South Africa

Mary-Anne van der Byl: Artist in the Wilderness

Cultures & Communities

Kate Collins

8/17/2018

Mary-Anne van der Byl, a graphic designer based within our Johannesburg Marketing team, first discovered her passion for art at school. “I have always enjoyed drawing but my school helped to encourage this. Every single thing we did at school had to be beautiful; we designed every book cover, whether it was maths or science. It had to be beautiful. Even if you weren’t inclined to be artistic, everyone had to try. For me this was the start of a long and loving journey with art.”

Mary-Anne has worked at Wilderness for nine years doing the work she loves most – designing for a company whose vision and values strongly resonate with her – giving her a greater purpose in the work she does daily. Asked about the type of art works she most enjoys creating, Mary-Anne says that she inevitably gravitates towards nature and animal subjects. “I used to paint a lot of landscapes but recently realised that the pictures in my home are all nature-based. I suppose these are the things in life I am most interested in.”

“I recently completed a BA in Environmental Management via the University of South Africa (UNISA). I am interested in nature and I think this filters through my art. I am passionate about the environment and want to understand what’s going on with this world we live in and what we can do to stop damaging the planet (if we can). I am fascinated by the holistic picture, and understanding what bigger change is needed.”

While Mary-Anne credits her school for the interest it sparked in pursing art, her school did not offer art as a matric subject. “When I looked into universities, I realised I could still apply for an art degree without having taken this subject at school.”

“I went on to study graphic design which is a more formal way of using your artistic ability. You don’t really paint and draw everyday but you are still being creative as a graphic designer.” Working a full day often means that finding time to work on other creative projects can be tricky. Mary-Anne acknowledges this but says that you have to make time. Not easy, she says, but she has found fun ways to motivate herself – things like art sessions with friends and family, meeting at restaurants and in beautiful outdoor spots like the Botanical Gardens. “I am very lucky to have friends and family members who meet up regularly to drink coffee, catch up and work on art.”

Creativity is a very strong theme that runs through Mary-Anne's family. "I have some really talented family members, aunts and cousins, who are artists in various mediums, painting, digital illustration, photography, drawing, etching, sculpting etc. We all use our skills in unqiue ways which I think is great!"

 

When it comes to experimenting, Many-Anne loves applying her artistic skill to as many different mediums and styles as possible. In the past, Mary-Anne painted characters on t-shirts – a hit at market days. “I’ve painted squares for a quilt for a wedding gift, and at one stage even made clay decorations for myself. I painted the decorations and ended up having orders for 10 sets of these.”  

Not only this, but there’s also sewing, clay modelling, photography … there’s not much that she doesn’t enjoy working on!

When it comes to incorporating her skill into the work she does at Wilderness, Mary-Anne has worked on a number of projects. “I started sketching the illustrations on the welcome cards for our guests – starting with cards for our premier camps and lodges and then rolling these out to all the camps. We also like to use our local camp artists where possible and many of the sketches on our cards are drawn by resident artists.” Mary-Anne has also sketched birds, trees, seed pods and many other artworks for Wilderness brochures, species checklists, and more recently, for the Vumbura Plains tree map.

And when it comes to a specific medium? “I love exploring everything. I suppose my first love would be graphite pencil or charcoal drawing. I used to do a lot of acrylic but I never really understood watercolour techniques. I have since done a few botanical illustration courses using watercolour – a very scientific and structured way of making art. I have found this style challenges me as I am impatient and like to get things done quickly. Botanical art is very scientific and you have to measure everything.”

When it comes to the artwork she is most proud of, Mary-Anne is quick to answer, “This was my first watercolour flower. I was at a workshop and had three full days to work on this. It was the first time I had spent so many hours dedicated to a single artwork, in one sitting.  We had to measure and sketch it first and then do a tonal drawing before transferring it to watercolour paper and starting to paint the layers of translucent colour that build to the final hue. This was a big mind shift for me. I am usually a lot more creative and adapt my sketches as I go… It was hard work and finishing this was an amazing feeling.

 “I really enjoy working at Wilderness as this allows me to use my artistic skill as a graphic designer. I am still able to be creative and I get to browse through beautiful wildlife and wilderness photographs, a definite perk of the work I do.”  

This is part of a botanical illustration of a protea which I’m still busy with. The traditional process of botanical illustration is very scientific and precise, you study the plant then start sketching it from various angles till you find the best one. You then do a final line drawing and overlay a tonal sketch on tracing paper. This is all done so that by the time you start painting you know the shapes and shadows well. Also if your plant wilts you then have reference to continue with the painting. These water colour illustrations can take months (depending on the intricacy and size of the specimen).
I believe that it is important to support local artists. Not only attending exhibitions, as many artists don’t ever get to exhibit their work, but if you see an artist’s work, always acknowledge them and give them support. This goes a long way to encouraging others, ensuring that we always find a place for art in our lives.

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