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.
(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.