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Science meets art for the better 

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Like all events in 2020, National Science Week will look a little different this year thanks to COVID-19.

One event, Canberra Women of Science and Art, is capitalising on the completely virtual offering to bring stories of inspiring women to audiences of all ages.

One of the women is Julia Landford (pictured), Founder of Canberra’s own natural history art school, NatureArt Lab. She started the social enterprise in 2017 after a long career in the Australian Public Service.

“I believe children are the environmental guardians of the future and by learning more about their natural surroundings they’ll become the experts, the advocates and the conservationists,” she explains.

“Every child can be engaged with nature. Show them something, like an insect, that is unusual and one they haven’t seen before and they are immediately triggered into a desire to learn.”

“What gets me out of bed every day is the thought of more art, more science, more exciting things to do and the challenge to protect and preserve this incredibly beautiful planet.”

Butterfly workshop at NatureArt Lab.

Julia points to a growing body of strong evidence showing that curiosity, questioning, creating art, and being in nature helps develop lateral thinking. In some schools around the world, for example in the US, it’s mandatory for children to spend time outside.

“This leads to better results in all STEM subjects at school and we need this to have a better future,” says Julia.

“Plus, fresh air helps everyone feel better, leading to happier, healthier kids and adults!” she laughs.

The roots of why Julia is driven to engage future generations with the outdoors and nature go deep.

As the daughter of a forester, Julia grew up in different parts of Papua New Guinea, an experience that she describes as “never-ending interestingness”.

“My earliest memories are of being utterly fascinated by how huge and beautiful everything around me was.”

Original artwork by Julia Landford.

Along with her three younger siblings, Julia spent as much time as she could outdoors. Exploring waterways and forests, finding beautiful coloured leaves, collecting small fish to breed, watching insects move through their life-cycles was all part of normal life.

“I loved looking at different species and drawing them and we had so much wildlife all around us, including the orphaned animals we cared for.”

As a teenager, Julia landed back in Canberra to study psychology, anthropology and botany at ANU and then joined the APS.

Throughout Julia’s career, mostly working across a dozen Southeast Asian countries as an international development and emerging diseases expert, she was observing, drawing, and travelling.

“Wherever we lived, we always visited local national parks and travelled to remote areas to learn more about culture and the environment,” says Julia.

While working at home and overseas she managed to start up the Wildlife & Botanical Artists organisation, which existed for 20 years. Then, after what she says was a wonderful career in the APS, she was ready to pursue her lifelong passion.

“I loved my job as an international development specialist; it was very fulfilling. But even with this amazing career, I was happy to leave to do what I believe is the most important thing and that’s nature engagement.”

“NatureArt Lab gives people a special place to immerse themselves and to develop their interests in art and science,” she says.

Original artwork by Julia Landford.

While NatureArt Lab’s international trips to exotic and unique destinations like Sabah in Borneo, Costa Rica and the Galapagos are on-hold, Julia hopes to be embarking on some northern Australia trips soon. The opportunities for budding artists and observers continue with workshops closer to home. There is also a range of completely free resources online for children, who Julia says are her most important clients.

“It’s challenging times right now but I am forever an optimist and believe in doing what you love and living every day with purpose,” she says.

“One of the special things that helps people during difficult times, like COVID-19 isolation, is to take a walk in nature. Nature has a profound benefit on wellbeing, including inducing calmness and mindfulness.”

“Canberra is great for this as most suburbs have somewhere beautiful close by.”

Speakers over the two events are:

  • Nicole Godwin; author and Founder of Tusk Books, Nicole shines a light on animal rights and environmental issues with award-winning picture books
  • Megan Gilmour; social innovator and Co-Founder and CEO of Art of Agency, Robots4Good and Missing School, Megan builds robots for sick kids that can’t attend school and won the ACT Telstra Business Women’s Award in social enterprise
  • Julia Landford; botanical artist, environmental educator and Founding Director of the NatureArt Lab, the only environmental arts education centre of its kind in Australia
  • Mikaela Jade; Indigenous entrepreneur, Founder and CEO of Indigital, which offers a digital skills programs for  First Peoples’ to leapfrog into the Fourth Industrial Revolution
  • Maddie Diamond; social and environmental activist, Executive Officer of SEE-Change, and Founder of Trash Gather, a youth-led volunteer group that organises rubbish clean-ups around Canberra.

Julia Landford’s three steps to a better mindset

  1. Switch off your mobile phone
  2. Go outdoors
  3. Look a bit more closely at what’s happening around you and ask yourself questions about what you see.

“Suddenly you’re not thinking about all the stuff going on in the world; it’s just you in nature.”


What: Canberra Women of Science and Art: two webinars, an ‘artistic impression’ competition, free activities and resources
When: 11 am Saturday 15 August and 7.30 pm Monday 17 August. Competition opens 11 August and closes 23 August.
Cost: Free


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