My Sketchy Journey in South Africa

My Sketchy Journey in South Africa

by Lesley Martyn

“I’ve joined a Saturday morning Art group for the next 4 weeks!”
“What??” said my husband. “Since when are you interested in art?”

This conversation was 6 years ago, almost to the day. I was feeling extremely stressed at work — we were running a large complicated Game Reserve in South Africa and I kept feeling that I needed a creative outlet where I could de-stress from the challenges of work. I had been following a local graphite artist for some time and much admired his realistic drawings. When I saw that he was advertising a Saturday morning art class, I jumped at the opportunity and signed up. The first lesson was really overwhelming and I felt completely out of my depth and clueless! Nevertheless, I was determined. I chose my reference photo (no half measures here — it was of my very spotty Appaloosa horse!) and got stuck in! I immediately fell in love with the process and the meditative experience it gave me. I couldn’t wait to draw every day after work, and finished in record time and so I started another. Before the 4 lessons were up, I had drawn both my horse and my dog. We persuaded Vince to carry on with a weekly gathering of our art group and there started my love affair with pencils.

Make a Wish — this drawing of my nieces was my first exhibition entry ever (2019) and won an “Encouragement Award” from the CPCAU.

After a few months, I started hearing more about colour pencils from another artist in our group. I was intrigued and went home and started researching — found articles, YouTube videos, master artists’ pages. I bought my first set of pencils! It was so exciting opening that first box of LYRA Rembrandt Polycolors. All those gorgeous colours and they felt nothing like those pencils we used at school. I started experimenting and found tutorials I liked the look of from artists I really admired and whose style resonated with me, and adapted these to my own work. Just 6 months after starting to draw in colour pencil, I was approached by SA Artist Magazine to do an article which was a real honour.

“It was a real hunt online to find
the tools and materials”

When I started with my colour pencil journey, we didn’t have a lot of resources available to us in South Africa. It was a real hunt online to find the tools and materials that I heard international artists talk about (for example, Pastelmat was almost impossible to find!). Added to that, the exchange rate from South African Rand made the cost of our materials so high. Even today, some of these challenges persist. (Fortunately a super online art shop opened its doors around about the same time as I started drawing, and with the encouragement of a few South African CP artists, started bringing in more supplies at great prices.) There was also a really small community of CP artists in SA, quite fragmented all over the country, and so many of us were working in isolation without any society to unite us. I joined the CP Community of Australasia, and threw myself into that, becoming Secretary until it closed. What a fabulous experience this was and so many wonderful artists I met along the way — all so willing to help with advice and give support to this ‘newbie’.

Cow's Lick — I find so much inspiration from our own farm. This is one of our Nguni cows nicknamed “Jakalas” (meaning jackal) for her unusually patterned coat.

In 2020, together with a number of South African pencil artists, I was involved in forming The Drawing Guild of South Africa which aims to create a platform for local South African Artists to showcase their talent in the drawn medium. We hold one major exhibition a year amongst other initiatives and are making great inroads in bringing awareness to the fact that the drawn medium can stand its own!

I’ve entered a few competitions, exhibitions, online Magazine submissions — not always successfully but it challenges me to have something to work towards.

Peekaboo — growing up in Zimbabwe we often found these little Bushbabies in the trees in our garden. Here I've started to play with Panpastel backgrounds including them in my drawings.

From my journey so far, I have learnt a lot along the way. My personal advice to artists starting out or to artists who need a bit of a confidence boost:

— Follow your heart. Draw what you want to draw, not what seems to be the latest trend or style. We each have our own uniqueness waiting to emerge.

— Don’t be scared to approach more experienced or professional artists. Everyone started somewhere (at the bottom!) and worked hard to where they have got today. I have had nothing but encouragement and support from artists who I have made friends with.

— Get involved – offer your help setting up an exhibition, be an online moderator, sit on a committee. This is a great way to meet other artists, share ideas, learn a lot and feel part of a like-minded community.

— Investigate, be curious, research, experiment – look at new ways of doing things, follow artists in other genres – you can always learn something new and it keeps things interesting.

— Don’t feel pressurised into entering competitions, exhibitions, selling your art. That isn’t for everyone and comes with its own set of challenges and stresses. Your art should be an enjoyable pastime.

— This may seem opposite to what I’ve just said, but DO challenge yourself from time to time and draw something out of your comfort zone. You will learn so much.

— Don’t feel disheartened if your art isn’t always accepted into this exhibition or you don’t win something in that competition. Art is subjective. What appeals to one judge may not appeal to another.

— Smack that imposter syndrome on the head!

And above all else – enjoy yourself.


Born in Zimbabwe, Lesley relocated to South Africa as a teenager where she completed her schooling. Lesley and her husband farm in the Eastern Cape Highlands and draws when she has time off from farm duties! Lesley draws a variety of subjects in a realistic style, with a particular focus on animals. Her work has featured in art magazines, and won a number of awards. She's a founding member of The Drawing Guild of South Africa which aims to showcase South African Artists in the drawn medium.

FACEBOOK: Lesley Martyn Art

Comments (5)

Inspiring!! And so humble about her talent. Love this woman, love her talent!!!!

Sandy Harvey - Jan 16, 2024

The pieces Les has done for me are absolutley incredible. She just gets better and better. I love her work and our friendship 💜

Debbie Gurney - Jan 16, 2024

I have known Lesley all her life, we grew up together. I am astounded at her incredible talent, I had no idea just how gifted she is. Beautiful person creating beautiful art.

Gill Hore - Jan 16, 2024

Well done Lesley. God’s gives us all a creative spirit. Some of us are afraid to follow. Bless you. You followed your dream and succeeded.

Yvonne Peterson - Jan 16, 2024

Les, this is a wonderful depiction of your ‘art of your heart’ journey. You have given us a ton of inspiration, encouragement and sound advice. I really enjoyed learning more about you and your artistic path God has blessed you with. Thank you for sharing with us.

Randi Mackey - Jan 16, 2024

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