Friday 17 May 2013

Rory McEwen Botanical Artist

For many years I have been a great admirer of Rory McEwen, a botanical artist of great renown but also a gifted musician. He was born in Scotland on 12 March 1932 and in his short life produced some of the most amazing botanical art I have seen.
His single subjects, often of a single leaf, are vibrant with colour, extraordinary in their detail and almost ethereal in their presence.

I am often drawn to his book which I have had in my collection for as long as I can remember and am in awe as I open the pages to look in wonder at his paintings.
So you can imagine how excited I am that I will be going to London in August and will be able to see his wonderful exhibition of works 'The Colours of Reality' at the Shirley Sherwood Botanical Gallery at the Kew Botanical Gardens. His paintings can be described as 'hyper-realistic'.
I would like to share this video with you. His work remains a legacy to his devotion to art, his love of nature and his incredible creative talent. Sadly he passed away at age 50 on 16 October 1982.
If you are interested in finding out more about Rory and his life, there is (as always) a mountain of information on the internet.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

A Book a Week #3 -A Painter's Year in the Forests of Bhutan

I can only imagine what it would be like to take a year off and trek into the wilds of the Bhutan forests. The author Dr A.K. Hellum originally travelled to Bhutan, which is between China and India, to consult on a forest management project in 1988 for an international aid agency and spent two years helping with forest research and reforestation.
 The drawings and paintings were initially completed in the field for meditation and concentration. Some fantastic stories were also recorded of various situations when painting - the people he encountered  and made contact with and events that became integral to his life in Bhutan. He was able to meet the "real" people of Bhutan.
This book is organised around the seasons, which are so integral to a tropical climate and the plants he discovered in the various seasons.
For two years almost every weekend was devoted to illustrating about 150 species and varieties of tropical forest plants, mainly from the northwest of Bhutan in the valleys and in the high passes. He painted through sun, rain, humidity and freezing temperatures and only occasionally added finishing touches inside of an evening.

The stories in this book are all true. "All were happenings that filled my days with gentleness, so many miracles large and small, and so much human sharing". Wonderful words.
I tell my students that botanical art is a meditative process, and Dr. Hellum has proven this through his Bhutan paintings.
There is a lot of information about the flora, some of which have rarely been seen, and their importance and richness to the local people.

This is such an easy and fascinating book to read, and to almost feel you are with Dr. Hellum and experiencing the extremes of temperature, the joy when discovering a new plant and the peace when drawing and painting it.
I love his Reflections at the end of the book. This is part of it: "Above all, my two years in Bhutan taught me about silence and listening. My life before Bhutan had been so busy, so crowded with duties, passions and noise.......If one word describes life in Bhutan for me it is silence. It took a long time for this silence to find passage into my subconscious".
For the author, Bhutan was a land of hundreds of Shangri-Las where every alpine meadow, every rocky trail and every forest was a Shangri-La and every human encounter a new adventure.

Monday 13 May 2013

Banksia prionotes - finished

I can finally put closure on my banksia prionotes painting. I began it when I miraculously had some spare time. Then of course the work began pouring in and I also had article deadlines to meet. So this painting seemed to drag on. Was almost finished when I went to Canberra to do a workshop. So very pleased to share the painting with you.
My favourite part is the detail.

I have new ideas swimming around in my head for a couple of new paintings. Firstly I will do a small painting of a delightful grevillea I collected in Canberra, Grevillea langiera. It is a delightful and colourful dwarf plant with many small leaves and exquisite red flowers.
The preliminary work is already completed so it will not take long - final last words. Before I do that however, I must get some prep work done for my weekend workshop next Saturday at WEA Sydney on Pen and Wash Sketching, and also prepare some drawings and more handouts for my Banksia workshops in Beechworth Victoria 25-26 May and Canberra 21-22 September.
I love the  intracacies of banksias, their woody appearance and the flowing movement of the coarse leaves.

Friday 10 May 2013

A Book a Week #2 - Bali Sketchbook

I have fallen a little behind with my Book a Week project. Have had a mountain of work to do (all enjoyable however) but finally have chosen my next book.
These are not necessarily reviews, just books I have in my collection I would like to share with you.
I go to Bali every year, and have my own Sketchbook of Bali, but not so long ago I purchased a beautifully presented publication. It is quite large 28.5cm wide x 25.5cm high and the pages resemble cold pressed watercolour paper. The captions for the sketches are in "handwriting", like on cover of the book, so you feel you are really looking at a sketchbook.
The Bali Sketchbook is illustrated by Graham Byfield and the text written by Diana Darling.

There is a series of these books, and I also have Provence Sketchbook and London Sketchbook. I like to collect sketchbooks when I travel. They are my souvenirs. 
This book is better than a travel guide. Anyone interested in the Balinese culture would love it. A very comprehensive Introduction explains the various areas of Bali and the background of the island. It mentions how the rice paddies have been irrigated and cultivated for generations, the origins and beliefs of the Hindi religion, the hierachal system and about Balinese life in the villages - and more.
Tenganan Village

The book contains three main parts, so it is concise and easy to follow: Part 1 - The World of Origins about villages and temples, Part 2 - The Hand-Made World covering rice growing, village life, cremations (and more) and Part 3 - The Sea Coast: The Edge, the Future which includes topics and sketches regarding tourism, farming the sea and the importance of the sea.


I love to pick this book up from time to time and read a little more about life in Bali, and look at the lovely sketches, which are really more detailed drawings and paintings than spontaneous sketches.

In Septemebr I am taking another sketching art group to Bali, and will add to my personal sketches and share my knowledge and love of the island. I leave the busy towns and head into the mountains then along the east coast, where time has almost stood still, although tourism is fast encroaching. My fabulous guide Suki, who I have been doing these tours with for many years, always has something new and special to show me when I return.

Monday 6 May 2013

A week in Canberra

I have just returned from a week in Canberra where I taught a workshop on Painting Australian Native Plants at the Canberra Botanical Gardens. It was a wonderful week of sharing my knowledge with an enthusiastic group of students, catching up with friends and enjoying the autumn ambience.
When visiting Canberra I am always concerned about the "cold" as it can be very bitter. This time I stayed with the lovely Helen and Koos and they kept their house beautifully warm. I also took my own electric blanket. The room I taught in had underfloor heating so I was really comfortable.
The weather was the nicest I have every experienced in Canberra. It was mild during the days and up to around 20-23 degrees. Beautiful!
Glorious Canberra sunset
The autumn leaves were just amazing! In Sydney the weather hasn't been cold enough to turn the leaves into the wonderful orange, reds and yellow hues.
While I was there I attended the opening of the exhibition  showcasing the Queanbeyan Craft and Design. There was an array of crafts from blown glass, beautiful hand built sculptures (one in particular I would have loved to have bought, but it was quite large and I just wouldn't have room for it), silver jewellery and much more.
However, I fell in love with an exquisite glass vase about 13 cm high. It has a thick soft green base and when held up to the light, a beautiful rich red just above the base. Its colours remind me of autumn. The surface is very tactile with a brushed finish and a subtle design. It feels to lovely to hold in my hand, and it just glows when held up to the light. This was made by Harriet Schwarzrock from the Curtis Glass Studio in Queanbeyan.
It has pride of place in my studio where the light falls on it, creating a harmonious range of warm colours.
I am very much looking forward to returning to the Gardens in September where I am teaching another workshop on Banksias - and there were some in their full glory while I was there.