January 23, 2020 | Alyson Stanfield

Art Safaris and Consistent Promotion with Alison Nicholls

When I was a kid I used to hole up in my room to draw—dreaming of being an artist. One of the books I worked from was titled something like How to Draw Wildlife. The drawing I remember making most vividly was a charging lion.

But I was just copying from a book. Learning anatomy and how to depict movement convincingly by building lines and shapes on top of one another.

I can’t imagine the opportunity to sketch African wildlife in their habitat.

That’s what Alison Nicholls does.

Wildlife artist Alison Nicholls
2019 Art Safari in South Africa with Alison Nicholls.

Once a year, Alison leaves her home in New York and heads to South Africa to lead her Art Safaris for Africa Geographic. (They found her from her online posts back in 2010!)

I know from experience that it's difficult enough to fill a workshop in your hometown or even a neighboring state. Alison’s Art Safaris are thousands of miles away and sell out months in advance.

In the latest episode of the Art Biz Podcast, I asked Alison how she attracts students so far ahead of time. You'll also find out how she got to be a guest on this podcast, which is a great marketing lesson. Definitely stick with it to the end.

Watercolor by Alison Nicholls
©Alison Nicholls, Elephant Bulls. Watercolor and ink, 11 x 14 inches. Sketched from life in Botswana. Used with permission.

Listen Now


Music by Wildermiss.

Highlights

  • How Alison ended up in Zimbabwe and Botswana. (2:50)
  • Alison's start at sketching African wildlife in the bush. (4:30)
  • Alison's attempts working from photos and American wildlife. (6:30)
  • Alison's online posts that led to Art Safaris. (9:15)
  • Why Alison gives equal weight to her field sketches and studio work. (10:45)
  • The moment Alison decided to focus solely on African wildlife. (12:30)
  • Why being close to New York City offers more opportunities than she can handle. (13:40)
  • The cost of an Art Safari and what's included. (14:45)Art Biz Podcast with Alison Nicholls
  • The daily schedule of an Art Safari. (15:47)
  • A list of wildlife that is spotted on an Art Safari and why each session is limited to 6 people. (17:33)
  • The profitability of Art Safaris and why they're worth it for her to do. (20:00)
  • The blog posts Alison writes to help publicize the Art Safaris on Africa Geographic. (23:00)
  • How she uses an interest list to promote the safaris and drive early registration. (25:20)
  • The supportive environment she facilitates in order to accommodate her students' various levels of experience. (27:07)
  • Why seeing a video of an Art Safari is critical to selling the sessions. (27:50)
  • The process of video editing and the tools and social platforms she uses. (29:00)
  • How constant promotion is essential to filling the workshops. (31:10)
  • Her monthly newsletter to her list of 700 people, and why she emails everyone on her list rather than the segments she created. (32:20)
  • What's changed for her work in the past 9 years since doing the Art Safaris and being involved in wildlife conservation activities. (34:20)
  • Alison's donation of a percentage of all sales to African wildlife conservation. (36:25)
  • The fun, surprising, and instructional lesson on how Alison became a podcast guest. (36:55)

Mentioned

Africa Geographic
Painted Dog Conservation
Artists for Conservation grant
African People and Wildlife
My interview with Miriam Schulman

Alison Nicholls sketching in Chobe National Park, Botswana.

About My Guest

Alison Nicholls is an artist inspired by Africa. She lived in the southern African countries of Botswana and Zimbabwe for several years, and returns to Africa regularly to sketch in the bush, work with conservation organizations and lead Art Safaris for Africa Geographic.

She is a Signature member of Artists For Conservation and the Society of Animal Artists, a member of the Explorers Club, and an artist member of the Salmagundi Club. Her watercolor field sketches and studio paintings have been widely exhibited and she frequently lectures about her art, Africa, wildlife and conservation. She makes a donation to conservation organizations from every sale of her art, and is a member of the International Advisory Council for African People & Wildlife, who work in Tanzania. She is English by birth but lives in Port Chester, New York.


Music by Wildermiss.


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All of the lessons you learn in the Art Career Success System are tasks you will do over and over again throughout your art business and career. That’s why it’s a SYSTEM.

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22 comments add a comment
  • I am an art colleague of Alison’s and was thrilled to hear her on this podcast. It was fun to hear some of the backstory as to how the art safaris got started. As always, informative and wonderful to listen to.

  • An enjoyable and informative podcast.
    I initiated some live animal drawing sketch classes in my area, and it was neat to learn about Alison’s entirely immersive animal drawing experience!
    Thanks for the helpful breakdown of times and topics in the accompanying blog post.

  • Really enjoyed this podcast!

  • I loved listening to Alison’s interview about her Art Safaris. Very informative and good suggestions for me in my Workshops in Wild Places program. I love the idea of making a video. I’m sure that seeing African wildlife on video would be a fabulous selling feature!
    Thanks Alyson and Alison!

    • Hi Janice,
      I’m glad you enjoyed the podcast. Yes, it sounds like a video would be perfect marketing for your workshops. You must have some amazing footage to share, and video always attracts more views and comments than just using photos.
      I’m looking up your workshops now!
      Alison

    • Alyson Stanfield

      Janice: I am pretty sure we discussed this during your consultation. I agree that it’s a good move for you.

  • I’m also an art colleague of Alison’s, and although I’ve followed her through occasional live encounters and her email newsletter, I never heard the full story about how her art safaris came about. Great going Allison for having her on and great to hear more of your story Alison

  • Alyson, I wanted to say thank you for making the podcast recording so easy. Your insightful questions and friendly interview manner really made it a pleasure. Thanks again!
    Alison

    • Alyson Stanfield

      Entirely my pleasure, Alison. It’s critical that artists share their experiences candidly with one another. Thank you for doing that.

  • Thanks Alyson and Alison for this wonderful podcast! Alison, I was inspired by how you continued to change your art as your interests changed. And how you challenged yourself with new ways to increase your visibility. Well done!

    • Thanks Linda. It was only by looking back that I realized just how much my art had changed as a result of my field work. I guess this confirms how important working in the field has been throughout my career, even when I didn’t realize it!

  • Hi Allison,
    Thanks for choosing to interview Allison Nichols., This business plan was inspiring and hearing her talk about the details of how she got there was exciting. I liked knowing the specifics as it helped me dream of possible plans I could implement.
    You do a great job of drawing out the themes that would attract business minded artists.
    Thanks again,
    Rosanne

  • Thanks Alyson, for this fascinating podcast! I love the way Alison has kept field work alive in her career. It has prompted me to work up a long term plan to involve more fieldwork in combination with my studio work. Field projects were what quickly launched my career forward in so many ways, and it’s a pleasure to hear how it has worked for Alison. Inspiring. Thank you!
    Lucia

    • Hi Lucia,
      I’m really pleased to hear you will be doing more fieldwork – its such a great way to work! If you’re interested in sketching with other artists, check out Urban Sketchers – they have groups in many towns and cities worldwide.
      Alison

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