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Artists Botanic Art Melbourne Plants

The Art of Botanical Illustration 2014

Unfortunately the Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibition, organised by the friends of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Melbourne, is finished. Also, again unfortunately, I have no photos to show you. Photography was not allowed. Even if it was I would not show photos of the works of others without their permission. They are not mine to show. However follow this link to the Friends website to see the digital catalogue. Other links through the post will take you to menu of the catalogue and from there you can select the name of the artist I am referring to.

Botanic art is not still life or floral art [perfectly valid art forms], but rather a scientific depiction of a plant. That sounds rather dry until you recognise that there is a spectrum, from the pure scientific drawings that you would see in an encyclopaedia of plants, drawings that have to be accurate to exact length of the hairs on the stem, through to paintings that might be ‘portraits’ of the plant, almost floral art. Within that range there is scope for all sorts of works.

There were paintings in the exhibition that some might have been taken aback to see — orange segments, single autumn leaves, walnuts and seaweed. For me, each work displayed showed the amazing diversity, complexity and fragility of the our world.

It is the artist’s job to tell the story of the plant, flowers and seed, habit and form; to convey the complexity of the plant. We have to make artistic decisions about how to do that. What medium is best suited to the plant? What composition will tell the story best? I am always amazed at the quality of the works in exhibitions, and feel lucky to be able to learn from these wonderful artists.

Watercolour is the traditional medium for botanic artists. It has a transparency that allows the light to shine through. If you get it right it is perfect for plants like roses and poppies or plants that have very fine detail. Jennifer Wilkinson‘s Iceland poppy shows how subtle and delicate watercolour can be.

A number of artists chose other mediums because they were better suited to their plant. Have a look at Simon Deere‘s wonderful, controlled works in graphite [pencil]. Other artists, like Sandra Johnston, selected coloured pencils. The bark on Sandra’s eucalyptus work is amazing. For others the best solution was a mix of media. Two of my favourites used watercolour and graphite.

Joanna Hyunsuk Kim exhibited a couple of Strelizias, and both were gorgeous. However it was the S. nicolai that demanded that I stop and look. It was a dried flower head. The detail of the husk was captured beautifully in graphite, while the petals were watercolour. What really made it for me were the seeds. They had been painted in bright orange and popped off the page when compared to the muted tones of the rest.

Another perfect mix of media was Anne HayesBanksia serrata. The image on the website is lovely, but it doesn’t show the texture of the original. If you have ever touched the leaves of a banksia you will know that they have an interesting combination of a fuzzy surface with tough, prickly structure. Anne has captured that beautifully. And the control of the pattern of the seed head……oh my.

I was also taking note of composition, looking to see how others tell the story of the plant. I was lucky that on my plant, Cullen palladium,  the seeds, mature flowers and buds are all on the one spray. Other specimens are not so accommodating!

Fiona McKinnon solved the problem by having the different stages of the plant on different stalks that intertwined over the page. Kate Nolan’s composition for her Spinifex sericeus combined a couple of strand of the plant. This was another wonderful example of mixing media. Who knew that the humble beach grass could be so ethereal?

These are just a small number of the works. If you saw the exhibition, I hoped you liked it. Tell us, in the comments, which was your favourite. If you missed it, there will be another in two years, with another stunning selection of delights for you.

 

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Artists Beckler's Botanical Bounty Botanic Art

Beckler’s Botanical Bounty

Looking for the right plants, Kinchega National Park (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2012)
Looking for the right plants, Kinchega National Park (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2012)

It is a while since I have posted about a project I am involved with — Beckler’s Botanical Bounty. I will be letting you know more about it soon, I promise. But as a taster  I am giving you a link to our blog, Beckler’s Botanical Bounty.

It is an interview with Evelyn, one of the artists involved. Her work is wonderfully detailed ~ detail achieved by her microscopic work. So if you have ever wondered about the role of microscopes in botanic art, head over to read her interview.

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anne4bags Botanic Art My art work

Almost Just Joey ~ Workshop Day 3

Last days of a class that you have enjoyed is often tinged of regret. This last day of the workshop was no different, and I was determined to make the most of my time.

Just to recap, on Day 1 Helen Burrows worked us through tone, grey scale and mixing neutral tints, while Day 2 was about colour bias and other colour theory. There was a rose painting thrown in.

Day 3 was the time to tie it all together.

I chose a Just Joey rose. It was open and flouncy, with lots of beautiful curves and folds. There were strong highlights and delicious glowing depths. Just what a rose should be. By the way, whenever possible botanic artists work from the real thing, not photos. Therefore it helps to have a good supply, or paint things that don’t change much, like feathers and knobs of garlic! It also means that, before we start, we try to get as much information about our specimen as possible. Line drawings, tonal maps, colour swatches all help.

