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

Quandong ...

The Home Farm

Santalum acuminatum - Quandong - has long lasting fond memories for me.   
My childhood was spent in the country on a wheat and sheep farm in Western Australia.  The environment and weather conditions were often very trying and the landscape was quite barren at times, especially during the drought periods.  
My parents were incredibly hard working and my sisters, brother and I grew up with a great awareness of the environment and the effects that weather had on the surrounding landscape.
While it was not a lush vegetation there were times when the surroundings were overwhelmingly beautiful - you can see in a previous post wildflowers of Western Australia.


We spent a great deal of time in sporting and outdoor activites and were very fit and healthy kids.  My brother and I rode our bikes to school and would often investigate the vegetation and interesting creatures encountered on those journeys.  One of our favourite places to explore was at the windmill near our home where a large Quandong tree grew.  We would pick the fruits and eat the bitter flesh - the seeds were wonderfully knobbly and curious looking - which I would collect and turn into all manner of creations!   We were always out amongst the countryside which I guess was our playground, a great way for children to explore nature.

Recently my artist friend Alison showed me a photo of a subject she had found - I was surprised to see it was a Quandong and asked where in the city I could find such specimens.  Amazingly the location of this plant native to Western Australia - was directly opposite the boarding school I attended in my teenage years ... they were not good memories of having to leave our beloved farm,  so it was a full circle moment to be heading back to my high school to collect samples of a fruit so connected to my childhood and such happy memories. 

 I remember thinking as a child they were like ornaments on a Christmas tree and perhaps the fascination with colour, shape and form began while observing closely these unique fruits.  The Quandong was traditionally an important source of food for Aborigines and were much valued for their medicinal properties.

At the time of discovering they were fruiting I could think of nothing better to use in my Diploma Portfolio as my fruit artwork.  However this was well before the diploma works were due to commence so I did all the drawings, colour studies and composition well before time.

As I was also working on my mixed flower study at the time it made for a very busy period for the art desk.  Thankfully I managed to get all the relevant information, detail and artworks drawn with reference photos as a backup ... 

I then had to put them aside while I completed assignment twelve and was quite excited to get back to them a few months later.  

The Quandong painting formed one of three diploma artworks submitted to the Society of Botanical Artists for final judging earlier this year.    I was overjoyed to receive my marks and see that the painting was selected to be hung at the annual SBA exhibition in London.
 Quite a thrill for a kid from rural WA ...
Another watershed moment for me ...  thoughts of my parents and siblings and those special times.
 I hope to do a series of Quandong paintings for a future exhibition ...

Santalum acuminatum - Quandong
© Vicki Lee Johnston

For my dear Dad -  Mum, Craig, Linda and Christine ....
Our memories will last a lifetime xxxx

                                                           All images  © Vicki Lee Johnston


  1. No wonder you created such beautiful paining with such lovely memories!!!
    Your painting got well deserved top marks, it is a masterpiece!!!
    I hope one of these days I will get my hands on that 'brain' seed, it looks so interesting :)

    1. Thanks so much Alena - I do think it helps to really love the subject.
      I will definitely keep one for you ...

  2. What a beautiful blog post Vicki. Would love to hear more of life in Australia. My daughter spend a semester in Sydney a couple years ago and loved it. One day I hope to visit :) Lori V.

    1. Thanks Lori - it is a huge land we live in but full of variety and colour. Hope you do get to visit.

  3. What a lovely post Vicki - and beautiful painting too

    I also really liked the photo of your set-up. I wish more botanical artists would show their set-ups.

    1. Thanks so much Katherine.
      I always take pics of my setup as I go so will remember to include more.
      Appreciate you stopping by.

  4. Great post Vicki and so touching to hear this story about the Quandong and your associated memories with the plant. It's funny how plants can represent and trigger such strong memories, rather like particular musical songs or smells. This was my favourite painting, and I think you really get a sense of the plant's essence from your beautiful brush work. I wonder what you are thinking of painting now you have completed your diploma?! At least next time you decide to do a Quandong you can time it so you won't have to work from all the prep work - that should be really nice for you! What a relief!

    1. Thanks Jess - I really enjoyed painting it too and would love to do many more ...
      I have a long list of to do paintings and an exhibit to plan towards so am hoping to catch up with work etc and get back to the studio.
      Love your coffee plant - it's stunning!

  5. When I paint, it is as... if I could reach every part of the time that I lived.
    The color, gesture, more than words, they seem to surpass the limits of time.
    This has become even more alive since I became a grandmother for Beatrice and Alice. I begin now to show my works, I do not know what future for them, but definitely the first objective (to be myself and fully alive while I paint) is already achieved .Sixteen years ago I'm wondering how many days remained of life for me and if I would see my daughter bride or mother ... the painting is an instrument powerful of healing and realization. How,to my heart, reading your beautiful post ,you,dear Vicki, witnesses!(Wondeful watercolor painting by you as always,truly cum laude!!!)

  6. Dear Rita - what beautiful words you write.
    And how precious is life - with all its memories and hopes and dreams for the future - I am so glad you were able to gain strength and have a beautiful life seeing your grandbabies and producing such beautiful work.
    It is incredibly healing - I know this so well.
    Thank you for your words dear friend, thank you xx

  7. A beautiful study Vicki made even more fascinating by your rememberances.