About Ilse de Villiers

Doing What She Was Born To Do…

ILSE with her painting “Got you in my Sights”

Ilse was born in Durban, South Africa and grew up in KwaZulu-Natal, mostly in Pietermaritzburg, and presently lives with her family in Tzaneen, Limpopo Province.
“Although I was always considered relatively talented and always enjoyed drawing, my artistic abilities were never really recognized, nor was I ever encouraged to pursue art”, says Ilse. Making a career as an artist wasn’t even part of her wildest dreams.

Coming from a relatively conservative Afrikaans background with more secure roots as educators rather than artists, Ilse attended university to study to become a teacher. She completed her B.A degree and Diploma in Higher Education at Bloemfontein University. “There, I also met the love of my life and husband, Abraham de Villiers, who completed his B.Agric. degree in 1985”.

They married in 1987 and lived for two years in Bethlehem, Free State where Abraham worked at the Agricultural Cooperation as an agricultural advisor & Ilse taught at a local high school. Two years later Abraham’s father asked if they would come help with the family maize farm & they relocated to the Middelburg/Bethal area.

Once they started a family, it didn’t seem worthwhile for Ilse to continue teaching. “I was always busy on the farm producing something, if it wasn’t sewing clothes or gardening, I was baking.” Whenever she could be creative, she was happy.

By 1996, they had three children: a son of five, a daughter of four, and a six-month old boy, when in August a terrible tragedy struck the family. “Surviving the loss of a child isn’t something one can even begin to contemplate. After some months of trying to put our shattered lives together again, a dear friend and neighbor suggested I try my hand at painting. At that stage, fabric-paints were the latest craft-craze, and I reluctantly gave it a try”.

Ilse found the creative expression therapeutic & and began spending more and more of her time painting, “And in a very roundabout way, that was the beginning of my life story as an artist”.

In 1997, the family relocated, this time to northern KwaZulu-Natal where their maize/wildlife-farm was situated close to the Ithala Game & Nature Reserve.
“Abraham and I always loved the bushveld and nature in general & it was only a matter of time before we befriended Ithala’s management and game rangers. “They quickly learned that I painted, although it was mainly funny birds, fruits and flowers at that stage”.

Then one of them asked if she would mind painting them a lion. “In fact, that was my very first wildlife art commission!” Ilse was very reluctant at first and clearly told her first client, “I don’t paint animals”-But her husband persuaded her to give it a go, and she was pleasantly surprised by how satisfied she was with the result. “It inspired me to try my hand at a Cape buffalo and a yellow-billed hornbill”. And, as they say: “The rest is history”.

Through the use of acrylic on canvas, she creates a new world by skillfully harmonizing wild animals into a natural colourful reality.

Through the use of acrylic on canvas, she creates a new world by skillfully harmonizing wild animals into a natural colourful reality.

In 1998, Ilse bought her first “serious” art materials: canvases and professional-quality acrylics. “Slowly, I made the transition from casual painting-for-fun to the realistic depiction of wildlife”.

“I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist and painting animals exactly as they are in nature has always been my mission”. Ilse has come a long way since 1998, and “I’m now very proud of how my technique has developed and my style has grown”.

To this day Ilse still hasn’t had any professional art-school training, “Although I would have loved to have had that opportunity, I know my path to become an artist happened exactly the way it happened for a reason”. That reason is that her work is pure ILSE, never influenced by anyone else’s ideas or judgment of what is “right or wrong” or “acceptable or not”. “I truly paint from the heart”.

Ilse finds inspiration in special scenes and settings of wildlife in the wild or through photos of wild animals. LIGHT, specifically the contrast between sun and shade “stirs and excites me and makes me run for my canvas and brushes”. Although she works from photographs as reference in her studio, “The animals on my canvas have to be ALIVE!”

Ilse & her husband Abraham, is always looking for outstanding photos, as well as opportunities to visit the bush personally to build her own wildlife photo references. In March 2014 they had the wonderful opportunity to go on a “Big Cat Safari” to Kenya’s Maasai Mara with professional wildlife photographer Daryl Balfour, his wife Sharna, and the Wildphoto Safari team. In addition to hosting his 5-star safaris to the Maasai Mara, he decided to set up two 2015 safaris in collaboration with Ilse: A “Big Cat Safari” (15-22 March 2015) and a “Migration Safari” (22-29 August 2015) for eager photographers, wildlife enthusiasts and art lovers who want to experience the magic of the Maasai Mara with Ilse and the Wildphotos team.

ILSE with four of her recent works of art.

In 2008, Ilse had her first opportunity to show her work abroad & exhibited at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) held annually in Charleston, SC.  She showed at SEWE from 2008-2016. She has also shown her work at the Safari Club International Michigan Chapter, and at the annual wildlife art show Natureworks in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Since 2017 she annually exhibits her work at the Dallas Safari Club Convention – Dallas, Texas.

“I realize I probably would have made “a name” sooner if I’d used an agent or worked through galleries, but somehow that wasn’t how my path developed. That said I love the personal touch of clients contacting and buying from me personally & many of my clients end up becoming friends.

I’m proud to say that I have managed to build a solid client base over the years, both in South Africa and abroad…And every year I have the privilege to add a few names to this great group of wonderful & loyal clients who support me in all I do.

A doting animal lover, from family pets to wild animals everywhere, Ilse is a member of AFC-Artists for Conservation and has on numerous occasions donated paintings to be auctioned off to raise funds for different Conservation projects she cares about.

It is Ilse’s belief that artists can make a huge difference in making people aware of conservation and the plight of different species on our planet.

And lastly: “I can truly say I love doing what I do. Since becoming a full-time wildlife artist, I’ve found total fulfillment. I know without a doubt that this was what I was born to do.”


Wildlife Paintings, Ilse de Villiers, South Africa, Elephant Paintings, Buffalo Paintings, Leopard Paintings, Zebra Paintings, Rhino paintings, Antelope paintings, Lion Paintings, Black and white paintings, Bird Paintings, Available Art.