Safari company & publisher
Africa Geographic
Wildlife . People . Travel
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©Jacques Matthyssen
© Jacques Matthyssen

Art safaris offer a unique bush experience by combining a traditional African safari with a highly observant sketching holiday. Guests learn new drawing skills and create a very personal and valuable collection of memories in their sketchbooks.

Africa Geographic Travel’s art safaris follow the typical safari schedule with a game drive each morning and again in the afternoon or evening. We have a maximum of five sketching guests per vehicle, which allows the artists to position themselves strategically during drives.

©Alison Nicholls
© Alison Nicholls

We don’t rush from sighting to sighting, but spend time with each species. We even stop to sketch impala! Guests get a unique chance to see the African bush from a very different perspective, while enjoying the company of like-minded travellers of different nationalities. We even welcome any non-sketching partners.

We enjoy exploring different habitats and this year’s destination was Kariega Game Reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, which is a mere 1.5 hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth. Kariega is a beautiful reserve with a variety of landscapes including thick brush and open plains.

It is teeming with game, most of which are fairly tame and used to vehicles, making this an excellent venue to sketch wildlife. Their elephant breeding herd is known as one of the most placid units in Africa, which allows for some incredible up close and personal encounters with these majestic creatures. The reserve is also home to Thandi, the famous white rhino that survived a horrendous attack by poachers, as well as some of the most regal lions in South Africa.

©Jacques Matthysen
© Jacques Matthysen

Our home for four nights was The Homestead – a lovely private lodge that had been reserved in its entirety for the Africa Geographic Art Safari, allowing us to set our own schedule for game drives and meals.

©Kariega Private Game Reserve
© Kariega Private Game Reserve

Before we began the safari I gave a demonstration of how to start a sketch – looking at each animal as a series of simple shapes, and avoiding detail like eyes, ears and horns, in order to get as much done as possible before the animal changes position. The first time putting pencil to paper on safari is strange for many people because they look at an animal and think: “How on earth am I going to sketch this?” But once you have made the decision to start, every sketch gets a little easier and your confidence grows.

Our first elephant couldn’t have been a better subject – a huge bull, calmly standing out in the open, with the setting sun glinting on his forehead and the perfect half-circle of his tusks. As the shadows lengthened, he made his way slowly towards us, which meant that we were able to sketch him from different angles.

©Alison Nicholls
© Alison Nicholls

Moving on a little, we soon found ourselves completely surrounded by a breeding herd of elephants, which were equally calm as they made their way past us. In the near darkness we set off up the steep tracks back to The Homestead, where we were met with warm towels and drinks – a perfect start to the 2015 Africa Geographic Art Safari.

©Alison Nicholls
© Alison Nicholls

Our trip unfortunately coincided with a forecast for bad weather, so the next morning we had coffee and muffins then spent most of the day out on game drives, returning to the lodge for meals. The entire Homestead staff were very accommodating with our unusual schedule, and we were very glad to be able to make the most of the day before the rain arrived.

©Jacques Matthysen
© Jacques Matthysen

We were incredibly lucky to spot a black rhino bull, and spent a wonderful few minutes following him as he made his way along a hillside. We also found lions that were taking advantage of the cloudy weather to continue hunting late into the morning. A female warthog with several piglets trotted straight into the lions’ path, and a young lioness set off after one of the piglets and disappeared into the thick bush. Moments later we heard feet pounding on the track and a piglet tore past, still followed by the lioness.

©Brendon Jennings
© Brendon Jennings

She caught the piglet in the bushes and we heard the sounds of the lions feeding until the male arrived to claim the small meal. Soon they all reappeared, lying out in the open and giving us some great sketching opportunities. Seeing and sketching behaviour like this burns those images into your memory and means they come flooding back every time you look at your sketches.

©Alison Nicholls
© Alison Nicholls

On the other side of the reserve we saw Thandi, the famous white rhino survivor of Kariega. We heard about her recovery from the enormous facial wounds that she received during a brutal attack by poachers. Amazingly, she is doing very well and now has a calf, which was great to see. Although the light was dull, we had managed to sketch eland, wildebeest and nyala by the time we returned to The Homestead. A young male lion made his presence known by roaring as we ate dinner in the boma, which was a lovely accompaniment to the wonderful food and conversation.

The following day we ran out of luck, and the torrential rain, thunder and lightning caught up with us. However, we had plenty of sketches to work on so we had a day of workshops, while sitting next to a roaring fire.

indoor-sketching-art-safari
© Alison Nicholls

The workshops included how to add watercolour to a pencil sketch, how to use colour to suggest mood or time of day, how to take a field sketch and use it to create a larger studio painting, and the different ways you can organise your sketchbook (as a daily record or by grouping sketches of the same species together). Guests worked at their own pace and on their own sketches, and we stopped frequently for hot chocolate (with Amarula) and more wonderful food.

©Jacques Matthysen
© Jacques Matthysen

On our final morning we were treated to a beautiful sunrise and light poured over the plains, picking out a herd of zebra. It was chilly but beautiful and the animals seemed visibly relieved that the rain was gone. A dagga boy (old male buffalo) grazed and we managed a few last sketches before we stopped for tea and packed breakfasts beside a river, which had been a small stream prior to the rain. It was a lovely way to finish another great art safari!

The 2016 art safari will run in the legendary Klaserie Game Reserve next door to Kruger National Park in South Africa. Participants will spend four nights in what is arguably the most animal-rich reserve in the subregion. Participants will be based at the charmingly rustic Africa on Foot camp for a total of five nights. Once again we have booked out the entire camp exclusively for Africa Geographic Travel guests, so that you can while away your days sketching in the field and at the waterhole, soaking up Kruger’s wildlife opportunities and Alison Nicholls’ trademark tuition.

No matter what your skill level may be, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned artist, Nicholls will endeavour to grow your skills and style in a relaxed environment whilst demonstrating how to sketch animals quickly, accurately and effectively.

Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to learn and improve your creative skills while enjoying the camaraderie of other wildlife lovers and the pleasure of being in the bush. Email us to book your spot!

T. Cloutier, a guest from the USA weighs in on our last art safari, “My husband and I had no idea what to expect on Africa Geographic Travel’s art safari but thought it would be a great opportunity to combine a trip to Africa with a chance to indulge in my love of art. Africa Geographic Travel took care of the details and were very responsive to any questions we had prior to arriving and once we returned home. We were impressed with the lodging and the staff, and were overwhelmed by the amount of food they prepared for us – all very delicious, by the way!  Our guide, Matt, had a great sense of humour, was knowledgeable, and truly seemed to enjoy what he does. As for the leading artist, Alison was wonderful! She had a great sense of humour, demonstrated lots of patience as she helped me work through my artistic endeavours, and had a wealth of stories and knowledge. We couldn’t have asked for a better hostess! The art lessons were fun and informal, and offered all of us a chance for personal attention and development.  I learned new techniques (not the least of which was learning how to sketch animals on the move!), and although I did not create the masterpieces I envisioned, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and would do it again!”
©Brendon Jennings
© Brendon Jennings
Ndumu River Lodge
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Alison Nicholls is an artist Inspired by Africa. She teaches guests to sketch wildlife during Africa Geographic Art Safaris and is a member of Artists For Conservation, the Society of Animal Artists and the Explorers Club. Alison donates a percentage to African conservation organisations from the sale of every painting, field sketch and limited edition reproduction.