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Friday, 12 September 2014

Guideline  for  Collection  and  Pressing  Herbarium  Specimens

A large part of our project it to collect the specimens that Hermann Beckler collected. His specimens are an important part of the historical collection in the National Herbarium, Melbourne. Our specimens are being given to the herbaria in Melbourne and Sydney. We have to be very mindful of preserving our plants in a way that will make them useful for the collections. As well, we know that the environment we are in is very fragile and our efforts cannot do any damage to the ecosystem. Our group has come up with a guideline for our collecting.

Part of that document has been added to the page on this blog "Herbarium Collecting Specimen Guide". To look at the guidelines just click on the tab at the top of this page, or click here. If you are interested in viewing the whole document, contact us and we can send it as a PDF file.

This link will take you to the herbarium section of the RBG website. It has information about how the herbarium mounts, files and protects the specimens it receives.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Roslyn Glow

Roslyn Glow -- botanic artist

Rhodanthe moschata

When I retired I started as a student of botanical illustration with Mali (Moir).
This was about six years ago.  Until then, I had not had any training in botany, history or art, although I had looked at botanical art for many years.

When I heard that a fellow student had suggested to Mali that we celebrate 150 years since Burke and Wills’ expedition by collecting and painting some of the same plants that Hermann Beckler collected, I was inspired.  I thought it was such an imaginative idea, that I wanted to be involved.  I came up on the first trip, in 2010.   We really had little idea about the problems we would face in identifying plants, and were very fortunate that two of the artists with us were also botanists, and two more were experienced field naturalists. We were able to make some progress, and we had a wonderful time. 

I was unable to come the next year, but joined the group again in 2012. Once more it was a great experience, and I learned a lot.  By then I had read a good deal about Beckler and about the Burke and Wills expedition, and was thoroughly entranced by the way the project combines art, botany and history.  

Being based in a remote location and sharing our life together also adds the dimensions of geography, sociology and group dynamics.  A rich experience indeed.

This year, although it should be harder, because the most common plants have already been selected and painted, our task has been made easier by the presence of our Honorary Botanist. Andrew Denham. His presence has greatly eased the difficulties of finding and identifying relevant plants.

My chosen plant is Rhodanthe moschata, the musk sunray.  This is a small, annual, scented herb with gold flowers.  I particularly wanted to paint a colourful plant.  What I didn’t realize is the fact that the ‘flowers’ are in fact flower heads, each consisting of about twelve florets, each of which contains two or three flowers.  The flowers themselves are very small.

Rhodanthe moschata
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
This plant was first described by Allan Cunningham, who was sent by Sir Joseph Banks, to Australia, to collect plants.   He made many exploration trips in Australia and New Zealand, and was appointed Royal Botanist to the Colony of NSW, later becoming the Superintendent of the Botanical Gardens, Sydney, now the Royal Botanic Gardens.  This is yet another link for our project, as we are sending our collected and pressed specimens to both the State Herbarium of Victoria, where Beckler’s collection is held, and the NSW Herbarium. 

Close up of Rhodanthe moschata. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

Because the flowers are so small I had to use a microscope to understand the flower structure.  This was a first for me, but a great learning experience.  It was a wonderful opportunity for me to work so closely with a botanist. 

(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

I will paint the whole plant, including the root, at twice the natural size, and the details of flower structure at ten times the natural size.  I will use water colour.

Drawings from my microscopic work. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

The Beckler project is a lovely initiative.  I particularly enjoy the chance to be out in the arid country with a serious purpose, the many links to relevant studies and institutions, and the fellowship of other artists.  Each participant is self-funded.  We are all there because we want to be there, not because someone told us to go.
This enhances the experience. 
Roslyn Glow 

Amy Wells

Amy Wells -- Botanic artist

Zygochloa paradoxa -- Sandhill canegrass

Why did you become involved in the Project?
Amy's specimen and drawing. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)
I saw the project as a way of being introduced to doing botanical art in the field. As well it was a way of going to parts of Australia that I haven't been and a chance to look at that landscape in a different way. It was also an opportunity go away with a group of people with similar interests, being able to spend time with experts, looking at how they do things and learning. This is not just artist skills, but lots of other areas, including Australian history.

I have continued to be involved because it is a way of having a break but still keep mentally engaged. It is very different what I would normally do.

What plant are you painting?

It is a Zygochloa paradoxa, also called sandhill canegrass. It has male and female plants. What attracted me to that one was that I saw lots of straight lines. It is a very architectural plant, a very patterned growing habit. They look like mobiles!

