Drawing on nature

Drawing from specimens at the Melbourne Museum

specimen |ˈspɛsɪmɪn|
an individual animal, plant, piece of a mineral, etc. used as an example of its species or type for scientific study or display. marsupialia specimens of supreme adorableness.

Roughly four times a year, on a Saturday, some of the bones and small, glass-eyed, arsenic-laced specimens within the collection of the Melbourne Museum are made available to draw from in the Discovery Centre.

Upon my page, there is nothing of the Bauer brothers (Ferdinand (1760–1826) and Franz Bauer (1758–1840)) four-digit codes for colour shade accuracy. Nor is there a pleasing medley of Olivia Fanny Tonge’s (1858–1949) Karachi frogs and toads with Indian ear studs and nose rings. And you won’t find the detail of Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717). Just pure play, really. But shoehorned into a 6-hour-period a similar understanding is sought: who are you?

Seated before an Eastern rosella (Platycercus eximiusor) or with a Parma wallaby (Macropus parma) gazing into the mid distance, “be silly. Be honest. Be kind.”[i] with the pencil. Up close to a specimen, quietly, looking, marvelling. My nose to a rodent, my F pencil to page, there may well be another zine in there. And later, when wet mediums can be applied, who knows what will emerge?

Sometimes, the specimen you’ve requested is substituted for another. Sometimes, the hands don’t obey the head, and the drawing is little short of a paper-chewing disaster. But all of the time, the limitations are a pleasing challenge to push through or sidestep around.


From the first drawing session of 2017, and several from the last of 2016, with Louise, and my Mum, Elaine.


February 2017 specimens drawn,
Eastern rosella (Platycercus eximiusor)
Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae)
Little eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides)
Parma wallaby (Macropus parma)
Spot-billed toucanet (Selenidera maculirostris)
Superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus)
Tawny frogmouth (Podargus strigoides)
Yellow-footed antechinus (Antechinus flavipes)


December 2016 specimens drawn,
Brown thornbill (Acanthiza pusilla)
Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica)
Red-browned finch (Neochmia temporalis)
Rufous-bellied pademelon (Thylogale billardierii)
Southern boobook (Ninox novaeseelandiae)
Sugar glider (Petaurus breviceps)
Wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax)


And whilst these specimens have yet to make their way into a zine, Louise’s Seasonal museum sketches (Spring) and (Summer), and my Afternoon of a Hopping Mouse (Notomys mitchellii) will be available from our stall at Sticky Institute’s zine fair this weekend. Do swing by, say hi, and meet our paper animals.

Sticky Institute presents:
Festival of the Photocopier Zine Fair 2017
Melbourne Town Hall
Sunday the 12th February


(Incidentally, when the zine fair trundles homeward at 5pm, Birds: Flight paths in Australian art will be doing the very same too. Thank-you to everyone who came along to hear us talk about our works in this exhibition, alongside fellow artists, Penny Byrne, and Stu James.)


[i] Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)


Image credit: (detail from) Plate 1 from A. W. Scott’s Australian Lepidoptera and their Transformations (London: John Van Voorst, 1864–1898), with illustrations by Harriet and Helena Scott