Tag Archives: art safari

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!

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. 


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!


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?



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.


Painted Dogs in watercolor by Alison Nicholls

Painted Dog Doodles!

Normally I sketch in pencil then add watercolor, so I try to make sure I’m happy with my pencil sketches before I start painting. For the 3 small 5×5″ pieces below, I abandoned my pencil completely and went straight in with the watercolor, using a long haired rigger (or liner) brush.

Painted Dogs in watercolor by Alison Nicholls

Painted Dogs in watercolor by Alison Nicholls

The lengthy hairs on this kind of brush mean you don’t have complete control over the paint, so you have to be ready to accept mistakes as part of your work. I’m thinking it will be a great way to sketch when I’m in the bush, so I’ll be teaching this method on the 2015 Africa Geographic Art Safari, along with all my usual techniques.

Its amazing what can happen on a sunny day when you are sitting outside mucking around with a new paintbrush!

For those artists out there – there is1 place remaining on this year’s Art Safari. Come join me in the South African bush!

Until next time…

Art Safaris with Alison Nicholls

2015 Art Safari with Alison Nicholls Fully Booked

I’m pleased to report that the 2015 Art Safari I am leading for Africa Geographic in South Africa, is fully booked!

Art Safari © Alison Nicholls 2011

Sketching after lunch on the Africa Geographic Art Safari with Alison Nicholls.

Details for the 2016 Art Safari in South Africa will be available soon. You can also contact me, or Christian Boix at Africa Geographic, to arrange your own custom Art Safari, in a destination of your choice, for your own sketch group.

Art Safaris with Alison Nicholls

Sketching elephants on Art Safari with Alison Nicholls

I hope to see you on Art Safari in Africa soon!
Until then…

Read more about Art Safaris, including guest testimonials
Christian Boix: Africa Geographic.
Email: christian@africageographic.com Telephone: +27 (0)21 762 4974.

Alison Nicholls gives tuition during the 2013 Africa Geographic Art Safari in South Africa

Alison Nicholls gives tuition during the 2013 Africa Geographic Art Safari in South Africa

Recently Southern African Tourism Update asked me to comment upon Art Safaris in Africa and my views on the advantages of such trips. You can read the article below, but I think the photo above sums it up perfectly. What could be better than coming home with your own completely unique sketchbook from your travels?!

Read the article here.

Read more about my Africa Geographic Art Safaris.

Until next time!


Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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