Artist residency: October & November 2017

(The first paragraph of this entry was written in mid-November) 
Here we are, halfway through November and I haven't written about what happened in October! Steve (my husband) and I are currently having a long weekend camping at Depot Beach, so I'm writing this on the back of a map and will type it up later. Depot Beach - what a place, by the way. The only traffic is the cars and campervans arriving at the campground - the only interruption to the sounds of the wind in the trees and the waves breaking. The cicadas start up just on dark, a shift change from the lorikeets and whipbirds that have been calling all day. We spent part of yesterday and today noodling around the rock pools and beach wash, looking for nature's treasures. Hundreds of bluebottles have washed up in the past few days, making a swim out of the question! The perfect little ecosystems contained in the rock pools are like small, moving artworks. It still takes me by surprise that I feel more 'myself' while poking around and looking at the details of nature. 

'Sculpture by the Sea' - made of washed up urchins and inspired by Andy Goldsworthy!

'Sculpture by the Sea' - made of washed up urchins and inspired by Andy Goldsworthy!

The residency has been going well, in that I have completed several paintings over the past 2 months. This is more than I expected and I aim to keep up this higher output in order to have more choice for the exhibition at the end of June 2018. The downside to this has been that I haven't been out 'in the field' as much as I'd like. I'm happy the evenings are staying lighter for longer. I intend to take advantage of this by going for short walks on my way home from work. 

Bush-stone curlew painting completed in November

Bush-stone curlew painting completed in November

I started October by accompanying Catherine Ross on her field work. Catherine is researching the impact bettongs have on the Early Nancy - a tiny native lily that grows in Mulligans Flat. You can read more about her project here.

Her attention to detail was remarkable and admirable – we spent a couple of hours checking 12 of her research plots (approximately 50cm x 50cm), combing through the various plants within the plot to find the one or two leaves the Early Nancy sprouts. She has been regularly checking the plots over several years so she had an inkling where to look, but seeing the diversity of what's going on down there is fascinating. There were spiders, caterpillars, ants and other insects all carrying on their daily lives, and so many plants in such a small space that it made me feel like a very small part of a very big world! It was very exciting to start recognising the Early Nancies in amongst all the other plants - like finding treasure!

I was lucky to have my dad visit from where he lives in China in October. I owe my love of nature to my dad, who instilled in me from a young age the magic of the Australian bush. I was fortunate as a child to have mum and dad take our family around Australia with a caravan for several years, and I still have vivid memories of the birds, wildlife and colours of our land.

So it was particularly special after him showing me so many special places to show him one of mine - to be able to walk with him in Mulligans Flat. He was very lucky to see a lone bush stone curlew. He happened upon it purely by chance - he was investigating a flag in a log near the curlew, when all of a sudden he saw its eye peering at him through the leaf litter, where it was lying down, completely camouflaged. Steve found an echidna shortly after that we watched from a distance for some time. Dad was lucky to see some of the highlights of MF that day- I accidentally flushed a bettong from where it was sleeping in the tussock grass, and we came across an active quoll den (though no quolls!). 

A very well camouflaged curlew 

A very well camouflaged curlew 

Later in the month Steve, mum and I went on a Twilight Tour in the hope of seeing the joey quolls. This was my mistake. I have come to realise that you will never see what you want to see in Mulligans Flat, but you will see something! Our guide Kristi had very keen eyes and we saw several mum and joey brushtail possums (always a delight to me, a wildlife carer who ends up with orphaned joeys), a bearded dragon clinging to a small tree (very unusual at night), a bettong nest, numerous bettongs and all three macropods of the area. The real highlights though were an echidna just inside the front gate (almost as though he was waiting for us!) and two newly fledged tawny frogmouths. It was a fascinating and fun tour with a very knowledgeable guide. I highly recommend booking a tour - link here. Christmas is coming - it would make an excellent present for all ages!

