AnneLawsonArt Beckler's Botanical Bounty Botanic Art My art work

Paintings for the Exhibition

The organisation for our Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Exhibition is underway. There are diverse tasks we have to do, but, as you can imagine, one of the most important is selecting the paintings to hang in the Exhibition. To find out more about the Project on my blog click here, or go to the website for more detailed information.

[A reminder that our exhibition will be held at Ballarat Art Gallery in February 2018.]

It was always understood that that each artist would have at least one painting selected. From there on it is up to the team and the curatorial staff at the Gallery to decide which paintings best tell the story of our Project. I am offering up five for selection. I will add a link if I have blogged about the creating the painting.

Four paintings are all in the same genus, Cullen. There are more plants in the genus, but these four are common to the area, depending on the season, and were collected by Beckler. I have written about the genus here. My ability to paint Cullens developed as I went along. So, if I had time I would repaint the first, Cullen discolor. However, it belongs in the set. You might like to have a closer look at the painting in this post.

Cullen discolor (Image and photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

The next year I found Cullen pallidum, the bushiest of the four, and with a soft grey leaf. It is probably the most attractive of the genus, but I have a very soft spot for the humble C. discolor. It seems that I only have a post about the finished work, and not about the progress.

Cullen pallidum (Image and photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

The next to be found was Cullen australasicum, which turned out to be flourishing right on the edge of the Broken Hill Menindee Road. This one’s a real show off! I am sorry, but I have no posts about this painting.

Cullen australasicum (Image and photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)

The last, Cullen cinereum, is still a work in progress, but I hope to finish it in the next week. The spot where I found it last year is under water this year, so how lucky was that? This link will take you to the back story of my painting.

Cullen cinereum (Image and photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2016)

Lastly there is Senna artemisioides subspecies filifolia that I collected this year. [Read the post about it here.] It is definitely a work in progress. I included it for selection because another artist has painted the other Senna that was on Beckler’s list, and I thought the selection panel might like to have a pair of Sennas in the exhibition.


Senna artemisioides subspecies filifolia (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2016)

So, whether these are selected or not is now in the hands of the selection team. I don’t envy them the job, because all the paintings that have been painted have a connection to the Project, and all of them deserve to be in the Exhibition. Many artists have created superb works, often with beautiful, detailed microscopic drawings alongside the plant portraits.

I will leave you with a few closeups of my Cullens.

AnneLawsonArt Beckler's Botanical Bounty Botanic Art My art work

Painting my Cullen cinereum

Don’t we just love to see how creative projects are progressing? I have been following the progress Kate’s Cloth of Heaven, a beautiful quilt she is making as a special present. So, I thought you might like to follow the progress of my painting of Cullen cinereum.

Often I draw feathers, which I sell in my Etsy shop. I am also working on other, looser watercolour paintings. However my C. cinereum painting is a larger, more precise botanic art painting that I am painting for a special project.

I am one of a group of botanic artists who go to Menindee each year to collect plants that were first collected in the area by Dr Hermann Beckler, a member of the Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860. Our aim is to collect all 120 of his specimens and then do a painting of each of them. You can find out more about the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project on our website.

This October was the fifth time the Fella and I had journeyed up there. I was looking specifically for this plant, C. cinereum. Beckler collected four plants in the Cullen genus. I have collected and painted the other three, now it was time to search for this one. Below are my paintings of the first three.

I found it easily enough, on the dry bed of Lake Pamamaroo. So I collected my specimens [and yes, we have permits to do this] and set up my work space back in Menindee’s Civic Hall.

The first stage of painting is not any art work at all, but a lot of research. Accurate identification of the plant is crucial and that means working through the species key provided in reference books ~ what makes this plant Cullen cinereum and not C. discolor or one of the other species? What are the features of the genus? As well there are structural things to look at ~ how does the leaf join to the stem; are all the leaflets the same size? What is it’s habit and what identifying features do I need to include in the drawing?

Some artists move on to doing microscopic work and produce delightful drawings of the tiny parts of a plant. Unfortunately I am not very good at doing this. I do enlarged drawings of different sections, such as leaf joints and flower buds. Such drawings help me understand the plant and are a great reference.

Once I have a good understanding of the specimen before me, I begin a measured line drawing. Botanic art is done at size. Any enlargement, such as microscopic work, is indicated, for example x2, x10 and so on. Tracing paper is great for line drawings as you can rub out as often as you like and not destroy the paper.

