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Artist Alison Nicholls

I begin my daily art marathon…

These tweets by David Sandum and Jo Parry inspired today’s post:

https://twitter.com/JO_PARRY_TWEETS/status/500793096033275904

They got me thinking that being an artist is like being a marathon runner. In the spirit of full disclosure I should mention that my experience as a marathon runner consists of watching the New York Marathon on TV every year and then checking on the training progress of my neighbors, several of whom are horrifyingly active and have run the real thing! So, with my mountain of personal experience now laid bare, here is how I think being an artist compares with being a marathon runner.

Before attempting to run a marathon it is best to put in a little training (!), hours and hours of training, a lot of it alone, pounding the streets, building your stamina and strength. As an artist you also need training, years of it, learning about your materials and building your skills, with much time spent alone, developing your style and work habits.

Then comes the marathon. The first few miles are plain sailing, with the crowd lifting your spirits and your legs feeling strong but then, later in the race, psychology is all important. At some point it is just about you, your legs and your mental strength. Sometimes it is only mental strength that actually keeps those legs moving, despite the persistent voice in your head telling you how tired you are and how you could hop in a cab. Once again, there are comparisons with the life of an artist. We also have that persistent voice in our head, telling us how mediocre our work is and how much better and more successful other artists are. But unlike the marathon, where people line the course to encourage you, as an artist you sometimes feel like the entire world has lined up to encourage you to quit. It’s ironic that most people consider artists to be sensitive types and yet we have to develop a very thick skin in order to deal with the rejection we experience on a fairly regular basis –  from competitions we fail to be accepted for, grants we fail to receive or galleries who don’t want to represent us. Most marathon runners don’t enter with the plan to win the race. they enter with the plan to finish the race, and if they are a sucker for punishment, they enter to improve on last years’ time. Artists need to think the same way. It is the constant progression of your own career that matters, not how you compare to other artists and their careers. Easier said than done, I know!

But there is one major difference between art and marathon running. In art there is no finish line. At the end of my daily art marathon, no-one has ever cheered, held up a placard with an encouraging message or wrapped me in a nice shiny blanket!

But wait…there is one more similarity. Marathon runners speak of a running ‘high’, a zone in which pain disappears and the joy of running is everything. Artists feel that too. It is what you aim for and hope for and can’t describe. It is addictive. If it wasn’t, why on earth would I run an art marathon every day?

Ready? Set. Paint!

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Nicholls Wildlife Art

5pm acrylic on canvas 11x14 by Alison Nicholls

5pm acrylic on canvas 11×14 by Alison Nicholls

Many of my paintings make use of effects of light, but I rarely include the source (sun or moon) in my work. So 5pm, above, is a little different. I will definitely be adding the shimmering sun into more of my work as it allows me to leave the animal subjects a little less defined, something I always enjoy. Interestingly, the best way to paint a really bright sun is to leave it white and surround it with pale lemon yellow. I’m using Fredrix watercolor canvas, which is bright white, so the sun is just the natural color of the canvas.

The title of the piece comes from the time of day and the fact that in the dry season the sun retains its heat until the last possible moment.

Until next time
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Lions sketch demo by Alison Nicholls

Lions sketch demo by Alison Nicholls

In my latest blog post for Africa Geographic, I showed how I create a pencil field sketch. When I’m sketching in the African bush I don’t have time to photograph the stages of my pencil sketches because I need to finish them before the people or animals I’m sketching move away. I sketch using very faint lines, which will become almost invisible when I add watercolor, but these lines are very difficult to photograph outdoors. I also work without an easel, constantly moving around to find different subjects, all of which makes it difficult to document my technique as I’m sketching. So I recreated a sketch in the studio, using pen instead of pencil.

You can read more and see the stages of the pencil sketch here.
See my other posts in the Africa Geographic Art of Africa blog series.

Until next time
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Leopard photo by Nigel Nicholls

Leopard photo by Nigel Nicholls © 2013

In the last few weeks, almost every person I’ve met has asked me this question:

“Will you be going back to Africa while there is still an Ebola outbreak?”

