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Welcome to my art blog from Tasmania, Australia. I post a little on my various art projects while also working in plant genetics. For more, please try the links to my various art pages or email me at silvergumstudio@yahoo.com.au. Thank you for visiting!

Monday, April 13, 2020

A coronavirus poem

Holiday greetings from our laundry
Today's coronavirus poem comes to you courtesy of Ray Kelley, resident poet at The Cairns Aged Care Centre in Chapel Hill:


At the Cairns Centre we believe
That no-one is desirous
Of getting and then passing on
The dread coronavirus.

We know that social distancing --
Two metres -- makes good sense,
And faithfully must be observed
By all our residents.

We understand that SD rules
Prohibit fond embracing.
We've become conscious of the need
For speedy contact tracing.

We've duly learnt to elbow cough
And also elbow sneeze
Discreetly, to prevent the spread
Of this accursed disease.

Flatten the curve has taken on
A meaning that's replaced
The one which had been used before
(Referring to one's waist.)

Our lives are circumscribed by DOs
And DON'Ts that may annoy,
But let us take into account
The blessings we enjoy.

It's easier to self-quarantine
And to self-isolate
Within our complex, than 'twould be
Beyond our guarded gate.

While many Brisbaneites outside
Our walls have cause to fear
They will run out of toilet rolls,
That will not happen here.

Elsewhere those who in crowded rooms
Still party on, must be
Safely locked up, and stigmatised
For their COVIDiocy  --
A fate from which we're free.

Dear friend in Cairns, we know high fives
And close contact are banned;
We can't do what we'd like to do,
To shake each other's hand;

But the shared threat unites us now
In strong esprit de corps,
And though we keep our distance, we
Feel closer than before.



Stay safe, dear friends, wherever you may be.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

This week's life drawing session in Hobart

Hobart model, 15 minute portrait in black Conte crayon
Life drawing is running again in South Hobart on Tuesday mornings, 9.30 am to 12.30 pm.  For details please contact Angela Panaretos on 0415 910 377.  We have quick (1 minute) poses followed by longer ones building up to 30 minutes.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

New portrait paintings

These are a few more recent portrait paintings.  While the top three were done in the studio, the portrait of Kirsty was done at a life drawing session using a $4 paintbox from Woolworths.  The cheap paints are somewhere between watercolour and gouache, and have a pearly texture.  The colours are quite lovely. I suppose they will fade, but I like the effect and this paintbox is great for travel.
Lake Eyre self-portrait (acrylic on canvas)
Poet and Scholar (acrylic, pastel and collage on paper)

My travelling friend (acrylic and pastel with handmade paper collage)

Kirsty (paint on paper)

Monday, February 4, 2019

Monday portrait session

Callan, today's portrait model for the Half Dozen Group, showed up looking like a Vogue model from the 1950's.  She wore a structured collared frock in burnt sienna with orange spots, a yellow headband and large hoop earrings.  We all loved her outfit and strong pose.

I might be able to tackle a painting of Callan later from the sketches and a couple of photos.



Saturday, February 2, 2019

Portrait drawing, Half Dozen Group, Brisbane

Our model for Thursday was lovely Lorena, whose profile was turned to me, resembling a Roman coin.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Silk artworks from the Canning Stock Route and Tasmania

These are some silk creations I've been working on, using the technique of eco-dyeing with leaves from Australian native species.

A Canning Stock Route journey in silk
This wall hanging is sewn from lengths of silk dyed along the Canning Stock Route.  In the winter of 2018, I was lucky to travel along this historical desert route, one of the most isolated in the world, with Outback Spirit expeditions and a marvellous group of fellow travellers from many walks of life.  During the days as we passed through beautiful mosaic vegetation, I collected a few leaves from desert poplars and eucalypts including the evocatively named river red gum, ghost gum, bloodwood, brittle gum, marble gum and coolibah.  At night, I wrapped the leaves in silk and boiled them over the campfire in water from the local springs and wells, inside a tin billy which grew increasingly rusty as the trip went on.  It was the perfect way to make art - you can't be self-critical when it's pitch dark and you literally can't see the results, but have to hang them on a tree by moonlight and retire to a tent with dingoes howling outside.  In assembling the silks at home, I tried to capture the up and down flow of the dune country, the varying vegetation of the swales we passed through, and the soft desert colours.  A friend suggested that next time I sew a dress of my journey, which sounds nice but a tad too difficult.