This time I also managed to get a tonal drawing done. I laid another piece of tracing paper over the line drawing and shaded in the darker areas I could see on the specimen. Aside from colour matching, that’s all I have time to do up in Menindee. [You may remember the story of the little ladybird that hatched on the plant as I was drawing it.]

So, back home and it was time to transfer the line drawing to the good sheet of paper. I am using Fabriano watercolour paper, 300gsm. At this stage I had to consider the composition of the painting. I am fortunate that the specimen I used had a very nice shape to it. You can see the nice flow in the line drawing. It has a gentle curve that nestles into the corner of the paper and then the strong diagonal across the page. As well this composition shows the identifying feature of the habit ~ that it grows along the ground a little way and then becomes more upright.

To trace it I went over the drawing on the back of the tracing paper with pencil. After placing the tracing on the good paper I went over the whole drawing again to transfer the pencil on the back to the paper. Your really get to know the drawing well when you do it this way!

The drawing traced onto the good paper with some of the washes on the leaves

The next step begins, laying down washes on the leaves, and the tonal drawing comes into its own. I have lots of photos, but they don’t guide me at this early stage. It would be too easy to get carried away and not leave the lighter sections.

First washes on the leaves

This is where I am up to. Most of the leaves have their first wash. I have begun to add in some of the stems and flower stalks as I need to know whether they go in front or behind the leaves.


Close up of an area, to show the stalks going in front and behind the leaves.
Close up of an area, to show the stalks going in front and behind the leaves.
Botanic Art Plants Travels

What a good season for Cullens!

As you know, I have an interest, maybe even a passion for, a genus of plants called Cullens. The species I have painted grow in outback New South Wales, where the rainfall can be very variable. Like all semi-arid plants they are very opportunistic when it comes to water. I am not sure what the rainfall has been this year, but it must have suited the Cullens, because they are at their showy best.

I mentioned in the last post how Cullen australasicum grows on the side of the road. C. discolor is not as showy, but grows determinedly along the ground. Small plants were growing in lots of places.


But the most amazing were the C. pallidum plants.

These lush bushes were growing at the boat launching ramp at Sunset Strip, a little cluster of houses at one end of Lake Menindee. There is very little water in the lake this year, so there is no way that boats could be launched. The sandy beach extends way out, and it is in this sand that C. pallidum loves to grow. It is flourishing here, with more little ones on the way.


The boat launching ramp at Sunset Strip

The lack of water was quite a shock. I have not seen it so low. According to the locals the water has been taken out for use further down stream, some say for wetlands in South Australia.
Those of you outside of Australia may not know that the question of water in the Murray/Darling Basin, the main water system in Australia, and one that crosses through four of our States, is a very vexed one. It is used for irrigation and other agricultural purposes, as well as water for many towns and cities, and, often at the bottom of the list, wetland preservation. There have been many attempts to work out equatable usage, but I fear that there is just too little and that a drop of water can only be stretched so far. Is our environment having to pay the price for our unsustainable practises?

Beckler's Botanical Bounty My art work Plants

Cullen, Australian wildflowers

Now that you have had a chance to get up to date with the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project…..[What, you don’t know what I am talking about? Have a look in the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty category to the right of this page]……I am going to introduce you to the group of flowers that I am painting.

They are Cullens.

Everyone knows Banksias and Grevillias, and many of us have them growing in our gardens. But whenever I say that I am painting Cullens people have a polite but blank look. There are 4 species of Cullen on Beckler’s list. [Hermann Beckler collected plants while in Menindee on the Burke and Wills Expedition. It is his list of 120 plants that we are trying to replicate.] So, let me show you my beauties.

The first is Cullen discolor. This is the species that I have been painting. I will show you what I have been up to in later posts. C. discolor is very prostrate, growing out from a central point. [Botanical practice writes the Latin names in italics, capitalises the genus name, in this case Cullen, and allows it to be abbreviated after the first mention.]

C. discolor (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)
C. discolor (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)
C. discolor  (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)
C. discolor (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)
Close up of C. discolor (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)
Close up of C. discolor (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)

The next, Cullen australasicum was so difficult to find. Although it is an upright bush, I could not see it growing anywhere. Then, as it goes with these things, I saw bushes of them all along the Menindee/Broken Hill Road as we were leaving!