Part way through the month I became frustrated by artists block and wanted to do something different. I got out the Sennelier oil pastels I had bought years ago in Paris and deemed too precious to use. There is 'no time like the present' so I channeled my inner Van Gogh and had a good, expressive drawing session with lots of colours I wouldn't normally put in! There's green and hot pink in there! This is an oil pastel drawing on plywood of Banksia bettong (MF's education bettong). 

banksiabettongoil.jpg

A lot of October and November was spent preparing for the Collected and Created market that was held recently in Gundaroo. I painted 12 small bird portraits that became brooches. I was very happy that all sold,  along with many cards and prints and a couple of original paintings. I will have a stall at the next Collected and Created market next year in April.

I finished November by adding a few paintings to my mini-series of 'Birds of the Big Dam' - a freckled duck and a pink-eared duck.

Artist Residency: September 2017

Mulligans Flat held an Open Day for Threatened Species Day on September 9th. People came to meet a bettong, take a walk in the Sanctuary, and find out about the great work the team with MF is doing. The Friends invited me to show my work and do some painting. The nicest part was engaging in conversation with people passionate about the Sanctuary, wildlife and art. I met a young boy who is left-handed and was amazed to see that I was painting left-handed too!

Black-fronted dotterel

Black-fronted dotterel

I've been working on a few paintings this month, including this black-fronted dotterel. The dotterels are residents of the big dam. They move so fast they look like they're gliding along the water's edge! I'm planning to do a small series of the birds of the big dam. Next up is a portrait of a pink-earred duck.

Later in the month I visited Banksia Bettong at his home and spent an hour at dusk having a 'photo shoot' for some reference photos. I'm currently working on a painting, but it's not ready for unveiling yet! Banksia seemed quite comfortable with us visiting him - he checked out the camera a few times and gave us a few nibbles in between searching for food in his enclosure.

Banksia doing his best 'blue steel'

Banksia doing his best 'blue steel'

I was excited at the end of September to receive an offer of exhibition from Strathnairn Gallery. I will have a place to show all of the residency paintings! Strathnairn Gallery is precinct of galleries, studios and a café situated on farmland on the outskirts of Holt, another beautiful part of the 'Bush Capital'.

The grounds of Strathnairn Arts

The grounds of Strathnairn Arts

Meanwhile, spring has sprung in the Sanctuary and there's lots to see - parrots finding hollows to raise this year's young, the shingleback lizards are out sunbaking and the echidnas are busy foraging. Hope you've had some time to visit!

Artist Residency: August 2017

August has been very busy, with less painting that I'd like - a few people have asked how I fit in painting while working full time - the answer is not always entirely successfully! However, I've still had several inspiring moments. 

redneckedwallaby.jpg

9th August – echidna tracking
It was a marvellous start to the month, assisting the film crew with tracking echidnas. On a sunny morning, we split into groups and did sweeps of the sanctuary. The echidnas proved rather elusive on this morning! We did find 2 shingleback lizards out sunning themselves though. I love seeing them – like pinecones with faces!

In the afternoon a couple of us accompanied Kristi with the tracking equipment in order to find the radio-tagged echidnas. This was fantastic – like a treasure hunt! With a rough starting point of where he’d been found the previous day, we used the antenna to follow a series of ‘pips’, until they got louder and narrower in field. We found one little guy, ‘hiding’ with his head in a bush. I waited quietly with him and he eventually poked his head up and looked directly at me! We think the other echidna we tracked had managed to lose her radio-tag inside a tree hollow as it was in the same place as the previous day.

trackedechidna.jpg

Late in the day we met up with the cameraman, who had been watching a group of three sleeping echidnas all day, waiting for them to move. The dedication of this man was incredible – he literally didn’t leave the whole day – no loo breaks, no food breaks – he had a sandwich brought to him at lunchtime. At around 4pm, they all woke up, and began their mating ritual – an echidna train! It was a delight to finish the day watching these 3 remarkable creatures waddling about in the setting sun.

