Kim's African Wildlife Art
Kim is an internationally acclaimed wildlife artist, who has a great love of African wildlife. She has helped out with mobile safari tour groups on photographic safaris that have provided her with the subjects of her paintings.
The following 2012 article appears with the author's permission.
Animals, Art, and Africa - AnnMarie Rowland (C) 2012.
Kim Diment, a northern Michigan wildlife artist whose work has won international acclaim, might have a difficult time choosing which she loves best; animals, art, or Africa. Diment has just returned from her 14th trip to Africa (“maybe it was the 13th … 15th maybe? I’d have to check that, I guess. I’ve sort of lost track.”) It’s a pilgrimage that she’s made as often as she’s been able to since her first safari in 1996.
Of that first trip, she says “I just wanted to go. I don’t think it crossed my mind that I’d go back again and again. It was wonderful, and I actually went back every summer for 5 years, and stayed for 2 – 3 months at a time, helping out with a mobile safari tours group.” A high school art teacher at the time, she pitched tents, helped with washing up, and whatever was needed. One year she stayed for 6 months. “That’s when I really got to see Africa…Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia… and I learned the animals too. Those were some amazing years.”
The outfit she worked with hosted groups of German people primarily, allowing her to use the German that she’d picked up in college. “That was kind of a surprise to actually use it.” But it was her camera that she put to work most, recording frame after frame of African animals, from which she composes her paintings, drawings and sculptures.
“I think that a lot of people misunderstand how wildlife art is composed. It’s not as simple as rendering an especially good photo onto canvas using oils, watercolors, or acrylics. The paintings are composites, really.” She explains that it may be the gleam in the eye of a big cat in one photo, the angle of the tail in another, the way a paw is lifted, and the fur is ruffled by a breeze in others, combined with the way the sun plays on the vegetation and that ‘feeling’ in the air that are somehow blended together in her mind and then on paper to become her work. “My goal in my art is for the viewer to understand that there is a story going on there; that a painting of lions is more than a picture of some big cats. I try to convey the attitude and personality of the subjects I paint.”
It was in 2001, when her plans to return to Africa fell through that one of her paintings was juried into a major art show in San Francisco. The show was all African Big Cats, and it was at that show that Kim met renowned African artist, Simon Combes, whose family had moved to Kenya when he was just 6 years old. “He really took a group of us under his wing and when he started conducting African painting safaris, I thought it might be a little too touristy for me… but I went, and it was incredible. He really took us around to places we wouldn’t have seen.”
It was just a month after returning from safari in 2004 with Combes that he was killed by a cape buffalo. “It was a real shock, and such a loss. He was an incredible person… you should look him up and read his bio. In 2009 I went with his son, Guy Combes who is another great painter and through him and the magic that connects us all, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in Africa. The experiences I’ve had there make me want to go back.”
Travelling over rough terrain in an open sided vehicle and sleeping in tents in places where hyenas, elephants, lions, hippos and other dangerous wild animals live is not without moments of uneasiness. I asked Kim if she’d ever been really afraid.
“I was with a group of women in a bush camp monitoring zebra activity, and in the day talking to the people who lived in the area. It was the middle of nowhere; I mean, it felt like being in a documentary on Discovery. Some of the little kids we met were scared of us because they’d never seen white people before. We were really remote, and just had these tiny tents for sleeping. You don’t realize really how small a single person tent is until you see a picture of one next to a Land Rover. We camped by this dry river bed, and in the night these elephants would come and excavate the river bed, digging for water. An elephant’s whole life is really about getting water. Laying in my tent I could hear them moving around…pretty close…making low sounds.” She describes it as being the sound that movie producers might have chosen for aliens to make.
“I could hear them shuffling around, sometimes trumpeting… You know, when there is an elephant outside of your tent, there’s really nothing you can do. I admit that I was really scared. But elephants are very smart, and they are incredibly careful. They were also very, very close. My partner was sound asleep in her tent. I don’t think I slept very much. One wrong step by an elephant… “
In recent years, it has been her friend Sumbere (Sum-beer’-ee) Toki who has taught her how to read the signals of the animals, to see the signs that they have passed through an area even where there is little evidence, and with whom she’s learned to communicate even though he speaks no English, and she no Swahili. “What’s funny is that at the end of the day I feel like we talked all the time! Somehow we understand one another. I’ve picked up a few words and so has he, but most of the communication is through kind of a sign language that seems to work for us.”
Sumbere figured out pretty quickly that Kim is interested in everything; not just the big animals. So he points out birds and insects, tracks and anything that indicates that something has been there. “He is extremely knowledgeable and is the main “capture man” for the Lewa Conservation Group, which works to protect extremely endangered species; particularly the black rhino and the Grevy’s zebra. He knows what he’s doing, and he knows where to go.”
Kim sent a letter ahead to tell Sumbere that she’d be in Kenya again this year, and was pleased that her friend arranged to spend part of a day with her and her husband, Carl, who for first time visited Africa with Kim. “It was great to get to introduce him to Sumbere, and to share Africa with him. I think he might be hooked too,” she smiles. “It’s difficult to explain to someone exactly what Africa feels like. Pictures show a lot, but the sounds are as rich as the scenery, and the smells are distinct too. Those are the things that can’t be captured in photographs or on canvas. Sometimes when I get home, it all feels like a dream.”
Diment has been drawing animals for as long as she can remember. Growing up in Oscoda, MI “At the other end of the AuSable River”, her mother frequently brought out paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue and paint on rainy days, encouraging Kim to play with them as she wished. “I was always encouraged to be creative, and I’m still pretty much a tomboy. I’d rather be outside, I like to look under rocks, watch birds, get dirty. You know.”
“My kindergarten teacher kind of noticed that there was “something there” in my art, too. I drew this kind of goofy little horse, and she really liked it. I still have that drawing, and I have to admit, that even for a kindergartener, it’s not too bad,” she says. “That was Mrs. Campbell. Then in 2nd grade, I had Peg Ridgway… she had me doing bulletin boards and would let me stay inside at recess to work on art projects. I didn’t know it at the time, but she kept some of the stuff I had done back then, and one day she came to an exhibit where I was showing, and brought it to me. That was really special. Great teachers can make such a difference for kids.”
Kim taught high school art for several years, leaving the classroom behind to pursue art full time. Her work has been featured in many publications including Wildlife Art News, and Artist Magazine. In 2001 she had the Michigan Duck Stamp, and had the Ducks Unlimited Featured Print for the Michigan Chapter. She is currently working to fulfill a contract with the Taquamenon Falls State Parks system, creating a series of limited edition paintings depicting the wildlife of the Taquamenon area; moose, wolves, black bears, and bald eagles, so far.
Recently, she was included in the Society of Animal Artists show, which is a touring exhibit, which includes some of the worlds’s best wildlife artists.
“I love all kinds of wildlife, not only African. I like to take animals such as skunks, raccoons and possums, and use them as subjects too. I think that people grow so accustomed to thinking of them as pests, or just ordinary… or even despising them. I like to shed a positive light on them…to capture their unique qualities and perhaps allow people to see them differently.”
Diment is the co-owner of Main Branch Gallery in Grayling; a gallery of nature inspired fine art featuring Michigan artists. Kim can frequently be found in the gallery, working on a painting or sketch. She hopes you’ll stop by and ask her about Africa! www.mainbranchgallery.com
During the month of May, Kim’s Africa art will be on display in Gaylord at the GACA art center on Main Street.
“I’ve chosen to live in northern Michigan,” she says. “I love this area, the river, the people, and I feel connected to this place. Africa definitely pulls me back again and again, but this is home. This is where I feel most like I belong.”
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