C. australasicum growing prolifically beside the road. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)
C. australasicum growing prolifically beside the road. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)
The flower of C. australasicum, from a specimen that someone else found for me. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)
The flower of C. australasicum, from a specimen that someone else found for me. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)

The third, Cullen pallidum, is probably the most showy and, while being no relation,  reminds people of a lavender.

Cullen pallidum growing by the side of the road in Kinchega National Park. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)
Cullen pallidum growing by the side of the road in Kinchega National Park. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)
The large, showy flowers of C. pallidum. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)
The soft, showy flowers of C. pallidum. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2011)

You have probably noticed a couple of defining characteristics of this genus. Firstly, the flower places it in the pea family, Fabaceae. You can see those distinctive ‘wings’ and ‘keels’ that pea flowers have. However, they don’t have pods like eating peas do. You can see how the seeds are still in their furry individual pods.

Secondly you will have noticed the leaves. Cullens have 3 leaflets (trifoliate), two lateral ones and the third that is a little distant from them. The leaflets have definite veins, which give the leaves a lovely folded look ~ wonderful to paint! They are also quite textured. This is protection from the harsh inland Australian sun.

While I had trouble finding these species, they are not rare in the area around Menindee, NSW. It is more a matter of knowing where to look, or plain luck 🙂 and some seasons are better than others. In 2011 I saw many, large plants of C. pallidum but they haven’t been so prolific in later years. However, Cullens in Victoria are now rare, with many species endangered.

Beckler's Botanical Bounty Botanic Art My art work Plants

Finishing the practice painting

I have been making a big effort to get my practice painting finished. Here is the next sequence of photos of my work. (If you want to catch up on what I have been doing, check here.)

The top leaf and inflorescence is finished, the bottom is waiting.
The top leaf and inflorescence are finished, the lower is waiting.
Finished leaf and inflorescence
Finished leaf and inflorescence
Both leaves are finished.
Both are finished.
Close up of the second leaf and inflorescence.
Close up of the second leaf and inflorescence.

My method is to use very small brush strokes to create the effect I am looking for. That means I need to use very fine brushes as well as a magnifying glass!

I often need the magnifying glass to help with the fine brush strokes.
I often need the magnifying glass to help with the fine brush strokes.

IMG_6810Whenever possible, botanical artists work from live specimens and often go to great lengths to keep the specimen fresh. Sometimes the specimen can be replaced by a freshly picked one. Those were not options for me, as Cullen discolor is a plant growing on the red sandy soils of western New South Wales, a couple of days’ drive from my house. I am relying on the photos I took of my specimen.

The iPad is invaluable. Not only is is portable, allowing me to have the photo close by my work, but also I can enlarge the photos to get that extra bit of detail. Got to love technology!

My iPad is invaluable as it makes my photos of the Cullen portable, and I am able to enlarge sections to get a clearer image.
My iPad is invaluable as it makes my photos of the Cullen portable, and I am able to enlarge sections to get a clearer image.
Beckler's Botanical Bounty Botanic Art My art work Plants

Starting to paint my painting — or practising for the practice piece!

I am going to create a watercolour painting of my plant from Menindee, Cullen discolor. I have already written about identifying it, and the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project that I am involved in.


Cullen discolor growing at Menindee. It loves the sandy red soils.
Cullen discolor growing at Menindee. It loves the sandy red soils.
A small section of the stem that I will eventually paint.
A small section of the stem that I will eventually paint.

Now to show you some of the process.

I am still a developing watercolour artist, and feel much more comfortable with pencil than a paint brush. I have begun with a practice piece, as I have to work my way through the colours and techniques that I will need for the final painting.

Actually, before that, I want to show you some detailed drawings of parts of C. discolor. These were from the live specimens I had when working in Menindee. I wanted to get as much visual information as possible while I still had the living plant.

Drawings from my sketch book
Drawings of C. discolor, from my sketch book

I needed to match the colours as accurately as possible while I had the specimen before me. I made various mixes and recorded the paints I had used. You can also see some of my notes and reminders.

IMG_6682 IMG_6683

Then I began the practice piece. Actually, it was the practice practice piece. As I was painting it I had a crisis of confidence, as I had forgotten how to paint with watercolour washes and do dry brush work. All I could remember were the faults with my technique, especially rushing to the detail too quickly and too much water.