In answering the question with a resounding “Yes”, I have tried to explain the size of the African continent and the huge distance between West Africa, where the Ebola outbreak exists, and the safari destinations of East and Southern Africa. As the crow flies, London is actually closer to West Africa than Nairobi in Kenya! It is very easy to find alarmist reports in the media wherever you are in the world and the other day I received an email from a friend in South Africa who was concerned about my husband traveling into New York City for work because she had heard of the healthcare worker here who had been infected while working in West Africa!

Tourism is vital to the economies of many African countries and plays a large part in ensuring the continued existence of wildlife and wild lands. If you value this and want to help both the people and wildlife of Africa, please think very carefully before canceling your travel plans to the continent. Consult your travel agent by all means, but remember that the main safari destinations of East and southern Africa are literally thousands of miles away from the outbreak in West Africa.

Before I end I do want to say that Ebola is a terrible disease and my thoughts are with the people of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea who are caught in this outbreak. The dedicated healthcare workers from these and other countries are heroes and should be treated as such. I hope that the outbreak can be controlled quickly without the loss of more life.

Until next time
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Nicholls Wildlife Art

5pm acrylic on canvas 11x14 by Alison Nicholls

5pm                                             acrylic on canvas 11×14 by Alison Nicholls

If the random words in the title are of interest to you, come join me in Vermont for my next Art exhibit, featuring my sketches and paintings inspired by my visits to the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW) in Tanzania. APW is a Conservation organization which works to conserve species like the Lion, by working with local communities.

My exhibit is at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, Vermont. The reception is 2 – 4pm on Saturday November 1 and my talk is on Sunday November 2, also at 2pm.

I hope you will join me. and I promise to speak in full sentences!

Learn more about the African People & Wildlife Fund

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Alison Nicholls with Charles Trout

Alison Nicholls at The Explorers Club with Charles Trout, Director of Programs at the African People & Wildlife Fund. Charles introduced Alison’s lecture: African Conservation through the Eyes of an Artist.

I recently gave a lecture, African Conservation through the Eyes of an Artist, at The Explorers Club in New York City. The lecture was very well attended and I was fortunate to be introduced by Charles Trout, Director of Programs for the African People & Wildlife Fund in Tanzania. Charles gave a wonderful introduction, speaking about my visits to APW and the effect my art has had on APW’s educational programs and work with the local community.
Explorers Club Alison Nicholls lectureExplorers Club Alison Nicholls lecture
Here are a few images of the pre-lecture reception. It was a lovely evening so we were able to make use of both the library and the outdoor terrace. The lecture was also live-streamed on the club’s website and I was delighted to receive comments from those who also watched it online. The recording of the lecture will soon be available online and I will include a link to that very soon.

Explorers Club Alison Nicholls lecture

Alison Nicholls with her parents, Margaret & Rob Cross, at The Explorers Club

The evening was made even more special by the fact that my parents, who live in the UK, were visiting and were able to attend. All in all it was a great experience and I hope that I can continue to use my art to raise awareness and funds for some of the great conservation organizations doing such valuable and inspiring work across Africa.
Explorers Club Alison Nicholls lecture
Until next time…
Alison

Learn more about The Explorers Club.
Learn more about the African People & Wildlife Fund.

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Sydney Opera House from Farm Cove, watercolor 11x14" by Alison Nicholls

Sydney Opera House from Farm Cove, watercolor 11×14″ by Alison Nicholls

Every now and again I need a complete break from painting my usual African subject matter, and my recent trip to Australia provided exactly that. So here is my watercolor of the Sydney Opera House, painted while I sat in glorious winter sunshine, looking out at Sydney Harbor from Farm Cove, with cockatoos flying overhead!

It is a beautiful building both inside and out. My husband works for Arup, the engineering company who worked with architect Jorn Utzon to create this iconic structure, so he particularly enjoyed the tour we took inside the opera house. I know there are many ideas about the inspiration for the shape of the opera house and perhaps the best known is that of ‘sails’, mirroring the many yachts found in the harbor. But when I took these photos below, from out on the water, you know what they reminded me of?

Sydney Opera House photos by A Nicholls

Sydney Opera House photos by A Nicholls

The Eyes of a Crocodile!

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Elephant!, acrylic 20x30" by Alison Nicholls

Elephant!, acrylic 20×30″ by Alison Nicholls

My body of African conservation-themed art is steadily growing, and you can see and hear about it by joining me at The Explorers Club for my upcoming lecture. I’ll be showing a newly completed piece based on the Living Walls being used by the African People & Wildlife Fund in Tanzania, along with art featuring human-elephant conflict, East African pastoralists, and African wild dogs in Zimbabwe. I will talk about how I take a conservation or research issue and turn it into a completed painting, then how I use the paintings to raise awareness of the issues and money for conservation organizations.

