Artist’s Palette Magazine ~ Issue 123 ~ Front cover and feature article

Artist’s Palette Magazine ~ Front Cover ~ Issue 123 – Heidi Willis

Heidi Willis ~ The Earthen Artist


Australian born, Heidi Willis is an entirely self-taught natural history watercolour artist. Her work intricately illustrates our native and exotic plants, fruits and seed capsules, whilst her powerful & distinctive portraits of spectacular bird life offers viewers an insight into the world as she experiences it. Painting full-time since 2003, Heidi quickly established herself as one of Australia’s emerging artistic talents. Her reputation as a natural history, wildlife and botanical artist is well established. Her works have been exhibited nationally and internationally in prestigious exhibitions and can be found in significant public and private collections around the world including the Shirley Sherwood Collection of international contemporary botanical artists, and the Hunt Institute of Botanical Documentation USA.

Surrounded by the incredible natural world we live in, so full of wonder, intrigue, colour, vibrancy, harmony and endless surprises, it is easy to understand why one would choose this as a subject for painting, and how one can become quite absorbed within this. Seeing and feeling so inspired by the natural world is sustaining to life and the soul and brings beauty into every aspect of how you view the world. Outside of being an artist, it really is such a nice way to live, and so the choice for me was natural.

There are many things that draw me to a subject, whether it be the elegant impact of a single element standing alone, or the fabulous way in which elements come together, compliment and interact together that strikes me. I am drawn by the endless complexity and combinations of these things, the thrill of seeing how colours work and play together with such variation, the way light falls and changes what we see over again, and the intricate detail of all things natural that appeals. It is so absorbing and beautiful to explore.

For me there tends to be an instant recognition of my subjects when I see them and the process of putting paintings together starts immediately in my creative mind upon sight. Through careful observation and absorbing fascination I can connect with my subjects quite quickly and intimately, which allows me to gain a sound sense of character and nature of my subject. This energy is then poured into my work as much as possible. This connection, this love affair also helps your focus greatly when tackling complex paintings for extended periods of time as this style of work entails.

I see the world in collections of wonderful patterns, shapes and spectacular, addictive colour. I have an endless fascination for these things, and so my work in turn represents and reflects this as much as possible. Working exclusively in watercolour, my paintings are very much labours of love, a joyful representation and expression of the gifts Mother Nature extends to us so freely. Each painting is a journey of its own, a unique gathering of these inspirations, a slice of time and place; a story.

This piece ‘Lorikeets and Black Bean’ was all about colour for me. The tree itself is so spectacular, vibrant and joyful and the Lorikeets seem as though they are custom made for it! It is amazing to me how something so incredibly distinctive, bright and colourful can be so well camouflaged as in the case of this piece, but the lorikeets were an obvious choice for this tree just as it is in real life. It seems a wonderful combination of elements to me, and one that has been on my extremely long ‘must paint someday’ list for several years now. It was a great deal of fun to work with from start to finish, and it was certainly a challenge to tackle on many levels.

Given that the medium here is watercolour, the detail, overall complexity and especially the incompatibility of this colour palette were particular areas of challenge. For me though, these challenges are the most enticing thing about how I paint, pushing my limits and striving to improve with every piece produced, to stay inspired and to be as good at my craft as I am able to be. There is a wonderful satisfaction in working towards achieving this, so I am not one to shy away from the undertaking.I am continually looking for ways to broaden my experience and improve my skills as an artist, absorbing new input, inspirations and experiences in any way I am able. For this year’s adventure I will be trekking into the remote wilderness of Nepal’s blossoming spring for a month to explore and work amongst the spectacular Rhododendron Forests found in this region. This area boasts a rich diversity of wonderful flora and fauna including over 100 species of mammals, around 500 species of birds and over 1200 species of plants including some of my favourites; Rhododendrons, Orchids and Magnolias. At this time of year the forests burst into life in a breathtaking profusion of colour. Rich reds, pinks and purples flush the landscape as far as the eye can see, often softened amongst blankets of mountain mist. Spectacular mountain ranges dominate the landscape surrounding the forest, and it is here that I will be working, writing, photographing and drawing in the field to gather reference to build my next exciting body of work.

My Nepal journey and the work that comes of this adventure can be followed closely on my Facebook page. Completed paintings, works in progress, workshop information, exhibition details, events and day-to-day news are posted here so please feel free to join me there for the latest updates. see my original paintings on permanent exhibition at the beautiful Morpeth Gallery, Morpeth NSW, or contact me directly.


*          Permanent representation Morpeth Gallery, Morpeth NSW

*          Represented by the Boyd Gallery, NSW, Australia

*          Finalist in ‘Focus on Nature Exhibition’ natural history exhibition, New York State Museum

*          Finalist ‘Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize’, SA Museum

*          Finalist for Australia Day Arts Award.

*          Solo exhibition, Gosford Regional Gallery.

*          Finalist ‘Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize’, SA Museum.

*          Award for Excellence in Botanical Illustration, ‘Margaret Flockton Award’.

*          Finalist in the ‘Margaret Flockton Award’, Red Box Gallery, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney (2 selected).

*          Paintings selected for permanent collection at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Pittsburgh, USA

*          Multiple works selected as finalist in ‘Focus on Nature Exhibition IX’ natural history exhibition, New York State Museum

*          Finalist in the ‘Margaret Flockton Award’, Red Box Gallery, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

*          Award for Excellence in Botanical Illustration, ‘Margaret Flockton Award’.

*          ‘Botanica’ Exhibition, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

*          ‘Canberra Botanical Exhibition’, CSIRO Canberra

*          Finalist in the ‘Waterhouse Natural History Art Prize’, SA Museum

*          Work purchased for Shirley Sherwood Collection of Contemporary Botanical Artists

*          ‘Botanica’ Exhibition, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

*          ‘Canberra Botanical Exhibition’, CSIRO Canberra

*          ‘Canberra Botanical Exhibition’, CSIRO Canberra

Hints and Tips

Everyone works differently of course and you need to experiment with materials, subjects and approaches for yourself and find what works for you and your objectives. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Remember that it is only paper and this process is all just a part of your journey and natural evolution, a part of learning and improving. Take what you can from your mistakes and use those things to grow and improve for your next piece.

If you are struggling with your paints looking muddy and dull, try removing white from your palette completely. This means not only removing white itself, but removing any pigment that has a white base or that has been contaminated with white. Clean your palette thoroughly and replace these with transparent pigments and you may find this works a lot better for you.

Cost is a consideration for almost everyone, but when it comes to your paints, buy less if you have to, but buy artist quality. Over time you can accumulate a lovely selection of paints without too much pain to your wallet, and you will find if watercolour is used well, a tube will last you a very long time indeed. Buying the right materials really is money well spent. Starting with limited materials often makes you very creative and resourceful in your approach too, so don’t worry about where you start, just worry about starting! I like to recommend people buy colours they love and are drawn to, colours that excite you. It’s the same with choosing subject matter… go with what excites and captures you!

Remember to have fun with what you are doing, rest and eat, and don’t wash your brushes in your tea!