Guest Artist: Alison Nicholls

Alison Nicholls sketching in Botswana
Alison Nicholls sketching in Botswana

Susan here: I have a very special guest artist today, my friend and colleague Alison Nicholls. She is has found her passion and inspiration in Africa, but not in Kenya, where so many artists justifiably go, but Botswana, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. One of her favorite subjects has been the endangered African wild dog. She is a Signature Member of both the Society of Animal Artists and Artists for Conservation.

Hello! I’d like to thank Susan for including my work in her great blog and I’d like to share my inspiration and art with you.

Africa inspires my art in ways unmatched by any other place and sketching in the bush is a vital part of my work:  like a life-drawing class but with unpredictable subjects who never hold a pose and often walk away at the critical moment! Infuriating as this may be, it also makes field sketching a great learning experience and a real test of artistic skills. I lived in Africa for a number of years and return annually to lead Art Safaris and sketch in the bush. Over the years I have reduced my sketching supplies to the bare minimum and now I can fit everything I need, except my sketchbook, in a large pencil case. This includes pencils, pens and a field watercolor kit – my essential supplies.

Serengeti  Cheetahs Field Sketch, 11x14” by Alison Nicholls
Serengeti Cheetahs Field Sketch, 11×14” by Alison Nicholls

When I return home my sketchbooks give rise to many of my studio painting ideas, which are ‘designed’ in my mind’s eye, usually while I’m out walking my dog. I prefer to eliminate all unnecessary detail in my studio paintings, using space to allow room for the viewer’s imagination and interpretation. Animals spend most of their day feeding and resting and that is how I like to paint them, behaving naturally, undisturbed and unaware of the viewer. I enhance the tranquil atmosphere of my work by using a limited palette of colors, reflecting the relaxed nature of the animals. Color is also immediately evident in my art but I use it to convey a mood or a time of day, not to mimic the colors of nature. The reds and oranges in Sun Spots create effect of intense midday heat and I often use cooler blues and purples for dusky evening scenes.

Sun Spots (Cheetahs), acrylic 29x29” by Alison Nicholls
Sun Spots (Cheetahs), acrylic 29×29” by Alison Nicholls

I work closely with several African conservation projects, visiting the projects to learn about their work then, on my return home, creating a traveling exhibition and lecture series to raise funds for the project and awareness of their work. My 1st Conservation Sketching Expedition was the result of a Fellowship Grant from Artists For Conservation and I visited the Painted Dog Conservation project in Zimbabwe, where I spent time tracking and sketching highly endangered African Wild Dogs. I recently completed my 2nd Conservation Sketching Expedition, visiting the African People & Wildlife Fund in Tanzania who work with rural communities to help them manage natural resources for the mutual benefit of people & wildlife. Artwork resulting from these visits will be on display in Rye, New York in July & August 2013 in an exhibition titled Lions, Livestock & Living Walls. My time at APW gave me wonderful opportunities to meet the people of the Maasai Steppe and resulted in my first sketches and paintings of people and livestock. The conservation of Africa’s wildlife and wild places will depend on decisions taken by the people of Africa, so I feel it is fitting that I have now begun to incorporate them into my work.

Trotting (African wild dogs), acrylic 12x16” by Alison Nicholls
Trotting (African wild dogs), acrylic 12×16” by Alison Nicholls

Africa provides me with endless sketching and painting opportunities. My work is inspired not only by the colors and images of Africa, but by sandy roads traveled in a hot vehicle, by the abrupt shriek of a francolin, by long hot hours sketching elephants, the haunting cry of a black-backed jackal and the smoke of the campfire. These are some of the sounds, sights and experiences which inspire me to pick up my pencil and brush.

To see more of my work and receive my monthly newsletters please visit my website –
Thank you!

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