Wild Ostrich Nest, Masai Mara, Kenya

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Ostriches nest communally, one cock bird to several hens. Once a clutch is laid, the dominant female incubates the eggs during the day. This lead hen will expel the eggs of weaker females that do not fit within the nest scrape. Her eggs are also at the center, making them less vulnerable to predation. The male sits at night, his black color making him undetectable in the darkness. I’ll share a look at the male brooding this nest in a future post.

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Sneak Peek of Mara Hyena Concept

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A difficult morning for a golden nomad– and a glimpse of the sniggering rogue’s gallery that stormed his solitary kill. Each hyena is a unique character in its own right, with one ratty old fellow (wait for the painting) confronting the lion with a wildebeest foreleg poking out of his mouth like a jaunty cigar.

Working On New Serengeti Lion Painting: Primal Echo

lion1A preview detail from my new Serengeti lion painting Primal Echo. The total composition also includes the cat’s forelegs and follows the sinuous lines of his back and belly out of the painting as he strides forward from his kopje resting place to answer an unseen challenge. I’ve applied the first layer of pastel to the background and to the lion’s head and ruff– and will proceed from left to right, building the picture layer by layer. Many more refinements to come as work continues…

Welcome to Artist In Africa

Join me as I research new paintings  in such spectacular African wildlife destinations as Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans, and Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park– then follow me back to my studio in the USA where, step by step, I’ll bring the paintings to life. Thanks for visiting my website!  — Charles Alexander

mara tree alexanderField sketching in the Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Sketching wildebeest bones, Masai Mara, Kenya

Sketching on the windswept Masai Mara plains has been an absorbing challenge. I am fascinated by the various stages– or taphonomy–of decay and decomposition of animal bones and carcasses on the plain (and how they sometimes by chance become fossilized). Bleaching bones are an integral, everyday part of the landscape here in the Mara, telling stories of lives lost and of life carrying on in one of the most magnificent places on earth. The hunt, the kill, feasting predators, lively scavengers, and finally lonely bones left to tell the tale: all stages of this process of life, death, and renewal are endlessly fascinating to observe.

New Migration Crossing Composition: Underdrawing

A look at the underdrawing on canvas of my new migration crossing composition, scaled up from my smaller working drawing. The concept is “order within chaos”: depicting the crush of bodies, the atmosphere of dust, and the repeating motifs encountered at water’s edge at a Great Migration Mara River crossing…

You can get a more accurate sense of scale when I stand next to it. This piece measures 32 x 60″, linen mounted on panel (one of 14 such works currently in the studio). Now to begin the color ebauche underpainting: a thin wash of the basic color palette that I will use for the opaque layers of the painting…

Eyes of Virunga: From Fieldwork to Studio, Part 2

Virunga Lodge

Before continuing with our gorilla trek, I’d like to tell you a bit about my accommodations in Rwanda at Volcanoes Safaris’ Virunga Lodge, a once-in-a-lifetime getaway that can best be described in a single, all-encompassing word: spectacular. Virunga Lodge boasts one of the most jaw-dropping views in all of Africa: 360 degrees taking in the entire Virunga volcano chain plus the beautiful volcanic lakes Ruhonda and Bulera. I feel very fortunate to have had a chance to experience not only the incredible view, but also the lodge’s exceptional cuisine and very friendly staff. Few places in Africa can equal what Virunga has to offer.

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Sunset over the Virunga volcanoes from the grounds of Virunga Lodge.  East Africa is home to eight Virunga volcanoes: the three shown here (left to right) Sabinyo, Mgahinga, Muhabura, plus Bisoke, Karasimbi, Mikeno,  Nyiragongo, and Nyamurigira. The Virunga chain extends for close to 50 miles along East Africa’s Albertine Rift, straddling the converging borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The explorer John Hanning Speke was the first European to spot the Virungas in 1861. Five of the volcanoes are dormant, but Nyiragongo and Nyamurigira are active indeed– having erupted as recently as 2006.  The Karisoke Research Center, founded by Dian Fossey in 1967 as a hub of mountain gorilla research, was located in the saddle area between Karisimbi and Bisoke. The original center was destroyed during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

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Another view of Mt. Muhabura from my ravens-nest perch on the lodge grounds. Muhabura means “The Guide”, so called because the majestic cone of the mountain can be seen as a landmark from a great distance. Still, Muhabura at 13,540 feet (4127 meters) is only the third tallest of the Virungas, behind Mikeno and Karasimbi. At 14,787 feet (4,507 metres), Karasimbi’s peak is occasionally blanketed in snow.

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When an afternoon thunderstorm sweeps across the Virungas here, the view from the lodge veranda is transformed into a J.M.W. Turner painting come to life.

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The African white-naped raven (Corvus albicollis) is easily seen on the immaculate grounds of Virunga Lodge.

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I have long been interested in these birds, ever since first reading George Schaller’s Year of the Gorilla. Schaller was the first scientist to study mountain gorilla ecology and behavior in the wild. Year of the Gorilla is Schaller’s popular account of his year long study of the gorillas in the Virunga highlands in 1959-60 (pre-dating Fossey by six years).  Of Mt. Mikeno’s white-naped ravens, Schaller wrote: ” On days when the warm air from the lowlands rushed up the canyons, or the winds howled and the thunder grumbled around the upper slopes of Mt. Mikeno, the ravens played their airy games. Like black messengers from Thor, they emerged out of the wind-tattered clouds, rushing downward with folded wings, until abruptly they veered skyward and disappeared, only a disembodied krrrua-krrrua echoing from the clouds.”