Lecythis pisonis and Hyacinth Macaw – An Epic Adventure in Watercolour

Lecythis pisonis and Hyacinth Macaw – An Epic Adventure in Watercolour – 90.6×66.5cm / 35.4x26in

Heidi Willis_lecythis_macaw_natural history_bird artsitLecythis pisonis and macaw image thanks to Kelen Soares – Me and my Lecythis lust image thanks to Lucas Assis – my true flock folk and wonderful friends

Honestly, I dont even know how to start writing the story of this story, it is so extensive, personal, complete, synchronous and triumphant, that if one painting could capture the story of a lifetime, I feel perhaps this could be it. It is the painting that for me reflects all the good that has come my way from persevering, in overcoming challenge, stepping over uncertainty, in taking chances, in sacrifice and working hard, to realising the possibilities that can come from relentlessly pursuing your dreams. In my case it started from just that, the White Room Dreams, as many of you already know.

Not wanting this to remain a dream, i begun bringing this vision to life in earnest with the St Vincents Amazons and Cannonball Tree painting, and from there I have found so much support from those who believe in my work and dreams that the path forwards has now become a reality. This landmark artwork opened many doors for me and brought me the opportunity to travel to South America in the company incredible, knowledgeable people with it where I could work extensively and safely… and what an adventure it has been. Having just returned to Australian soil, my head and heart remains swimming in inspiration and the abundance of beauty I saw there and I cant wait to get started. As I said to my Brazilian friends ‘you Brazilians are so damn greedy for beauty!’

I have written about 50,000 words in my work travel journal of my Brazilian adventures, discoveries and the wonderful journey Ive just been ensconced in, and the tale of my Lecythis pisonis and Hyacinth Macaw quest… but of course it is a far bigger story than that one chapter out in the field. The recurring White Room Dreams have unfolded slowly over my lifetime, developing with me as I matured, the clarity of its message refined as I begun recognising its significance on my path and working steadily towards it. In Brazil the last parts of the puzzle fell effortlessly into place, and after many years of dancing around the soft areas on this vision, my direction became very clear at last.

heidi willis_natural history artist_botanical_lecythisTheres so much to learn. Challenges like language barriers are nothing between common loves, and so many amazing people were so willing to stop and share their time and knowledge with me…. Many came to learn from us along the way too.

The dreams are about a series of large, intricate studies of nature from around the world. They are studies of colour, of technical skill, science and of aesthetic beauty as I see the world myself. This work is a pathway between us and earth, reminding us of the profound and critical connection we all have to our environment and the natural world. The key elements in these major works are flowering trees (my great gasping love) and birds – with a strong focus on rare and endangered species for which unfortunately, there are many.

With the first two artworks in this series already sold, I know that I may never see this collection hung together in the White Room, but as creating the artworks themselves (and not starving to death along the way) is the most important thing. Building on this project will be the main focus for my major works going forwards. Continuing on from the St Vincents Amazons and Cannonball Tree painting, the first of my South American paintings, it is time to start on the next painting in this collection with Lecythis pisonis and Hyacinth Macaw. It wont be easy but I come well prepared, everything is in place and its time to just knuckle down and create the work. I cant wait to start sharing the progress and process with you here.

Those of you who have been keeping up to date with my travels and blog will know that my long anticipated trip to Brazil came from a perfect series of synchronicity that felt almost as if hard work, my vision, timing, people, and the sun stars and moon aligned in seamless harmony all at once to make it happen. I was so ready and prepared for the trip already that when the opportunity came, all I had to do was step out the door and get on a plane… and thats exactly what I did! 5 weeks later I am back with a swag of field work, reference, research, knowledge, ideas and images to work from… not to mention a head that is flooded with new paintings on my mind. Where to start?!?

Actually there was always one very clear objective in mind for this trip… I came in the pursuit of the unbelievably beautiful, fantasy filled Lecythis pisonis, or Sapucaia, and find it I surely did. With my amazing friends on the ground in Brazil, the entire district was scoped out to locate exactly what I needed in preparation for my arrival and for weeks we scouted about far and wide for the lecythis, checking on the progress of every one we could find almost daily, our enthusiasm never waining. When I arrived they were green, unremarkable or dormant and I found it hard to believe from my initial sightings that the tree before me could erupt and transform as Id imagined it would, but it did!

