Olivia Rook caught up with African wildlife and landscape artist Francesca Sanders to find out about her recent exhibition and her involvement with conservation charities Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Save the Elephants
What inspired you to become an artist?
I’ve always loved painting and being outdoors. I never expected to become a professional artist and I feel very lucky to be able to do a job I love.
Why did you choose Africa when you started out as a full-time artist?
I think it may have been one of those evenings in the pub. I remember a friend saying ‘if you were an artist, you could work anywhere in the world.’ In my mind, the most exciting place to explore is Africa; the light, the landscape, the wildlife, and the people that work there are unendingly inspiring.
Why are you drawn to East Africa in particular?
East Africa has been wonderful for all of the above reasons. I have been able to gain amazing access to wildlife and have learned so much from some fantastic scientists and conservationists. As I started my journey in East Africa, I just have to keep going back.
What kind of wildlife do you most enjoy studying?
Elephants are always wonderful to watch: the way they communicate as a group and how similar their behaviour can be to humans. I always feel like I am on a bit of a high after I have been studying them. I really enjoy learning about the entire ecosystem. There is as much fascination to be found in learning about the bugs and plants, and how it all fits together, as studying Africa’s big game.
Can you tell us about your new collection?
The new collection includes work from Lake Turkana, on the border with Ethiopia, to Lake Tanganyika, in the real heart of the continent. I have also been to some more remote places. There are lots of moody skies, and some new little bird studies.
Describe your style
Representational, but painterly. You can understand what the subject is, but rather than being photographic, I try to get the sense and atmosphere of a place, and tell a bit of a story.
What do you hope to achieve with your artwork?
Rather than a generic collection of work, I try to put together pieces which tell a story. I tend to work with a conservation group, and give 10% of my sales back to them. My recent exhibition was in partnership with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. It was a chance to get everyone together in a room, and not just show paintings of a rhino, but be able to talk about all the conservation and community work that goes on behind the scenes.
Do any of your pieces have an interesting backstory?
Quite often breaking down somewhere unplanned leads to a painting. I recently created a night scene in the Ndoto Mountains, inspired by getting a puncture half way up the hill, which became my entrance piece for the Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year 2015.
You have been involved with conservation charities such as Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Save the Elephants – can you tell us more about their work?
They are both fantastic organisations to work with. I have learnt so much from their teams on the ground. They are both very effective at using donations right at the heart of their work, making every penny count, and the people that work for them are completely passionate about what they do.
What’s next for Francesca Sanders?
An exhibition of my new work is opening at the end of November. After that, it’s working out how to paint underwater in Timor-Leste with Blue Ventures, another brilliant conservation charity, and teaching my first art safari at Lewa House, Kenya – there are a couple of spaces left!
To find out about upcoming exhibitions, buy prints and to learn more about Francesca’s work, please visit francescasanders.com.