Alison Nicholls – An Artist Inspired by Africa

Botswana and Zimbabwe were my home for a number of years and although I have traveled extensively throughout my life, Africa inspires my art in ways unmatched by any other place.

Plein Air painting (painting outdoors from life) requires confidence and speed, but has taught me incredible lessons. I usually work in pencil or pen first, then add watercolor. I don’t have an easel or a chair because I usually stand when sketching people, or need to be in a vehicle when sketching wildlife. Decisions about light and composition must be made quickly, as the person or animal I am sketching may move away at any time. In addition to being great fun, plein air painting allows me to meet fascinating people, has given me a great understanding of wildlife anatomy and behavior, and is the best way I know to improve my artistic skills.


My studio paintings consist of multiple layers of transparent color which I use to both obscure and reveal the subject of each piece. Building up the layers allows me to create effects of light, dust and heat, but I use color to convey a mood or a time of day, not to mimic the colors of nature. I eliminate unnecessary detail from my compositions and often use a limited palette of colors to create a tranquil atmosphere, in which people and animals go about their daily lives, undisturbed and unaware of the viewer. Areas of ‘quiet space’ have become prominent in my work, although this was not a conscious decision, but developed gradually as I spent time under the huge skies of the Kalahari and Namib Deserts. These quiet spaces balance the areas of detail in my paintings and leave room for interpretation and imagination.

© Alison Nicholls The Artist Studio Painting

My Conservation Sketching Expeditions to Zimbabwe (Painting the Painted Dogs) and Tanzania (Drawing upon Community) have allowed me to visit African conservation organizations, sketch on site and learn in detail about conservation issues. I use the resulting sketches and paintings to raise awareness and funds for the organizations’ field work. These visits also inspired the creation of a growing body of conservation and environmental-themed paintings based on issues I have encountered in the field. It can be a real challenge to depict complex issues like human-wildlife conflict in a painting, but it has given my art layers of meaning, as well as layers of color. I support African conservation organizations by making a donation from the sale of every original painting, original field sketch and limited edition reproduction.


I am a Signature member of Artists For Conservation and the Society of Animal Artists, a member of The Explorers Club and an artist member of the Salmagundi Club. My art has been widely exhibited, including at the Botswana Mission to the United Nations in Manhattan, and the US Department of State used my art to promote the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking initiative. I lead Art Safaris in South Africa for Africa Geographic and frequently lecture about art, Africa, wildlife and conservation. I have lectured at the Explorers Club, in schools, for private organizations and for volunteers at the Bronx and Central Park Zoos. In 2019 I was honored to be asked to join African People & Wildlife’s International Advisory Council. I am English by birth but live in Port Chester, New York with my husband, Nigel.


Image details, from top, left to right:
Sketching in Botswana; Zebra Drinking field sketch; Sketching among the Maasai photo © African People & Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata; studio materials; early stages of a zebra painting; working in my studio; at Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe; sketching among the Maasai © African People & Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata; with Joyce and Everest of the African People & Wildlife Fund; © African People & Wildlife Fund/Deirdre Leowinata; leading a seminar at The Explorers Club; Wildlife Art Magazine feature; receiving an award at the Artists For Conservation annual exhibition.