AnneLawsonArt Artists Beckler's Botanical Bounty Botanic Art My art work

An update on the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project

If you have been following my blog for a while you will remember the annual trips that the Fella and I make up to Menindee, a little country town about an hour out of Broken Hill. If you are new to the blog, or have forgotten let me briefly explain.

I am part of a group of botanic artists who go up to the semi-arid area of Outback New South Wales to collect and paint the plants that were found on the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860. Dr Hermann Beckler was the collector as well as the doctor on the Expedition. Our Project began in 2010, and the Fella and I have gone up since 2011.

You can read my posts, which will give you more detail of the Project.

The Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project means many things to me, such as a chance to explore a very unfamiliar environment, an invaluable learning opportunity, a great way to spend time with likeminded artists, as well as being an interesting holiday!

But I know that the Project is much more than that, We have always been aware that it has a place in history. It has brought Dr Beckler’s contribution to Australian plant knowledge to the fore. We collect specimens of the plants to sit alongside Beckler’s in the National Herbarium of Victoria, and each specimen has detailed records of habitat, soil conditions, GPS location and so on. This provides current data on plants that exist in the Menindee Lakes/Kinchega National Park area, data that, when combined with Beckler’s collection, could be very useful for longitudinal studies. It is a great example of how citizen scientists can contribute to scientific knowledge.

As well, it was always our intention to have an exhibition of our paintings. That is happening in February/March/April 2018 at the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Organisation for that is currently ‘full steam ahead’.

My paintings from the Cullen genus:

And my painting of Pimelea trichostaycha:


Now I am asking you to consider donating to the Project. All expenses, such as the travel to and accommodation in Menindee and art supplies, have been met by individual artists, something we have been very proud to do. The Gallery is very generously helping us with expenses for the exhibition, including the catalogue, curation and scanning. However, there are some things that we would like to find some extra money for, such as future publications to put the Project in its place in Australian botanical history.

We have set up a crowd funding campaign, that will run for another 50 days. If you would be able to help us, any amount will be appreciated. To find out more jump over to the Australian Cultural Fund page. If you email me at I can send you a PDF of the campaign.

Thanks for taking the time to think about this.


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Artists Botanic Art

Vignettes — an exhibition pushing the boundaries of botanical art

I always find it interesting to reflect that when I began botanic art workshops I didn’t really like botanic art all that much! I am not sure what drew me to the classes, but something did, and here I stayed. ūüôā

I think that explains why I love contemporary botanic art, the sort that pushes the boundaries of the genre, as this exhibition does. It is¬†Vignettes, showing the work of four¬†artists — Amanda Ahmed, Mali Moir, John Pastoriza~Pinol and Sandra Severgnini — and is on¬†at the Ballarat Art Gallery, a gallery that has a strong interest¬†in botanic art.

Top, L to R: Amanda Ahmed, Mali Moir Bottom, L to R: John Pastoriza~Pinol, Sandra Severgnini
Top, L to R: Amanda Ahmed, Mali Moir
Bottom, L to R: John Pastoriza~Pinol, Sandra Severgnini

Vignette, according to the catalogue, has three meanings

1. a decorative design or small illustration

2. a decorative design representing branches, leaves, grapes or the like, as in a manuscript

3. any small, pleasing view

These definitions fit the exhibition so well. Each artist has 12 works and each is 12.5 by 12.5 cms and each image is a small jewel. The artists are all firmly grounded in the botanic art tradition but, as the gallery website says, they

have drawn on their studies in botanical art to create new work that reflects on human frailties and transient concerns.

These artists make reference to the great botanical/natural history painters of the eighteenth century. The exhibition will be an opportunity to marvel that objects from the natural world can be observed with such minute precision, while suggesting themes of a universal nature.

I first met¬†Amanda Ahmed in class.¬†I was fascinated by a project she was¬†working on that was revisiting the plants that Ferdinand Bauer had painted on an expedition with Matthew Flinders. Bauer is one of the greats of botanic art. One¬†of his images is¬†here, while Amanda’s¬†reinterpretations are here.

Most of her images in the exhibition are single dried, twisted leaves, created in graphite pencil. They float down and across the paper creating a sense of movement. Her initial impetus for the work was a book belonging to her great-great-grandfather, Proverbial Philosophy. She took its musings and illustrations as a way to reinterpret botanic art, coming up with her belief that:

botanical illustration occupies a unique postion in terms of visual representation because of its capacity to blur the boundaries between objective recorded information and subjective interpretation.

