Story Behind the Art of Deb Chirnside

Deb Chirnside says that she has drawn since she was a small girl.  Her grandmother was a very good painter and she has a clear memory of her grandmother teaching her how to draw a tree.   She obtained a Bachelor of Education degree and taught art until the responsibilities of four daughters and farming with her husband in the countryside near Geelong, west of Melbourne, Australia, became her main focus.  They farm canola, barley, wheat and other grains and raise cattle.  In addition, she has a beautiful big garden on the farm and she aims to have something flowering or of interest all year round.  She loves old-fashioned plants and her garden is quite English, however still hardy as it needs to be in the Australian environment. 
Through the years she maintained her love of art by visiting art galleries such as The National Gallery in Melbourne and later joined the local art society in Geelong and recommenced drawing classes. Past lecturers encouraged her to paint big and bold, but she always wanted to paint small, with fine detail.  When she saw Jenny Phillips’ work about 15 years ago, she knew that was the type of art she wanted to do. She enrolled in botanic art classes and has had wonderful teachers at the Geelong Botanic Gardens, such as Margaret Muffet, Helen Burrows and John Pastoriza-Pinol. 
Deb meets weekly to paint with a small gathering of Geelong botanic artists.  One day, one of her friends brought a branch of Banksia lemanniana (Yellow Lantern Banksia ) into the class.  It was big, interesting and had lots of character; after much admiration, it was offered to Deb to paint.   She tries to paint things that are a little different or to choose an unusual viewpoint.  She had painted and drawn smaller Banksias but had never seen one this large. This specimen was not native to her part of Australia, but from the west, where it likes a sandy soil.  Typically this shrub is low growing and sprawling but can reach seven feet high.  The flowers are yellow and look like lanterns.  Her branch was about a foot long.   “My painting is after the flowering stage.  I loved the plant’s character at this stage – after the flowers have finished but before the capsules open, a promise of things to come, a moment often overlooked. I love all kinds of cones and this Banksia has large and weighty cones which unusually hang down from the large, strong branches.  I wanted the composition to capture the weight of this cone hanging down.  At this stage, they have amazing seed capsules with what looks like a downy, soft covering, but they aren’t soft at all, actually are very hard.  These seed capsules don’t open easily; in fact in nature, they often require a bushfire to open, so the environmental conditions have to be just right for them to reproduce.  I wanted a seed in my composition, but it wasn’t easy.  First I tried manually, banging it with a hammer. No luck.  I realized that I had to mimic the heat that it requires in nature, so I put the specimen in the oven at quite a hot temperature for 10 or 15 minutes – and then finally the beautiful little seeds came out!”  The leaves also appealed to her, with their leathery consistency and toothed edges, a necessity to withstand the harsh western Australian climate.  
She loves watercolor.  She has incorporated Pastoriza-Pinol’s techniques to achieve transparent colors.   “Brown Banksia could be dull, but I put on layers and layers of pure colors to achieve brown, and all these colors show through and glow.  I start with washes, then gradually use smaller brushes to obtain more details, and then finally, the painting reaches the stage where it sings and pops!” 
Deb considers botanical art a wonderful thing to do because she is always surrounded by beautiful things.  She likes to paint in a group and enjoys the diversity of people and the friendships formed, whilst being inspired by other fellow artists.  
  • (C) Deb Chirnside