After I had calmed myself down, I went back to basics. That’s the bigger leaf in this painting. I went bigger, slower and thought about what I was doing with each stroke. That helped me to understand how I needed to approach the work. And helped me realise that I could do this after all!

The practice practice painting.
The practice practice painting.

Thank heavens it was not the final, large work on the good (read expensive) paper! Finally I felt ready to begin the real practice painting.

The practice painting -- still to be finished, but almost there.
The practice painting — still to be finished, but almost there.

I still have to finish this painting. Obviously the stems need to be painted in. The leaves need more work, which involves a lot more dry brush work. And they need highlights added to their edges. However, I am happy I have captured the texture of the leaves. (Remember, part of the identification for C. discolor is that the leaves are tomentose to hispid —  rough, with hairs between stiff and soft/matted.) As well, I think I understand how to paint the furriness of the inflorescences. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say! Stay tuned for progress reports.

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Plant identification #2

Correct plant identification is not only important to make sure it is on Beckler’s plant list. 

Botanic art can be defined as ‘making science visible’. Its fundamental purpose is to help both scientists and lay people identify plants. Botanic art is not a still life painting of roses in a vase. It is an accurate painting that clearly shows the parts of a plant which allow the identification of that plant. So, a botanic painting of a rose would include details such as the shape, colour, form, leaves and probably hips — the aspects that allow it to be identified as a particular variety or species.

However, there is the artistic aspect and it is important. The artist makes the decisions on the medium to use, the composition of the painting, the focal point, the size and so on. The painting allows the personality of the artist to come through.

Cullen discolor

I don’t profess to be a top class botanic artist, and my painting skills are still developing. However, I am part of Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project, which, in turn, is part of the tradition of botany in Australia. My painting needs to be accurate.

To be able to make my painting of Cullen discolor as accurate as possible I need to understand ‘tomentose to hispid’. My painting should show a surface that is between matted soft hairs and rough firm hairs. Whether it does is up to my painting skill. I need to know that the petioles are between 2 and 7 cms long so that my drawing doesn’t make them too long or too short. And so on.

My notes

As well, it is interesting to know that C. discolor grows in sandy soils, flowers September to January and is endangered in Victoria. Not many people know what C. discolor looks like. Nor do they know C. pallidum or C. cinereum. They are unlikely to look at my paintings and say “That’s not right”. However I will know and I want it to be as correct as my skills will let me. And it may just be used as an identification tool sometime in the future.

Botanic Art My art work Plants

Plant identification

“Is it on the List?”

Hermann Beckler collected 120 different species of plants around Menindee. It is that list that the Beckler Botanical Bounty Project is using. So correct identification is very important!

The type of habitat where we were searching for our plants

I am a gardener, not a botanist. I find it hard to hold the Latin names in my head. I have no idea of many of the botanical plant terms. So identifying plants was a huge learning curve for me — and I am still only a little way on that curve!

We have been so lucky to have had the support of a botanist whose work takes him regularly to Kinchega National Park.  As you walk with him he points to plants and says, “That’s a so and so (fill in Latin plant name here), that’s a such and such (add different Latin name). That one over there is on Beckler’s list, this one isn’t.” So he was able to help sort plants in the field. That was a massive help.

Looking for the right plants

However much we would have liked it, he couldn’t always be with us. And sometimes he was unsure. So then it was back to the reference books.

I am working on plants from the genus Cullen. This year I was working on a species Cullen discolor. But I had to be sure that my identification was correct.

Cullen discolor

It is described as ‘a perennial herb with stems prostrate to 1.5 metres’. Okay, I get those terms. Then the description said ‘tomentose to hispid’. These I discover are descriptions of hairiness. Its leaves are pinnately 3 foliate, narrow to broad, lanceolate to elliptic and less pubescent on the upper surface. The margins are toothed. There are petioles and stipules, peduncles and calyxes — and I never got to dissect the flower, which has more specialised terminology!

Reference material

So, having nutted my way through the key, and gone to botanical dictionaries and other more knowledgeable people, I am confident that this is Cullen discolor.

“Perennial herb with stems prostrate to 1.5 metres.”

At least I knew that this Cullen was ‘on the list’. Some artists went through the identification process, only to find it was one that Beckler hadn’t collected. Then it was out into the bush again to repeat the process.