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Meet: Elaine Musgrave, botanical artist

Photo - Robin Powell

Elaine Musgrave works from a renovated stable in the wonderful garden created by her husband Les at Wildes Meadow in the Southern Highlands. Robin Powell talked to her about her work.

You started your career as a greeting card artist. What subject matter did you paint?

Everything – a lot of floral, but also baby cards, wedding cards, children’s birthday cards… But not so many animals, that’s not quite my cup of tea!


What inspired the move to botanical art?

I married a horticulturist, so that was part of it. Les made me a bit more aware of what I was doing. I’d add a leaf where I wanted, or change the shape of it and he’d pull me up on it. But really it was just time for a change. For a while I did both, and then the botanical art took over. You just fall in love with it if it’s your thing, and it becomes a passion.


What are the necessary attributes of a botanical artist?

It’s different to being a scientific artist. I certainly didn’t come to it from a scientific background, but from an art point of view. I didn’t know all the terminology – and still don’t, but as a botanical artist you must be very observant. We paint what we see.


Betula nigra 'River Birch', Elaine Musgrave


Does your garden influence your work, or is it the other way around?

The garden definitely influences my work. I don’t have any input into the garden, that’s Les’ domain. We downsized four years ago and moved here from Kurrajong in the Blue Mountains where we had 12 acres of garden that was open four days week. Les did all the work there, as he does here, but on just 5 acres now. He’s an artist in the garden - so it’s a nice marriage in more ways than one.


How do you choose your subjects?

I fall in love. I don’t do a great deal of commissions because someone might want something done and I might just not have a feeling for it. I prefer the luxury of walking around the garden, or going to a nursery, or visiting a friend’s garden and simply falling in love with something.


You often use pencil and watercolour in the same image. How did this approach develop?

Each work starts off as a graphite drawing, but I like to incorporate graphite into the finished work as well. My main love is drawing, that is perhaps why I’m drawn to botanical art in the first place. Though there are washes of colour, a lot of the work is dry brushwork, which is basically drawing with a brush, which suits me.


Cydonia oblonga 'Quinces', Elaine Musgrave


Are you exhibiting in Botanica at the Royal Botanical Gardens Sydney this year?

I hope to, but haven’t finished anything yet. There are not a lot of botanical exhibitions in Australia so I always have Botanica in mind. I did do a painting of a Magnolia soulangeana x seedpod which I thought would be good. They tend to be a little ugly in form I think, but this was pendulous and just gorgeous. I loved painting it, I had such fun, but then someone came along and bought it! So now I’m working on a few others.


We’ll be visiting Elaine in her studio, touring the garden with Les, and enjoying morning tea with them both on our NSW Spring Festivals tour in September. For details go to or call 1300 233 200

Text: Robin Powell

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Author: Robin Powell