The beautiful artwork in the rooms at Hoanib Valley Camp is becoming quite a talking point. We caught up with the artist behind the pieces to learn more about how they came to fruition.
Where are you from originally?
“I’m from England, but I actually grew up in India, Botswana and the Caribbean so it’s entirely my parents’ fault that I get itchy feet staying in the same place too long!”
Where are you based now?
“I’m based in Cape Town, and have been for the last four years.”
Have you always been creative?
“Yes, but with mixed results…! I always loved art at school, but I essentially just like making a mess, so I guess I have always been ‘creative’ in that respect! Definitely happiest in an apron and covered in paint.”
How did you become an artist?
“I started painting and drawing wildlife when I lived in Botswana and worked in the lodges – I was surrounded by beautiful things to paint, so I was completely spoilt for choice. The lodges started using my sketches for greeting cards etc, and people seemed to like them so I just kept going.”
How would you describe your artistic style?
“Messy…! I started out with pen and ink sketches, and mostly work with watercolours now. I started working with acrylics more recently, and for bigger projects it’s a better medium. I mostly create wildlife paintings, but I also really love painting pet portraits as it’s ideal for really personalised gifts for people. I do some landscapes and cityscapes as well, just to make a change every now and then! I don’t obsess about the finer details, but prefer to get an animal’s character across, if I can. This is easier when I paint people’s dogs or other pets, but it’s still something I aim for when I paint wild animals. An elephant charging, or lions nuzzling each other, or even a gorilla staring directly at you through the trees – the more dynamic I can get it, the more emotion and character I can hopefully achieve. Sometimes that means focusing really carefully on one small detail, such as the animal’s eyes, and then the rest can be messy and all over the place.”
How did you feel when you were approached to create original artwork for Hoanib Valley Camp and what was your brief?
“Excited is an understatement! I think I did a happy dance. Then I realised how big the project actually was…! But the brief was clear – six paintings (one for each room), that reflected the colour palette of the Hoanib area. Each painting had to be different, and the subject matter had to be based on the wildlife that guests would be likely to see there. When the designer contacted me, I knew she had seen my work, so I was comfortable approaching the project in my usual, abstract style.”
Please describe the pieces you created and how you came up with them?
“So we started with oryx, as they are iconic to the region. I love the images of them galloping through the desert so I found one to reflect that kind of movement, as well as a fabulous dynamic shot of a pair fighting. Then I wanted to do a big, proud male lion, and two bull elephants interacting. I couldn’t resist the three ostrich as they are just really fun to look at (and paint!) and, of course, a mother rhino with her calf. For each painting, I sketched the outline in charcoal and pencil, before I started (literally) throwing paint onto the canvas.” How did you ensure that they would work well in that particular lodge? “I used a fairly restricted colour palette – lots of nudes, different shades of ochre, charcoal and other muted tones – so that the pieces would reflect the colours of the area. I also left a lot of negative space on the canvases, as this was part of the brief. I knew that each painting would be placed above the headboard in each room, so they needed to stand out without taking any attention away from the rest of the decor.”
Did you have to spend time studying the species prior to painting them or were you already well acquainted?
“Luckily, I have painted lots of elephants, lions and rhino! The oryx were a new subject for me, so I spent quite a lot of time studying their different shapes and lines first. I’m definitely guilty of anthropomorphising any animal I see or paint, so the lion has a rather smug face, the ostriches look rather anxious, the elephants proud, etc.”
Did you have any disasters during their production?
“Fortunately not, although there were some interesting moments! We are in the process of moving house, and our current space does NOT have an appropriate area for me to paint. I do not have the luxury of a studio! As these pieces were so huge, I needed to find somewhere that I could secure the canvas, without disrupting anything else or making too much of a mess. So one afternoon, my husband came home to find me standing in the bath with all my materials laid out at my feet, the canvas taped to the wall and the shower curtain acting as a splash screen!”
What was your favourite part of bringing the pieces to fruition?
“I loved creating them, and when they were finished I felt very fond of all of them – but actually seeing the first photo of the elephant painting hanging on the wall in its proper place was something I will never forget.”
Will you be visiting your work in camp?
“Well, I have been assured that I will be allowed! But I’m dropping hints all over the place just to be sure…!”
How can people contact you if they’re keen to buy or commission your work?
“I get a lot of enquiries directly through Facebook or Instagram (@jemimamiddletonart) but I can also be reached via my email, email@example.com .”