First step was the line drawing. This was much easier than the bud I attempted on Day 2. I am not sure why. More understanding of the shape? My eye was “in”? A fluke? Probably the last!

While I was drawing I was taking mental notes about the colours and the hues (which I think are tones with colour). I was also looking for the little details that make the drawing real ~ which line goes under, which go over, what happens at the end the curl of the petal and so on.

Then to the colour mixing and creating hue scales. A hue scale is like a colour swatch from the paint store. It helps to understand the range of that colour (hue), from the darkest of pure pigment to the lightest of washes.

I have admitted before that colour doesn’t always come easily to me. Part of my problem is that I am lazy, believing that close enough will be good enough. So while I did some hue scales, I could have done more. Consequently the colour I ended up using with was not accurate. So my painting of the beautiful Just Joey rose is also not accurate. To defend myself a little, I was conscious of time passing…..and the exercise was to see highlights and shadows.

My hue scales (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
My hue scales (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

Hmmm. Could do better. The pencil letters are the paints that I mixed in order to get the colours ~ Quinacrodome Red, Quinacrodome Gold and Windsor Yellow Deep,  If I don’t record them, I easily forget.

On to the painting? Not quite yet. Next step is to create a tonal map/drawing of the rose. It is easy to skip this step, but I like it. Not only because I love seeing tone, but because it gives me vital information about the plant I am drawing. Then, when it goes to the compost, I have can still paint with reasonable accuracy. However, I have always done these as separate drawings. Helen’s suggestion was to do it on tracing paper, over the top of the line drawing. This is a great idea. The tonal work matches the line drawing

Tonal map (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
Tonal map, created on tracing paper (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

Now on to the painting. Following those beautiful curves. Making the depths of the rose glow. Finding the nuances of tone. Understanding that on the rose there are 2 different sorts of shadows. There are the cast shadows, those made by another petal blocking the light. On my rose they were soft blue grey. Then there is the darker tone created by the light shining through the petals. These were the areas that glowed. And remembering not to get caught up in the detail of each area too soon. This was to be a first wash.

Line drawing with the paint, in progress. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
Line drawing with the paint, in progress. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)

I only had time that day to get it to the stage shown above. Time was up, for both the workshop and the specimen! I was confident that I had enough information to be able to finish it at home. Not altogether the case, however. I wasn’t sure what was happening with the petals at the top left. I knew that the light was strongest on them, so I hoped that I would only need to suggest shape and hue. If the painting reads well (ie convinces us that this really is a rose) then our brains fill in the rest.

The next photo shows the tonal drawing, done on tracing paper, over the top of the work in progress. You can see how the tonal drawing helps to determine where the darks should be.

Line, washes and tone. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
Line, washes and tone. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)

And finally, the finished painting!

The finished rose -- almost Just Joey! (Photo and image copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
The finished rose — almost Just Joey! (Photo and image copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

I am very please with the painting, especially as an early attempt at a rose. (It is available for sale in my Etsy shop. Either follow this link, or click on the photo.) Maybe now I am enough of a Grown Up Painter to do more roses!

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Beckler's Botanical Bounty Travels

Menindee, outback New South Wales

Keep heading north from Mildura and you reach Broken Hill. Then turn south-east along the Menindee Road, drive for about 100 kms or about an hour to come to the township of Menindee.

Menindee is a small country town in outback NSW. It isn’t the sort of place you just stumble across — you have to know that that’s where you are going. However, lots of people have found it, including Burke and Wills. In 1860 their expedition spent a few months here, as it is where Burke established the supply camp.

The aim of the Expedition was to discover an inland route from the south of Australia to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the north. I have written about the Expedition before. So, if you are interested, have a look here. A new plaque has been put up outside the Maidens Hotel, where Burke and Wills stayed. This is the map of their journey, from the plaque.

The route of Burke, Wills, Grey and King. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
The route of Burke, Wills, Grey and King. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
The new plaque, outside the Maidens Hotel
The new plaque, outside the Maidens Hotel 

It was because of the Burke and Wills Expedition that the Fella and I headed to Menindee. A group of botanic artists, including myself, have a project to collect (with permission) and then paint the specimens that were collected at Menindee by the doctor on the Expedition, Hermann Beckler. We call ourselves Beckler’s Botanical Beauts. Again, to find out more information about Beckler and my involvement, have a look here.

Can there really be interesting plants here?
Can there really be interesting plants here?