Slowly the leaves turned golden yellow and fell to bare branches, then almost right before our eyes new leaf tips emerge, unfurling from fresh delicate green before its sudden rush to an unimaginable slathering of brilliant pink foliage towering overhead. Dripping with its mystical sea anemone like purple, mauve and white flowers and a peppering of its indigo violet flower buds and its large urn like seed capsules dangling from its heights, you can not help but gasp at every single sighting. Even to ones wildest imagination, the Lecythis is inconceivably wonderous and I know in my instincts that its one I simply must paint it.

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Heidi Willis_macaw_lecythis_natural history_bird artsitBelieve it… its outrageously real!!

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Complimenting the Lecythis is the remarkably beautiful, but tragically endangered Hyacinth Macaw. Measuring 100 cms in length, this spectacular bird is the largest parrot in the world. In the wild, the hyacinth macaws feed almost exclusively on the nuts of a specific palm tree found in their natural habitat, but with their enormous, powerful beaks, another favourite is the large nuts of trees found in the Lecythidaceae family such as brazil nut, cannonball tree, gustavia and of course, the lecythis.  These essential ingredients, the delicate balance and harmony of heart and mind is the recipe I search for in my work to create an ideal marriage both scientifically and aesthetically. Lecythidaceae is amongst my very favourite family of trees on earth, if not my all time favourite, and is a very big focus of my work in South America and in this collection so I am busting to get my brushes wet on this piece.

Working with the Hyacinth Macaw was definitely a challenge, even after the challenge of locating them to start with, their sheer size alone posing all kinds of interesting difficulties and considerations to reference gathering this time around… It was such fun though! Although I never took my eye off their movements whilst inside the cage, I was I was fortunate to spend quite a bit of precious time with the Hyacinth Macaws whilst in Brazil for which I am very privileged indeed.

I was captivated by their behaviour, incredible power and beauty, watching in respectful awe as they scampered around me growling and animated with their almost dragon like nature. They are simply captivating birds, but with beaks larger than my fist and memories of my previous experience with a black cockatoo (whose beaks pale in comparison) falling in love with me before holding me hostage for two hours in the past, I never underestimated the caution that was necessary dealing with these large parrots at close range.

Photographing them was close to impossible, and I will say, these are the most uncooperative birds I have ever worked with for reference gathering! Still, I got what I came for, eventually. No one blead, lost an ear or fingers… or probably with those beaks, limbs, and I came away equipped with about 1000 absolutely horrid and entirely useless photos of beaks rushing at me snapping and blurry shots of completely unhelpful posing and a single eye and beak tip poking out from their hollows so comically as they contemplated my delicate invasion… and juuuust enough great images to work with for this painting. For all their protesting, they WILL be immortalised, and rightfully so too.

And so its composition, layout, planning and drawing time for me once more with lots to be done before my pink, mauve and blue brush touches paper. Lecythis pisonis and Hyacinth Macaw measures 66.5 x 90.5 cm in size, as do all major works in this series. After much personal debate on the medium for this painting, it will be rendered in watercolour. With the announcement of this paintings imminent creation comes an opportunity to purchase this completely unique, spectacular and highly sought after original career piece. Please let me know if you have any enquiries, or just enjoy following the process along with me here or my social media pages! Thanks so much everyone.

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The weekend was spent fine tuning my ideas for the layout as its critical you’re completely happy with the composition and content before investing months of your time into the painting process. The seed capsules are such a significant element of the Lecythis tree, and were also such a big part of our journey exploring the tree and gathering reference along the way. They not only producing nuts to eat, but I saw so many of the seed capsules being used by the locals, some were hung on verandas to offer housing for small birds, others holding sprays of glorious orchids flowering from the confines of the fascinating lecythis urns. I saw how they are a part life in Brazil in many ways and so it was important to me I represent this element in my study of this plant too.

And so with the thousands of kilometres crossed traveling to the other side of the world behind me, the many weeks on the road in Brazil in search of the Lecythis and Hyacinth Macaws in my spirits and my composition refined, it is finally time to start the long haul of the drawing process and to begin painting this entire remarkable experience into a single artwork… its blisters time folks!

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Its the usual beginnings, and even more challenging than ever before, but we LOVE that! Its a lot like orienteering on a bed of cactuses. The blisters on my hand are already forming, the bandaids have gone on as expected, the house has become one big chaotic studio, but the final drawing is underway and thats really my only focus for now.

