Make a pen and wash drawing

Students explore the elements of drawing and apply this knowledge to create the likeness and detail of botanical specimens .
Focus Artwork #1: 
‘Guarea’, 1788-9, possibly William Dawes


MAKING: Students learn to:

  •  interpret subject matter which is of local interest in particular ways in the making of artworks

APPRECIATING: Students learn about:

  • how audiences can form different opinions about artworks and artists

Background notes for Teachers

Not many of the artists from early colonial Australian times would have ever seen a living version of the flora or fauna they were illustrating. Most drew their images from carefully laid out or taxidermied specimens that often failed to show the true posture or spirit of the living being.

Plant specimens were much easier to observe and make artworks from, and so the representations of these often captured a more realistic impression when compared to those of animal specimens.

High level observation skills are required to make a good likeness of the intricate details, colours, shapes and features of any natural history specimen.

The techniques used to create these images with such fine details took time and great care. It was painstaking work. Many artworks that document the early natural history of Australia were made in this way.

However when artists needed to document the flora and fauna they encountered when away from the studio, they recorded what they had seen in a simpler format.

By drawing the main features of a landscape or subject in waterproof ink, using a nib or in more modern times, a fine pointed waterproof felt pen, details of colour can be added quickly and easily over the top, capturing a richer impression of the scene when compared to a pencil sketch.

Student Activities

Observing the detail of nature

Students explore the State Library collection of botanical art from the early days of the colony and develop their observation skills. 

Number of set tasks: 1

Activity notes for Teachers

Students will be assisted in :

  • discovering ways to create images from locally sourced stimulus
  • exploring the dynamics of line, shape and negative spaces using drawing and painting materials and techniques
  • applying this knowledge to begin their own artwork inspired by the artwork of early colonial artists of Australia

A step by step guide for this activity is available in  a downloadable resource for Activity 2.

Materials needed for the activity:

  • Specimens from garden for drawing
  • HB lead pencils
  • Heavy cartridge or watercolour paper
  • Erasers
  • Black ink pens with a fine nib– waterproof ink only
  • Watercolour tablets
  • Soft watercolour brushes

Creative Arts Syllabus K-6

A student:

  • VAS3.1 Investigates subject matter in an attempt to represent likenesses of things in the world.
  • VAS3.2 Makes artworks for different audiences, assembling materials in a variety of ways.

Typically teachers of Stage 3 students will:

  • provide opportunities for students to analyse and interpret the qualities and details of selected subject matter using various methods to assist them in their investigations in making and appreciating, and further consider how artworks are made as representations