The male and female plants look the same; it's the flowers that are are the identifiers. It is easy to tell the difference. Female flowers have stigmas that are like white, feather boas! The male flora have rusty orange canoes for stamens -- and lots of stamens that contrast against the colour of the plant. Under the microscope the female flowers look like lettuce leaves.

It took lots of microscopic work to try to find the seeds. They are small and it was difficult to know if they were ripe. I found jelly blobs instead of seeds. The botanist said jelly blogs qualify as seeds but the artist didn't agree! I have harvested seeds and will let them ripen some more.

What is your process for painting?
They look like mobiles!

I have done my drawings, done my colour swatches and done my microscopic drawings. My composition will depend on whether I can find some seeds. It will be done in watercolour. There is enough cream and green in the microscopic work to be able to do that in watercolour too.

It had been nice to have plugged in with people up here who give permission to go to different places, such as the pipeline. It is good to know that they trust us. We have explored other areas this trip, and that has been good. I have been out to the Park in the early mornings, which has been a magic experience -- the colour, the smell, the light. It is a great way to start the day and not feel so despondent about spending time indoors. I have seen more fauna -- an echidna, live pigs, kangaroos munching on the side of the road.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Margaret Holloway

Margaret Holloway -- botanic artist

I have only managed to get to Menindee in 2011 and 2013. Both times I have found it rewarding in many ways. Firstly, to be involved in such a project which is of historical and botanical interest and also the satisfaction of being able to source the plants and illustrate them. 

Having grown up on the Wimmera plains, I find the landscape, and in particular, the big sky very relaxing and liberating.

The first painting I did was of Senna artemisioides a shrub with yellow flowers and profuse seed pods.

Senna artemisioides, painting by Margaret Holloway

The colours reflect the surrounding  colours, particularly the soil. I still have not completed it as I intend to put a bee in it. The flowers are buzz pollinated by the local bees.  

This year I painted Stelligera endecaspinis, a small saltbush which was growing on a mud flat in an exposed harsh area. 

Stelligera endecaspinis -- Painting by Margaret Holloway

It is a nondescript plant that you would normally walk straight past, but when you view it through a magnifying glass or a microscope you realize how it manages to cope with the conditions.  

Both specimens were collected from Kinchega National Park.

Margaret Holloway

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Behind the scenes at the exhibition

I thought I would give you a look at one aspect of our preparations for the exhibition -- the framing of our work.

As you know, we are a group of botanical artists who are painting the plants that were collected by Hermann Beckler. (To find out more about our project look at our About Us page.) Because of logistics we decided to exhibit prints of our paintings in the upcoming Menindee exhibition. We are leaving the prints with the community, and the frames can be used by artists from the school or in the wider area.

We spent a couple of hours framing our prints, all working together measuring and making sure the prints were straight in the frames. These photos show some of the work -- and gives you a sneak preview of some of the outstanding works!


Monday 22nd September to Sunday 12th October 2014 (inclusive)

Darling River Art Gallery
Menindee Visitor Information Centre
49 Yartla St Menindee

Open daily, 10 am to 2 pm

Sunday, 31 August 2014

An invitation to our exhibition!

Our exhibition will soon be a reality, and we are very excited!

This year, 2014, will be the 5th year of the Beckler Botanical Bounty Project. Over those years we have been creating our paintings of the plants we have collected. 30 prints of our paintings will be on show in the Darling River Art Gallery, Menindee.

In past posts you have seen some of the artists at work. You have read the stories behind the plants we have chosen to paint. Now you have a chance to see the works!

Monday 22nd Sept to Sunday 12th October (inclusive)

Darling River Art Gallery
Menindee Visitor Information Centre
49 Yartla St, Menindee

Open daily: 10 AM to 2 PM

It would be wonderful if you could come along. If you can't, keep watching this blog, as we will certainly be posting about it! Follow along on our Facebook page too, Beckler's Botany

We would like to thank the Menindee community for their warm welcome and support given generously to our group over the past five years.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Lyn Gras

Lyn Gras -- botanic artist

Pycnosorus pleiocephalus -- Billy Button

Why were you interested in being involved with the Beckler Project?

I am interested in Burke and Wills because I have an ancestor who was involved in early exploration of inland Australia and northern South Australia, at about the same time -- around 1850. That interest in exploration, because of my family, sparked the enthusiasm to become involved. It fitted in with my love of botanical art.

Lyn's work area
I am also interested because I live in the alpine area of Victoria, and like to illustrate the plants of that area. I thought it would be a great contrast, and wanted to be involved in something so worthwhile. I am really enthusiastic because I have been working on plants of the same genus that I have been working on at home.