The country is dry, red dirt. As you drive along it seems like only saltbushes and the occasional scrubby tree grow here. What’s to find there? Well, plenty. Beckler collected 120 specimens, and that was only some of the species that are out here. Many of the plants are small, growing up in the protection of the bushier ones; or they creep along the ground. Once you stop to look, you can see lots of beauties.

Or here?
Or here?

It’s a landscape that doesn’t look very promising.

 

 

 

 

 

But once you get out and look, there is plenty to see,

like these…

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

IMG_8322

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
Heads down, finding lovely plant treasures
Heads down, finding lovely plant treasures

Next time I will tell you more about the town of Menindee. It was my third year of staying here, and I am becoming very fond of it.

Categories
Artists Odds and Ends Travels

Canberra odds and ends

Just a few bits and pieces from my recent Canberra trip.

The War Memorial is an iconic part of Canberra. This Honour Roll stretches along this wall and the colonnade on the other side. Way too many deaths. The red poppies are a symbol of remembrance. You can see some on the statue of Simpson and his donkey.

Honour roll, at the War Memorial, Canberra (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Honour roll, at the War Memorial, Canberra (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Simpson and his donkey, War Memorial, Canberra (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Simpson and his donkey, War Memorial, Canberra (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

And how could we not eat an ANZAC biscuit (or 2!) there?

ANZAC biscuit, War Memorial cafe, Canberra (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
ANZAC biscuit, War Memorial cafe, Canberra (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

There was an exhibition at Old Parliament of some paintings from one of my favourite Australian artists, Arthur Boyd. I fell in love with his works when I saw the series of paintings in the Arts Centre, Melbourne. They are of Pulpit rock in different lights. Gorgeous. Check them out if you are in Melbourne.

Boyd had a social conscious, which he put into his paintings. He was passionate about the environment, Indigenous issues, nuclear power and human rights. This exhibition in Canberra helped me to understand some of the symbolism that he used to express his ideas. I am only posting 2 photos, but may do another post on Boyd at a later date.

Large skate on grey background (1979) is a very large painting of, no surprises here, a skate on a grey background! Sounds like an odd subject, but it was a beautiful painting.

Large skate on a grey background, 1979
Large skate on a grey background, 1979

Picture on the wall, Shoalhaven, (1979 – 80) a clever painting, showing Boyd’s concerns with nuclear weapons.

Picture on the wall, Shoalhaven (1979 - 80)
Picture on the wall, Shoalhaven (1979 – 80)

A little snippet that I found interesting…When Bob Hawke was Prime Minister he chose a very similar painting to this one to hang on the wall in front of his desk. He had a wide choice of art work, and could have had more than one. But the Boyd painting was the one he wanted to look at each day.

 

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Artists Travels

Turner from the Tate in Canberra — part 2

I mentioned before about the Turner exhibition in Canberra. Last time I posted about his watercolour paintings. This time I would like to show you a few of his oil paintings. His oils are very popular. Apparently his work, The fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth before being broken up 1838, was voted the most popular painting in the National Gallery in London. (It was not in the Canberra exhibition.)

The camera battery was about to expire, so I didn’t take many photos of the oil paintings.

Turner was was a mature artist when he first visited Italy in 1819, after the Napoleonic Wars. The quality of light was an inspiration to him. (I wonder what the impact would have been if he had been younger and less experienced.) The light in this painting of Venice is amazing.

Venice -- Maria della Salute (Exhibited 1844)
Venice — Maria della Salute (Exhibited 1844)

The sea fascinated him as well. In his later years he spent much of his time at Margate, where he studied the interplay of light, atmosphere and waves in many different conditions. In this next painting you can see the crashing waves, the lighthouse and the town caught in a yellow glow. Above it all is the maelstrom of the clouds.

Waves breaking on a lee shore at Margate, c. 1840
Waves breaking on a lee shore at Margate, c. 1840

Sun setting over a lake. What an ordinary title for such an extraordinary painting. This next one needed time for things to reveal themselves. Out of the mists the mountains and ridges emerge. Is the shore there? Maybe that is a boat. The complexity of the painting is staggering — and the beauty is overwhelming!

Sun setting over a lake 1840 - 1845
Sun setting over a lake 1840 – 1845

This last painting to show you was very moving. It is A disaster at sea, c. 1835? Its alternative title is The wrecked female convict ship, the Amphitrite: women and children abandoned in a gale. That tells you much of the story, but not all of it. The Amphitrite was transporting British female convicts and their children to Australia when it was wrecked off the French coast. The ship’s captain refused French help to save the women, because he had orders to only land them in New South Wales.

A disaster at sea c. 1835?
A disaster at sea c. 1835?

