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Friday, 27 November 2015

How to paint Atriplex stipitata ~ a process, by Roslyn Glow

What is the process an artist uses to paint her plant? In this series Roslyn Glow will take us through the process that she used for Atriplex stipitata.
She begins by getting to know the plant.

Atriplex stipitata is a modest subject, but I know from experience that, no matter what my initial reaction, by the time I have studied a plant and found out a bit about how it makes its living and the history of its discovery, I will undoubtedly find it fascinating. 

Atriplex stipitata

I turn the specimen around, and view it from every angle. I try to identify the male and female flowers, but the female flowers are hard to identify.  I paste various parts of the plant onto a page,  using spirax book covering film. 

There is not enough plant material to do a complete series of parts as well as looking at them under the microscope. The fruit is easy to identify. I look under the microscope, and try to dissect what I think is a female flower, but am unable to identify any parts.  There is only one little specimen that is clearly female.  I choose the more handsome of the specimens with male inflorescences.

That night, in the middle of the night, I use my Ipad to research the plant.  As I have no printer with me, I forget most of what I find, but next day I copy the most important identifying features of the plant onto my sketch pad. One interesting thing is that this species can be monoecious or dioechious.   Mine appears to be dioecious, that is male and female flowers are on separate plants.

Unfortunately our main reference book, Plants of Western New South Wales (Cunningham et al) does not have a picture of my plant, but it does have a drawing of the fruit.  I trace this drawing onto my sketch pad. 

I am interested in the fact that my specimen’s leaves are partially closed, while the photos show the leaves as more or less flat.  Eventually I discover the reason for this.  When the soil is very dry, the leaves close, presumably to help conserve moisture.  My specimens were clearly thirsty. 

Google finds me plenty of photos of A. stipitata but no paintings, and few drawings. The only comprehensive one is by Margaret Flockton, an important Australian botanical illustrator. 

It is possible that an unpublished  collection of paintings of the plants of the Broken Hill area held in the National Library in Canberra includes a painting of A. stipitata, but I can’t be certain of this; it requires more research than I can do in Menindee.

By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Interview with Jan,

What is it that attracts artists to this Project? How did they become involved and what delights them about the plant they are painting?

Jan is our first artist from the 2015 trip to answer some of these questions, and more, including the tribulations in finding her plant.

Why did you become involved in Beckler’s Botanical Bounty Project?
When Mali [Moir] outlined the project, my first thoughts were what a great project it was, covering art, science and an amazing part of Australia's history. Dr Beckler, working for Ferdinand Mueller, the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, contributed a great collection from this area to our herbarium. Wouldn't it be great to see if now, 150 years later, we could find the same plants.
What else is interesting for me is to see the impact on the flora of the area,from damming, sheep grazing, farming and general human impact. So far out of our 120 Dr Beckler identified/collected specimens we have found 78 survivors. 

What plant are you painting this year? What attracted you to this plant?
Andrew, our botanist, found a Convolvulus clementii from Dr Beckler's list. As I had painted Convolvulus remotes he asked if I would like to paint this one too. 

In a highly excited state Ros and I combed the GPS point where he had located it, 30 mins out of town on a corrugated road in blazing heat, smothered in flies but unfortunately returning home empty handed. Mali and Anne accompanied me to again look the next day. To my surprise we found poor little Convolvulus clementii struggling to make its way in the harsh conditions. The specimens were small and not well established, ie not representative of the habit of more well established C.remotes which twines itself around on nearby plants.

Poor little Convolvulus clementii struggling to make its way in the harsh conditions

Next day while I was painting Mali urgently called out from the back yard of the hall. Here in the garden bed of the hall was my dear little clementii doing what he should - sending long tendrils out in search of something to twine around - a much healthier specimen. 
C. clementii happily growing outside the hall
I had seen Convolvulus remotes on the footpath opposite the hall and thought I would look there too. Here was a tangle of clementii very healthy and completely rampant!! So much for combing the desert!
The rampant clementii!
A small piece of Convolvulus clementii, waiting to be drawn

I also will paint a daisy Asteracea Senicio lanibracteus. Classified as vulnerable in some areas, in Menindee it grows in abundance along the road sides.
The Senicio lanibracteus specimen ready to be painted
How will you go about painting it? 
Firstly I took photos of the plant in its habitat to show its habit. I then took close up photos of various parts of the plant, ie. root, stems, leaves and flowers. I have done some microscopic work on the seeds which I then drew on tracing paper.
I measured and drew the plant on more tracing paper. It is yet to be interpreted into a watercolour painting.