What are you painting?

I am painting a billy button Pycnosorus pleiocephalus.

It is a beautiful plant because it has round yellow balls as flower heads on short stalks. Beautiful little round balls! The Alpine Billy Button from Mt Buller I have painted has longer stalks and much bigger flowers.
Pycnosorus pleiocephalus
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

It's 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.
The extra flower 'bulge', a distinctive feature of this plant.
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

It is a member of the daisy family Asteraceae. The round ball is a compound flower consisting of multiple tiny, yellow flowers. I dissected the flower head, looked at it under the microscope and I am now drawing the little parts that comprise the flower -- the florets, bracts, anthers, and even the hairs on the leaves.

Out in Kinchega National Park there are beautiful drifts of these flowers amongst other daisies, salt bush and prickly acacia.

How will you paint it?

I will do a watercolour painting of the whole plant and graphite pencil drawings of what I have seen down the microscope.

Will it take me long to do? Yes! About 4 to 6 weeks to complete.
The mature seeds (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Valerie Richards

Valerie Richards -- Botanic artist

Eremophila sturtii

Why did you get involved in the Project?
I was interested, but thought it might be too hot. So when the others came back after the first year and told me it was spring like weather I decided to take the plunge.

Valerie's work area (Photocopyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
I came initially for the painting, but what surprised me was how much I liked wandering around looking for the plants. I really love the desert area.

Eremophila sturtii

What plant have you been working on this year?
I have 2 eremophilas. One is very charming and very pretty. We have only found a couple of specimens of one, so I wanted to capture it in case it is not around next year. Then it will be on the completed painting list.

The second it E. sturtii. 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.

Valerie's painting of E. sturtii (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

How will you go about painting your plant?
I draw an accurate drawing of the specimen onto tracing paper, go over the drawing on the reverse of the tracing paper and then transfer it to the good copy paper. The painting is done with watercolour. I am still thinking about drawing in the microscopic details.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Anne Lawson

Anne Lawson ~ botanic artist

Cullen discolor

What drew you participate in the Beckler's Botanical Bounty Project?

From the outset I was drawn to the sense of history involved in the project. I loved the idea of continuing, even in a small way, the tradition of botanic art as part of history. Artists had often been included in expeditions, and this seems to follow on -- although I am in awe of artists like Ludwig Becker the artist on the Burke and Wills Expedition, Ferdinand Bauer who travelled with Flinders, and Sydney Parkinson, the artist on the Endeavour.

2013 was my third year and I keep coming back because, like many of the other artists, I have fallen in love with this arid country. As you drive along it looks like scrubby saltbush. But you only have to walk a little way off the road to see an amazing diversity of plants growing in a very difficult environment.
And to see the spectacular sunrises and sunsets is just magic.

Just go off the road a little way...... (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2012)

Tell us about the plant you are painting.

The plant belongs to a genus called Cullen. There are four Cullens on Beckler's List. I have found and identified three of them, and I hope to track down the fourth this September.

Cullen discolor, with the distinctive, trifoliate leaf (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2012)
I am currently working on Cullen discolor. It is a prostrate plant and its long runners twine through other low growing plants. All the Cullens have a particular leaf, with three leaflets.

Leaf and pods of C. discolor (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

As they are members of the pea family they have the distinctive pea flower. However, I wasn't able to find a flower on any C. discolor plants. Help from our botanist, Andrew, and further reading told me that it can be cleistogamus, where the flowers remain closed. I wasn't seeing a flower because they were tucked inside the pod.

As my friends and family can tell you, I have become a little obsessed with Cullens! I have loved getting a more detailed understanding of them, and my knowledge of botany has increased in leaps and bounds!

How are you going about your painting?

I am always very conscious about the limited time we have in Menindee, so I try to collect as much visual information as I can about the plant. Photographs are one aid, but I also make detailed drawings that I can use as references. These may include drawings of the buds, how the leaves are attached to the stem or a drawing of how it grows along the ground. I also make a colour chart for reference back at home.

My painting is of one stem of C. discolor arching across the paper. Below that I am adding a habit drawing in pencil, to show how it grows.
Part of my work in progress (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Exciting news!

The Beckler's Botanical Bounty Project has been going for 5 years. Now while that is very exciting, it is not the exciting news.

Working in the Civic Hall, 2013
Tourist Information Centre, Menindee

We are organising to have an exhibition of photographs of our work in Menindee!! Now, that's exciting!