The drawing is always hard to show because it is so fine and light, but this is an intensely critical process of refining my layout over again and of getting to know my subjects even more intimately than I already do.With the first thought of ‘omg what was I thiiiinkingggg!!’ crossing my mind about 3 minutes in… the meticulous mental grooming to manage the marathon ahead has already begun. Its time to start telling the story.

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Patience is just a choice, the rest is perspective

It has been an exciting day today, seeing the very first brushstrokes hit my paper and at last, quickly losing myself in the beautiful and truly magical tangle of my Lecythis and Macaw, eager to push on even more so as it begins to emerge from the nothing of the white canvas like its alive. I wont lie, there was definitely uncertainty and procrastination coming into this painting, but there always, always is. It is an especially challenging painting and the palette quite unique too but working on pure instinct as I always do, I found myself falling into the dance of my palette soon enough.

Uncertainty aside, procrastination overcome, my balance and momentum found and locked in, I painted all day long until my fingers were literally too sore to continue, my eyes too weary to work, and there are simply no hours left in my day. The rain falling down outside seemed such a perfect ingredient in the mix today and after an enormous days work, I have just the smallest but exquisite section of flowers in that rest tightly in along the diagonal of the spectacular blue macaws tail. What a long haul this painting will be, but what an incredibly curious and absolutely divine plant it is… With only about 6 billion more flowers left to paint on this piece, i can say in the very least, the start feels like a really great one.

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This little guy just would not leave me alone whilst working in the studio today, insisting that he rests amongst the cluster of flowers I am working on. At one point I thought Id lost him, but I spotted him hugging in along the branch until he was so camouflage he couldnt be detected from my painting with the camera lens. It has been a big day, another passed by all too fast… but all importantly with some progress. Even better, I am climbing into bed from the studio here at almost midnight again thinking its Sunday, only to realise so blissfully just now that it is only Saturday. Dont you love it when that happens!

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Todays progress sees the completion of this first clump of Lecythis flowers, with maaaannnyyyy more to go. Its really nice to see the first section completed, to feel such a wonderful intimate familiarity with my subject settle in and to start getting into the rhythm of this paintings nature and character now. Tomorrow starts in less than an hours time, I have a South American bean soup humming along in the slow cooker and I am already looking forward to tomorrow in the studio where Ill move into the next section of blooms. It feels like progress… You can also follow the development along in my STUDIO or PROGRESSION albums.

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Flowers flowers flowers… this is my focus! I said to myself as I helplessly found myself drifting into the incredible pink leaves of the Lecythis tree. What can I do but move with it, weaving in and out of this wonder and beauty, watching at the watercolour does its wonderful thing with colour and texture. It was a day of following my nose towards the end of another little section being complete. Today is another uninterrupted studio day where I plan on finishing this area and moving back into the next bunch of flowers again.

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It seems that this painting is finding its way through in large chunks and I am loving it! Each section has its own little life and story happening like peering in through a series of windows in watercolor at the minute. Eventually they will all merge together as one, but for now i am focused on one spot at a time, making every little detail just right as I go. Completing the second, I have moved on to the third area of flowers which I will finish tomorrow then tackle the top right corner, amassed with flowers as well… Time has no meaning in this space.

heidi willis_botanical_bird painting_artist_lecythisThe past days have seen me barely move from my studio desk (nothing unusual I know!) but the long days and nights falling deeper and deeper into this painting have seen the top left corner come together at last. Its great to have this large bough of glorious Lecythis flowers and delicate pink leaves under wraps as it is especially involved… but then it wouldnt be my work if that werent the case, would it!

Feeling like I have a good sense for the subject now it is in no way becoming easier to create, and so I remain on my toes with every decision and brush stroke, carefully rendering each detail as I go, and managing my mindset and body with complete discipline as I go to allow me to persevere and to continue creating steady work.  As the work evolves and begins to tell its story, its personality becomes clearer with every step, urging you on and pulling you in closer by the moment.  It is a marathon, a love affair, a beautiful addiction.

This sustained, uninterrupted studio stint is wonderful (for everything but my grooming hahaaa) and today I return to drawing, mapping in the next section of the painting now that the blisters on my hands have settled a little. With the drawing prepared I will return to the brushes to watch the next section of this painting unfold.

I have a few time lapse clips of the weeks efforts and unfoldings available for you to see, and a fun little clip about the background work, research and enormous efforts that go into these pieces behind the scenes for you too… just remember to hit HD and enjoy!

