Ebony Bennett loves nature and loves to paint, so a career as a botanical artist is the obvious choice.
But it nearly didn’t happen after she missed out on a place studying nature illustration. Instead she went into environmental studies, and found a job checking product labels on agricultural products for the APVMA (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority) in Fyshwick.
“It was a good job, and important work, but looking at all the chemical names, and knowing what they do to wildlife just made me want to be working closer to nature,” she says.
She completed a higher degree in Natural History Illustration, and now spends all her available time bushwalking, photographing birds, wildlife and vegetation and painting precise images of the creatures she finds. She has paintings at Aarwun Gallery at Gold Creek, and her first solo exhibition Colours of Canberra is on now at Yarralumla gallery.
“There are about sixty paintings in the exhibition,” she says. “It was a big job to get them here and hang them, but it is lovely to see them all together on the walls.”
Ebony Bennett’s bird and wildlife paintings are a perfect fit for the Yarralumla Gallery and Cafe. The gallery is deep within Weston park and parrots hop amongst the outdoor cafe tables. Inside the gallery, paintings of parrots, magpies and black cockatoos adorn the walls, alongside kingfishers, wattlebirds and tiny spotted pardalotes.
“A lot of birdwatchers come to Weston park so it’s a nice spot for my work,” says Bennett.
“The most popular paintings are the gang gangs, and the black cockatoos,” she says.
Bennett is now based in Newcastle with her young family but spends a lot of time with relatives in Canberra. Over Easter, they have bushwalked from Mount Majura to Tidbinbilla in search of wildlife inspiration for future paintings.
“My husband tells me to put the camera down and just enjoy the surroundings, but I am always looking at the way the light falls, or the shape of a bird for a painting,” she says. “I just need a stronger zoom camera to focus on the really tiny birds.”
As well as birds, the exhibition includes landscapes and wildlife like possums, echidnas and a koala. The landscapes in the exhibition see Queanbeyan River, the Carillon and Canberra’s autumn trees making an appearance. The koala is from a nature park in Newcastle, while the cheeky echidna was spied on Mount Majura.
“I went for a walk with my youngest and we saw three echidnas along the way, and the one in the painting was at the very top,” Bennett remembers.
Emily Bennett’s background in natural history illustration is evident in the works, which are detailed and accurate representations of birds, creatures and their habitat.
“I don’t paint every single scale on a bird’s foot, because I’m not doing scientific illustration, but the birds are painted from photographs and they are in their correct vegetation and habitat,” she says.
Bennett has a number of canvases waiting to be painted and is always gathering ideas. After a series of detailed bird paintings, she will often choose a landscape, to get a wide, open feel back into her work. But she always comes back to the birds as a beautiful subject for her work.
“I am interested in all creatures in nature,” she says. “But some animals you have to go out looking for them, while birds just tend to fly into your life constantly.”
The Colours of Canberra exhibition is on at Yarralumla Gallery and Oaks Brasserie until 6 June.