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Book Review: African Diaries: Sketches & Observations by David G. Derrick Jr.

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With two young daughters deeply enjoying art at home and in school, I find myself in the new position of having to look for books that combine art with education. Sometimes these books document the lives of famous artists while showing some of their more well known works. Sometimes I stumble on books that combine travel, education, and art in a unique way to share more than words or pictures on a page, but also an experience. African Diaries: Sketches & Observations, by David G. Derrick, Jr., is one of those books.

Derrick self-published African Diaries, which is comprised of sketches and writings about his trip to Kenya. He uses an amazing array of artistic techniques, from watercolors and chalks to pen and sculpture. It's a very personal look at how he saw not only the wildlife in Africa, but the people as well.

African Diaries CoverHe started in Nairobi, but quickly went beyond the bounds of the teeming third-world capital city. He seems to have found a way to go on safari as much as humanly possible, documenting what he saw and thought through words and pictures.

Visiting the Nairobi National Park, just outside of the city of Nairobi, he watched giraffes in the wild – the Rothschild, Masai, and Reticulated. He says in the book "Watching giraffes in the wild is an experience. They move around slowly and deliberately, their heads moving back and forth as they glide through the tall grass…"

The amazing part for me about Derrick's art is the sense of movement. I'm not an artist by any stretch, but I've come to appreciate the gift some artists have for capturing static art and giving it life. It's not just an unmoving drawing or painting, but somehow it comes alive. You can see that gift in Derrick's work throughout the book.

From Nairobi, he headed to Abonseli National Park and was greeted by Masai men and women. He became enamored by their simple existence and exuberance for life. At Abonseli, in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro, he watched herds of elephants move freely in the park. One of the elephants captured his interest enough to be forever etched in bronze – a large male with large tusks and oily tears staining the sides of his face, making him quite distinctive. The final bronze is a beautiful, life-like representation of this majestic male elephant, proving more of Derrick's artistic prowess.

African Diaries, sample page 1Other animals found in Amboseli included gnu, cape buffalo, Grant's and Thomson's Gazelles, giraffes, hippos, zebras, and warthogs. It was a busy place it seems!

The artwork of a male lion eating a kill in the Mara was amazing. You could watch this majestic beast take a carcass into the grass and crunch on bones and flesh. He captured it beautifully, with vultures flying overhead, then walking away.

If you have a fascination with Africa or dream of going on safari, this is a great introduction to one man's experience. With the gift of his artwork, you feel as though you're there with him in the wild, watching these amazing people and animals in a native habitat you could find nowhere else in the world.

I felt honored to share this with my wife and daughters, who love animals and the wild, and want to experience an African safari firsthand. This is probably as close as we'll get for a while. I for one would love to see more of his experiences.

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About Fitz

Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!