This painting needed a place in this blog for a few reasons. Firstly it is a powerful painting of such a needless tragedy. Secondly, I like the idea of these women and children finally arriving. To reach NSW, even as a painting, completes a circle for me. Thirdly, it has resonances with the refugees who are coming here by boat today — drownings at sea, orders that are cruel and inhumane, an acceptance that some lives are worth more than others.

Categories
Artists Travels

Turner from the Tate at Canberra

Last post I wrote about going to Canberra. The impetus for the trip was to go to the exhibition “Turner from the Tate”.

J.M.W. Turner (1775 – 1851) was a sensational painter. Even today many of his works are cutting edge; the impact of them in the 1800’s was forceful. I am currently reading about him, and may well write some more in a later post. (I am the living example of ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’!) If you are unfamiliar with him as an artist, have a look at the link above.

The exhibition showed Turner’s work over his life. His early works didn’t do much for me. However I loved his watercolours, and it is those paintings that I want to show you today. I will show you his oils in the next post.

Before I do, a couple of words about my photos — they are not very good!! Foolishly I didn’t take the charger for my camera’s battery. Of course, as soon as I got to the gallery the warning light started flashing. The battery lasted, but I didn’t feel confident about changing settings as I went. Consequently they are too yellow, and some are down-right crooked. Of course, they would have been perfect otherwise! (Or maybe not!) And I did have permission to take them.

Turner's travelling paint box. These are the paints that he actually used! (Sigh..)
Turner’s travelling paint box. These are the paints that he actually used! (Sigh..)
A sketch book from his very extensive collection. He was a prolific artist, and seemed to have a sketch book ready to use at all times.
A sketch book from his very extensive collection. He was a prolific artist, and seemed to have a sketch book ready to use at all times.
Scarborough c 1825
Scarborough c 1825

According to the catalogue, in the 1810’s Turner began to plan out his watercolour images as blocks, or bands of colour, or ‘colour beginnings’. Some are preparations for specific works, but others are experiments with different effects of light or atmosphere.  The following are four photos of such works.

A storm c. 1840's
A storm c. 1840’s
A beginning, c1840's
A beginning, c1840’s
Blue moon over yellow sands, c. 1824
Blue moon over yellow sands, c. 1824
Compositional, colour and underpainting study for "Longship's Lighthouse, Land's End" c. 1834
Compositional, colour and underpainting study for “Longship’s Lighthouse, Land’s End” c. 1834

Turner was a master of watercolour, using the medium in ways that had not been used before. He wanted to give his watercolour work equal prominence with his oils. This painting is large.

High Force, Fall of the Tees, Yorkshire, 1816.
High Force, Fall of the Tees, Yorkshire, 1816.
Corner detail of: High Force, Fall of the Tees, Yorkshire, 1816.
Corner detail of: High Force, Fall of the Tees, Yorkshire, 1816.

The following paintings show some of Turner’s fascinations — for the sea, for Venice, for mountains. But his paintings, no matter whether oils or watercolour, always show his love of light and atmosphere. (And sorry, I don’t seem to have recorded the titles of some of these.)

IMG_7935

 

IMG_7936 IMG_7937

A Swiss lake; also known as Lake Lucerne: the Bay of Uri from Brunnen  1843?A Swiss lake; also known as Lake Lucerne: the Bay of Uri from Brunnen 1843?

Lake Lucern, with the Rigi, c. 1841-42
Lake Lucern, with the Rigi, c. 1841-42

I was so delighted to see this last painting. It comes from the National Gallery of Victoria, so it was like meeting up with a favourite someone you haven’t seen for a long time. We are very lucky to have such a masterpiece in our state collection.

The Red Rigi 1842

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Artists Books of the Month

July book, and another thing

It is a little while since I have posted about books I have been reading. (Isn’t it funny how you start this blogging caper with firm ideas about what you plan to do, and then, after a while those ideas seem to wander off somewhere else!) But I have been reading.

The tale of Beatrix Potter: A biography  by Margaret Lane

Beatrix Potter’s Art selected by Anne Stevenson Hobbs

Beatrix Potter is famous for her illustrated stories, especially The tale of Peter Rabbit. I think my favourite is The tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. 

Her ability to draw the natural world in exquisite detail began at an early age. She was almost an only child — her younger brother was sent away to boarding school at an early age — in an upper middle class Victorian household. An academic education for Beatrix was not an option and so she was tutored at home. It was a very lonely life that she filled with animals and drawing.

The high point of each year was when the family, including her brother Bertram, went on holiday to Scotland and later the Lake District. The children had freedom they never had in London. They were fascinated by the natural world, and brought back many treasures, including animal bones they boiled the flesh off. In the nursery in London Beatrix kept rabbits and other small animals. She drew it all — birds’ eggs and caterpillars, foxgloves and fox skeletons.