Drawing Senicio lanibracteus

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Our week in Menindee went so quickly

Our week in Menindee has come and gone. We had eight artists working in the Civic Hall, and we had a wonderful time. Let me give you an overview of our week. Future posts will give you more detail.

We spent time in Kinchega National Park and other areas around Menindee, hunting down
more of the plants on Hermann Beckler's list.

Collecting in the field (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2105)

Then back to the Hall to identify them. Thanks to Andrew for his help and patience.
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2105)

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2105)
Down to work -- microscopic work, drawing, colour charts, research and eventually painting.
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2105)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2105)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2105)

Of course there was time for other things as well.
There was a delicious BBQ at Barbara and Chris' house on the banks of the Darling River, where, with drinks in hand, we watched the sunset.
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2105)

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2105)

We had visitors to entertain us, including local lasses, Ava and Ella who came to paint with us.
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2105)
I am not sure of the final tally of plants from this visit but I know that we are a little closer to collecting all of the 120 on Beckler's list.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Menindee 2015

Menindee here we come!

Yes our Project is continuing on this year too. We will be up in the arid area of Menindee and Kinchega looking for the plants on Beckler's list.
Then we will be back in the Civic Hall....
to paint these stunning plants.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Lyn Gras' painting in the exhibition

Last year we ran a series of interviews with artists involved with the Beckler's Botanical Bounty Project. We hung many of those  paintings in our Exhibition in Menindee last year. Over the next few weeks we would like to show you blog posts of some of the finished works on display.

Lyn Gras loves the contrast between the plants in the arid area of Menindee and the Alpine plants that grow near her home. You can read her interview here, and find out why she became involved in the Project.

One of her plants was a billy button, Pycnosorus pleiocephalus. Lyn describes it as
....a small perennial with one to ten stalks, each with a yellow button on the end. It has small leaves that get smaller further up the stem. This species is special too because it has an extra flower 'bulge' out of some of the flower heads. It is the only one that does that.
Her delightful painting was hung in our exhibition. You can see how Lyn has composed her painting so beautifully, to incorporate her delicate microscopic drawings.
 Pycnosorus pleiocephalus Art work copyright: Lyn Gras, 2014
 A close up of her painting, showing the bulge unique to  Pycnosorus pleiocephalus
 Pycnosorus pleiocephalus Art work copyright: Lyn Gras, 2014
The painting, on the right edge of the photo, hanging in the exhibition.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Valerie Richard's painting in the Exhibition

Last year we ran a series of interviews with artists involved with the Beckler's Botanical Bounty Project. We hung many of those  paintings in our Exhibition in Menindee last year. Over the next few weeks we would like to show you blog posts of some of the finished works on display.

Valerie Richards has painted some of the eremophilas that were collected by Dr. Beckler. They are wonderful plants, commonly known as emu bushes. In her interview Valerie describes Eremophila sturtii and what attracted her to paint this dainty flower.

It has an absolute profusion of lilac, pink and cream flowers. It was these colours that attracted me at first. From a distance it looks like a green shrub. As you get to close to it you see the beautiful flowers. The impact of the colours was such a surprise. The shrub is symmetrical, attactive shape. It grows to 1 to 2 metres.
The full interview with Valerie is here.
Valerie's painting, the work in progress
You can see from the photo of her painting as it hung in the Exhibition (below right), her finished work included the habitat of E. sturtii, with the bush as well.

Left: Plantago drummondii; Right: E. sturtii (Art work copyright: Valerie Richards 2013)
By the time of the Exhibition Valerie had completed five paintings, the two above and three below. And they all looked stunning!
Left: E. deserti Right: Senna artemisioides subsp. x sturtii (Art work copyright: Valerie Richards 2013)
Arabidella trisecta (Art work copyright: Valerie Richards 2013)
Valerie's work hanging together 

Evelyn Brandt's painting in the Exhibition

Last year we ran a series of interviews with artists involved with the Beckler's Botanical Bounty Project. We hung many of those  paintings in our Exhibition in Menindee last year. Over the next few weeks we would like to show you blog posts of some of the finished works on display.

Evelyn Brandt loves the tiny detail of plants. Her microscopic drawings show us why botanic art straddles the artistic and scientific worlds and has such an important place in botany. Each magnified element of the reproductive parts helps to identify the plant while creating a wonderful work of art.