So come and be part of the Conservation Conversation!

The Explorers Club
September 29. Reception 6pm. Lecture 7pm.
Tickets can be purchased in advance by calling 212 628 8383.

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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PleinAir Today

PleinAir Today

In the US, plein air events (painting in the open air) attract numerous fantastic artists and produce some of the best art I’ve seen. Although painting in the open air is exactly what I do when I’m field sketching, I don’t generally think of myself as a plein air artist because plein air is very much dominated by landscape artists. But I’ve decided I need to stop thinking this way. So I’m really pleased to be featured in PleinAir Today – the weekly email you see above (click the link to read the article).

Find out more about PleinAir Today, Plein Air Magazine and Outdoor Painter.

And, if you would like to hear more about my plein air painting (!) and conservation-themed artwork, join me as I speak at The Explorers Club in New York City on September 29. Reservations are required.

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Painting in my Sleep

Some essential supplies required for painting in your sleep.

Whenever I am really struggling to get to sleep at night, there is one thing that usually manages to send me off to the land of nod – thinking about painting. That might sound weird. After all, as an artist, shouldn’t painting be the thing that keeps me up at night? Shouldn’t new ideas be straining to get out? Shouldn’t I feel the need to leap from my bed and get those ideas down on canvas while they are still fresh in my mind? As it turns out, this is not how I work. If I leapt from bed to paint, those ideas would probably be gone faster than a bar of Lindt chocolate left in our fridge.

I find the half-awake, half-asleep hours the best for painting ideas. I can think of a specific animal, lets say a giraffe, and a color scheme, lets say pink, then I see how they could come together. Its difficult to actually describe how this works because I’m only half-awake, but quite frequently I have one of those aha moments (actually more like a…h…a… because I’m half asleep). Recently I came up with a great idea for my next giraffe painting this way.

I’ll give you a heads-up when the painting is finished, although you may instantly recognize it. Afterall, just how many pink giraffes do you see on a daily basis?

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Ivory by Alison Nicholls

Ivory by Alison Nicholls

Writing about painted images can be as difficult as writing about music. How do you convey one art form in another? As a reviewer I can see that this could be difficult, but as the artist who created the painting, it should be easier. Especially when you start your paintings by writing about them, as I often do. On occasions when an image has not already popped into my head, I start by noting what I want to accomplish with the painting, the mood I am aiming for, maybe even some color ideas, or the conservation message behind the art. For me, words and images are inextricably linked.

Here are some of the notes I wrote before starting Ivory, shown above:
A different view of an elephant. Still needs to show bulk, detail of skin. An interesting composition, with space an important element. Hold your breath as an elephant quietly but impressively saunters by. Limit detail to head and top of trunk. Fade detail towards bottom of trunk. Yellow ochre and blues?

Once the painting is complete, some of those initial notes may still be relevant, but generally the painting will have taken on a life of its own and gone well beyond the (always hand-written) notes. So once again I write about the painting, this time creating a label, to be displayed alongside the art in an exhibit:

Ivory
Original Acrylic on Board,  26×18”
In areas where elephants are relaxed around people & vehicles they will often walk very close. Then you really get to see the size and strength of the animal. It makes me hold my breath for a second. Unfortunately, this relaxed behavior is normally only found when elephants live in protected areas like national parks. In the Maasai Steppe elephants are far more likely to be wary of people due to poaching and incidents of human-wildlife conflict.

*****

So my question to you is, do you want to read about a painting as well as see it?
Does the text enhance or destroy the experience?

Let me know!

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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I’m roaring ahead with plans for extra conservation donations for World Lion Day!
And I’m trumpeting my plans for World Elephant Day on August 12!

So here is my plan..
from August 8 until the end of August 12, if you purchase any painting, field sketch or limited edition reproduction of a Lion (or Lioness) or Elephant, I will donate 40% of the sale price to African Conservation organizations.

The donation will go to either the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW) in Tanzania or the Painted Dog Research Trust in Zimbabwe, depending on the artwork and where my inspiration for the piece came from.

