watercolor of rodent skull by emily weil

daily painting | african skull

In South Africa we stayed in one humble, funky and slightly shabby lodge that, as with all the places we visited, had breathtakingly beautiful birds. I called it the Zombie Moth Palace because there were dozens, maybe hundreds, of moths flittering about the outside lights at night, and there were no screens on the windows (only saw windowscreens in one place we stayed). They dive-bombed you while you were in the shower and drowned in the small lake that formed outside the half-broken shower stall (some places we stayed were nicer than others; this one was memorable in many ways). 

But. Just outside our window, in a tree only 20 feet away, there was a nest of an African hoopoe bird. Spectacular! I watched both parents flying to and from the hole in the tree, feeding hidden little ones. They were cinnamon-colored with dramatic crests and black and white chevron-like stripes on their backs. Took my breath away.

So I was standing at the window, admiring the doting parents, and I looked down and just outside our window were big owl pellets. Likely an owl roosted in the eaves just under the roof, ate its meals, and coughed up the hard little pellets (kind of equivalent to furballs of a cat). In the midst of that collection of chucked-up owl stuff was this little rodent skull which I wrapped up carefully and brought home. I painted it a few weeks ago (of course now I can’t find it). 

Oh what a trip that was! Kind of seems like a fever dream now. So many adventures — some amazing, some wretched. Glad I went. Unforgettable.

10″ x 10″ ink, water-soluble graphite on paper




drawing of magpie shrikes in south africa by emily weil

daily painting | lapalala farm

New Year’s greetings! Damn I wish I would write down my thoughts when I’m drifting off to sleep at night. I thought of a great opener for this post (or so I remember, and I’m probably full of myself) but sleep was more valuable than taking notes. I want to thank all of you, my dear friends who read my blatherings. It comforts me to write down my stories and know that compassionate folks like you read them. May we have many joys in 2024. For me, my wish is for no funerals.

Sweet to be recovering from a nasty bug that conked me out right through New Year’s. Made me realize how precious my health is, and how fortunate I am. Had a marvelous Christmas that was graced by a lovely visit from my niece Kirsten who is a doll and, when I started feeling crappy, made sure to leave me with a fridge full of foods and juices. Bless her. She even went out to a favorite restaurant in Oakland to get me chicken soup.

So here’s a sketch from South Africa. Lapalala Farm (I wrote the name down wrong) is in the Limpopo province, the northernmost province in So Africa where we spent our time on my recent trip. This farm grew chewing tobacco that was mostly exported to Sweden. The magpie shrikes were hunting on the lawn of the farm where we stayed, looking for bugs and worms (they were shite at holding still). They have these marvelously dramatic long tail feathers. There also was a nearby bird whose call sounded just like, Whatryoulookinfor? I asked our expert if he knew the call but he didn’t (was unlike him with his knowledge of birds). We saw Paradise Flycatchers (also with long, golden tailfeathers), brilliant turquoise Woodland Kingfishers, African Vultures, Red-billed Fire Finches, Fish Eagles (they look similar to balds) and, wowee, Secretary Birds! I still get goosebumps.

Anyways, here’s the area where we were if you are interested: www.lapalala.com. I’d go back in a heartbeat except it costs thousands of dollars and 22 hours on airplanes. Took more than a week after returning for me not to wake up at 4am. Was totally worth it. Life is a brilliant, colorful feast.

4″ x 6″ ink on paper




sketch of lodge in south africa by emily weil

daily painting | africa

Hello and Merry Everything on this rainy December Monday! Been awhile since my last post, as my world has been a blur of activity, from being warmed and loved by folks who came from all over the U.S. for my brother’s ashes ceremony in Mill Valley to a fun Thanksgiving with my niece and family in Crescent City to an astonishing adventure of traveling to Africa for 16 days for a “road-trapping” trip where we we put “rings” (bands, in the U.S.) on the legs of South African raptors, from falcons to eagles to “buzzards” (we call them hawks in the Americas). All I can say is WOW • WOW • WOW. I didn’t bring paints with me (not a lot of spare time) but did do sketches. Here is a depiction of one of the lodges we stayed in. When we arrived in this particular spot in the African bush, which with its red-rock outcroppings looked like a scene from The Lion King, we were asked to sign a waiver that we wouldn’t sue if we were stung by a scorpion or trampled by elephants or eaten by lions. So thrilling! Elephants were so near we could watch them roaming and hear them munching on branches. We heard lions roaring (never saw them). Thankfully scorpions stayed tucked away but a few large spiders did say hello in our rooms (ugh). It was assumed everything was deadly venemous.

I took a small portion of my brother’s ashes and left them in this place. He never visited the continent. Now he can enjoy the scenery and listen to the lions.

It was the trip of a lifetime, and I’m so happy to have had such a privilege to travel there. South Africa teems with wildlife and we saw baboons and mongooses (looked up the plural version!) and monkeys and hippos and crocodiles and jackals and zebras (pron. “zeh-bra” and one nearby zebra was albino) and countless spectacular birds. I held African eagles in my hands! And falcons! And we saw hundreds of smaller birds with dazzling gemstone colors and long, showy tailfeathers. Our group leaders had encyclopedic knowledge of the birds there.

So. Home now. Where I can freely drink the water and enjoy consistent electricity (South Africa infrastructure is a mess, and the govt. is in chaos) and not worry about malaria or thorns that flatten tires and pierce even sturdy footwear. And the racism was blatant — there were the white Afrikaans farmers, and the Black African workers — white farmers in air-conditioned truck cabs and Black workers standing in the back of the vehicles in 115° heat. A very big chasm between the two. No one tried to hide it and it left me dumbfounded. 

I want to go back. Maybe I’ll win the lottery and go gape at the animals in Botswana. Or experience music in West Africa. What a place. And how incredibly privileged we are to live here. Traveling always brings profound gratitude.

4″ x 6″ ink on paper