"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home" (Twyla Tharp)

Pimelea physodes - Qualup bell


Pimelea physodes - Qualup Bell 

Recently I returned to my art studio inspired after finding two sought after Qualup bell specimens from a local native nursery.  I have always loved these plants and they were on my wish list to paint but being endemic to specific regions sparsely located at great distance in Western Australia they were very difficult to study and illustrate without being in situ.

Having found the plants I set to work carefully observing all the colourways - which were many - probably why I’m so attracted to them, as well as their showy nature, despite being somewhat ordinary looking when not in flower.

I began by colour matching the the bell shaped flowers to ensure I was happy with my portrayal and then set to work adding fine watercolour layers, taking care to work with a more dry brush approach to create the feel of a filmy somewhat transparent petal or bract.

I had been working seated in the conservatory area as I had really spread out to study the plant, however I found it was taxing on my neck and shoulders when I was painting in a seated position.

I moved back into my art studio to my usual standing desk option and it was so much easier and more comfortable to paint and work closely for longer periods.  I highly recommend using a standing desk or sit to stand option as it is easier to move about and not get stuck in an awkward position.

I took regular breaks and brought the artwork into another room to check progress alongside the real subject in different light.  I find it's a good habit to look at the painting in different rooms and alternate lighting situations to create a more balanced

I had underestimated the level of work involved in painting the myriad of leaves, so it became much longer working period to enable me to meet the emerging  deadline.

 I finished the first watercolour layers of most of the painting and then spent a couple of days adding depth and finer detail.
Thankfully I managed to complete the Qualup Bell with very little time to spare before having the artwork scanned and entered into a prestigious botanical illustration exhibition in Melbourne.

Qualup bell - © Vicki Lee Johnston

I was very happy to be notified that my botanical illustration of this amazing plant had been selected for the The Art of Botanical Illustration in Melbourne (TABI 2022).  I then set to work ensuring the paper was perfectly flat by dampening the back and resting under heavy books, it worked beautifully and the artwork was ready to be framed.

I very much appreciated the local framer, Angela at White Room Studios, who managed to help me meet the tight interstate deadline before sending the framed artwork across to Melbourne. 

  Thanks also to my sister in law who presented the artwork to the gallery on my behalf,  which was very much appreciated.  Perth in Western Australia is a long way from anywhere and it gets very expensive to be included in the national and international exhibitions, however with  great support it can be possible.


For those also at great distance and unable to attend the gallery in person you can view this beautiful exhibition of botanical artworks by national and international artists online for a short period.

The 16th Biennial The Art of Botanical Illustration (TABI 2022) run by the Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne is on show until October 2nd at Domain House Gallery in Melbourne.

Iris …

Iris © Vicki Lee Johnston

A few years ago, back in the days when we could travel the world more freely I was lucky enough to visit France and the Provence region.  A highlight for me was to visit the hospital where Vincent Van Gogh stayed.  The gardens were magnificent, inspiring him to produce hundreds of beautiful paintings.  See my original post with all the lovely iris photos and backstory here:

The irises were coming into full bloom and I couldn't resist taking loads of photos in the hope of painting one later in time.  I don't normally work solely from a photograph but to honour a special place and time it's important not to get too stuck on perfect circumstances for subject matter. 

Taking one of many photographic memories

Beginning the first stages of my painting with initial washes.
You can see below my setup with the chosen photo on my iPad for reference as I worked.

Reference photo setup

Saint Paul Asylum in St Remy  

                                                               More layers and detail ...

Wonderful display of irises

Getting there ...

This was a fun painting to do because it gave me the opportunity to be a little more relaxed about the detail and features, it became a keepsake of sorts to remember this special time in France.  It was intended for an exhibition but after a missed deadline I decided it could stay with me a while longer.

Watercolour Iris -  © Vicki Lee Johnston

I hope everyone is keeping well and optimistic about days ahead when we can look forward to a return to travel and hugging and enjoying life at its fullest.  I have been blessed to spend this very unique time with my soul mate and precious family, being grateful for the simple things in life and honouring the natural world.

© Vicki Lee Johnston

Eucalyptus macrocarpa watercolour artwork ...

Mottlecah WIP  -   © Vicki Lee Johnston

Time to update the blog with a painting completed for an exhibition - thanks to the challenging year we had in 2020, many botanical art exhibitions have gone online, which is still a lovely way to explore and buy art -  especially for those at great distance from the usual venues.  

I know from my own experience, living so far from the art exhibitions makes it very expensive to participate with hefty shipping costs.  I welcome this new way of sharing art and enabling many more to come in contact with art in all forms.