Just to give you some ideas, here are a few pieces you might like…

Young Male Lion, original field sketch 11x14"

Young Male Lion, Original and limited edition available

 

From the Rocks by Alison Nicholls

From the Rocks. Original and limited edition available.

Hide of an Elephant. by Alison Nicholls

Hide of an Elephant. Original and limited edition available.

Remember, 40% will be donated to African Conservation!

You can use these links to see Original Paintings, Field Sketches, and Limited Edition Reproductions.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Trunk calls accepted!

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Milking Time Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls © 2014

Milking Time Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls © 2014

Milking Time was the 2nd of 3 sketches, created in just a few minutes while the Maasai women milked the cows in the morning. I asked them not to pose but just to go about their usual milking routine, so my time was limited for each sketch. I confess I had no idea that they could milk a cow so quickly, but lack of time is a great motivator and the sketches really did flow from my pencil.

Before I began sketching I did attempt to milk one of the cows myself. As I expected, it shied away from me. After all, I do look & sound completely different to the Maasai people it knows. But the reaction of that cow did save me from being exposed as being completely incompetent in the milking department. I think I’ll stick to sketching…

Thanks go to the African People & Wildlife Fund in Tanzania for arranging this sketching opportunity for me. I was visiting APW for the 3rd time, learning more about their work with the communities of the Maasai Steppe. I’ve just sent copies of all my sketches back to Tanzania for the people who featured in them. To find out more about my visits to APW and to hear about my conservation-themed artwork, join me as I speak at The Explorers Club in New York City on September 29. Reservations are required.

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Sleeping Elephant by Cross Culture Images © 2014

Sleeping Elephant by Cross Culture Images © 2014

I grew up in a military family so I’m used to change and regular moves between countries and continents. Some people hate the idea of this, but it’s perfectly normal if that is the way you grew up, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. So I guess it wasn’t a big surprise to my family when I announced that my husband Nigel and I were leaving the UK to move to Africa. It also wasn’t a surprise to us when my parents planned to visit us there. Several times in fact! So far we have traveled together in Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia, creating some more interesting and often amusing travel memories to add to the family album.

Are you wondering why there is a photo of a sleeping elephant above and an injured zebra below? Read on…

Injured Zebra by Cross Culture Images © 2014

Injured Zebra by Cross Culture Images © 2014

When, after about 9 years, Nigel and I decided to leave Africa, I remember someone in the UK commenting that my parents must be happy we were heading back to the ‘developed’ world. I remember saying ‘ no, they actually wish we were staying longer, because there are so many places they still want to see in Africa!’. But not to fear. Our departure from the African continent hasn’t hindered their travels there too much! Since we left they’ve visited 4 times on their own, most recently returning from Zambia (somewhere I’m ashamed to admit I have not yet visited). These are a few photographs from their recent visit. Their photograph titles are shown below the images but I think these images could be called Glad to Rest (snoozing bull elephant), Glad to be Alive (injured zebra) and Glad to be a Giraffe!

Giraffe Dance by Cross Culture Images © 2014

Giraffe Dance by Cross Culture Images © 2014

My parents are Margaret & Rob Cross, who live in the UK.
You can see more of their photographs from around the world (including various African countries, Nepal, France, and the UK) on their website: CrossCulture Images.

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Family Diabetes Day at the Bronx Zoo with The Children's Hospital at Montefiore

Family Diabetes Day at the Bronx Zoo with The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore

I was delighted to join the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore for their Family Diabetes Day at the Bronx Zoo last week.
The weather was not particularly kind, with thunderstorms threatening, so we sketched indoors. Even so, it was great fun and the children had created a large pile of great sketches by the time the morning ended.

Thank you to Dr Rubina Heptulla for the invitation, to Jeniece Trast for all her help and to the friendly families and children who attended. I look forward to meeting more enthusiastic young artists next year!

IMAG0449

Learn more about the great work of The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore.

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Women receiving Micro Grants from APW in Tanzania   photo by African People & Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

Women receiving Micro Grants from APW in Tanzania (photo by African People & Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata)

I live in Westchester County, near New York City. It is classic commuter belt territory, where there are many families with children. So when I meet someone new, the question “do you have children?” often comes up. When I answer “no, just a dog” the conversation usually comes to an end. People are too polite to ask why I have no children, perhaps thinking it wasn’t possible for me to have any, so I often say “I chose not to have children”, just so they don’t feel uncomfortable.

