Inspired by Wildlife

Over the past two decades, the Art for Animals foundation has raised $200,000 to help injured or abused animals and wildlife. Diana Madaras tells about this journey and her “Spirit Animals” series of watercolor paintings on Yupo.

By Diana Madaras

“King of Sandibe”

I have always felt a deep connection to animals. As a child, I grew up with only one door separating our family’s two-bedroom apartment from my father’s veterinary hospital. I loved watching him care for the animals and spent every moment helping where I could, from filling pet prescriptions to working as his surgical nurse when I was in college. When people dropped off abandoned wild birds, squirrels, or rabbits, I fed them and provided the care they needed.

When my passion for painting led me to open Madaras Gallery (Tucson, AZ) in 1999, I also founded a nonprofit foundation called Art for Animals. Over the past two decades, the foundation has raised $200,000 to help injured or abused animals and wildlife.

“Sister Act” was named in honor of my sister, Sandy Levine. We worked closely on the Africa project when she produced a video about the project that premiered at the opening of the “African Sojourn” art show.

In 2007, I had a casual meeting with Terry von Guilleaume, owner of Destination Southern Africa. When Terry learned about Art for Animals, he offered me a free safari to South Africa and Botswana, and I agreed to donate the proceeds from the paintings from the trip. I returned from the safari with once-in-a-lifetime memories and 4,000 photos.

“Jumping Jack Flash” I loved seeing jack rabbits on my morning walk at Tombstone Monument Ranch when I painted there.

For months I was consumed with painting the wild creatures of Africa, and it was a truly joyful experience. The resulting show, “ African Sojourn,” raised $80,000 for SanWild, a sanctuary dedicated to preserving wildlife and their habitat. The first piece I finished for the show was “King of Sandibe,” a painting that still remains my all-time favorite and represents a very emotional journey. It warmed my heart to help make an impact to preserve the beautiful African wildlife.

This year, as the gallery celebrates our 20th anniversary, I will unveil paintings in the “Spirit Animal” series — 20 in all by year’s end. A portion of the proceeds from these paintings will benefit Art for Animals. I had wanted to do a “Spirit Animal” series for a long time, and last year the bold, vibrant work of John Nieto, a guest artist at Madaras Gallery, finally provided the impetus.

The inspiration for “Katmandu” — “Wilbur” is a permanent resident at the Tucson Wildlife Center, rescued there after he was injured on a construction site.

Painting with Watercolor on Yupo

All of the “Spirit Animals” are painted with watercolor on Yupo paper. I am not a formula painter with a step-by-step routine that I follow every time. I never want my process to become rote or boring, so when I began experimenting with Yupo, I was very excited by the unpredictability. The very slick, non-absorbent paper does not allow the paint to soak in; rather it sits on the surface until dry. The wet paint colors flow together in random and unexpected ways. The process was liberating, and I loved the colorful patterns and textures created.

“Fly Me to the Moon” was the first painting in my “Spirit Animals” series. It flowed quickly and easily, and this beautiful creature with long legs began to appear.

Looking forward, I hope to continue the gallery’s long-standing tradition of finding innovative ways to combine art and philanthropy. I believe that when you have a wonderful, fortunate life, it’s important to give back. Art has taken me on many great adventures. If I can help animals and people through art, there’s nothing better.

Visit to learn more about this nonprofit and to view upcoming events

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Kelly Kane
PleinAir Magazine and American Watercolor Weekly Editor-in-Chief With more than 20 years experience in art publishing, Kelly Kane has served previously as Editor-in-Chief of Watercolor Artist magazine and Content Director for The Artist’s Magazine, Drawing, Acrylic Artist, and Pastel Journal. She has interviewed many of the preeminent artists of our time and written numerous articles about painting, drawing, art education and art history. She is now the Editor-in-Chief of PleinAir Magazine and the American Watercolor Weekly newsletter. Click here to send her an email.


  1. I have just begun to experiment with YUPO after having to do a very tight painting that drove me nuts! I want to know, if possible, how Diana Madagascar managed to control the ‘black’ backgrounds in her paintings…on YUPO?


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