While I love, admire and appreciate art in all its incarnations, for my own pieces, I mostly turn to the natural world. When I choose a subject, whether it’s the humble lemon, an exotic strelitzia, a colourful parrot, or a cheeky frog, I research my subjects. Not just to get a better understanding of their structure or habitat or life cycle, although these are all important for me; I want to know their impact on their surrounds or on the greater ecosystem. And I want to know their mythology or impact on humans.
For my latest subject I choose the coastal banksia, Banksia integrifolia, an Australian native tree. The genus Banksia was named after Sir Joseph Banks, a botanist aboard Captain Cook’s Endeavour. In 1770 he collected 4 of the 173 native species to study and bring back to England. Further up the family tree, banksia belongs to the protea family, which has its origins on Gondwana (now Africa) the supercontinent 100 million years ago. Aboriginal groups used banksia is a variety of ways. The flowers could be sucked or soaked in water to release the nectar. Dried cones were used as fire sticks and water strainers. Single flowers were used as paint brushes. An interesting article detailing these and other uses can be found at:
In the animal kingdom, banksia provides a home, a resting place or sustenance for myriad beasts, birds and critters. The flowers, generally yellow or red in colour, blossom during the fall or winter. These produce rich nectar, so it attracts not only nectar loving birds, but small animals, such as possums and bats.
Insects, butterflies, bees and ants come to collect nectar and they in turn attract birds who prefer insects. Honeyeaters, will settle for both, thank you. Wattles, and lorikeets with their brush-like tongue, flock to the nectar-packed flower spikes.
After flowering the seed pods entice larger birds such as parrots and cockatoos. But also, the pods attract wasps and mites, who lay eggs that produce those sinister looking growths on the cones called, galls.
A pair of King parrots will find their way to the seeds, as will squawking cockatoos.
The branches and dense foliage provide shelter for other creatures: perhaps kookaburra looking for a better vantage point on the canopy. Possums hid within the green and silver leaves and geckos follow ants making their way up the stalks to the nectar blossoms.
This painting, called All Together, is mixed media using acrylic and watercolour paint, along with acrylic mediums, water-soluble pencils, and ink. Layers are added and then sanded back to produce a desirable texture, specifically for the flower blossoms and the seed cones. Artistic license has been taken with the position of the birds and other animals as they wouldn’t really be present in and on the Banksia at the same time. But rather, they represent not only the variety of species attracted to banksia, but also the seasons – flowering from January to June and seed cones ripening eight months later.
This painting, along with others, will be on display at the Boudii Art Society show, 1-2 October 2022 at the Wagstaffe Hall, Wagstaffe, NSW 2257.