This is a series of smaller landscapes using the dyed silks, an added pink road and freestyle drawing with the sewing machine to represent our tracks:

Red range

Water hole


Salt lakes

Desert oaks
























Lastly, below these is the finally assembled (foldable!) silk field guide to the Tasmanian eucalypts, which I have been struggling to put together since its creation on Eucalyptus Day 2018.  I'll have the chance to exhibit this at an upcoming conference on eucalypt genetics at the University of Tasmania.  I'll also be displaying my recent research, which combines decades of Eucalyptus genetic research with the marvellous Eucalyptus dye colour data base of artist Sally Blake to investigate the question, 'Can eucalypt taxonomy be used to predict leaf dye colours?'  As you can see below, leaves from different species used on the same day vary widely in colour and intensity... and genetics appears to be partly to blame!
A folding silk field guide to the Tasmanian eucalypts, dyed using the natural leaf chemistry of each species.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Experimental fantasy portraits

These are some recent 'fantasy' portraits of myself and friends.  I asked friends what characters they enjoyed imagining themselves to be, then added some ideas of my own based on how I saw them.  They sent me favourite photos of themselves at different ages, and/or I took photos to work from.  In some cases, friends sent photos of their favourite things or places.  This has been immensely satisfying, partly for the sheer fun and pleasure of painting,  partly for connecting with friends and celebrating their unique personalities.  The photos don't really capture the colours - we aren't quite as red or purple as we appear here.  However, I did use some unusual colours for the skin tones just to experiment.



Saturday, April 7, 2018

Team project: science meets art in an eco-printed silk field guide to the Tasmanian eucalypts

Friday 23rd March was National Eucalypt Day - not Australia's best-known day of celebration, but a very important day nonetheless.  Where would Australians (human and otherwise) be without our astonishingly diverse, continent-wide, beautiful and unique tree genus?  As part of the nation-wide celebrations, librarians and scientists at the University of Tasmania ran activities and created displays of books, herbarium specimens, live eucalypts, gumnuts, oils, wood, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, and a video of Jeff Wilmott playing Waltzing Matilda on a gum leaf (do check out these links, they're worth it).  My friends and colleagues in the eucalypt research group, Dot and Beck, were organisers and asked me if I'd like to run an activity.  I thought it would be great to introduce people to eco-printing with eucalypt leaves - a perfect group activity combining art and science.  And what better experiment could there be than to attempt to create an eco-printed version of Eucaflip, the very popular field-guide to the Tasmanian eucalypts produced by our resident experts, Robert Wiltshire and Brad Potts? 
Eucaflip features panels with life-sized photos of leaves of all 29 (not counting the recently described E. nebulosa) species of Tasmanian Eucalyptus.  I knew from experience that leaves from a few of these species would produce prints on silk using nothing but their natural dye chemistry, released by heat.  I was very excited at the prospect of testing all the species and getting other people involved.  Dot and Beck put out the call to the School of Natural Sciences, with magnificent results.  On the day, thanks to the generosity and knowledge of eucalypt enthusiasts within the School, we had leafy branches from 25 Tasmanian species.  I cut strips of fine and thick silk to match the size of Eucaflip, and laid out the four lengthwise panels of Eucaflip on four picnic tables outside the Plant Science tea room.  We carried down all the branches and invited interested people to form four teams to create one panel each.

First, for each panel, we laid out leaves on a strip of fine, flat wet silk (I bought recycled Japanese kimono lining silk) to match the species' order and position in Eucaflip.
Setting up leaves on fine silk
Next, we created a sandwich by layering a strip of thicker, textured wet silk on top.  I hoped that the fine silk would receive detailed leaf prints, and the thicker silk would help to prevent bleed-through of dyes.

Making a sandwich with heavy silk on top
We then carefully rolled up the silk sandwich around a piece of dowelling.  I generally just use a stick, but for this project I wanted to maximise the chances of getting precise prints, so a nice wide smooth piece of dowelling gave a better roll-up.



The rollup

I asked the groups to tie up their bundles so they could recognise them later.  Now it was time for me to run home and boil the bundles for over two hours in plain water in two stainless steel saucepans.  I was sorry to miss the eucalypt walk around campus that took place during this time - another popular activity.  I checked the pots anxiously every five minutes, wondering if it would work.  We made the bundles at morning tea, and I was due back at afternoon tea for people to reveal their experimental results.

Well... it worked!  There was great excitement as people unrolled their steaming bundles and matched the leaf prints to the species.  The fine silk took very precise prints.  Some of the series printed much more strongly than others - for example, the alpine white gums, black gums and yellow gums gave lovely red prints.  The peppermints and ashes gave faint, ghostly grey or green prints.
The big reveal

Matching the print to the species

I'm VERY excited.

So is Rob Wiltshire (back right, in blue shirt)



The four panels of Eucaflip, eco-printed onto silk using only natural Eucalyptus leaf chemistry!
I have made the heavier silk strips into a book, with typed herbarium style labels for the species.  I want to make the fine silk prints into  vertical banners.  The School wants to do it all again with EVERY Tasmanian eucalypt species, as a second-year prac.   And I ask myself:  Why stop there?  After all, Australia has about 700 species of Eucalyptus.  Why not join with people around Australia next time, and do them all?
EucaPrint, in the eucalypt lab.  You can see some eucalypt chaff on the bench.

The alpine white gums page
Prints from the black gums and the unique shrub-form alpine yellow gum, Eucalyptus vernicosa

Thank you to everyone who took the excellent photos - I apologise for not crediting them as I am not sure who took which.