Artist Pip McGarry reveals his favourite spots for capturing Africa’s wildlife on canvas.
Maasai Mara, Kenya
For a wildlife artist this must be the top destination for the big cats. Recognised as one the world’s top wildlife destinations, this is really one of the few places you can guarantee to see lion, leopard and cheetah in abundance, but notably all year round. An additional bonus is the lighting – at sunrise and at sunset, there is often a warm, golden light which enhances the colours of the big cats particularly. With a year round water source in the Mara and Talek rivers, the area teems with a resident wildlife population which includes huge herds of zebra, buffalo, topi and Thompson’s gazelle, but also many other animals such as elephant, warthog, ostrich, hyena, bat-eared foxes, caracal, serval, giraffe and even black rhino. A wildlife artist’s paradise….
Image: Panic In the Mara (60 by 20ins)
Ngorongoro Crater, Northern Tanzania
Arguably one of the most awesome sights in Africa and a ‘must see’ for any wildlife artists visiting Africa, this vast volcanic caldera is 11 miles across by 8 miles with walls 600 metres high. On the crater floor artists will find some of the largest bull elephants in Africa, but also the endangered black rhino can be seen along with many other animals, such as zebra, wildebeest, lions, hyenas and hippo. The walls of the surrounding crater provide a beautiful blue backdrop in the distance, which can often enhance a painting more than foliage or bush.
Image: Ngorongoro Elephant (20 by 16ins)
Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana
Another of the most stunning wildlife destinations in Africa. Donated to the Botswana people by King Moremi, the Okavango Delta flows into this diversely beautiful habitat, which is largely comprised of riverine woodland. Further into the reserve the water from the Delta forms the Khwai river, which flows through and along the border of the Park, along the famed Sable Alley. This is a great place for artists to capture elephants crossing or bathing in water, but also antelopes such as Waterbuck and Red Lechwe. The buffalo herds here are particularly impressive, with plenty of big old males, their rich dark colours contrasting the colour of the grasses – as opposed to buffalo in the Chobe river area where there are many smaller females and calves. Best time to visit for that burnt, dusty African background is September and October at the end of the dry season. For wildlife artists specialising in bird paintings, the variety and number of birds is astonishing, with many owls, beautiful Saddleback storks, rare Wattled cranes, egrets, plovers, kingfishers, vultures, woodpeckers, jacanas, fish eagles and many more in abundance. One of the top places to see the endangered wild dog.
Image: Winner Takes All (60 by 20ins)
This is truly one of the last great wildernesses. For a wildlife artist, the Chobe river area in the north is one of the best places to capture images of elephant herds and bathing or playing in water – always a good subject for paintings. Due to the year round presence of water, there is a large resident population of many big game animals, such as buffalo, kudu, jackal and impala – an opportunity to capture shimmering reflections as they drink and bathe. It’s also a great place to see the rare Sable and Roan antelope. Smaller antelopes can be seen along the river, such as Bushbuck and Sitatunga, occasionally the shy Puku, plus Steenbok and Kudu. Once again a wonderful opportunity for bird artists, with innumerable bird species (again particularly along the Chobe river), with kingfishers, herons, darters, cranes, pelicans, the stunning Carmine Bee Eater and many other aquatic birds. The lure of the river provides an opportunity for artists and photographers to capture crocodiles, Monitor lizards, hippos, buffalo and elephant as they laze, drink and interact at the waterside. Chobe has a large population of big cats, providing an opportunity to capture intimate portraits of their cubs – a popular subject with wildlife artists.
PHOTO: Lion Cub (36 by 20ins)
Selous National Park, Southern Tanzania
Africa’s largest game reserve and twice the size of the Serengeti, it includes the Rufiji river, which is Tanzania’s largest and forms a complex network of channels, lakes and swampland. Here there is a very different feel to the habitat, providing artists with an unusual backdrop of tall Borassus palms punctuating the scenery. The wildlife here in general seems far more wary than in the more accessible and popular parks of the north. Lions glared at our vehicle with some aggression and seemed nervous – with little provocation; we were also charged by a female elephant with young. This may be because 95% of the Selous is given over to hunting concessions, however, there is a very wild and unspoilt feeling to the area and the scenery is stunning – a must for wildlife artists looking for something a bit different. This is also one of the best places for artists to witness the rare wild dog. I recommend taking a local flight in and back as the journey by vehicle from Dar, is long and tiring, though interesting. The adjacent Mikumi National Park and nearby Ruaha are well worth a visit too, but definitely best in the dry season from June to October.
Image: Wild Dog (8 by 10ins)
See Pip’s latest exhibition at The Frame Gallery in Odiham. ‘The Great McGarry’ opens on June 28th and runs until July 12th 2014. For more information email Jan firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01256 701082