The Finest Details: Etching Tasmanian Plants

I am an artist: a botanical artist, a print maker and singer/songwriter and I respond to the visual beauty of the natural environment with song and art. I lived for over twenty years at Lune River in Far South Tasmania, growing a family and a food garden on the Buttongrass plains. My childhood was spent collecting plants and seedpods on endless field trips with my father, Dr Nigel Wace, a respected ANU botanist/geographer. At home, books and pictures of early naturalists and explorers were close at hand and well thumbed. This set up an enduring love in me for wild places and a longing for connection to place through recurring engagement.

After completing a degree in fine art, studying printmaking under Jorg Schmeisser, I moved to Tasmania, eventually developing a printing practice having stumbled on an old printing press in an op shop. It was great to be printing again and drawing on the beautiful landscape at Lune River. I spent hours roaming, singing and collecting specimens again. Back in the studio, I scratched with a dry point needle into Perspex plates, creating highly detailed scientifically accurate but many times magnified images of orchids.

I also create pressed plant specimen arrangements, mounted in float glass box frames. They have a resonance with herbarium specimen collections and are a meditation upon pattern and placement as well as a depiction of plant communities. My work is immersed in the historical relevance of these plants, a love of place and the rich story behind the early French botanical collections of Labillardiere at Recherche Bay, near Lune River. This strong thread of botanical specimen and illustration from early explorers and naturalists weaves for me a rich fabric of inspiration and a love of botanical form and function.

Now, I live and work in Hobart on the flanks of Mt Wellington/Kunanyi, with my print studio in the city. I have developed several bodies of print works, drawn from the Buttongrass plains of Lune River. More recently, I have connected with the landscape of Kunanyi at my backdoor and the Tarkine landscape through involvement with the Tarkine in Motion campaign. I also run print classes for people interested in learning about dry point and monoprinting.

Interesting Facts

I enjoy the frank wanton nature of Tasmanian native orchids, revealing the hidden, seldom seen roots that show a huge part of their character. They are so resilient and fragile, flamboyant and strange. Their tubers are edible and their flowers so sensual. In my work I am exploring the sexual allure between orchid and insect; revealing the highly evolved relationship of plant sexual advertising, the curious secret agendas where orchids use morphology and pheromones as deception and attraction in universal mimicry of sensual form. Much is still being learned about the beneficial relationship for the orchids from their (possibly) parasitic association with the mycorrhizal fungus, which enables the seed germination and seedling establishment.

‘Orchid’ comes from the Greek, meaning testicle and indeed many orchid tubers resemble these. The plants seem to exist just to flower, to display the most fantastic and flamboyant reproductive organs of the plant. In fact, the flowers are designed to look like female wasps and so lure in males seeking out females.

Orchids lure human interest as well – we are in their thrall as much as the insects that pollinate them. Orchids are highly prized. They are hard to find in their natural environment, as they can be unremarkable until they flower. Like many intriguing scientific species, orchids have avid followers – hunters and collectors seeking to capture a photo or cultivate a hothouse of rare species. I can help put these fabulous plants on people’s walls.

All work is collected sustainably from private land in Lune River and has clearance from Threatened species unit Tas.

  • Adamson’s Peak from the Buttongrass plain at Lune River- my home for 20 years.
    • This is the Buttongrass landscape that supports my artwork and specimen collection. Buttongrass Plains are a diverse mosaic of plant communities, incredibly resilient and borne of fire. The soil is bone dry in summer and super saturated in winter, the acid, peaty soil supports a wide range of plants.
  • Specimen of a bird orchid – Chiloglottis gunnii
    • Being able to collect specimens from private land, with permission, allows me to closely inspect the whole plant under the microscope and draw it. This close observation and drawing from many angles, combine to ‘physicalise’ my memory of the form and structure. I can then scale up my drawings to match the size of plate I will use to scratch the drypoint image into. This specimen can be repotted to thrive.
  • Opening the plant presses in my studio
    • I have a range of different sized plant presses – here I have used my father’s old trouser press. This is always an exciting moment – I am looking to preserve specimens that convey the character of the plant, displayed to full effect. I use these, either to create framed specimen arrangements, to draw under the microscope or make prints from the specimens directly. I have amassed a fabulous herbarium of Tasmanian plant specimens to inform my future works.
  • Inking the flower plate for Caledenia alpina
    • Inking the flower plate for the whole orchid file of 3 plates for Caladenia alpina. Here I have wiped the etching ink onto my plate and gradually wiped back the image, revealing the orchid and it’s character. I can ink the plate differently each time making a print ranging from a delicate line drawing to a gothic brooding image
  • Bearded orchid print – Calochilus robertsonii – detail
    • Studying and drawing the orchids under the microscope enables me to enter a fabulous world of form and detail. Such seductive mimicry of insect form can be seen. These native orchids are highly evolved for their particular ecological niche.
  • ‘Orchid Dance’ – composite image of ten plates
    • By rendering the orchids in magnified form, I showcase their extraordinary beauty and sensuality. When these works are displayed, larger than life, we walk among them as equals, a living species, deserving of respect. I ask viewers to notice these small, elusive and highly evolved species as their habitats are being destroyed. Many of the whole orchid etchings take 3 or 4 plates to describe the root, stem buds and flower. Keeping the images to scale, some completed works can end up being 2m tall.
  • Pressed plant specimen arrangement ready for framing.
    • Choosing only the most perfectly pressed specimens, the process of arranging these is a form of meditation – a quiet and delightful study of pattern and composition. I mount the specimens in museum quality frames that I make in my Lune River studio. These have a float glass box frame system with a little cave in the back to hold a camphor sachet to prevent insect attack.
  • Print studio set up – preparing wall friezes after digital printing
    • I have the final digitized works printed commercially at ICC Imagetec . Large layout and cutting tables in my studio enable me to cut out the finished works and roll up for postage worldwide.
  • Orchid wall frieze
    • Selections from the original artwork are arranged in layers, as if looking through the inked up plates. I have developed a series of these frieze-works, digitally printed onto a re-ocatable adhesive fabric, they are non toxic and phthalate free, are safe to adhere to paintwork, they can be repositioned numerous times.
  • Pressed plant wall frieze
    • This is one from a series of horizontal and vertical wall friezes depicting specimens from the Buttongrass plains. These are a window into the wild flora of Tasmania- a visual feast of orchids, lichens, moss, fern and flower. They are all photographed at high resolution from the original pressed and arranged specimens.
  • New print works in development
    • Here are some early trials of current work in progress, using plants from the Tarkine area. I feel privileged to study and work with such an array of Tasmanian flora
  • Root of Eriochillus cucullatus
    • Hot off the press is the final original print of the root section of the orchid – Eriochilus cucullatus – Parson’s Bands
  • Inked Dry point Etching Plates
    • One of the benefits of using Perspex as a drypoint plate is being able to view the finished plates, inked up all together to create a depth of field of orchids.
  • Inked plates close-up
    • Fine details
  • Forest collection
    • The flora of the Tasmania forest