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.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

At work in the Hall

We set up in the Civic Hall in Menindee. Each artist has her own table -- or sometimes two! -- which becomes covered with microscopes, specimens, and all manner of artistic equipment from paint and brushes to backing boards and natty pencil holders.

Beckler's Botanical Bounty Exhibition

Another collecting and painting period in Menindee has come and gone. The highlight this year was the exhibition of our work in The Darling River Art Gallery in the Information Centre in Menindee.

We set the exhibition up on Sunday.

The exhibition was of prints of our original paintings. As you can see, we uniformly mounted them in black frames with a black matt. That helped to unify the works.

This is how they looked up on the walls.

The Opening was on Tuesday. It was wonderful to see lots of people there. Margot Muscat was our Mistress of Ceremonies. As the representative of the Shire in Menindee, she is our liaison, and without her our project would not be where it is today without her. It is Margot who helps us with all the organisational matters, and definitely our Go To Person.

We were Welcomed to Country by Evelyn, who made a very moving speech. A couple of us spoke about the project, not only its history, but also the impact the area has made on us as artists. We always feel so welcomed when we come to town for our week in the Hall.

Then it was time for a cuppa, some fruit cake, lots of chatting, and of course, a closer look at all the art work of plants that grow in this amazing area.

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