Thank you to all who are following the progress along with me online too, it is definitely helpful to my stamina and an all the more joyful process sharing the journey with you all. Sharing new discoveries, perspectives, inspiration, and bringing a little part of this worlds beauty with you all is a wonderful thing, so thank you for joining me here.

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The last few days have been lost in the soft focus background area that reaches across the top of my painting, working carefully around the head of one of the hyacinth macaws as I paint. The delicate pink leaves, some flushed with their gorgeous fresh, earthy greens are really taking shape now, begin to define the outline of the first bird which is emerging clearly from the riddle of the complex pencil work and the clarity of his surrounds. This is a really satisfying feeling after soooo much time and effort has gone into the painting… another little step forward in this marathon. Im told its Friday again….? HOW IS THIS SO!

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Another lovely area of this painting has been brought to fruition, but the endurance challenge of these major works is well underway and the toll on my body is becoming clear as Id expect. I have tried to avoid the wear and tear but its impossible, so with my hands thoroughly band-aided from here on out, the painting will continue on.

The past few days have seen a large cluster of new leaves come together with their transitional stages of green to pink illustrated along the right hand side of the painting. With the lower leaves in you can also start to see the head of the second hyacinth macaw emerge from the painted surrounds which is really coming to life now. I am still very much in love with nothing but the urge to paint a little more despite the long days and weeks, and the late hour… another day well spent.

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At long last the lecythis background in the top half of my macaws painting is complete and you can really start to get a good sense of it taking shape, the placement of the hyacinth macaws, as well as the overall direction of this artwork at this stage. Covering an area about the size of my hand with fingers held tightly together in each intensive 16 hour sitting I still have a long way to go, but I am happy with the progress so far. Todays focus has been a small but beautiful section of flowers and buds that rests between the two birds which sweeps from one side of the painting to the other, clarifying the parrots with each stroke of my brush. Tomorrow I will start to connect the background on both sides, then ill move on to to working in the lower half of the painting.

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The hours, days and weeks continue to fly by me at the speed of light, but my focus remains unbroken for more than a moment as I work meticulously through each area towards the finish line. Though its still a long way off, watching the crystal clear image in my minds eye emerge into a physical form before me is quite a wonderful and satisfying experience. Todays update begins to give you a better sense of the overall painting and the scope of the work as I move on to new sections in the bottom half of the background. You can see a short clip on the most recent work on my YouTube channel

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It may not seem like much, but todays update marks a real milestone where left meets right and top meets bottom. The lower sections contain more complex flower clusters of the lecythis, illustrating the nature and beauty of this tree just as it is, but we also begin to find open areas of sky that breath between the detailing. More and more the hyacinth macaw tails are revealed from the development of the background, and the painting creeps across the page even further. Mind, body and thoughts remaining anchored, the intensity of the work continues. Every moment seeming worthwhile and a step closer to the completion of this piece.

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heidi willis_bird painting_botanical artist_natural history The past weeks in the studio have seen the completion of the background sweeping across the bottom edge with the beautiful pink lecythis tree, a gorgeous seed capsule so much a part of the lecythis story and character and little breaks in the boughs through to open skies behind. With a smile and an exhale, and a few extra bandaids plastered over my hands I have moved on to the macaws. Brilliant blue contrasts the pink surrounds with licks of earth, pink and mauve tying each outrageously blue hyacinth macaw to the environment they rest in. The change in palette refreshes my now completely exhausted mind and body, bringing a welcome injection of new energy to the painting….. Tails in, work continues into the wings and bodies of the macaws

The body of the first hyacinth macaw is now in with a sweep of intense, luscious and complex use of blues and beyond contrasting boldly against the background, married with the rich blue blacks of the wings. Its the most strenuous stage of the marathon, but I am very happy with the progress and the results. Next is the head with the huge powerful beak and spectacular yellow eye!


Its quite amazing how a painting comes to life with the addition of the eye, the heart and soul of any such painting… and with that, the first hyacinth macaw finds his spirit and personality! See the entire bird coming to life in a time lapse clip on my Youtube Channel

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The home stretch, cascades of blue blue feathers with delicate pink highlights catching the wing and body of the second hyacinth macaw. The end is close now, but i can not allow such thoughts to enter my mind yet. Nothing will be rushed, every section receiving the attention and time it needs to the very last stroke. As wonderful as the final one shall be, you must remain in love with every one along the way in itself

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And were done

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Thank you all for your interest in my work, for following me along on this amazing journey, and for your company along the way… I appreciate you all!

If you have any enquiry on this painting, please let me know