The full interview with Evelyn is here, but as a reminder, this is what she said about why microscopic work is so important:
At the moment I am really interested in microscopic work. I want to understand the important botanic characteristics that define the species. The key characteristic for this one, Chenopodium cristatum, is the perianth. This is part of the flower. There are 5 perianth segments that encapsulate the seed, which you can only see under the microscope. It is the characteristics of the perianth that define it and differentiate it from the other chenopodium species.
In the full interviewEvelyn details how she has developed her own process for doing such fine, detailed botanic art work.

Evelyn's work in progress

The painting of Chenopodium cristatum is not the only one Evelyn has been painting. In the Exhibition she had four works and each one showed her beautiful, detailed work.

L to R: Tetragonia moorei, Chenopodium cristatum (Art work copyright: Evelyn Brandt)
L to R: Centipedia cunninghamii; Casuarina pauper (Art work copyright: Evelyn Brandt)
And Evelyn's work hanging in the Exhibition
Hanging together (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)

Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Lorraine Looney's painting in the Exhibition

Last year we ran a series of interviews with artists involved with the Beckler's Botanical Bounty Project. We hung many of those  paintings in our Exhibition in Menindee last year. Over the next few weeks we would like to show you blog posts of some of the finished works on display.

Lorraine Looney, a Menindee resident, has been a stalwart of the Project. We interviewed her in 2013. The full interview is here, but this is a little, telling us how she came to be involved:
As a councillor for the Central Darling Shire I was involved with the 150 year anniversary of the Burke and Will Expedition. We had a reinactment. When that was over I saw a piece in the school news about the open days of this project [Beckler's Botanical Bounty Project]. So I had to come and have a look! Looking at what everyone was doing was fascinating. People were looking under microscopes and identifying species.
Each year I have come back to say hello.

 But she has more than said "hello". She has drawn one of the plants on Beckler's list.
One year I was encouraged to draw my own flower. It was Verbena africana -- the simple one! Mali gave me the choice of the verbena or the warrigal greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides). I chose the verbena because it was less complicated. It is a medicinal plant, so it interested me as well.
We were delighted that Lorraine wanted to exhibit her work in the Exhibition. This is her work hanging in the Darling River Art Gallery.
Verbena africana -- Artist: Lorraine Looney (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)

As Lorraine told us in the interview she is has a fascination for collage, creating images of the plants from the area using recycled materials. Her work attracted a lot of interest at the Exhibition.
Lorraine's collage of plants of the area (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Pressing plant specimens

After we have collected the plant specimens in the field, we have to preserve the ones that are going to the herbaria in Melbourne and Sydney. The group also has its own reference collection, and each artist keeps a pressing of the plant she is painting.

The plants are preserved by pressing. We are conscious that herbaria are short of resources and space and only want quality specimens. We try to collect plants in flower or with fruit as these are usually critical for identification.

The plant is laid out on two inter-weaved pieces of newspaper. We carefully spread out structures (i.e. leaves, flowers) so that diagnostic features are clearly evident and make sure that both the upper and the lower leaf surface are visible by turning over some leaves.
Stem of Cullen australasicum folded to fit the paper. It is a specimen with buds, flowers and some seeds. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)

The plant needs to be tagged next. The little jeweller's tag has the name of the plant, the date of collection, the voucher number (the voucher is our record keeping book), the year of the Project, and the name of the artist.

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

The same information is written on the edge of the newspaper. This is really helpful if we need to look through the stack for a particular specimen. It is much easier to read that information than open up each "parcel" of newspaper to find the one we are looking for.

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2014)
The plant is then ready to add to the stack of pressed specimens. Cardboard helps to give rigidity to the pressing.

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

Some people have very fancy presses!

Keeping track of what has been collected when and by whom is a daunting task. Amy, Mali and Valerie do a great job of keeping on top of things.

Over the week the piles of pressed specimens collect in the Hall......

 (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

......and then they have to be transported back to Melbourne!

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2014)

For more detailed information about our collecting procedure, look at our Herbarium Specimen Collecting Guide.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Out collecting

The first days of our time in Menindee are often spent out in the bush, searching for the plants that we want to collect and paint. Of course, as we wander our attention is captured by other specimens, so quick outing into the field can end up taking much longer!

[Remember that we collect our plant specimens according to collecting guidelines. For further information, please see our page "Herbarium Collecting Specimen Guide".

Sometimes we went further afield, car pooling with a few cars.

But wherever we went we were reminded of the beauty, diversity and fragility of this amazing area.