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.


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