The book of Potter’s art shows what a beautiful artist she was. We know her as the creator of Peter Rabbit. She could not have achieved the simplicity of her illustrations without having many years of practice behind her. There are studies of rabbit ears and drawings of her rabbit in his box. Even when she dresses her animals, the true form and nature is there.

As well Potter was a superb natural artist. Before she published her books she had completed an artistic survey of fungi, including dissections and microscopic details. She also painted butterflies, with microscopic detail of the scales on the wings. She did studies of a dead thrush, the skull of the family cat and fossil studies. All are beautifully done. There are many works in the book, some of them can be seen here.

Against the wishes of her family Potter was engaged to Norman Warne, her publisher. However he died before they could marry. Later in her life she married William Heelis and settled down to life on her farm. She didn’t continue with her books. It’s interesting to see the photos in the biography. As a child and young adult she is very serious, no smiles. On her wedding day there is a very shy smile, and later photos show her beaming! How wonderful that she was finally able to find the life that she wanted to live.

And another thing….

I found the biography on the shelves at my Mum’s house, untouched since the 70s. It has been nibbled by silverfish; it has thick, slightly yellowed pages; it has that old book smell; it has a dust jacket; and best of all it has a wonderful inscription to Mum on the frontispiece. Can an ebook have any of that?

Happy reading!

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Artists Melbourne Uncategorized

Ahhh, the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV)

Yesterday I intended to go to the blockbuster exhibition at the NGV. When I got there I thought “Monet can wait”, and I went on a guided tour of the general collection instead. A great decision! The guide, Julia, was wonderful, very knowledgeable and interesting. One of the things I really appreciate about tours like this is that the guides show me paintings that I would walk past. I might not always like them, but guides like Julia give me so much more, explaining symbols, the history of the work and so on. They explain why that work should there with all the other glorious things.

Before I take you to two that Julia showed me yesterday I have to show you two exhibits in the foyer.

The blockbuster I didn’t see (but will!) is ‘Monet’s Garden’. As we know he is famous for his water lilies. Celeste Boursier-Mougenot has reworked this concept to create a stunning, zen-like acoustic installation.

Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen
Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Here it is as the whole. Yes, they are simple white bowls.

Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen, in the foyer of the NGV
Celeste Bousier-Mougenot: clinamen, in the foyer of the NGV (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

It is a circular pond. A pump moves the water, which causes the bowls to float and move. If that graceful movement was not enough, there is the sound that they make as they gently collide, like the bells in a temple. As you can see from the photo so many people were entranced, sitting, watching, listening. If you are passing by, pop in and have a look. You won’t be disappointed.

Also in the foyer is this gorgeous creation. Again it was very eye catching!

Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer
Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer

This (taxidermic) deer is covered in various sized glass beads. I loved the effect, but found it a little disturbing.

Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer
Kohei Nawa: PixiCell-Red Deer

Now our tour continues up a few levels of the gallery, to look at two very different paintings of the Virgin Mary. First, the paintings:

Sassoferrato: 'Madonna in prayer' (Italian, painted about 1640-50)
Sassoferrato: ‘Madonna in prayer’ (Italian, painted about 1640-50)
Bernardo Cavallino: 'The Virgin Annunciate' (Italian, painted about 1645 - 50)
Bernardo Cavallino: ‘The Virgin Annunciate’ (Italian, painted about 1645 – 50)

They were both about the same size, painted around the same time, both Italian. While they are paintings of the Virgin Mary, they are very different interpretations. (And I have walked past both paintings a number of times without stopping to look!)

The sign next to Sassoferrato’s Madonna (the first painting) said “a classic example of the Catholic Church’s emphasis during the Counter-Reformation on reaffirming devotion to the Virgin Mary.” It is a beautiful painting, showing Mary as she is usually portrayed, demure, devoted, and wearing blue robes.

Then there was the second painting. It would have been paired on an altar with a painting of the Archangel Gabriel announcing the dramatic news to Mary. Cavallino has painted this work so wonderfully. He uses highlights to emphasis his message. The light falls onto Mary’s face. Her expression is somber, and I think the red around her nose indicates that she has been crying. This is not the usual portrayal of the Annunciation, which show Mary ecstatic and filled with joy. Instead she is a young woman who has just received some overwhelming news. She is human, her emotions are real.

However, her hands are also highlighted. They are held in a position that shows acceptance, acceptance of the news from Gabriel. For me, it is a very moving painting. She   is challenged but also courageous and dignified.

I am so glad that Julia made me really look at these two paintings.