Arillyn Moran Lawrence is a southern California artist working in mixed media, watercolor and oil. Her paintings are both traditional and contemporary and have been featured in exhibitions across the US almost every year for the past 22 years.
Arillyn is also a botanical artist and a member of the American Society of Botanical Artists and the Botanical Artists Guild of Southern California. Five years ago, Arillyn began to document and illustrate endangered Hawaiian plants. Today we sit down with Arillyn to discuss how she preserves the plants of Hawaii for future generations through research and art.
ARTPLANTAE: You have traveled to Hawaii every year for the past 50 years. Not too many people can say they have done this. What is it about Hawaii that keeps you coming back?
ARILLYN MORAN-LAWRENCE: I fell in love with Hawaii when I first landed there as a Pan American stewardess. I loved the smell of the plumeria in the air. Driving down Nimitz Highway, I thought back to Pearl Harbor, to the history, and to the war in the Pacific. I read the book Hawaii by James Michner numerous times. I began working for Pan Am because I was not finding a use for my Bachelor’s degree in art and advertising. I did find jobs at NBC and ABC in advertising, but I was lacking the skills needed to produce art for television. I also investigated medical illustration as an option, but found that it was a male-dominated field. Pan American offered a way to see the world and to study art and other job opportunities. I flew to the Caribbean and South America. I then transferred to the Pacific Division and flew to Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. Trips to Asia presented Tokyo, Hong Kong, Manila, Saigon, Singapore and Bangkok. Pan Am’s Pacific Division also flew to Paris and London on the Polar Route from the west coast. When I left Pan Am, I married, had 2 sons, returned to college for a teaching credential and then …..returned to Hawaii as often as possible.
AP: When did you begin to document and paint Hawaiian endangered plants?
AML: I believe it was 2005 when I first read in the ASBA journal that they were planning to have an exhibition titled “Losing Paradise”. As Hawaii has many of the most endangered species on earth, I felt that I wanted to complete some paintings and try for entry to the show. I began studying Hawaiian plant species on the Internet. I bought the book Remains of a Rainbow by David Liittschwager and Susan Middleton and studied it until I had a plan as to what to investigate. I then booked tickets for Honolulu.
I contacted Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens, near Kaneohe, and discussed any endangered species that they might have in their collection. Then, I was directed to Foster Gardens and Lyon Arboretum on the Honolulu side of the island and Waimea Arboretum on the north shore. I was provided names of botanists who would assist me. I made reservations with all the botanists before I arrived and they have all been very helpful with information and their time.
AP: Explain how you work with a botanist. Is the botanist’s role only to answer questions about plant morphology or does he/she select the specimens for you?
AML: I usually arrive in Hawaii with plants that I want to study with the botanist at their arboretum. It is important to know when the plants are blooming as Hawaii is tropical, but not all plants are blooming all the time. However, on my first trip, I also wanted to see what they had to offer so I let them introduce me to the plants and their histories. Now that I have been doing this for about 6 years, I ask the botanists to show me plants that are of interest to me and my collection.
An exceptional botanist, Karen Shigimatsu, at Lyon Arboretum has helped me over the years. She has walked miles with me and provided me with much valuable and wonderful information. Also, David Orr at the Waimea Arboretum has assisted me in numerous ways by driving me around in a golf cart, going long distances so I can see everything, propping me up while I photograph on slanted hillsides and answering all of my questions. He is full of great information and the ultimate teacher.
It is a lot of work to digest everything the botanists know very well. I have my camera ready to photograph the plant label and then the plant. We work rapidly and move through a lot of specimens and information. Afterward, it is hard to sort out all of the information. But if you return to the specimens that you have seen, make notes and draw the plant, you will have good accurate information to use as a reference. Good shoes are a necessity in the gardens as volcanic ground can be difficult. The ground can be dusty, wet, slippery and rough. The deep red earth sticks to your shoes, you, and stains both. Long pants and tee shirts with long sleeves and bug spray is essential as the mosquitoes seem to know that you are new and have nice blood. With these problems solved you should be able to pay attention to the wonderful plants and get as much information as possible.
AP: How many plants do you plan to illustrate?
AML: So far, I have completed Hibiscus clayi twice — one H. clayi from the sunny Waimea Arboretum on the north shore and one H.clayi from the Lyon Arboretum in the rain forest. Hibiscus arnottianus, Gardenia brighamii, Pritchardia schattaueri, a deep-red ancient sugar cane, and a beautiful black taro plant. I am currently working on Abutilon eremitopetalum. So eight plants so far. I plan to complete another 10-12 paintings.
During my last trip to Hawaii in October 2011, I studied all of the Hawaiian Pritchardia palms in the Waimea Arboretum and the Lyon Arboretum. I spent days doing color test strips for the palms. In the beginning I used colored pencils but found that the colors were not easily translated into watercolors. So, I use a small light palette with all the necessary colors. I painted fronds, bracts, seeds, trunks and flowers and noted all the formulas I will use to recreate each part of the palm (e.g., Pth Bl+WYel+PRo, Pthalo Blue, Winsor Yellow, Permanent Rose).
My field sketchbook/journal is made by the Bee Paper Co. and is 6″ x 6″. The scan included in this article is from my book of colorswatches with notes from my most recent trip. Keeping things small, I used a 6″ X 6″ book of hot press Italian paper by Cartiera Magnani. It is 140 lbs., acid-free and pH neutral. I normally use Fabriano Artistico cut into long strips, but I had to keep this simple and small so I could easily move around from palm to palm and store my notes easily. I had a carry-on bag with wheels and I used that in Waimea because of the distance I had to travel. I also had my light plein air collapsible chair with me, as I was working with the plants for hours. At the Lyon Arboretum, I had my husband drop me off with my backpack. It is nice to have a patient person there to help you out.
AP: Do you work on your endangered plant project at home or do you only work on it while in Hawaii?
AML: I always work at home on all of my paintings because most of my paintings are large. You need to have clean work and that would not be possible in the tropics working plein air. I do the color test strips when on-site as I feel that leads to accuracy and knowledge.
Painting on-site is not easy as every plant I have painted requires lots of walking. The rain forest can be really wet and slippery. The earth can also be dry and it can be very hot as in Koko Head, where all the Hawaiian plants are located at the farthest point, so you don’t want to carry much. Also, volcanic earth on a steep hillside can give way and you can end up down at the bottom of the hill. It is soft so you aren’t hurt but now you need to climb back up to your specimen again. Or, it can be dry one minute and raining the next so an umbrella is a necessity. It is hard to manage a sketchbook, a water bucket, one or two brushes and some paper towels while you are moving around getting test strips for color. I travel light and know what I want to capture.
AP: When this project is completed, what’s next?
AML:It is never going to be completed. Susan Frei Nathan suggested to me that I should continue with my passion for Hawaiian endangered species and then donate all of my paintings to a museum in Hawaii for future generations.
AP: What advice do you have for botanical illustrators interested in studying and documenting local native plants?
AML: Know what your passion is. Study and paint and your passion will emerge.
- US Fish & Wildlife, Pacific Islands
- American Society of Botanical Artists
- Botanical Artists Guild of Southern California
View Arillyn’s Work
- Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Annual Members Show at the Salmagundi Art Club at 47 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY (March 18-30, 2012)
- Grow! A Garden Festival, Los Angeles Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Arcadia, CA (May 5-6, 2012)
First Place, The Old Boat Yard, watercolor. Southern California Plein Air Painters Association Gallery, Newport Beach, CA. November 6, 2011 – January 2, 2012.