Alison Nicholls

New York, USA

An Artist Inspired by Africa

Alison paints and sketches the people & wildlife of Africa, leads Art Safaris, and donates to African conservation from every sale of her art.

Alison Nicholls Artist inspired by Africa.

My Conservation Sketching Expeditions allow 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. 


Alison Nicholls

At what age did you know you wanted to be an artist?

Moving to Zimbabwe in my late-20s started my artistic career. Suddenly I was living in a culture and landscape I’d never experienced before, and it was thrilling. 18 months later I moved to neighboring Botswana, and here my style slowly began to evolve. 

Which classical or contemporary artists have inspired you?
At the time I lived in southern Africa, the internet was in its infancy and I barely used a computer at home, so I didn’t have access to online images of art. Although I was living in the capital city of Botswana, Gaborone, it was a quiet town and there was very little art available. Thinking back, I believe the simplicity of the rock art found in parts of southern Africa inspired me, as did the colorful crafts found in the region.
How would you describe your artistic style?

My art is inspired by Africa. 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 and leave room for interpretation and imagination.

When did you first sell an artwork? How did you feel?

The 1st sale I really remember was when I was a teenager and I drew a portrait of a dog, in colored pencil, for some friends of my parents. They brought their dog to the house and I drew him, although he spent most of the time with his head under the couch! They (and I, to be honest) were amazed that I managed to draw anything given the circumstances. Perhaps this was a fitting memory – my 1st sale sketching from life!

What's your workstyle? Do you work on one piece at a time or work simultaneously on multiple pieces?

I only work on 1 piece at a time. The initial design and composition of the painting take time and planning, work which I do in pencil on paper. When I have the composition, I transfer an outline to my canvas (using tracing paper) then begin painting – using multiple washes of color before adding details at the end.




How do you get the inspiration for a new piece?

I visit Africa for at least a month each year and create pencil and watercolor field sketches of wildlife, from life, in national parks and game reserves. I have learnt to sketch very fast and love the fact that I never know what will be in my sketchbook at the end of each day. My sketches give me the inspiration for my studio work, although I never reproduce a field sketch as a studio painting. Instead, I might use the turn of a zebra’s head or the twist of an elephant’s trunk, from a field sketch, as the starting point for a studio painting. From there it’s all about memory and imagination, as I only refer to photos in the final stages of a painting if I need to.

Tell us a bit about your personal life ...

I live 25 miles north of New York City, with my husband, Nigel, and German Shepherd dog, Chase.

A few pieces from Alison Nicholls’s gallery

Preoccupied Pair

Sun Spot Cheetahs


Why they love Alison Nicholls’s paintings …


Libby Steckler, Greenwich, CT

I came home with this painting that throbs with sun, and will keep us warm in our hearts and souls whenever we look at it.”


Tony Gibbs, South Africa

I find your art to show the subtle nuances of a dusty Africa in fading light conditions.  We spend as much time as we can in our South African national parks and private lodges, and your pictures depict what we often see. They make me homesick for the bush.


 More about Alison Nicholls

Shows & Exhibitions

2017 – Society of Animal Artists exhibition, Trailside Gallery, Jackson Hole, WY. 

2017 – Wild & Balanced group show, Gallery 222, Hurleyville Arts Center, Hurleyville, NY. 

2016 – Wildlife Art: Field to Studio, Flinn Gallery, Greenwich, CT.