It's been a while since I've posted, I know, but I've been very busy! Busy with life, busy with my baby and busy trying to squeeze in some painting time in between. I was especially lucky to achieve the latter as I had a couple of commissions happily come my way that I was very excited to do!
One of these commissions was for Maitland City Councils 'Walls that Talk' program (read about it here). Myself and two fellow natural history artists were commissioned to complete three botanical paintings apiece which together would be displayed on large-scale banners outside Maitland Library. We were required to choose from a list of plants that were endemic to the Maitland region 200 years ago.
The challenge, of course, was that it was the middle of winter and many plants are without their flowers, fruit or even their leaves- all of which help with identification AND were the reason I was looking for a live specimen in the first place! You can't draw anything overly accurately if you're reference is google images! Furthermore, it doesn't help that I haven't got a wonderful system in place for locating specific plants upon request since most of my botanical painting specimens are selected because I had found a plant that I likes FIRST and then identify it afterwards.
Finally, I selected three plants from the list that I could find in a local garden, a Reserve and on a nearby suburban street. These plants were Narrow Leaved Myrtle Austromyrtus tenuifolia, Kangaroo Vine Cissus Antarctica and the Illawarra Flame tree Brachychiton acerifolius. Keep scrolling if you're interested to see how these plants changed from some field sketches into 2x2m banners!
First, I found the Narrow Leaved Myrtle at the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens. I spent about 2-3 hours sitting in the freezing cold, sketching the small shrub (there are no flowers in winter!). The staff at the Gardens were very helpful in trying to help locate the plants I was searching for and were also kind enough to allow me to take a small cutting of the specimen to assist my work back in my (warm) studio. Unfortunately, I had to draw in the flowers based on descriptions I had read and images I had found of them.
Secondly, I found some Kangaroo Vine at Blackbutt Reserve. Again, I obtained special permission to collect a sample of the plant (don't go chopping up Reserves willy-nilly people!!). It was the wrong season for flowers or fruit for this plant too but I felt that the leaf colour variations and vine tendrils were pretty enough for a botanical artwork as is. Happily, the specimen that I had collected fit perfectly within my design space so I was virtually able to trace the entire plant outline directly onto my paper! So convenient! #realartiststracetoo
Lastly, I was able to find a whole street full of Illawarra Flame trees in Fetcher! And some plants even had seed pods for me to observe! Unwilling to sit in the rain to sketch on site, I collected a small sample from one tree and sketched from that in my studio. I added flowers to the artwork based off some detailed photos kindly sent to me by fellow banner art creator Tanya Hoolihan and good ol' google images. I think this artwork ended up being my favourite of the three.
Each painting was quite large as we figures that a quarter of the intended banner size was as small as we could afford to go that would still look good when enlarged to full size. Unsurprisingly, all three paintings took wayyyy longer than anticipated (I don't know why I don't just always double or triple my estimations from the start) therefore I was unable to paint them with my usual attempts at 'perfection' unless I was willing to drop my hourly rate to approximately $2 p/h. However, I am happy with the final pieces and I think they look lovely up on Maitland Library. I feel that each of we three artists have managed to paint the plants that are aesthetically pleasing individually but also have a consistency of style overall as well. (If you're interested, the other artists were Tanya Hoolihan and Renae Titchmarsh). My final banner images may be viewed here .
I hope that this post was interesting or helpful to somebody in regards to the creative process for me with this sort of commission. If you've got any questions or comments I'd love to hear them. If you're interested in seeing the banners in person, they are currently showing outside of Maitland Library and a factsheet about the plants and artists may be viewed here.