Success at the Society of Animal Artists show in New Jersey

What a great trip we’ve just had. Two blissful weeks in the United States with a holiday built around attending the Society of Animal Artists annual exhibition in Oradell, New Jersey. I have to admit I was delighted to be even juried into the society as a member a couple of years ago because their standards are extremely high. Then I found I was juried in as a signature member, the highest level you can be juried in at. Surprise number three came when I was accepted to their annual exhibition at my first attempt. Anything else would be the icing on the cake so image my joy when I won an Award of Excellence, the highest award they give at the exhibition. Blown away!!

The rest of the trip was a blast. We hiked in the Appalachians in New York State with great friends and fellow scratchboard artists Lori Dunn and Cathy Sheeter, took photographs of Peregrine Falcons right across from New York City, and then we did the usual touristy things in Manhattan.

This is the medal I will be receiving for my Award of Excellence

With my Meerkat Montage

Lori Dunn, also a recipient of an Award of Excellence, with her wonderful art. There were six scratchboards out of 125 pieces in the exhibition and two of them received Awards of Excellence (eight were awarded) a strike rate we can be proud of.

Cathy Sheeter with her amazing kingfisher clayboard

Tamara Pokorny with her incredible scratchboard of a lionfish. I don’t even know how she does what she does!

Julie Askew with her piece Lifeline 4, Red-Crowned Cranes

Kim Diment won the cover of the exhibition catalogue with her Green Sea Turtle “Adrift in Turquoise”

The long and short of it, SAA President Reneé Bemis being dwarfed by artist Rachelle Siegrist and board member Cynthie Fisher

Our home for a week. The Hiram Blauvelt artist in residence Cathy Sheeter lives here and kindly hosted Gaynor and I. It was such a beautiful place.

Exhibition venue the Hiram Blauvelt Wildlife Art Museum

The Mansion on the same grounds. It is in a state of disrepair and if ever there was a perfect venue for a haunted mansion movie, this is it.

Peregrine Falcon with a bluejay dinner. This was quite a distance away so I am zoomed in as far as I can go

Black Rat Snake

Pupae of a Sphinx Moth

Gaynor and I signing off from an amazing trip.


A few new pieces of art

I mentioned in my last blog that I went to Frankfurt Zoo on the way from West Africa to Adelaide, Australia, where I live. I was hanging out for some wildlife and although you can’t really call zoo animals ‘wildlife’, it was great to see what can be done with a small space in the middle of a huge city when people who care set their minds to it.

Unfortunately my camera display had been broken by a clumsy x-ray operator in Frankfurt airport going from one section to another, so at the zoo I had to simply click away and hope something was happening, since I couldn’t see the results on the screen (or apply any special settings) so it was a nice surprise when I got home and saw some awesome photos to work from. The following two pieces are a ‘variegated spider monkey’ and a ‘bonobo’ and there will be more to come from this visit. I need to get ready for an exhibition at the Adelaide Zoo with another artist, the amazing Kerryn Hocking, so I’ll be doing as many wildlife pieces as I can before tackling some portraits from Benin with the rich cultural history that can be found there.

Variegated Spider Monkey 2013

Bonobo 2013



Home? The plight of the displaced animal

In a future blog I’ll be giving a rundown on my trip to West Africa, especially when I have created some art from it. However, since West Africa isn’t exactly blessed with wildlife, being so full of people, I had to get my animal fix on the way back home at Frankfurt Zoo. Yes, I flew the long way home with a very complicated business class ticket created out of cheap points (just to make you jealous, flying business class all the way from Adelaide to Accra in Ghana (and back) and using the flash lounges in the various airports, cost less than an economy airfare by playing the game of using Star Alliance points and matching up the various airlines in the network. More of that another time).

In the Frankfurt Zoo I saw this orangutan and coupled with West Africa’s lack of wildlife (displaced, destroyed or eaten) and the orangutan’s own Indonesian issues with homeland being decimated to make way for our insatiable urge to produce palm oil, I created this protest piece.


Sometimes you come to a point where you say “enough is enough”. That point came for me when all I saw of wildlife in West Africa were goats and lizards. I guess you can’t eat lizards and they are not going to hurt you, so they stay safe. Snakes and other reptiles are pretty much gone and goats are everywhere, destroying the soil. We did get to a national park but it was the end of the rainy season and the elephant grass was so tall that we didn’t see much. Having said that, it was still a great feeling to be there.

I have one funny story from that park. A river runs through it and with the recent rains, this river was impassable up until the day we tried. When we got to it, the level had dropped but the driver was still unsure of whether he could get through. He asked us to get out and wade across and he would follow in the Jeep. We told him “NO”!! So we drove across in the Jeep – fairly easily.

When we went to leave the park in the afternoon we arrived back at the river, and there, exactly where we were told to walk across – by a professional no less – was this! (You can see our old tyre tracks just beyond it). So there you go – trust your own instincts!


On my way to Ghana, Togo and Benin

Long time no blog. I’ve been putting too many hours in at the office and haven’t blogged for a while so it’s time to remedy that. I’m writing this from the Singapore Airlines business class lounge – very swish – in Bangkok airport. I have a new trip planned to gather reference material for my art and, as I simply have to every now and then, I’m off back to Africa. This time it’s West Africa. I grew up in Africa and have re-visited many many times but I’ve never been to the west, so here’s to a new adventure. It’s a complicated route to get there; Adelaide – Singapore (one night) – Bangkok – Frankfurt (one night) – Accra in Ghana (and the same route back). The long trip is made all the more bearable because it’s business class all the way – I came across many Star Alliance points when special offers where being dished out and the dollar was in my favour so my luxury ticket has cost less than an economy fare. Don’t I feel clever (for once!).

