Chris Evers from Animal Embassy explains the rules…


David Rankin demonstrates how to sketch a scorpian

David Rankin demonstrates how to sketch a scorpion…

Sean Murtha watches over children and a monk parakeet

Sean Murtha helps children sketching a monk parakeet…

Monk parakeet poses perfectly

The monk parakeet poses perfectly…

Susan Fox explains how to sketch a bullfrog

Susan Fox explains how to sketch a bullfrog…

Alison Nicholls helps children sketch a tree boa

Alison Nicholls helps children sketch a tree boa…

Karryl helps children sculpt a rabbit

Karryl helps children sculpt a rabbit…

Sketching and sculpting in the gallery

Sketching and sculpting in the gallery…

Emerald tree boa with art by Carel Brest van Kempen

At the end we get to have a little fun…emerald tree boa with art by Carel Brest van Kempen…

Artists Susan Fox, Karryl and Alison Nicholls with an emerald tree boa

Susan Fox, Karryl & Alison Nicholls hold the beautiful emerald tree boa…

It turned out that nothing went wrong at all. The sketching and sculpting session was a great hit and (as far as we know) the snake, scorpions, frog, rabbit and bird all exited the gallery with Chris from Animal Embassy!

Wildlife Art: Field to Studio is at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut, and 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 Mountains); Carel Brest van Kempen (Central America); Kelly Singleton (Alaska); Sean Murtha (Long Island Sound) and Susan Fox (Mongolia). The exhibit is on display until May 4, 2016. Wildlife Art: Field to Studio is curated by Lillian Lum, Claudia Schipper & Alice Sherwood.

Please come and join me for a guided tour of the exhibition!
A donation is made to African conservation from every sale.

Strides by Alison Nicholls

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.


See the full painting in March in the Flinn Gallery, Greenwich, CT.

In the meantime, enjoy the preview!

Flinn Gallery
Greenwich Library, 101 West Putnam Ave, Greenwich, CT 06830
5 of the participating artists – Alison Nicholls, Sean Murtha, Susan Fox, David Rankin & Karryl – will be present for the opening weekend and the following events:
Opening Reception: March 31, 6-8pm
Children Sketching Wildlife: April 2, 11am-12noon (registration required, details tba)
Artists’ Talk: April 2, 2-3pm.

The Explorers Club Lecture, New York City.
April 4, 6pm. Registration is required.