The dates? From Monday September 22nd to Sunday 28th September. It may even run longer than that.

Four wheel driving? No, one wheel driving!

So, if you live in Menindee or in the area, will be travelling through Menindee at that time or fancy a trip to see our work, be sure to check it out.

And of course, come and visit us in the Civic Hall. We will be there for those dates.

More information will be posted as details are finalised.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Evelyn Brandt

Evelyn Brandt -- Botanic artist

Chenopodium cristatum
Crested goose foot

I just love being part of the group project, knowing that I am part of something historic. This is my third year in a row and the project is important enough to me to come here in my holidays!
Evelyn's work space (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

It happens that I have been following plants that have the same habit. They are not in the same genus or family, but it means that I will have a series of paintings that look similar.

Chenopodium cristatum
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.

Our botanist found it out in the field because it had a distinctive aromatic smell. However we had to confirm it under the microscope back in the Hall.

I have developed my own process for the microscopic work I do for my paintings. I make reference drawings that I can use long after the plant has expired. I start with a habit photo in the exact position that I am going to paint. My next step is to dissect all the parts of the plant that require microscopic investigation, and check the plant's characteristics against descriptions in botanical reference books. I then sketch the subject and colour each sketch in, as the colour fades quickly under the lights of the microscope. I take USB microscopic photos of the fresh specimens and dissections as well.
Evelyn's drawing on tracing paper, with the actual specimen. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson 2013)

After I have all the reference drawings, I start working on the final painting. The reference drawings are important in case the plant dies before I have a chance to finish the painting. I usually keep most of the plant samples in the fridge and keep one out to dry for reference material.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Shu-Yen Ee

Shu-Yen Ee -- Botanic artist

Atriplex limbata (Saltbush)

Why did you get involved with the Beckler Project ?

I became involved in the Project in a roundabout way. I must admit the lure of a trip/adventure to the outback was what enticed me initially. I can say now that I have been fully exposed to the Project and what it entails, and am keen to continue being involved and to contribute in what way I can. 

Shu's work space, showing the specimen and her drawing on tracing paper. (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

What attracted your plant, Atriplex limbata?
Atriplex limbata (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson)

It is a saltbush, from the Chenopdiaceae family.

I was drawn to its pale minty colour, and hardy structure (the leaves, stems, fruit are fairly robust and could withstand a bit of handling). It turned out to be a good choice for me as I have a preference for drawing in pencil and I believe the pale colour of the plant would work well if presented in graphite, with potentially a hint of colour using dry brush technique.

A unique way of holding the specimen upright while keeping it in water!
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

How are you going about your drawing?

I like drawing tiny things!
Very slowly, as with all my drawings. I studied the plant closely whilst in Menindee and have taken a number of close up photos of individual stems and of the plant itself. I did a couple of sketches to start, made various notes about the plant and worked up some colour samples. The drawing will have to be completed in Melbourne.

Have you enjoyed your time at Menindee?

Yes, thoroughly! It was good to do something that was, for me, completely out of the ordinary and I look forward to making a trip out to Menindee with the BBBs again sometime in the near future.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Lorraine Looney

Lorraine Looney, Councillor for Central Darling Shire Council

Introducing Lorraine, who has been a strong supporter of the Beckler Project from our first year.

Verbena africana

We bought our property in Menindee on the banks of the Darling River in 1973 and came out to live 1975. We saw the massive flood in 1976. As a child I grew up in Broken Hill and we did a lot of bush walking. I always wondered how Aboriginal people survived without a shop. I used to pick wild flows to take home to Mum, but they always wilted! That was the beginning of my interest in bush tucker food. I still walk a lot, and I love open spaces.

I went to school a couple of years back to do a night course in Aboriginal Studies. It came about because when I became a councillor an Aboriginal man approached me to have a look at their class. I was interested, so I enrolled from there. Unfortunately the course couldn't continue, but I would like to have been able to finish it.

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.

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.
Verbena africana, original art work by Lorraine Looney
I also create art works of recycled objects. I have used window frames to make little dunnies. One of my specialities is red back spiders to go in the dunnies. They are made out of gum nuts and little twigs.

I made a mosaic of the Maidens Hotel, where Burke and Wills stayed. I found objects like little stones, glass and ceramic pieces from outside the hotel to decorate the frame.

Every year I have entered an exhibition that Netwaste run, called 'Waste to Art'. Each shire has a local competition and the winner goes to a regional exhibition. One year they had the exhibition here in Menindee. I won the Curator's award for one of my art works. It was creation of fungi made from various recycled things like cotton buds, and an old ball. I put it all in the lid of an old mushroom box.

