By OCTAVIA MUIR
You may recognise Francesca’s work from some of her exhibitions at our London flagship store over the years. Francesca is a wonderful artist, specialising in wildlife and landscapes and promoting the alliance of art and wildlife conversation through her work. Training as a fine artist in Italy, she now spends much of her time painting in the African Bush and the British outdoors, particularly Scotland. 10 years on from what had initially started as a hobby with the intention of then getting a ‘proper job’, last year she celebrated a decade painting full time. Her time spent and appreciation towards the importance of protecting wildlife in the art world hasn’t gone unnoticed. She has received many awards and commendations over the years such as being both a finalist and commended in the BBC Wildlife Artist of the year 2013.
We caught up with Frannie, our long-standing friend and learnt more about her journey as an artist and her love of African wildlife…
What is your most treasured memory of Africa?
Ooh. It’s the smaller senses that catch me out, and get me dreaming of places in Africa – such as the smell of a bonfire, which transports me back to sitting around an open fire in the evening. Surprisingly, as I am far from a morning person, the feeling of waking up at sunrise, and hearing the world come to life is very powerful. I feel like there is no choice but to get up and go out and explore immediately, and it gives you a feeling of immense opportunity, you don’t know what you might find, but you know you will always learn something new. It feels like every day is a fresh start, and that gives me such a positive feeling. I also miss all the noises you hear at night, the hyena and lion. It used to terrify me, but now it is what I miss and crave when I am not there.
At what point did you see such an opportunity to link your art with conservation?
I have always been interested in conservation, and I don’t like waste. When I worked in advertising, I set up the company’s ‘green initiatives’ which in those days was a pretty unfashionable thing to do. When I first made it out to East Africa, I spent several months in Tanzania and Kenya, camping out and getting access to study wildlife wherever I could. I often stayed at scientific research camps. At lunch and dinner you sit with the people who protected the landscape you would have been in all day, and learn about what they do. Without their work, and passion to protect these wildernesses, we wouldn’t be able to visit and experience them ourselves, so the link seemed inextricable from the start.
For me, painting is mostly about learning and observation, and it has always made sense to me, when painting say, an elephant, to be able to talk about the story and ecosystem that surrounds that species too. I feel lucky to have been able to give some financial support to these places, through the sales of my art, and I am glad to see that more artists are willing to do this now. The Rountree Tryon Galleries who took me on in 2019 are the only gallery I know of so far, who have been willing to donate a percentage of the paintings they sell to conservation, which to me, is an exciting development.
What was your defining moment as an artist?
I don’t think there has been one, or one yet, more of a series of smaller choices, and a continued, perhaps foolish desire not to give up. I originally planned to only paint for a year, and then try to get a ‘proper job’ – last year I celebrated 10 years of painting full time, I am not quite sure how that happened!
Do you have a favourite piece?
I loved painting ‘The Leap’ a large painting of a leopard flying through the air, as he chased his breakfast (a tree hyrax) it was a wonderful and rare sighting, and it was great fun to paint in the studio later- I spent so many hours working on the pattern of the leopard’s coat, and trying to get a sense of movement too- and I was pleased with the result, and the sense of atmosphere- anyone that has seen a leopard in the wild will, I hope, understand that sense of excitement.
Where is your favourite place to paint and capture nature?
That is tricky! Perhaps the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. It is such a beautiful place, full of life, you can see entire ecosytems working together, wherever you look. I am lucky enough to now be a UK trustee for them, and it is incredibly rewarding to paint in a place where you also have some understanding of what is going on behind the scenes; the relentless graft and the genius ideas that so many people work on, day in and day out, to maintain the beautiful wilderness, and protect it for the future.
Where will your first destination be when we can travel again?
I am hoping to visit the Royal Zambezi Lodge in Zambia, for a residency that was postponed last year. They are based right on the river, and aside from the usual big 5, they have some wonderful birds. I am hoping to study the carmine bee eater. We are also planning to develop an art safari, so I will be looking at various fun ways to teach drawing and painting from the camp. I have unbelievably itchy traveller’s feet, but I have also had a rewarding year, taking more interest in the bugs and bees in my own garden.