I am an artist, photographer and teacher who travels the world recording images of people and life in sketchbooks, on canvases and online. Never without my camera or a sketchbook and pen, I use my day-to-day experiences and travel journals as inspiration for my artwork.

As far back as I can remember I kept a journal whenever I went on holiday. My mother encouraged me to record what I had done that day in words and pictures, probably to keep me out of mischief. I suppose the habit of keeping a travel journal stayed with me. After studying Art and Art History at university I took a gap year to travel around the world and kept a written and visual daily record of my experiences. My gap year evolved into a gap decade, and I spent the rest of my twenties exploring Asia, North Africa, North America, South America, Europe, Australia and Oceania as solo female traveller. To help fund my travels, I trained as a teacher, and taught overseas in Portugal, Poland, Syria, Egypt and Hong Kong as well as in England, in London, Cambridge and Nottingham.

Because I was a solo independent traveller my journals and later my blog became a good way to share my travels with family and friends back home. There were so many things that fascinated me about the different places I was seeing; the people, the landscape, the food, the culture, the nature, the religion, and the general overload on my senses. Wanderlust became the inspiration for my art.

In my early thirties I returned to England and retrained as a journalist, working on newspapers and local radio stations in Yorkshire, where I also met my husband and we had our three children. But soon the travel bug bit again, and we decided to work abroad, to give our children a taste of international life and an experience of different cultures. So, for the last ten years we have been living as an expat family, first in Sweden, then in East Africa; in Tanzania and Kenya, and now back in Stockholm.

In my artwork, every picture literally tells a real story. I have always tried to capture a particular moment in one image. Paintings and photographs have been inspired by busy markets, lively city streets, tucked away cafes, cultural festivals, religious experiences,  vast never-ending landscapes, curious rock formations, and the flora and fauna which is synonymous with countries and climates. When I arrive at somewhere new I walk around for a bit, trying to go off the beaten track a little, to get a feel for the place. While doing this in my head I start to plan photographs or paintings. I then return to these places and wait for an interesting moment to happen – a person walking by, a vehicle passing, an interesting shadow, some bright clothes.

When creating a painting, first draw a sketch in a sketchbook, where I think about the composition of the painting. Next, I add colour to my sketch, usually using soft pastel as they are quick to use and bright in colour. From here I put my work onto canvas, adding the lines and shapes initially with chalk and soft pastels. Once I start painting I do the background first then as the picture develops I build up the images using a vibrant colour palette and impasto technique. Sometimes I scratch through the thick paint layers to reveal the different colours below. Finally, I add the details, patterns, and some sweeping dark lines.

I hope my paintings will give you a little spark of wanderlust.

Ali Dunnell

  • Sketching in my journal in Havana, Cuba
  • Sketching under the palm trees in at the Serena Beach and Spa resort in Mombasa, Kenya
  • Ali sketching in St Petersburg, Russia
  • Work in progress - paintings and sketchings for Travels with my Art
  • Frida, Ali, Lottie, Mark and Leon on the edge of the Ngorogoro Crater, Tanzania
  • Doing some sketching with a helping paw from Modraniht my cat
  • Shop-window selfie, with Mark and Russian dolls, in Moscow
  • Wing-mirror selfie in a safari car in the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
  • A selection of my sketchbooks - the inspiration for my artwork
  • Me in my art studio