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.



Off to the Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibition — a walk through Melbourne

Two years ago, when I was new to the blogging world, I published this post about going to the Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibition. I am going to republish it, because I like it! Also, last week I went along much the same trail, as I visited the 2014 Exhibition, so I have added in some extra photos.

I am going to tell you about the exhibition in my next post. However, for now, have wander through Melbourne.

Yesterday I did my volunteer stint at the Art of Botanical Illustration Exhibition. It is a fabulous exhibition, with many beautiful paintings. If you are in Melbourne, follow my trail to Domain House to see these stunning works. If you can’t make it, enjoy the walk through Melbourne.

I got off the 57 tram and had coffee in Block Place, walked through the beautiful Block Arcade, over the mosaic floors,

The beautiful Block Arcade
Mosaic floor, Block Arcade




and down Melbourne’s lanes that are thronging with people drinking their lattes and eating lunch.

Melbourne Lane

The walk takes us past Flinders Street Station

and Federation Square, to cross the Yarra


The Yarra River








go past the National Gallery of Victoria and further up, ‘Weary’ Dunlop‘s lovely statue.

The National Gallery of Victoria


We keep walking up St Kilda Road, under the trees with their spring growth to reach the outside of the Botanical Gardens. The Tan track circuits the Gardens and we have to dodge the runners and walkers, their dogs and prams to reach the Shrine.

The Shrine

Only a little further now. Past the Observatory, turn right at the Herbarium,

The Herbarium

past Latrobe’s Cottage, with its spring flowers

to Domain House. And we are here. Enjoy the exhibition!


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.

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!


Just add heat — Robyn Hosking

My last post was about an exhibition of my friend’s work. Her enamelled creations are delicate and intriguing. Wendy put the show on with another artist, Robyn Hosking. I didn’t know of Robyn’s work, but I did enjoy it.

She creates political satire with ceramic figures — and Australian federal politics over the last few years has given her an overabundance of material to comment on! Those of you who are overseas may not understand the nuances of the politics, but everyone can appreciate the quality and originality of her quirky work.

Work of Robyn Hosking (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Work of Robyn Hosking (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Work of Robyn Hosking (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Work of Robyn Hosking (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Work of Robyn Hosking (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Work of Robyn Hosking (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Work of Robyn Hosking (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Work of Robyn Hosking (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

This last one is titled “Rudd’s Travails: Backbenched, Bound and Gagged.”

Work of Robyn Hosking (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
Work of Robyn Hosking (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
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.



Astounding exhibition — Louise Saxton

'Last Gasp' by Louise Saxton
‘Last Gasp’ by Louise Saxton

Louise Saxton’s exhibition at the Gould Galleries, South Yarra was mind blowing. She pins reclaimed/recycled material onto tulle to create these stunning works. The close up shows more. If you look very closely you can see the pins. On some works she used a pin with a white end to create the flash of highlight in the eye of the bird.

Close up of 'Last Gasp', Louise Saxton
Close up of ‘Last Gasp’, Louise Saxton
'Black Prince' by Louise Saxton
‘Black Prince’ by Louise Saxton

Look how cleverly she uses the colour and tone of the lace and material to create the highlight on the back of the insect, and so makes us believe it is 3D.

Close up of 'Black Prince'
Close up of ‘Black Prince’

But Saxton’s creativity goes beyond the beauty of her works. They all reference work of other great naturalist painters. ‘Last Gasp’ was after Maria Sibylla Merian’s painting, as was ‘Maria’s Saturn’. Maria Sibylla Merian lived in the 1600s and travelled to Surinam to paint. Her story deserves a blog post of its own. Saxton has faithfully reconstructed some of John James Audubon’s paintings, as well as John and Elizabeth Gould‘s.

‘Ellis’ Paradise’  was in response to a bird of paradise painting by Ellis Rowan, an Australian botanic artist, who also deserves her own post. Look at the sumptuousness that Saxton achieves. This was my favourite, and I marvelled at the detail she created with just the perfect piece of lace and embroidery. By the way, this work was huge!

