Illustrating Orchids: Meet Trace Balla

Trace Balla is an award-winning author and illustrator, known for her beautiful nature-journaling inspired children's books. She is the artist behind this beautiful collage of some of the rarest and most threatened orchids in Victoria that Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria's Orchid Conservation Program is working to save. We chatted to Trace about her work on these beautiful illustrations, what inspires her as an artist and why she's an advocate for orchid conservation.  


Having worked with the Gardens on a range of workshops and videos based around nature journaling, Trace was invited to create this collage to highlight some of the incredible orchids that the Orchid Conversation Program are successfully bringing back from the brink of extinction. Trace has always adored orchids, and has a soft spot for Greenhoods. ‘It's amazing when you come across a little family of nodding Greenhoods out in the bush. No matter how many times you've seen them, each one is uniquely beautiful in its own way.'  

Excited to use her skills to promote the Orchid Conservation Program team’s vital conservation work, this project presented a challenge for her. 'Because these orchids are so rare and are grown on protected sites or in the shade house at Cranbourne Gardens, drawing them in person wasn't an option. When I'm drawing plants in person, I can study them from all angles, whereas using a photo is more challenging in that it offers one perspective of a plant, so it was a different process.’ In itself, this a reminder of why it’s so important to ensure these species survive in the wild, so future generations have more than a picture to refer to. ‘When you're drawing a plant, you spend time with it and get to know it, almost like spending time with a friend,' Trace reflects. 

While Trace strives to represent the plants she illustrates accurately, she loves to convey the personality of each plant she illustrates. 'I want to inspire both kids and adults to give drawing a go with the attitude that it's about having fun and capturing the beauty and wonder of nature in their own unique way’. While her artistic style is continually evolving, Trace's unique and inviting illustration work began as travel journals which evolved into the nature journals that formed the basis of the books that she's created and is currently developing.   

Nature journaling has played an integral role in Trace's illustrations and it is so beautifully showcased in these orchid illustrations. Trace is a long-time nature journaler. 'If I have the time, I love to be out doing some sketching in the bush. The thing I love is that I start understanding and working things out about plants. If you look at a plant, you can often see flowers in different stages of growth and figure out how it grows, just by drawing', she says. The meditative aspect of nature journaling is something from which we can all benefit. 'I find the business of life slips away as I'm drawing – it's such a calming and immersive way to spend time. Whenever I'm drawing and need to keep an eye on the time for any reason, I set an alarm because I get so lost in the peacefulness of the process and enchanted by what I'm drawing that I can spend hours at it!'  

The message of Orchid Conservation is one that resonated deeply with Trace. 'Losing our native orchids would just be so awful, anything that can contribute to their conservation is so important and something I'm incredibly passionate about.' With Trace having long partaken in movements to protect precious Australian plants and landscapes, much of her published work incorporates themes of environmentalism.  

As well as raising awareness of threats to our environment, Trace is deeply invested in acknowledging First Nations People in her work. ‘One of my local Elders has told me the names of a few local plants, and it's really nice to know their Indigenous names which have existed for thousands of years’ she says. In her book, Landing with Wings, Trace refers to some plants in the Dja Dja Wurrung language, which is the local language where she is based. 

Nature journaling is powerful. Getting outdoors and taking the time to draw what you see isn't just personally rewarding, it can help foster a love and respect for the environment. 'Once you start drawing something, you get more curious and more enchanted by nature which builds interest in your environment. Nature journaling is so important because the more that people can fall in love with the natural world, the more they will want to preserve and regenerate it.'  

Like Trace, the Orchid Conservation Program team is hoping we can all fall in love with the natural world and the precious native orchids that call it home. These orchids, while lovable for their beauty and quirks, play a vital role in the environment as a marker of a healthy ecosystem, and we have a responsibility to ensure they're saved from extinction.  

You can find out more about Trace and her remarkable work on her website. If you want to help make sure the incredibly rare orchids featured in Trace's beautiful illustrations don't disappear, donate to our Orchid Conservation Program to support our work to bring native orchids back from the brink.

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