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Amy was born in Calcutta, India into a family of Tea Merchants. After schooling at Downe House, Amy completed a Foundation at Middlesex Univesity and then went on to gain a Bsc Hons and Msc in Textile Design at UMIST in Manchester. She then worked in the fashion trade in London before heading out to Kenya in 1997 to pursue a career as an artist.
"This move from the urban jungle of London to the Great Rift valley had a profound and positive effect on me creatively. The sense of freedom and adventure was tangible and I started to sketch and paint to document these adventures and share my experiences."
"Our light aircraft allows my husband and me to explore this amazing country. Kenya has such a diverse range of natural environments, peoples, birds and animals. There's incredible beauty in it's raw, untamed wilderness, mountains, deserts, the laid back rythm of life along the coast and the fusion of cultures found in the Lamu archipelago."
"My paintings preserve memories of Kenya and express my connection to Nature and the Natural World. Patterns and repeats found in tribal textiles, jewellery and architecture of Africa and Asia are used on canvas and frame and pay homage to the fusion of the diverse Cultures found here - an exotic blend of African, Arabic, European and Asian. "
LOW COST AFFORESTATION IN AFRICA TREE SEEDS IN A PROTECTIVE CAPSULE CHARCOAL DUST + NUTRITIOUS BINDER
Amy is a member of a new and exciting reforestation initiative called SEEDBALLS KENYA.
Article by Alexandra Barlow - Cloisters Magazine
What career did you envisage for yourself when you were in the Sixth Form at Downe House?
I was pretty certain I wanted to go onto Art School and be creative. I left Downe in ‘88 and did an Art Foundation Year at Middlesex Uni (formerly Harrow College of Art). I then thought it would be best to do a trade, rather then Fine Art, so went off to UMIST in Manchester to do a BSc, followed by an MSc in Textile Design, Design Management & Technology. As it turned out, all I ever wanted to do was paint, so perhaps I should have pursued Art College more rigorously. If you love to do something and can make a career out of it, it’s a very precious thing.
How did Kenya become your home and what made you fall in love with Kenya in particular?
Having finished the MSc in Manchester, I then thought a career in Trend Forecasting sounded good and something I was very interested in. I was (ill-) advised to spend time in retail so worked in a fashion house on Bond St for a short while. I was so bored that all I did every day was dream of painting. Then, my cousin in Kenya asked if I would help run her small textile business whilst she had her first child. I jumped at the chance and arrived in Kenya in February 1997. Immediately I loved the feeling of freedom and adventure. This is a country of big skies, incredibly beautiful landscapes, as well as amazing wildlife and birds and full of welcoming and lovely people. There’s a real entrepreneurial spirit here—people invent, create, up-cycle and recycle to make ends meet.
Can you provide a brief overview of your career to date?
Since moving to Kenya 22 years ago, I have held one big show every year in Nairobi. This is a month long solo show around November each year. A few years back I also did a number of ‘The Animal Art Fairs’ in London and a solo show near Newbury, but there’s a growing art buying market here in Nairobi so my focus is here at the moment.
Describe your average workday.
7am - Wake up with coffee and computer in bed!
8am - Run 3km with one of my dogs.
9am - Pop up to the rooftop studio, put music on and knuckle down. I will go with the flow depending on how I feel: small, big, still life, landscapes, animals, I will paint whatever I feel like at that moment. I might also do my hand printing either on frames, canvas or paper. I stay up in the studio till 5pm every week day. I feel it’s imperative to be disciplined about work and really put in the hours. I have made a great art studio (apart from monkeys misbehaving) and staying up in the tree tops all day painting and listening to music is no hardship. After 5pm and during weekends at home I can focus on updating web sites and social media.
What have been some of the biggest obstacles you have had to overcome in your career?
The main obstacle is to get established. There are many different ways to be a successful artist and gather a following. One can be represented in a gallery or be independent, do shows or commissions or both, or sell through the internet. Each artist must figure it out and decide what is best for themselves and their situation. I prefer to do one show a year and really work hard to make a full collection of paintings. I do not take on commissions as I have so many of my own ideas I need to try out.
What has been your greatest accomplishment in your career?
Simply being able to afford to do what I love everyday and support two full time carpenters. I never stop challenging myself and learning. Being your own boss is fantastic, but it never stops!
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Learn your craft, work hard, enjoy it and keep expanding. Time flies so make everyday count! Also, learn how to run a small business of any type by the age of 16. This way it becomes second nature and you have the tools to turn a hobby, talent or creative idea into a business. I would love to see that as an integral part of school curriculum. And finally, living here in Kenya and seeing the struggles people go through day to day, jump at every opportunity that’s presented - don’t take anything for granted.
Where do you find the biggest sources of influence in your art?
I am influenced by my life and travels in East Africa, India and beyond. Everything I see is inspiration, from the animals and landscapes seen on safari to patterns found in North African, Indian and Arabic jewellery, architecture and textiles.
I see you have your own plane which is incredibly cool, how has it supported your work?
My husband has his PPL (Private Pilot’s License) and bought our 4 seater Piper Cherokee 235 ten years ago. I have taken a course on how to fly and land from the co-pilot’s right hand seat (just incase anything goes pear shaped!).
We feel it’s a time machine that allows us to get away most weekends, weather permitting, and we can reach most places within a one hour flight. Thus, we can do a one night safari and get back home to relax on a Sunday before work begins Monday. It’s actually safer up in the sky than hurtling about on Kenyan roads!
I then have plenty of photos and sketches and inspiration to work with in the following days and weeks. Seeing Kenya from the air it is all too apparent the negative effect Man is having on the environment and the changes that are occurring year on year. This certainly drives our philosophy of giving back to the environment and trying to do our bit to help to reverse the damage. With Seedballs Kenya we are not only involved in large scale tree and grass reseeding of badly affected areas, but we are also working with schools and community based organizations to assist in Seedball distribution and environmental education.
SEEDBALLS KENYA was started by Teddy Kinyanjui and my husband, Elsen Karstad in 2016 with the aim to reforest and regenerate areas that have been badly damaged by human and sometimes even elephant activities. The indigenous tree & grass species suitable for East Africa are sourced from Kenya Forestry Seed Center and coated in a protective and nutritious coating, including salvaged charcoal dust from urban charcoal vending sites in Nairobi. The coating also protects the seed inside from predation from animals and birds and from the sun.
buyers, but by social media and news organizations too. I am thrilled there has been several social media videos made that have gone viral—the biggest with over 45 million views!
We have set up a Donate page on the web site seedballskenya.com that allows anyone to donate a bag of Seedballs to a select few organizations that are active in conservation programmes here in Kenya. They will get the right seed type to the right area for distribution. It’s such an
10 Questions & Answers
The coating looks after the seed until the first rains when it helps to hydrate and nourish the seed until it can take root. Compared with planting individual seedlings the Seedball method allows for much easier, cheaper and wider distribution throughout areas which are often very hard to get to.
My role is the design and management of the web site. My aim is to have a one stop source of information, photos and news about Seedballs Kenya that can be accessed world wide by not only potential
exciting concept and has attracted interviews by the BBC, German State TV and The Independent amongst others. We all have a duty to reduce our carbon footprint, but sometimes it’s difficult to know what to do. By donating a bag you will be helping to regenerate forests directly in Kenya. You really can make a difference! Please take a look at the site to see what we have been doing. Over 4.8 million* Seedballs have been distributed into wilderness areas across Kenya since 2016!
* Now over 6,299,500 Seedballs
Can you tell us about “Seedballs”, your involvement, and how others can join the movement should they want to help?
6,299,500 Seedballs distributed since Sep 2016