I’m spending 21 days going through Ghana, Togo and Benin and I know I’ve got some very cool places to go to such as a village of 10,000 people who live in the middle of a lake on stilt houses, and another village of two story mud huts. Of course, wild animals are in my itinerary too and my camera is going to get a serious workout.

I’ll be back with a vengeance on this blog with new art and experiences, but for a while, I will definitely lose wi-fi. That’s the way an adventure should be!

Some trips are pure gold for art

I was recently looking through my art (which is all carefully catalogued on my computer and in various other safe havens) and it struck me that my trip to Africa in 2009 was amazingly successful in generating ideas and references for my work. It was my sixth trip back home since I left at the age of fourteen but for some reason, this one made such an amazing impression that all this art poured out of me. One thing that definitely contributed was that this was the first time I had taken a really good digital SLR so not only could I keep clicking away, but I could also get in really close. I have compiled all of the pieces I’ve done from that one trip into the image below. It really is quite incredible how some travels affect you more than others and that trip was a corker!! It was through six different southern African Countries, seeing the most incredible sights. So here is a pictorial record of hundreds of hours at the desk or easel. The montage was thrown together pretty much willy-nilly but it gives an idea of how good that trip was. The scale of each image is not relative, some are much bigger than others in real life. There are three different mediums represented – scratchboard, pastels and oils.

The excited artist

You’ve all probably done it. You’re on holiday somewhere, chasing down that great photograph of a lion or whatever gets you excited, and finally you see your first one. In my case, this is 1994 on one of my trips to Kenya. I was with my wife on a self organised safari holiday, no zebra striped minibuses – just us and our two wheel drive Datsun which could barely clear the raised grass down the middle of the dirt roads (in fact, I had to get out and push on more than one occasion just so that I could get the car moving again, not a good look when there might be lions watching me). We saw our first lion of the trip. It’s in the next photo – can you see it? We could, just, a long way away. Still, you never know if you’ll see another so you take the photo. Even though it’s the old 35mm days where each picture costs you money you take it, and more, just to record that you saw a lion.

Did you see it? It had our pulses racing despite it being a fleeting glimpse somewhere too far away for my little camera.

Oh well, you’ve seen what you wanted but you are a little disappointed. That may be as good as it gets.

Our next lion……..

and the menaces that pinched his meal. Oh yes, they were lining up!

Then the next lions doing their thing

And relaxing without the usual cigarette

Is there a lesson here? Probably not, other than to keep on going. You never know if that great encounter is just around the corner. I guess this could be a metaphor for life in general – just keep on trying.

What a strange place Etosha is

Here are a couple of scratchboards from my time in Etosha National Park in Namibia. The first is a group of Elephants around the waterhole at Halali. It’s called “Total Protection” because of way the young are protected by the adults. It’s created by fibreglass brush removing the ink in a soft focus fashion, then adding ink back in (diluted in an airbrush), re-scratching, re-inking, re-scratching, re-inking etc as many times as it takes to get the effect I need. Finally I’ve sprayed the whole thing sepia to keep the monochrome effect but also add that little bit of old time feel to it and the sunshine and dust of Africa.

“Total Protection”

The second piece is a young zebra trotting through the water after its mum in a piece called “Water Baby”. It’s from a zebra at the waterhole at Okaukuejo.

“Water Baby”

So why is Etosha a strange place? Well, it’s an extremely dry place. It has a vast salt pan which is eerie and beautiful. The park has very little precipitation and as such it doesn’t support a lot of the animals you’d expect. It has no hippo, no buffalo and no crocodiles. Nip across the border into Botswana and in the Okavango Delta or Chobe National Park you’ll encounter as many hippos, buffalo or crocodiles as you might wish to see. Here’s a croc I photographed at Chobe. Believe it or not, this is in the wild and I’m not using a zoom. I’m literally a metre away from this large croc. However, I’m in a boat and it isn’t. It’s also just been fast alseep and is simply releasing heat through it’s open jaws so I’m neither being brave nor foolhardy.

So what’s going on in Etosha? You’d expect, with all that water in my pieces of art, to see all of the missing animals. No, these are man made waterholes, specifically created from boreholes to draw the animals to them in large numbers so we can get a good look at them. It works too. There were so many elephants at Halali, scores of zebra coming to drink all day at Okaukuejo, and at another waterhole, Namutoni, the best you can come to seeing a large predator is the python that swims there yet the air is thick with birdlife.

Is Etosha worth the trip? You bet it is! Not only do you get to see an abundance of wildlife at these waterholes, but if you venture out into the arid areas, you’ll see plenty from little dikdiks to the gorgeous lilac breasted roller, male oryx sparring for dominance, lion and many other animals. If your main love is monkeys however, you’ll be disappointed. There are none at all. In fact the campground pests aren’t monkeys here but go-away birds, red-billed hornbills and jackals – what a fabulous camping experience when those are considered pests!!

Me on the quiet and eeire Etosha Pan