Two of the three echidnas foraging

Two of the three echidnas foraging

27th August - Walk with ACT Wildlife
I joined the ACT Wildlife bird carers on a walk in MF on a sunny (but windy) Sunday morning. Following about half of the official MF 'bird walk', we started by searching for the curlews, to no avail. We think they may have started ‘pairing up’ for breeding, and are no longer in the big group. When you're looking for curlews, everything looks like a curlew, so there were many false alarms that turned out to be fallen logs or shadows! We made our way down to the big dam, where we spotted freckled and pink-earred ducks, and the zippy little dotterels. We stopped to look for the red-capped Robin, but it was quite windy so we thought he might have been hiding. On the way back we marvelled at a feat of engineering - the chough's mud nest toward the end of Old Coach Road. And to top it off, a sighting of one of Mulligans' echidnas, searching for lunch. Lovely to share this special place with other lovers of nature. 

echidnaactw.jpg

Early in the month I began caring for two gorgeous little brushtail possum joeys with varying medical issues. After several weeks of medication and feeding three times a day, as well as a weekly bath for one (as you can imagine, bathing a possum - even a tiny one! - is just as risky as it sounds!) they have finally started to gain strength and get their health sorted, and are enjoying their time in the outside aviary. 

A sick little possum, early in his care

A sick little possum, early in his care

While visiting family-in-law in Maitland, Steve (my husband) and I made a quick visit to the nearby Morpeth Gallery. It has a wonderful wildlife art gallery, with works by some of the best wildlife artists in Australia. A few spectacular examples by Bill Cooper. I spent quite a while looking at how he painted feathers and feet (I find feet quite the challenge)! We came home with a beautiful piece by Natalie Jane Parker, another artist whose attention to detail I was really inspired by. If you love wildlife art, it's a must-visit next time you're in the area!

Silvereye - by Natalie Jane Parker - each of her paintings has a little ant hiding in the composition

Silvereye - by Natalie Jane Parker - each of her paintings has a little ant hiding in the composition

This month has been focussed on two paintings – one the commission of a magpie, the other a little red-necked wallaby I met in MF in the first month of the residency. I really enjoyed both – the magpie was painted with all blues and browns, in many layers. I think there are more magpie paintings in my future!

I’m a member of Canberra’s Wildlife and Botanical Artists (WABA) group. This group offers various workshops, quarterly meetings with interesting artists’ talks and a yearly exhibition of everyone’s work. This year it is being held at Belconnen Arts Centre, until the 17th of September.

I’ll be at the Mulligans Flat Community Open Day for Threatened Species Day on the 9th of September. Meet a bettong, come and say hello to me, buy a greeting card (with $1 from each card going to MF), and see what I’m painting next! More details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/225636187965678/

Artist Residency: July 2017

It has been a busy first month of my artist's residency with Mulligans Flat Sanctuary. Here are some of the experiences I had this month. I'm experiencing this as an artist, not a scientist, so please forgive lack of scientific terminology!

Bush-stone curlew sketch in ink

Bush-stone curlew sketch in ink

July 6th: Science in the Sanctuary
A night of presentations from PhD candidates on the research they're doing about wildlife in the sanctuary. It was fascinating to hear about what is being discovered. I took many notes, met a lot of lovely people and look forward to going out in the field with some. I also made a short presentation about my residency, which I found rather nerve-wracking in front of so many people. I felt I was less eloquent than I wanted to be, but there is always next time!

July 8: a bird watcher's walk
I spent a lovely morning walking with masterful bird photographer Julie Clark (her photos here - Flickr) and her friend Linda, who showed me where the bush-stone curlews have been spending their time. We found 11 curlews, then continued walking, where we found many of the special species that call Mulligans home. It was inspiring to spend time with two passionate bird watchers who obviously adore the birds of Mulligans Flat. I have since visited the curlews several times.

Bush-stone curlews on a Sunday morning

Bush-stone curlews on a Sunday morning

July 23rd: echidna tracking
Mulligans Flat currently has a natural history documentary team visiting to film echidnas. Before they can film, the Mulligans scientists are trying to track a few of the echidnas so that they can be found again later for the documentary team! Throughout the month volunteers have been doing sweeps of the sanctuary to find where the echidnas are hanging out. On the 23rd of July I tagged along. Emily Belton, the Mulligans Flat ecologist, led our group, and on the way to our sweep location we stopped to check on Eddie, the echidna she'd put a tracker on earlier. Using the radio antenna, we eventually found him burrowed under a fallen log!

I learnt that echidnas have tiny stumpy tails - you can just see Eddie's poking out from under his spines.

I learnt that echidnas have tiny stumpy tails - you can just see Eddie's poking out from under his spines.