'Ellis' Paradise' by Louise Saxton
‘Ellis’ Paradise’ by Louise Saxton
Close up of 'Ellis' Paradise'
Close up of ‘Ellis’ Paradise’

These are only a small selection of her work on display. This site has a gallery of her work, including images of her pinning the lace onto the tulle. Her exhibition is on until May 31. If you can get to South Yarra in Melbourne you are in for a treat. Louise Saxton’s blog link is here. As she says on her post, none of her birds and insects will be coming home with her after the show, as they all sold! How wonderful for her to have a sell out show, especially in this climate.

(Apologies for the rather ordinary photos. And yes, I was given permission to take them. :))


The art of science

The art of science: Remarkable natural history from Museum Victoria

The other day I had a day trip to Mornington, down on Port Phillip Bay. It was a glorious day, about 30 degrees, and lunch on the Mornington Pier was just perfect. However the reason we went down there was to go to this exhibition.

Mornington is lucky to have such a prestigious gallery, that curates some outstanding exhibitions. This one is no exception — but an exhibition of scientific illustration was bound to appeal to me!

It is a touring exhibition, organised by Museum Victoria. As the brochure says

Museum Victoria’s archive of artworks, working drawings and rare books traces the development of scientific art and provides a glimpse into a world of uncommon beauty.

What incredible archives they must have!

Like botanical art, scientific illustrations of animals must be accurate enough to use for identification. At the same time there needs to be the artistic component. Composition plays a vital role to make the art work as dynamic as possible, as well as to put the creature within an environmental context. John James Audubon’s bird engravings are high class examples of this, and there are about half a dozen of his works  to drool over in this exhibition.

It was fascinating to follow the development of understanding of animals. European naturalists often first encountered Australian animals in the form of dried skins, or as specimens preserved in alcohol. From these they had to recreate creatures that were very exotic.

Later, after European settlement in Australia, naturalists had the chance to observe live animals. It also coincided with the golden age of science, when life forms were being collected, classified, dissected. Here were some of my favourites in the exhibition. Ludwig Becker’s Weedy Seadragon (incidentally, Victoria’s marine emblem), Arthur Bartholomew’s sublime illustrations of frogs and John Gould’s bird lithographs.

Developments in paleontology expanded our knowledge of extinct fauna. Peter Trusler works closely with paleontologists to create fossil drawings that are mind blowingly exact and lifelike. Of course digital photos have given scientists so much more understanding of the micro level, and there are some stunning ones by Ken Walker in the exhibition.

Fortunately Museum Victoria recognises the importance of continuing the tradition of scientific art. Contemporary artists, including two of my tutors, Mali Moir and Kate Nolan, have worked with the Museum and have works of art in the exhibition.

The Museum Victoria website has digital images of quite a number of the works I have mentioned. It is worth a browse around. And have a play with the egg/butterfly display. There was a full size version of that and I was delighted with the exquisite shapes, colours and textures of the eggs.

If this has fueled your desire to see the exhibition, I am sorry to say that it will finish at Mornington in a few days. However, it is a touring exhibition and will be going to Adelaide, Ballarat, Mildura, Gippsland and Sydney. Tour dates and places here.


Books of the Month

January books (yes I know that it is February!)

Some of the books I read in January…..

Lesley Harding and Kendrah Morgan: Sunday’s Garden

Reading Autumn Laing rekindled my interested in John and Sunday Reed, and their life at Heide. My public library’s catalogue has turned up a few books, including this one.

The Reeds’ property Heide was a meeting point for artists and intellectuals, who, as the foreword says “rejected the more conventional avenues of living and learning.” It goes on to say

The Reeds, along with Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Joy Hester, Arthur Boyd, John Perceval, Max Harris, Danila Vassilieff and others embraced radical art and politics, and pursued a freshness of vision that saw many of them become key figures in Australia’s cultural history.

A story about Sunday and Heide must include the artists and intellectuals who lived there or came to visit. However, this book looks at this fascinating era from a different angle. Sunday Reed was a passionate gardener, and her creative talents came to the fore in her garden. Sunday’s garden details how she designed it, worked in it and encouraged others to enjoy it too.

In 1980 the Reeds sold Heide to the State of Victoria. The art gallery shows world class exhibitions and Sunday’s gardens are still an integral part of the property.

