Zebra in Etosha National Park, Coloured Pencil and Pastels

I love to get out in the wild and experience animals the way they should be. Etosha National Park in Namibia, like quite a few other parks, will give you that experience. However, it will also lay animals on a plate for you so if you are a lazy watcher, you can be guaranteed of good viewing without having to hunt all day for good opportunities. How do they do this? Well, there isn’t much water in Etosha, that’s why there are no hippos or buffalo, so if you dig deep enough to sink a bore and create an artificial waterhole, you will have animals coming from miles around. Then, the next step is to plonk a tourist trap like a very plush resort right next to that waterhole, build a fence round the water with viewing platforms and seats. Now not only will the animals line up but you will almost have to too, simply because every man and his dog is there for the experience.

I’m being a bit flippant here since I like to work for my experiences but in truth, Okaukuejo gave me some incredible shots. Zebra would literally wade into the water with no fear of being attacked by crocodiles (since they don’t live in Etosha either) and line up to drink like the ones in the photo below.

What else? I sat there and watched giraffe, elephant, rhino, kudu, jackals, springbok, oryx and quite an assortment of birds all use the waterhole. I even heard lion at night. I knew I had to paint something from here. The following piece is a zebra drinking in the still morning air, creating a clear reflection and an air of tranquility. I’ve used a combination of coloured pencils and pastels on Art Spectum’s Terra Cotta coloured Colourfix, which is a sanded paper. I deliberately chose this colour as I could then let it show through to help the ground and the dusty zebras coat with that colour. The previous day was windy (as the ripples in the above photo attest to) and zebra can pick up a light dusting of this colour on their coats.

Here’s a closeup of the zebra

I’ve used such an unusual composition as it’s a commission for great friends of mine. They have a spot for it which is long and thin. The actual art size is 26″ x 9″

The Himba of Namibia in Scratchboard

As a wildlife artist, one of my goals was to get to Etosha National Park in Namibia. It’s one of the most amazing places in the world and I managed to visit it last year. I broke my record for seeing the most number of elephants in one line of vision ever, thirty-three. I also saw a giraffe with a huge lion claw mark on its rump where it had escaped the clutches of a lion.

Of course I also saw just about every other animal under the sun too (excluding buffalo, hippo and crocs as the climate and subsequent lack of water doesn’t allow for them).

The town of Etosha is close by and there’s a group of Himba women who hang around trying to make money from tourists by getting them to take their pictures. Of course, they are all so amazing looking that you can’t help but pay up and click away. I negotiated hard with the girl who seemed to be designated to handle the financial transactions. She was about 16 years old and quite the negotiator. I thought I did well but when I handed over the small amount of money (in western terms) she insisted I took a photo of her holding the money up. I think they were quite pleased with the amount, and this was confirmed when another one took my hand and wouldn’t stop kissing it. Of course, I made good use and snapped away for quite a while getting a very good selection of photographs. And I’ll bet not many South Australians can say that their hands have been kissed by Himba maidens!!

So what’s so special about the Himba? Well, they never bathe. They cover their bodies with a mixture of fat, red ochre mud and the resin of the Omuzumba shrub , and they also pack this mud on and in their hair. The resulting red colour symbolises their connection with the earth and also blood of new life. The added benefit is that they are more protected from a very hot sun.

The women don’t wear clothing from the waist up (neither do them men) and this coupled with the red colour makes them quite a sight and an obvious target for an artist. This is a scratchboard I did of one of them, coloured with inks, coloured pencils and oil paints.

A traveller’s art diary

The great thing about travelling regularly is you expose yourself to different cultures and experiences, and you learn a lot. Of course, if you’re an animal nut like I am, you can actively seek out what you are looking for.

I was thinking the other day about the last couple of major trips overseas that I’ve had and how much art I’ve produced as a direct result of them. The following pictures are just a few from my own references in Egypt, Malawi, Namibia and Zambia.

Here’s a waitress from Zambia

Lions I managed to interact and play with

I called the next one “I wish I was a leopard”. Lions are good climbers but are terrible descenders. They get into all sorts of trouble when they come down out of the tree and look very little like a leopard, which would be totally at home in a tree. They make a lot of noise and seem to have little in the way of coordination, until they are back on the ground and then they look like they totally belong again. This is a young lion which still has remnants of the juvenile spots of that species, which make it look like a wannabe leopard even more.

Here are some kids from South Africa and Namibia

“Hope for Africa”

“The leader of the dance”

“Too cool for school”



“Cool kid from Langa”

“Old men of Springbok”

These beautiful birds, red-billed hornbills, are camp pests in Etosha National Park. They are welcome to be pests wherever I go as they are delightful

Here are a couple of people and a homeless cat from Egypt

Hmm, this guy looked very dubious, and I’m afraid he was too. He was a camel herder but I think he would have herded all our money if we gave him chance

Here’s a lovely lady from Malawi

Although I’ve seen a lot of tigers in zoos, I’ve never seen them in the wild. The following two scratchboards came from meeting someone (whilst I was travelling last year) who had some great tiger reference material on his camera which he shared with me. That’s another serendipity of travelling, you get to meet people who have done things you haven’t done and you can benefit and learn from them.

And while we are at it, I’m not one of those people who see more of the world than their own backyard. In fact, I refuse to be one of those people. Very few Australians have been to all their own states and territories but I have, most of them multiple times. It’s a fascinating continent and one which I love exploring. It’s been responsible for some of my all-time favourite experiences. As such, I always keep my eye open for people, animals and birds to paint or draw. Here are a recent couple.

Something else went through my head the other day too. I counted up all the countries I’d been to and it came to 53, more than quarter of the world’s countries. They range from places like the United Kingdom many many times as my family lives there, to way out spots like Mongolia and Burma, Iceland and Bulgaria, Belarus and Leichtenstein. The map below is what my world travels look like at the moment. Of course, it always looks better than it actually is. I’ve explored some countries quite well (six months in Canada, five months in New Zealand, three months in the U.S. and other decent efforts), but the map fills in a lot of red in Mexico considering I nipped over to Tijuana for an afternoon, and I also went from London to Hong Kong by train once, which meant I went through a lot of Russia, but I branched off to to Mongolia about halfway along the country yet to look at the map, you’d be excused for thinking I went all the way to Vladivostok. And because I’ve been to the U.S., the map fills in Alaska. I wish!! Maybe one day. My list of countries also includes both West and East Germany as the first time I went there, that’s what they were. Now of course, it’s only one country.

So why don’t we all set some goals to travel more, either locally or overseas, and to share those travels with our friends and hopefully inspire each other. And if you are so inclined, record your travels in a visual journal.