Lorraine's art work, Winner of the Curator's Award in 'Waste to Art' Exhibition.

I would like to see the full collection of Beckler's plants being painted. That would be amazing.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

What a wonderful week!

Dear Beckler's Botanical Beauts and many friends,

What a wonderful week we had in Menindee this year, 2013, our 4th annual trip. The locals are getting to know us by name and regularly visit us in the hall. 

Our group this year consisted of 11 artists, one photographer and one botanist with his family. We booked the Hall for 9 days this year which turned out much better than previous years, of only 5 days. All artists chose at least one plant to illustrate and several artists collected up to three.

Results: 11 artists undergoing 17 new paintings with accompanying plant collections.

Amy, Valerie, Wal, Andrew and I arrived a couple of days early this year which turned out to be extremely helpful. ‘Gun’ Amy organised much collecting and Andrew spent long enthusiastic days identifying the plants. By the first day in the hall artists had a chosen species to illustrate!  As more artists arrived through the week they were able to choose from a list of identified Beckler plants flowering this year. As the arid species are so reliant on local weather conditions, we have come to understand it is best to be on site to see which species to choose to paint in any given year.
Sandy shore of receding Lake Menindee     (Photo copyright: Mali Moir, 2013)
We were in Menindee a little earlier this year and so it was a little cooler, the days were glorious with only a couple of very windy nights. Last to pack up the hall was Amy, Valerie, Wal and I, and so we thought it fitting to celebrate the end of another wonderful year in our fav arid zone with steak sandwiches and Cow Girl shots on the receding white sandy shores of Lake Menindee in Kinchega National Park. As you can see we got there rather late and missed the setting sun but were entranced by the lights of the Milky Way and saw 3 satellites and one majestic falling star.

Magical moonrise     (Photo copyright: Mali Moir, 2013)

This year I was invited to give a talk at the Mildura Arts Centre as part of the Art of Science Exhibition focusing on my role as expedition artist with special mention of the Beckler’s Botanical Bounty project .... great opportunity to spread the word ! Local radio is often interested in our story, this year we were interviewed by ABC Rural.

We plan to return to Menindee again next October to continue our project. Margot Muscat from the Darling Shire Council has asked us to contribute a photographic exhibition of our project to be displayed next year on our 5th visit. I have had brief discussions with a few curators regarding exhibition opportunities of our project including paintings, photographs, plant specimens and paraphernalia in 2015. Other opportunities for exhibition and publication continue to be discussed.

A special thanks to the National Herbarium of Victoria, whose ongoing support significantly enriches our project and secures us a place in history. An extra special thanks to our honorary botanist Andrew Denham who spends his holidays with us! Thus ensuring our project runs meltdown-free.

A great many thanks to all contributors whose happy energetic input make this project a special delight to be part of. As always, I look forward to the warmth of our fav arid zone country next October, our 5th year and our Milestone year.

Much love and many thanks to all ............. Mali
2013 -- The Year of the Flies!    (photo copyright: Mali Moir, 2013)

Saturday, 12 October 2013


Menindee is the town where we go to paint. It is situated on the Darling River  and the chain of lakes known as the Menindee Lakes. It is also right on the edge of Kinchega National Park.
Carvings near the Tourist Information Centre
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

We go there because the Burke and Wills Expedition spent time there in 1860.

However, the area has a long Aboriginal history. Fossil finds show that Aborigines lived here 27,000 years ago. The Barkinji or Paakantji people still have a strong connection to their land. (There are varied spellings of the name)
Details of the fabulous carvings.
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Major Mitchell came through the area in 1835 and  named it "Laidley's Ponds". When Burke, Wills, Beckler and the rest of the expedition arrived in 1860, Menindee was at the edge of white settlement.
The new plaque outside the Maidens Hotel (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Map of the journey, from the plaque (Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

It is a small country town, with about 1000 people. That number swells with visitors. They visit Kinchega or go fishing in the lakes or on the river. Some are following the Burke and Wills trail; some have come from Lake Mungo. The bird life is wonderful and, as we know, the wild flowers are fabulous.
There is an information centre and inside is a little art gallery. When we were there it had an exhibition of Annette Minchin's stunning textile art. And you have to see the 4 wheel drive wheelbarrow!
The Tourist Information Centre
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)

Wheelbarrow with all the options!
(Photo copyright: Anne Lawson, 2013)
It is a welcoming town, definitely worth a visit if you are wandering up that way. If you come next October (2014) drop into the Civic Centre and say "Hello".