Cheryl graduated from the North West University in Potchefstroom after completing a BA in fine arts.
A few years later the university published a botanical field guide of the Faan Meintjies Nature Reserve close to Klerksdorp, of which Cheryl did the botanical illustrations. That is where her love affair with nature and wildlife art started.
Cheryl and her family moved to Pilgrim’s Rest in the late ‘80s where she was appointed principal museum human scientist at the Pilgrim’s Rest Museum.
Her work involved research but also included graphic design, the designing of brochures, publicity and marketing, as well as curating museum and art exhibitions.
After a career of 24 years in heritage conservation, she left the museum in 2008 to focus all her time on her calling as a wildlife artist.
“One of the important things that has motivated me to pursue this is that I see it as doing my part for nature conservation.
“To me, nature is an essential part of my art, and it is impossible to step away from nature when I do what I do. I really hope that each of my paintings will help people to see the beauty in nature and to realise that we must take care of our natural inheritance.
“We all know the tragic fate of many animals like rhinos and lions. I fear that my grandchildren will be the last generation to see these animals roaming freely in a place like the Kruger National Park,” says Cheryl.
Living in Pilgrim’s Rest makes it possible to visit the Kruger Park often and she regularly goes there for inspiration.
Except for taking pictures and doing sketches of the various animals, which she then transforms into paintings, Cheryl also does a lot of the planning and designing of some of her paintings in the park.
She likes to take her granddaughter, Jade, with her. Jade and her family live in White River which is practically on the doorstep of the Kruger Park, and for Cheryl it is a wonderful experience to teach her everything she knows about the various animals, trees and birds.
One of the paintings that is very close to her heart, is one of three lions, mysteriously appearing from thick mist.
“Last year in June I stayed over in Satara for a few days. Very early one morning I was on the tar road going to Nwanetsi when suddenly I saw a big male appearing out of the mist from nowhere, walking towards my car.
“I was just getting ready to take some pictures when the second and third male appeared from the mist. They were the males of the Shishangaan pride, the fathers of the well-known white lions of Satara.
“That was just an amazing experience and I couldn’t wait to get back to my studio in Pilgrim’s Rest to start with the painting. It was sold soon after completion, but up until today I am really sorry that I had to let it go.”
Cheryl explains that she often designs her paintings on the computer. When she is satisfied with the design, she carries it over to the canvas, first with a pencil sketch.
Only then will she start to use paint and brushes to create her artwork. She laughs and says every painting that she makes has a life of its own. Often it leads her to a completely new place and she just follows where the painting takes her.
“A painting is a story told on canvas. It is definitely a way to communicate with someone who is going to look at it. Wildlife painting is not as easy as it seems, but a specialist area.
“Someone painting a portrait of a human being has to know the human anatomy but if you paint an animal, you have to know the anatomy of that specific one, whether it is a lion, buffalo or antelope, they all differ.
“You first have to study it intensively before attempting to put it on a canvas,” Cheryl explains.
You will find an exhibition of her art for sale at Johnny Reinders’ excellent restaurant, The Vine, in downtown Pilgrim’s Rest.
She also has a website and sells a lot of art on the Internet. Some of her art is part of collections in the USA, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Europe.
Cheryl says she does not think that she will ever stop painting. “When you are an artist, you never retire. It is a way of life!
“Although being one is a lot of hard work, I do it because it is part of who I am. As an artist, you have to open your mind and your ideas to experiences, good or bad. To transform these experiences into a piece of art gives me tremendous joy!”
Text: ALITA STEENKAMP
Photographer: HENNIE HOMANN