In rural Tanzania (and most rural parts of Africa) a related but slightly different question comes up: “how many children do you have?”. My answer is also slightly different. I just say “none” and smile broadly because I know that the next question will be “why not?”, accompanied by a horrified expression. When I say I chose not to have children I get exactly the same response again, “why not”, still accompanied by a horrified expression. Then I have to explain how different my life is and, frequently, the women I am speaking to will offer to give me a child. I’m never quite sure how serious they are but I’ve noticed that they always offer me a young girl, never a boy, because boys are considered more valuable (that is whole other blog post in its own right). We all laugh but I know that they now have serious questions about my sanity!

Anna Flam, an intern at the African People & Wildlife Fund was with me during one of these conversations, and she has written a great post for APW about this issue and about an inspirational Maasai woman, Joyce, APW’s Conservation Enterprise Development Officer. You can read the full post here and see why I describe Joyce as inspirational:

Noloholo Environmental Micro Grants – Empowering Women for Big Cat Conservation

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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I know a magical place…

Where the dry thirstland of the Kalahari Desert…

Okavango Delta photo by Alison Nicholls

photo by Alison Nicholls

Meets the spreading waters of the Okavango River…

Here lies the Okavango Delta – the World’s 1000th World Heritage Site!

photo by Nigel Nicholls

photo by Nigel Nicholls

There are 1000 reasons to visit…

Here are a few of mine…

Okavango Delta, Botswana, photo by Nigel Nicholls

Walking among the wildlife. Photo by Nigel Nicholls

Okavango Delta, Botswana, photo by Nigel Nicholls

A birder’s paradise! Photo by Nigel Nicholls

Okavango Delta, Botswana,photo by Nigel Nicholls

Amazing sunsets. Photo by Nigel Nicholls

Okavango Delta, Botswana,photo by Nigel Nicholls

Floating flowers… Photo by Nigel Nicholls

Okavango Delta, Botswana,photo by Nigel Nicholls

Mokoro trips. Photo by Nigel Nicholls

Okavango Delta, Botswana,photo by Nigel Nicholls

Did I say amazing sunsets?! Photo by Nigel Nicholls

Okavango Delta, Botswana, photo by Nigel Nicholls

Herds in the dust. Photo by Nigel Nicholls

Alison Nicholls sketching in Botswana.  Photo by Nigel Nicholls

Great sketching! Photo by Nigel Nicholls

You can find the full article about the listing of the Okavango Delta on the IUCN website here:

But don’t just visit the website, visit the Okavango!

See my African Field Sketches, including some from the Okavango Delta.

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Alison Nicholls sketching in Tanzania

Alison Nicholls sketching in Tanzania. Photo: African People & Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

The Africa Geographic website is host to numerous fascinating blogs featuring photographs, articles, travel news, opinions and wildlife sightings from all over Africa. But there were no blogs associated with art, so I approached them with the idea of a new blog series called Art of Africa. I’ll be posting regularly to Art of Africa but don’t worry, I will continue to post unique content here as well.

Why don’t you check out my 1st Art of Africa post and leave me a comment – it will be much appreciated!

Art of Africa – Sketching Among the Maasai.

Take care and have a wonderful weekend!

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Mother's Milk Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls © 2014

Mother’s Milk Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls © 2014

This sketch captures everything I enjoy about field sketching. People. Animals. Color and pattern. Speed. Simplicity.

You might be thinking that it doesn’t look all that simple, as it contains a woman, her child, a cow and a calf, plus the brightly colored, patterned shuka. But in reality, the sketch was very simple. The heads of the woman and her child are just simple shapes and I didn’t include the pattern on the shuka, just lines to show the main folds. The cow required more detail, just to get the perspective right and perhaps most importantly, to show that the woman’s head is leaning against the cow’s flank, highlighting the connection between them. Although the shuka covers the calabash the milk is being collected in, you can still tell what is happening here. I did many pencil sketches in quick succession on this morning, then added watercolor later that day (I don’t use photos or video to do this and I always finish my field sketches in the field, so that I can honestly say they were completed on site).