We continued on to our sweep site at the back of the sanctuary. We saw many fresh diggings in ant nests, and eventually Emily found an echidna. She put him against a tree so he'd have something to curl up against. The tracker was attached to a pink drinking straw with Elastoplast tape, so we choose a really big spine, and I held apart all the other spines around it (they are really close together) so she could push the straw down the spine. She then secured it with more Elastoplast. It can be easily removed in future and doesn't hurt the echidna (their spines are made of keratin, like our hair and nails, and don't have nerve endings). We got poked a few times though! It was an absolute delight to be out in the winter sun, listening to the crunch of the leaf litter underfoot and the wind in the trees, with an occasional kookaburra laughing.

July 24th: Bettong assessment
On a cold but clear night I was very excited to accompany Emily again to assess bettongs and be her 'scribe'. She had placed traps earlier in the day with treats to entice the bettongs so we could assess their health and suitability for release in the Cotter (more information about that here abc.net.au). We checked each trap, and found several empty, one very put-out possum (quickly released), and the rest with a bettong inside! Emily had assistance from another ecologist (Sam), who helped her contain the bettongs in a bag, where they stayed while they were assessed. Weight, foot length and paw length were measured, then pouches checked for young (if female). We found one with a little jellybean-sized joey in her pouch! Scat and hair samples were taken for later research. Two didn't have microchips (a lovely sign that they are breeding well!), so Emily inserted them and took a skin biopsy (also for later research). After assessing condition (they want to release healthy, plump bettongs!) Emily and Sam chose to keep five and release the rest back into the sanctuary (three or four - they were healthy, but either too young, or not fat enough). I was lucky to release a couple and they went bouncing off into the dark. I learnt a lot about the late nights and great effort being taken by Mulligans Flat to protect and encourage the reproduction of this rare species.

That small blur is a bettong making a break for freedom after being assessed!

That small blur is a bettong making a break for freedom after being assessed!

It is incredibly inspiring to see how passionate and hardworking all the MF team and the ANU researchers are - everyone loves their job!

A big part of this month has been thinking about how to portray all these beautiful animals while remaining true to my own style and interests. Several 'light bulb moments' have occurred over the month and I'm now progressing to working on finished pieces to add to the sketches I've done this month. In August I'll also be assisting the documentary team on one day. Stay tuned for next month's report, and join my Facebook and Instagram feeds for updates throughout the month!

Beginning

"The more people experience, connect with, and share their love of nature, the more support there will be for its conservation" - International Union for Conservation of Nature. 

Mulligans Flat is a nature reserve in the north of Canberra that is restoring wildlife long-ago made extinct from the area by predators and land-clearing. It's one of my favourite places in Canberra so I'm ecstatic to be given the opportunity to be their artist-in-residence for the next year!

I'll be spending some time behind the scenes with the scientists doing research into the reintroduced species - quolls, bettongs, curlews - and I'll be exploring independently too. The year-long time frame will allow me to examine the changes in the Sanctuary's wildlife over the seasons, the reintroduction of species, hibernation, migration and reproduction. I'll be creating paintings and sketches with the aim to present these in an exhibition at the end of the residency. During the residency, at the end of each month I'll write a blog post about what I've experienced that month and share photos of the sketches and paintings I've made.

robin1.jpg

"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught." Baba Dioum, Environmentalist, 1968.

In 2014 I started volunteering with ACT Wildlife, and that really awakened a fascination with looking more closely at what's going on in the animal world around us. Being a wildlife carer is a lovely way to be connected to the landscape, learning about the plants they eat, how to spot signs of wildlife present. I really enjoy just watching what's happening in the Australian bush. We are so lucky. Being able to walk around in Mulligans Flat and being able to see so many remarkable creatures!

The more I look, the more I find, and I want to share that. Canberra is really fortunate to have so much wildlife living around us, we have to look after it. And we have this fantastic and important place at Mulligans Flat, people doing really important research into conservation of species. I really wanted to be part of that, to interpret that in an artistic way. For me, science and wildlife art are two sides of the same coin, interpreting the natural world around us in order that we can share it with others. I look forward to sharing my experience with you!