Some of Amanda’s art work


Mali Moir was my tutor and is now a friend. She is the inspiration for our Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project. Her background is at¬†the scientific end of botanic art and her work on plants¬†for publication in various flora had to be detailed and very precise. She has been the artist in residence on two bio-diversity surveys, one to Wilson Prom and the other to Papua New Guinea. You can read more about both, including photos, on her website. Mali has painted specimens from those expeditions for this exhibition. There are squids and¬†barnacles (who knew how beautiful they are?!) and bird skulls, delicate transparent sea anemones and fantastically detailed but tiny crabs. She has taken the¬†traditions of scientific illustration — exact scale, minute observation of detail, truthful colour — but¬†has gone beyond, in ways such as sometimes leaving¬†her pencil guidelines and notes. All her works are watercolour painted on vellum (animal skin).

Some of Mali’s work


John Pastoriza~Pinol’s work is also painted onto vellum.

Vellum has been used for hundreds of years, just think of the exquisite Medieval illuminated manuscripts. The delight of watercolour paint is that it allows light to move through it. It is why watercolour paintings can have such translucence. Paper is the usual medium for watercolour as the white paper allows the light to reflect back through the paint. However some of the paint is absorbed into the fibres of the paper. Instead of being absorbed into the vellum the paint stays on the surface of the skin. Imagine how this allows the light to bounce back from the surface through the paint, creating vibrant and luminous paintings. (Apparently it also means that you can easily wash off mistakes!)

John has deliberately used vellum for his work and not only for the painterly effect. His subjects are the harbingers of autumn — a chestnut, a maple leaf, acorns, rose hips —¬†and are presented as a timeline from late summer to late autumn. He deliberately chose the vellum skins according to their thickness, with the thinner ones showing youthfulness and the thicker ones showing growing older and ageing. Because as well as his subjects from the natural world he has included tattoos. Look at the image from the Gallery’s website to see how beautifully this unusual combination works.

Some of John's work
Some of John’s work

Sandra Severgnini was the only artist who I had not seen before. I would certainly love to see more of her botanic work. Even though she was working in the small 12 x 12 cm format her work was beautifully composed. One work was the flower bud of a bromeliad, another only part of the large strelitzia flower. The conventional way of painting a pinecone is to put it in the centre of the page or maybe include a section of branch. Sandra did two pinecone paintings. One an immature cone, the other an open, mature one, and both were painted right on the edge of the paper. Another showed a fern frond just beginning to uncurl from the bottom corner of the picture. Her work was like looking through a small window, where you were made to see the patterns and colours and complexity of the subject.

Some of Sandra’s work

IMG_1446  Vignettes is on until Sunday March 15. The Gallery is open each day from 100:00 to 5:00. Entry is free.

Art Gallery of Ballarat

40 Lydiard St Nth

Ballarat VIC 3350

It is very close to the train station, so easy to get to from Melbourne. And Ballarat is a lovely regional city, with beautiful botanic gardens. Worth a visit to see this stunning exhibition and have a day out as well. ūüôā



Botanic Art My art work

My painting was accepted!

I was so chuffed to pick the painting up and see that little blue dot on it, showing that it had been accepted for the exhibition, “The Art of Botanical Illustration, 2014”. Big hugs to everyone who wrote messages of support, or even just thought them. I think they made the difference!

So now my painting of the plant Cullen pallidum is at the framers, being dressed in all its finery!

So, if you are in Melbourne or happen to be passing through, make sure you get to the exhibition. If you are a fan of botanical art, you will be in seventh heaven, because the standard of works is always very high.

Twelfth Biennial Exhibition of Botanical Art

Presented by The Friends of the Royal Botanical Gardens Melbourne

When:  25 October to 9 November 2014 
week days 10 am – 4 pm weekends 10 am – 6 pm (9 Nov 10 am – 4 pm)
Where: Domain House Gallery, Dallas Brooks Drive, Melbourne 3004

Cost:    Gold Coin donation

Now I can focus on getting ready for my next adventure…..