I enjoyed the book. It is crammed with luscious photos, letters, works of art. I wonder though whether I would have enjoyed it as much if I was unfamiliar with Heide. If you are in Melbourne, make the time to go there, if only to wander through the beautiful gardens on the banks of the Yarra and think of Sunday and John.

J.K. Rowling: A casual vacancy

Barry Fairbrother dies, leaving a vacancy on the local council and Rowling follows the ripples that his death creates in the town of Pagford. Actually, there are more than ripples. For many characters tidal waves sweep over them, exposing their foibles, secrets and strained lives.

I wasn’t a Harry fan, so I had no feelings one way or the other about Rowling’s new direction. I didn’t really want to read it, so I grumbled a bit when Ruth suggested it as our Book Club read. However, I am glad that she did because I enjoyed it. (Thanks Ruth.)

Rowling creates a believable group of characters and their actions drive the book. As in Harry Potter, her teenagers are the most credible and well rounded. I really enjoyed the strength and integrity of Krystal.

Robert Engwerda: Mosquito Creek

Set in 1855 on a gold field in Victoria; it gave a good insight into what life would have been like. It was a good read, but the ending was most unsatisfactory. Why did it have to end abruptly and leave so many loose ends?

Books of the Month

November books

Who doesn’t like a good read? Some that I read this November were:

Autumn Laing by Alex Miller

Miller thought he was going to write a book about a famous Australian artist, Sidney Nolan, which would have included his relationship with Sunday Reed. Sunday, with her husband John, owned land on the banks of the Yarra River in Melbourne. Their home, ‘Heide’, became a centre for artists who were pushing the boundaries of Australian art. They were looking for a way to tell the Australian story and not just follow the European one.

However, the voice of Autumn Laing, who is loosely based on Sunday Reed, dominated Miller’s mind and then his story. At the beginning of the novel Autumn is a feisty, farting old lady, who is furious to find that she feels the need for redemption. She begins to write the story of her affair with emerging, powerful artist, Pat Donlon (again, loosely based on Nolan), and the impact it has on her husband Arthur and Donlon’s wife Edith, as well as their friends.

I think Miller has two strengths. Firstly his ability to create characters. I enjoyed the way he wove his descriptions through the book and even the minor characters, such as Stony, have solidity and interest.

The second strength is the way he has the philosophical discussion about Australian art through the book. There is no polemic, but Miller looks at the issue from a range of different view points, from Edith’s to Louis’, and especially Donlon’s — don’t talk about it, just do it. And then there is Autumn’s realisation as she flies above inland Queensland

“Scrawled lines of green and gold and deep brown, random silver foil meanders, broken and uncertain in their courses, and white sky windows through to the world on the other side of this world. Australia was revealed to me as an elaborate, multicoloured etching; the vision of an unknown artists’s eye. A portrait of my country, unfamiliar to me, wrinkled and crumpled, scratched and scoured. Broken with abrupt shifts of tone and form, stains and inexplicable runs of colour one into the other, purple and rose madder, vast swathes of grey and fierce angry dragon spots of emerald green.” (p389-90)

It was our Book Club book for the month and our discussion was lively as we tried to come to grips with creativity, Australian art and truth  — accompanied, of course, by glasses of champagne, a cheese platter and a yummy orange cake. Thanks for suggesting the book Marie!

A castle in Spain by Matthew Parris

There are many books about Englishmen and women buying and renovating derelict houses in Mediterranean countries. Parris’ book is different because it is largely about the house, l’Avenc and the surrounding  Catalan countryside, rather than the trials and tribulations of builders and red tape.

L’Avenc is high on a cliff in the Collsacabra area in Catalunya (Catalonia), the hinterland of Barcelona. The house was partly Gothic and then added on to in the Renaissance. When it was bought by Parris, his sister and brother-in-law it had been deserted for decades. Rebuilding it took time and money, and skilled labour from local craftsmen.

I have become fascinated by the Pyrenees after a trip to south-west France earlier this year. This book fueled my interest in this area south of these magnificent mountains. He describes a landscape of rugged beauty and villages carved from stone, of walking tracks that take you along cliff tops and through gorges. An area to wander through and enjoy. And all of this just a short drive from the Costa Brava coast.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

Just when I thought I had read all the Prachett books in my library, another one jumps out at me from the shelf. This continues the fabulous Discworld series. Like the others, it kept me amused!