My choice as a botanical subject for  'The Art of Botancal Illustration' was Eucalyptus macrocarpa - mottlecah.  It came about as I pass this unique small tree almost every day on my walks.   It is a wonderful subject, especially being endemic to Western Australia and I have strong memories of being fascinated with the life cycle in my childhood in the country.   It usually looks a bit scraggly and leggy but when the tree produces pods and burst into flower it is a showstopper.  

Layering the leaves and developing flowers and buds
© Vicki Lee Johnston

 It is quite a tricky colour to capture, a kind of grey blue greenish hue ... different in all lights but I decided to show the transitions of colour to highlight how interesting the leaves are as the light hits them.  The flowers are very fiddly and this is the first time I have used masking fluid in a painting, took a few practice efforts and now I may just be a convert!  It certainly widens the field of subject choice for the future.

The seed pods are powdery silver grey, clutched tightly to the stem of the shrub.  Once the flower is spent it becomes such an interesting subject to observe and illustrate, woody and architectural, full of nooks and crannies and so much character!

Ageing seed pod coming to life 
© Vicki Lee Johnston

Building the depth © Vicki Lee Johnston

Scanned the large artwork and digitally sent to Friends of Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne
"The Art of Botanical Illustration"

Friends of the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne

The Friends of the RBGM is a wonderful organisation and there are many varied activities, support for botanical art and illustration and a wonderful synergy with the natural world.  Sincere thanks to the organisers of this beautiful exhibition, my fellow botanical artists and hoping there will be many more opportunities for art to be viewed around the world in an online platform.

Thank you for joining me again on my blog, it is a visual journal for my art progression and started back at the beginning almost ten years ago.  I hope you find the time to create - it's food for the soul!

Rose Mallee ...

Eucalyptus rhodantha
Rose Mallee - © Vicki Lee Johnston

It has been ages since I posted a blog update but sometimes I think we need to allow the process to find its own flow ... it should never be forced unless it's a commission or exhibition deadline but in terms of communicating in a social way sometimes less is more while you get your bearings.

The great thing about the creative process is being able to find a community that supports and encourages without constant expectation.  I belong to a few art societies which are very welcoming and always communicate upcoming projects, exhibitions, publications and invite participation wherever possible, despite where you are located.  One such project was run by the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA) to celebrate their recent silver anniversary.  

As I am a Member of the ASBA, I was invited to contribute to their publication by painting a subject within the theme of 'silver' whether it be silver leaves, silver in the name of the plant, etc.  I wasn't going to participate due to a very busy calendar and overseas travel at the time, but on one of my road trips I came across the Eucalyptus rhodantha, Rose Mallee, which happened to be in flower on the roadside.

It is a beautiful small tree, if somewhat scraggly and messy at times - however once it comes into bud and flowers - wow, it's a showstopper.  It's endemic to my region and seemed a perfect subject to choose to paint considering the glaucous silver blue leaves and powdery grey buds .... just right for the job description at hand - and especially meaningful being an artwork portraying a West Australian native plant published in an international publication.

WIP - first layers of paint going on ...

I realised once again I had put myself under the pump time wise, as was due to travel within days so I decided just get it done, I loved the subject and once all the colour studies were done, I really hurried the layers of silver grey/blue on the leaves and started building up the shadows to create depth and form.

The powdery greyish silver was a joy to paint, keeping in mind less is more and only painting the shadows and a very subtle silver grey hue.  I then added the raspberry red of the flower, trying to show the light and shade to highlight the details and finally the minute details of the stamen.  The photos are very poor due to me working late into the night.  I had three days from start to finish to complete the painting, which is probably a good thing to avoid overworking.

Probably the most difficult part for many artists could often be the technology associated with exhibiting, publishing and showing artworks.  Being able to photograph, scan, convert files, edit, then ensure you have met the technical criteria for a publication, as it could end up less than complimentary to your work if the colours and light are off.  Fortunately all deadlines were met and the artwork was sent digitally to the society and able to be entered into this beautiful book celebrating their members, their art and the society as an international and inclusive organisation.

It was a few months before the book was published and it took quite a bit longer to reach Western Australia.  It was published in limited numbers, so somewhat of a collectors piece and I am very grateful for my edition.

Excuse the poor quality photo, not easy taking a pic from a glossy book ... but you get the gist! 
For further information here is the website for the American Society of Botanical Artists:

I have a number of artworks in the members gallery - which reminds me, I need to update that too!  Never ending tech alongside art and creation ... guess it keeps both sides of the brain in tune!

Rose Mallee - © Vicki Lee Johnston 

All artwork and images © Vicki Lee Johnston 2020