Art Safari’s Mary-Anne Bartlett leads tour to Japan to capture a world of wildlife

Mary-Anne Bartlett holding painting of Matsumoto castle.

Mary-Anne Bartlett holding painting of Matsumoto castle. - Credit: Archant

For an experienced world traveller like Mary-Anne Bartlett, it comes as no surprise that she never gets jaded seeing the world’s natural wonders. But her idea of a relaxing break is two weeks in her office in Woodbridge, catching up on admin and spoiling herself by attending a life-drawing class before packing her bags once again and jetting off for more exotic adventures.

Snow monkey painting by Mary-Anne Bartlett.

Snow monkey painting by Mary-Anne Bartlett. - Credit: Archant

Wildlife artist Mary-Anne has run Art Safari, an artist-focused travel company, for the past 15 years – starting in Africa, building a special relationship with a game reserve in Malawi, before expanding her destinations to take in India, Greece, Italy, Morocco, the Arctic and Antarctic. In all she has sent art expeditions to 30 countries.

Now she has added Japan to her list of destinations creating an epic 17-day trip to Japan to see Mount Fuji, wild mountainside forests, exquisite Japanese gardens, snow monkeys taking a dip in volcanic pools, and an opportunity to join an added expedition to capture flocks of cranes in the rice fields of Izumi.

“Going in November gives some wonderful light and a mass of colour in the leaves and vegetation,” says Mary-Anne, who is delighted to be adding another new landscape and collection of wildlife to her art tours.

Despite her varied destinations, Africa has a special place in her heart. Watching elephants wallowing in a waterhole, as well as gazelle, zebra and rhino wandering across the dry plains of Africa is an inspiring sight as Mary-Anne can testify. She has created a special holiday experience taking artists on art safaris to capture some of Africa’s most impressive game in their natural environment.

Japanese artist and guide Ting. Art Safari, run by Woodbridge artist Mary-Anne Bartlett, is running

Japanese artist and guide Ting. Art Safari, run by Woodbridge artist Mary-Anne Bartlett, is running art tours to Japan. - Credit: Archant


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Mary-Anne has a long family association with Africa. She is the great, great grand-daughter of Sir John Kirk who explored East Africa on Dr David Livingstone’s Zambezi expedition during the 1850s. After he parted company with the good doctor he was appointed Consul General of East Africa and made his residence in Zanzibar. But she believes the family’s artistic genes stem from Sir John, who never travelled anywhere without his sketchbook.

Speaking from her office overlooking the River Deben and looking across at Sutton Hoo, she said: “It’s a lovely family story and something I really think is buried deep in my biological make-up. I love travelling and I love art and the two facets of my life can be traced back to Sir John.”

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She said the joy of the expeditions was that they were suitable for the beginner as well as the professional artist. They also accommodate photographers. Each trip is led either by Mary-Anne or by one of a team of hand-picked wildlife artists. She says: “As an artist an art safari teaches you to seize the moment because the scene is always changing. It’s not going to hang about while you get it down on paper. I tell my students you have got to capture a snapshot of a scene and get it down before you forget it. You have to capture the movement of the scene - the interaction of the animals between themselves and the landscape - it’s amazing you actually feel an adrenalin rush while trying to get everything down in your sketchbook before the moment is lost.”

Although she feels a constant pull back to Africa, she loves exploring new places and is eager to build on a research trip she made to Japan two years ago.

Golden Temple Kyoto. Art Safari, run by Woodbridge artist Mary-Anne Bartlett, is running art tours t

Golden Temple Kyoto. Art Safari, run by Woodbridge artist Mary-Anne Bartlett, is running art tours to Japan. - Credit: Archant

“It takes a good year to set up a trip, researching the wildlife, what we can have access to, getting the travel arrangements and accommodation sorted, talking to local guides, to make sure everything flows smoothly when we arrive.”

Part of the research is deciding the best time of year to bring artists to a particular site or country. “I think autumn is the best time to capture the true majesty of Japan,” she said.

“The November light is amazing for painting Fuji, as it is picked out with shafts of light across its volcanic skirts. We will travel across the country as the leaves change colour from brilliant yellow, to lime greens, to reds, oranges, pinks and magentas. The light and the world around you is crisp, bright and extraordinarily colourful.

“Moss gardens and chrysanthemums take on extra brilliance. In many ways more colourful than the blossom of spring at this time, Japan is also less crowded.

Maple leaf and Shinto temple sketch. Art Safari, run by Woodbridge artist Mary-Anne Bartlett, is run

Maple leaf and Shinto temple sketch. Art Safari, run by Woodbridge artist Mary-Anne Bartlett, is running art tours to Japan. - Credit: Archant

“On this Art Safari adventure we explore beautiful areas of Japan, stopping to paint the temples and sketch the gardens of Kyoto and in snow-peaked valleys of the Japanese Alps before spending time near Mount Fuji and in Tokyo.

“The controlled and exquisite neatness of nature within the temple gardens contrast with the wild explosion of colour across the hillsides. The whole country is coloured in the pinks, reds, oranges and browns of the late autumn.”

Mary-Anne sees a lot of Japanese influence in her own work. “I love the simplicity of Japanese painting, design and calligraphy. Everywhere you look in Japan there is superb design, thoughtful juxtaposition of objects and colour. Being there is a lesson in the visual arts, but also in consideration for space, contrast and positioning.”

She says the joy of this trip is that artists will have the opportunity to capture the famous snow monkeys before heading north to the crane wintering grounds in Izumi.

Here thousands of cranes gather, including hooded cranes, white-necked cranes and Siberian cranes, before heading on to their breeding grounds in the spring.

The trip will also allow plenty of time to capture a wildly colourful landscape and fascinating architecture.

There are a few places left on this inaugural tour to Japan which runs from November 13 to 27 with an extension running to November 30 for the crane painting trip. Further details can be found at www.artsafari.co.uk or email info@artsafari.co.uk

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