I am, as ever, grateful to the friendly people of Loibor Siret in Tanzania who allowed me the wonderful opportunity to sketch in their home. I am packing up copies of all the sketches I did that day to send to them. I am also grateful for the opportunity to stay with the African People & Wildlife Fund who are doing great work with communities on the Maasai Steppe of northern Tanzania.

Learn more about the valuable work of the African People & Wildlife Fund on the Maasai Steppe in Tanzania.

See more of my African Field Sketches.

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Alison Nicholls being dressed in shukas.

Alison Nicholls at Loibor Siret School in Tanzania            photos by African People & Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

Shukas are the pieces of cloth, often patterned and brightly colored, which are worn by the Maasai of East Africa.
So why am I being dressed in shukas in this photo? Because I was asked to be Guest of Honor at the Loibor Siret Primary School for their end of school prize-giving ceremony!

I was visiting Tanzania to stay with the African People & Wildlife Fund, who are based close to Tarangire National Park. I have visited 3 times now, sketching on site and learning about their work helping communities manage their natural resources for the mutual benefit of people & wildlife. During my visits I have taught a number of drawing classes at the school but on this trip I had also arranged to stencil some of the classrooms, paint one of the end walls of the school, and hang the village of Loibor Siret’s first artwork exhibition (more posts about all this will be coming soon). It was an unexpected and very pleasant surprise to be asked to be guest of honor at the school closing a couple of days later. I knew I would be asked to give a short speech so I wrote it in English and asked Everest, who works at APW, to translate it into KiSwahili for me (the language that everyone learns at school in Tanzania). I think there was a little doubt that I would be able to read the speech in KiSwahili, but it is written phonetically so after a couple of practices I was fairly understandable! In the speech I congratulated the students who were to receive prizes, but reminded all the others that they should work hard because they too have the gift of education, a gift which can help them, their families, their community and their country.

Alison Nicholls at Loibor Siret Primary School, Tanzania

Alison Nicholls at Loibor Siret School, Tanzania          photos by African People & Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

After the speech was the prize-giving, where children received gifts of books, pencils and protractor sets. I also gave 2 prizes of laminated copies of my paintings, for the best girl and boy in the art class the previous day. Then it was announced that there was a gift for me and I was dressed in my 4 shukas by 2 of the girls.
I’m so pleased to have a real Maasai outfit. Now I just need to start collecting the jewelry!

Learn more about the valuable work of the African People & Wildlife Fund on the Maasai Steppe in Tanzania.

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Shimmer and Shukas Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls

Shimmer and Shukas Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls

Shimmer & Shukas was painted during a day-long Maasai ceremony in Loibor Siret, northern Tanzania. The women were dazzling in their vibrant shukas, covered with beaded necklaces, headbands, earrings, arm & ankle bracelets. As usual, I started my sketch with a very light pencil drawing and then, a couple of hours later, while the ceremony continued around me, I added the watercolor.

The ceremony itself was for a group of moran (warriors), who were embarking on the long process of becoming elders. The men had just finished drinking calabashes of milk and a slight halt was called in the proceedings while the cows headed out to pasture. I had asked permission to sketch and saw this group of women nearby, so I began. Their beaded jewelry is mostly white, with areas of blue & yellow, while small metal disks on thin chains hang from almost every piece – hence the “shimmer” in the title of the sketch. Painting white beads and shiny metal disks on white paper can be a challenge, so I didn’t paint them, instead I painted around them, using the colors of the dark skin and bright shukas to define the jewelry.

So why was I sketching in a Maasai engang (homestead) in Tanzania? Because I was revisiting the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW), an organization I have been supporting for several years now. APW has created numerous positive benefits for communities on the Maasai Steppe. Local children have the opportunity to attend an environmental summercamp and receive a scholarship for high school education. Human-wildlife conflict has been reduced by the innovative Living Walls program. Women’s groups can apply for grants to start a small business. The community has asked APW for, and received, data and environmental education, allowing them to make good long-term decisions about their land and water use. APW’s impact has been possible due to the creation of a permanent base in the area and their close links with local communities, who provide the vast majority of their staff.

