CS & Co Featured Artist: Nicole Sanderson

Author: Bev Tucker – Safari and Living

She paints huge canvases alight with birds. They sweep you into their flickering clouds on tumultuous wings.

“I want people to be able to hear them,” she says.

The Zimbabwean artist works from her studio in Victoria Falls where she lives with her husband and their six-year-old daughter. She holds a BA Fine Art in painting from the Savannah College of Art in Savannah, Georgia, and has lived and worked in the USA, France, China and Zambia.

migrating – coming back – nesting

“I want people to be able to hear them,” she says.

She left the country of her birth as soon as she could after high school. She had no intention of returning.

“I couldn’t wait to get as far away as possible from everything I knew. The only reason I came back was to be at my best friend’s wedding a few years later.”

You know how this story unfolds, don’t you?

She met someone.

After her friend’s wedding she discovered she couldn’t return to the US because of visa problems. While she was stuck in Africa waiting for that to be sorted, she met the man who became her husband. Oddly enough, she’d met him years previously, before she set off for the US. “Neither of us remembers meeting but a friend came up with an old photo from back then so we must have.”

Fast forward to the Nicole I’m talking to now and she can’t see herself living anywhere but here in this tiny yet vibrant border town on the Zambezi River. Talking about the mystery of synchronicity steers our conversation to the idea of trusting the natural order of things or the existence of some sort of guiding hand.

Read more: How To Enlarge A Space With Wallpaper


“I’d say I’m spiritually aware. I believe in the path of least resistance. I meditate and I definitely connect to spirit through nature. Before I had Lexi, our daughter, I’d have cringed to be categorized as a wildlife artist. I wanted everything I painted to have deeper meaning. My paintings were figurative. Basically, everything was about me – about my inner world, me, me, me. Once I had a child things swung all the way round to what’s outside of myself. Now I paint flora and fauna and of course the birds.”

She is a wife and mother, but painting is not something she squeezes in when those roles allow. “Art is very much a profession and an obsession for me.” Lexi is growing up with a professional chef father who’s in his kitchen all day, and an artist mother who’s at work in her studio all day. In their free time the family heads for the bush. “It’s not a bad way to grow up, I think,” she says.


As far as her own early influences go, she was raised on a farm in Zimbabwe; very much connected to the natural world. “I knew I wanted to paint since I was very young. The aim of my work is to achieve more joy and an appreciation for art in nature. I like to paint life-size or bigger for impact. The use of colour is a powerful tool and an insight to my mood, and that’s usually a joyful frequency.”

“I’ve always dreamed of exhibiting a collection of huge canvases of flocks of birds creating a somewhat crazy, claustrophobic intense, and unique birding experience. For now, just earning a living off what I do would be eternally satisfying. Anything more than that will be incredible.”

method and mood

An early love of Gustav Klimt’s paintings greatly influenced her as a young teen. Today her taste covers an eclectic range of artists that includes the painter Meng Tao. “I came across his work in China and had the privilege of visiting his studio. I gravitate to art where the paint has done as much work as the artist has. Meng Tao may be the best example I’ve ever seen.”

While she draws energy and inspiration from her time spent in nature, the work happens in the studio. “I’d say I approach painting with a reasonable balance of ‘fun me’ and ‘trained me’. I do a lot of research on the subject, usually about birds, and their behaviour. That’s used to create a basic composition on paper and plan a pretty well thought out approach. I then methodically and scientifically create the piece with a clear vision of how it’s going to look when completed.”

Her other method is based entirely on mood, “In that case, I work with a particular arrangement of colours and start with a fun, messy painterly background and let that decide where the painting is going. Either way, my paintings are entirely me. I don’t follow trends and I believe that authenticity always wins, so there’s a basis of trust with the viewer.”

Her work made its way into the world of interior decor after capturing the imagination of wall design specialist Cara Saven, who commissioned her for a range of wallpaper that launched recently.

Find Nicole’s work on social media.