How to draw natural history

By Chrissie Goldrick 7 November 2013
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We recognise excellence in one of only a handful of natural history art courses in the world.

THE 2009 AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHIC Natural History Illustration Prize has been awarded to 22-year-old Nadia Waters who recently graduated with a Bachelor of Natural History Illustration from the University of Newcastle. I drove north to the bushy Callaghan campus in Newcastle’s outer suburbs to present the award and $1000 prize at this week’s graduation ceremony.

The award, launched in 2008, encourages up and coming young talent in this highly-specialised field. It’s awarded annually to a final year student of the Newcastle degree — the only course of its kind in Australia, and one of only a handful around the world.

SEE A GALLERY of beautiful natural history art

AG has a tradition of promoting excellence in natural history illustration, both in the journal’s pages and in our annual fundraising Art Calendar. We commission new work for each edition and are always on the lookout for skilled artists to provide illustrations for our various projects.

Graduates from Newcastle provided illustrations for our tropical butterfly poster (issue 94) and alumnus Bronwyn King’s exquisite gum blossoms appeared in Naturewatch in issue 96.

Nadia Waters received the 2009 prize as the top performing student in the third year course. As well as producing artwork of a professional standard, the illustrations must be supported with research material including field sketches, photographs and experimental artwork that demonstrates the student’s understanding of the chosen subject matter.

Nadia found inspiration for her major project close to home, “I like to keep my work centred on the local environment around Armidale in NSW. I am familiar with the species found there, the flora and fauna, so I stay with what I know. Growing up on a bush property has certainly influenced my artistic vision,” she told me after receiving her prize.

Her award-winning work centred on Oxley Wild Rivers national park in northern NSW, “I’ve been studying the site of the decommissioned Gara Gorge Hydro-electric scheme from the 1890s. I’m following the Threlfall Historic Walk which is a circuit around the park that follows the route of the old water plume from days of the dam.”

Nadia told us the local National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) are planning to update interpretive signage along the trail, and they’re keen to use her illustrations.

Meanwhile Australian Geographic has been invited to join the external advisory board of the University’s School of Design Communication and Information Technology, to help shape the future of the course and ensure that students remain responsive to industry needs.

Chrissie Goldrick is picture editor for Australian Geographic.