Perhaps the most wonderful thing for me, was to be remembered by some of these friendly and welcoming people from my previous visits. They encouraged me to sketch and were always interested in seeing my work. I will be sending copies of my sketches back to APW so they can be given to all the people who were in them. Next week I’ll show you video of my work at the Loibor Siret school, but in the meantime I’d like to thank Dr Laly Lichtenfeld and Charles Trout for inviting me to return to Noloholo, and all the APW staff, particularly Joyce Ndakaru, for their help and support. Asanteni sana!

Learn more about the valuable work of the African People & Wildlife Fund on the Maasai Steppe in Tanzania.

See more of my African Field Sketches.

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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What did I do in Tanzania?  photo by African People & Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

What did I do in Tanzania? photo by African People & Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

Any guesses?
Yes, stencils were involved (hence the use of the question mark in this photo).

I just returned home from 10 more inspirational days with the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW), part of which was spent helping students from Loibor Siret Primary School stencil 2 of their classroom walls with letters, numbers and local animals. Here are a few photos showing the progress.

Painting in Tanzania  - photo by African People  Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

Mixing the Undercoat Paint – photo by African People Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

Painting in Tanzania - photo by African People  Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

Taping the Edge of the Windows – photo by African People Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

Painting in Tanzania - photo by African People  Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

Painting the Undercoat – photo by African People Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

Drawing Class -  photo by African People  Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

A Drawing Class in one of the Stenciled Classrooms – photo by African People Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

Drawing Class -  photo by African People  Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

Me Pulling a Face. But Look How Good the Wall Behind Me Is! – Photo by African People Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata

It was wonderful to be back, to see familiar faces at APW, among the children, the teachers and in the village. We also painted one of the end walls of the school (visible to everyone who passes through Loibor Siret), held a Village Exhibit and I was thrilled to be asked to be the Guest of Honor at the closing of school. More photos, sketches & video about all of these events will be coming in the next few posts.

I arrived home exhausted after flying via Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam, Amsterdam, Boston & JFK (my bag deserted me between Boston & JFK but caught up with me the following day). And in the shower I finally managed to remove the last of the blue paint from under my fingernails. I was almost sorry to see it go. Almost!

Learn more about the valuable work of the African People & Wildlife Fund on the Maasai Steppe in Tanzania.

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Moonrise by Alison Nicholls © 2014

Moonrise (African wild dogs) by Alison Nicholls © 2014

Here is my latest piece of art depicting Painted Dogs or African wild dogs. To me it seems perfectly natural to use pinks, purples and blues to paint these fascinating and most social of predators. Why? Because these colors evoke evening, dusk and on this occasion, even moonlight.

Moonrise was painted using only 2 colors, manganese blue and quinacridone magenta. Both are beautiful in their own right but when layered one on top of the other, as I’ve done here, they also create wonderful atmospheric purples. I could probably paint for months on end using just these 2 colors, but variety is the spice of life so I’ll probably pick something different next time. When did I last paint dogs in green, I wonder..?

Moonrise is priced at US$560 and 30% of the sale price will be donated to the Painted Dog Research Trust in Zimbabwe. It is also available as a limited edition giclée, 11×14″ on watercolor paper, priced at $120, with a 20% donation to PDRT. Please contact me for details.

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Kalahari Honey Badgers Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls ©2012

Kalahari Honey Badgers Field Sketch by Alison Nicholls

Honey Badgers have a bit of a reputation. A well-deserved reputation. For being indestructible & fearless. They will take on anything. They eat puff adders!. Need I say more?

One memorable night in Chobe National Park in Botswana we found our campsite surrounded by about a thousand buffalo heading down to the floodplain to drink and graze. The buffalo were passing either side of us as we sat at our campfire and the billowing dust, strong bovine smell and sound of thousands of passing hooves was astounding. In the midst of it all we saw a pair of incredibly long claws under one of the trucks and spotted a honey badger, attempting to chew our tires. Without thinking about the aforementioned reputation of the honey badger, I stood up and shouted at it. Amazingly enough it retreated to take its chances among the buffalo (they probably didn’t thank us for that!). Soon after that we were forced to retreat into our vehicles as the sheer volume of buffalo increased, lost calves ran around bleating and grumpy old bulls stalked through the brush. It was an amazing evening.

But back to the honey badger. If you want to see what kind of character a honey badger can be, watch this video from the BBC about Stoffel, a honey badger reared at the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in South Africa.

Enjoy!

Until next time…
Alison

Art Inspired by Africa and Conservation
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Nicholls Wildlife Art