Outside Kings Camp in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, six of us sitting in the open safari vehicle all strained our eyes to identify a leopard draped over a branch within the cover of the leaves twenty feet above us in the air. Close to him hung the remains of a kill that he had dragged up in the tree to keep it away from hyenas and other predators that would steal from him.
I painted the leopard with a brush as if the realistic subject were all that was important to me when what I was really interested in were the shapes and colors and textures of the scene. Over the brush work, I poured paint onto the canvas using oils with a medium of liquin, turpentine, and stand oil that was the consistency of honey. Over the shapes of the pour, I delineated leaves using greens in the darker areas and yellows in the lighter areas.
We had followed leopards at a distance of thirty feet several evenings as they had set out on their nightly hunts, and always they were as unconcerned with us as if we were a continent away. We had followed their solitary strolls with our vehicle cracking over twigs, fracturing small trees making a racket that I thought would have frightened the leopard into the brush. But each time the cat had continued at a leisurely pace, ignoring us, as if knowing when darkness came, we would disappear, and he would go about his business unobserved, a ghost-like animal on a life and death mission. I felt insignificant in this vast land where animals as strange as this self-absorbed leopard were as well- known to Africans as dogs and cats were to those of us who live in an urban setting– where Africa is a dream trip.

Zebras: Spirits out to play.


Outside Camp Toka Leya on the Zambezi River in Zambia, we had our first game drive.

The day was dry, dusty and warm as we climbed onto the earth covered, open safari truck. A short time into our drive, we were rewarded with the site of Zebras. All about stripes and patterns, zebras’  stripes cover all parts of their skin. As their pajama-like attire is fanciful, they themselves are whimsical. In one photograph, a zebra posed for me in a zany dance position, one leg crossed over the other. In another photograph, two zebras showed me their backsides and mooned me. Zebras are shyer than other African creatures and don’t want us too close to them. because they are not as swift as their enemies, they have reason to be cautious.

Zebras are so charming that I want to approach them, an impossibility here of course, but I have heard that they have been saddled and ridden.  In fact, I have even heard of a “zonkey”.

For the painting, I used shades of Burnt Sienna, obvious in the surroundings. I made a base coat of Cadmium Red, and this base coat glows through the white of some of the stripes. The base coat used a minimal amount of pigment and enough turpentine to let the paint “do its own thing” so it was drippy, translucent and very loose. Tree branches echo the movement of stripes in the subject.

Zebras inspire mirth and they mock more serious animals with black and white prison stripes, though I can’t imagine them imprisoned. They appear too carefree and lighthearted, like spirits out to play. They are the light side of life, the spirit behind a smile, the innocence of children, a pleasant memory of an African trip.

-Rita Gould