My art work

Tone and colour, Day 1

I am a botanic artist. Watercolour is the medium that most botanic artists use because it translucent. It allows the light to bounce through the paint, giving a luminosity and depth. Many artists handle watercolour like masters (or mistresses, as so many of us are women).

Not me. Give me a pencil and I can draw you a garlic bulb. Finding tone with a pencil is wonderful. Finding tone/hue with watercolours is often a battle. 

So, when I saw a workshop on tone, hue and colour mixing I was there! 3 days of painting — bliss ūüėÄ (It certainly helped to know that it was the first week back at school for the year. In my old life as a primary school teacher I would have been there, distributing books and pencils and organising seating arrangements. Now I was painting in books, using pencils and not giving a toss about who sat where!)

As an added bonus the workshop was taken by Helen Burrows, very talented botanic artist and teacher. She is a superb painter of camellias.

In this series of posts, I thought that you might like to see a little of behind the scenes of a painting.

We began the day twisting ribbon, that very decorative ribbon with wire edges,¬†into interesting curvy shapes. Then Helen spoke to us about grey scales. She was horrified when a couple of us, including me, not only hadn’t ever done a grey scale, but didn’t really know what one was. I know that you will know, but let me explain it to the others. ūüôā

Tone is the amount of light that falls on an object. Think of that art room cliche, a spherical object, such as an orange. If the light is coming in from the top left where it hits, top left, will be the highlights. The bottom right of the shape will be the darkest (except for a sliver of reflected light….). In between those two areas will be various tones from the very light to the very dark, and a range of mid-tines between. Understanding those tones and translating them to paper will give the orange its 3D effect.

A grey scale becomes a very useful tool. Because I had never done one before, I didn’t realise how useful. This photo is of my grey scale. As you can see, 10 is as dark as your pencil can get and 1 is the white of the paper. You can also see that there is not a lot of difference in my scale between 3, 4, 5 and 6. Interestingly, I now realise that this is an issue in my drawings too. My mid-tones (3, 4, 5 and 6) are often very similar in my work. Having a grey scale handy will be a good reference.

Grey scale for an 8B pencil
Grey scale for an 8B pencil

On to our ribbons. Helen asked us to use our grey scales to create tonal drawings of them. As I said before, I love pencil, and so was able to get right into this task. I was pleased with my drawing. I think it has  drama and life.

Tonal drawing (Photo and image copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
Tonal drawing (Photo and image copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

Then we moved onto mixing a neutral tint for an underpainting. And that’s where things started to go wrong!

A neutral tint is, Helen explained, made of the colours that you would be using in the painting, mixed so that they become interesting greys. Interesting greys?! The others were coming up with beautiful colours, soft and sensuous. Mine were not working! They weren’t grey, they weren’t soft. It didn’t help that I was using cerulean, a blue that is notorious for granulating on the paper. Sometimes that effect is wonderful, sometimes, like now, just annoying!

I applied it to another drawing of the ribbon. This is what I ended up with ūüė¶ ¬†although I added the rose pink later in an attempt to improve it. It didn’t. I had no lovely soft greys, no lovely soft washes. Just clunky lumps of colour.

Grrrr (Photo and image copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
Grrrr (Photo and image copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

At this point I may have looked like a middle aged (hmmm, maybe slightly older!) woman, sitting at a table,¬†battling painting. In my mind I was a child, rolling around on the floor, having a good old tantrum ~ “Mine’s not working!! Everyone else can do it!!¬†I don’t like this!! I don’t want to play any more!! I want to go home!!!”

But, after promising myself the adult equivalent of a lolly (a glass of wine ~ at home ūüôā ) I picked myself off the mental floor and started to work out what I was doing and not doing. While I don’t usually go to the extreme of a mental tantrum, as I am painting I often go through a time when I feel that it is not going right ~ just not jelling into what the finished work should be. Usually I work my way through that and then, at some time the painting just pops into place.

This ribbon was doomed from the outset. No amount of work was going to make it all right, but that’s okay. I think that often we are so focussed on the final product (“This has to be a perfect painting/novel/poem/etching etc”) that we forget that playing and having fun is such an important part. And you learn through play too.

So I left the room on the first day with a smile, only slightly nervous about Day 2. Did Helen really say we were going to paint ROSES? Roses are tricky. Roses are for grown up painters, not for me.