Hanami – Flower Viewing

Image: Hanami – Flower Viewing, Aotearoa 2020 by Celeste Sterling

The Hanami 花見 artwork pictured above was made by nature printing spring foliage and flowers from my garden and neighbourhood, including blossoms, jonquils, lavender, geraniums, viburnum, wild strawberry and corokia. It was created during the second Auckland lockdown and was intended to be a gentle celebration of the return of Kōanga – Spring in Aotearoa, during a time of uncertainty and difficulty. It is an artwork which seeks to communicate something about the natural world and our relationship with it. We are faced with much transient beauty in the world around us at this time of year, offering a chance to enjoy the fresh new growth of spring after winter. Spring is a time of growth but also fragility. This Spring we must also acknowledge the urgent need to change how we do everything – to respect, cherish and work with nature in more sustainable ways, to halt the damage currently being done to our natural environment and atmosphere.

This artwork was made for the Shared Lines: Pūtahitanga project, a collaborative exhibition available in physical form and online. A 72 metre installation in the new Spark building in Ōtautahi, Christchurch, the project is a collaboration with 60 artists each creating an artwork which join up to create a “river” of art. This concept derives from a Surrealist tradition. The Shared Lines: Pūtahitanga project is also available to view online at sharedlinesputahitanga.co.nz and will be on digital billboards nationwide in Aotearoa, New Zealand. It is wonderful to be part of this artist initiated project. Artists are finding new ways to work together and to make art available in multiple ways to audiences.

This spring I was fortunate to take two trips which had been postponed from earlier in the year due to the lockdowns. The first was to the Eco Village near Kaiwaka, a community using organics and permaculture to live more sustainably. I enjoyed the chance to explore the organic permaculture garden of our hosts and to learn a little more about this special place. There was a natural swimming pool full of life and beautiful spring flowers sprinkled around the large straw bale house. It was my first trip out of the city since January and it felt like a huge adventure to be somewhere other than home.

My second journey was to the small town of Geraldine in the South Island to visit relatives. It was a real privilege to be there in Spring and to see the blooms all over this area. I had the chance to do some floristry while I was visiting with gorgeous spring lilacs and other flowers that one doesn’t usually come by in the North. It would be a pleasure to make artworks with some of these spring plants in the future.

The time away was a good chance to reflect on the challenges of this year, and to make plans for future artworks and a relaunch of my small business, Corokia Studio. I know there are still many challenges ahead. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit the South Island and to see my artwork as part of a large exhibition, a much needed boost after winter.

For my Patreon subscribers in September I did two artworks. A little extra seasonal artwork with freesias and plum, and an artwork nature printed with spectacular Firewheel flowers. The Firewheel tree (Stenocarpus sinuatus) is native to parts of Queensland and NSW in Australia. The flowers are amazing, a gorgeous bright red colour. The leaves are also unusual. In this painting I only nature printed the flowers as the leaves were too large to include. Sadly fire has once again been in the news, with a disastrous fire season in California and Oregon and continued devastation in the Amazonian rainforest. Whilst I was in Geraldine, early one morning I awoke to the sound of the fire siren summoning the fire service to the small village of Lake Ōhau in the Mackenzie district, which was largely destroyed by a forest fire in scenes reminiscent of the Australian bushfire season.

The only type of fire that I want to see in nature is these flowers.

The extra seasonal artwork for Patreon subscribers last month was made with freesias, plum leaves and blooms, kowhai and the leaves of orange honeysuckle. All these came from my mother’s garden and roadside trees. Quite a medley of spring plants, sometimes the artworks are a reflection of the small errands and trips that happen over the week. These artworks are available by subscription to my Patreon page, where I provide monthly artworks to supporters.

I came home from my trip to find some of the cosmos flowers that I had planted in the garden had started to bloom. Fortunately some recent rain has encouraged the new plants to settle in. Auckland is still experiencing drought conditions so it was a relief to see the plants survived whilst I was away. Some of these will find their way into the next series of artworks, as in the artwork (detail) pictured below, nature printed with lavender, kowhai, geranium and other garden plants.

I hope that whatever your situation is you have the chance to take some time in nature and to appreciate the fleeting beauty of seasonal flowers and plants. I’m looking forward to nature printing the colourful flowers and plants of late spring and early summer over November and December.

Celeste Sterling, October 2020

Spring Flower Paintings

Butterfly and blossoms

Spring is an inspiring time of year for anyone who works with plants, and the emergence of the first fragile and beautiful spring flowers is a welcome sight. The combination of early blooms and new growth signals a time of renewal, change and regrowth in nature. I have been making artworks with spring flowers and learning more about the Japanese tradition of Hanami – flower viewing, which occurs when the cherry (sakura) and plum (ume) trees are in the first flush of bloom for approximately two weeks in early spring.

Spring sketch

Brightly coloured yellow daffodils, jonquils and creamy erlicheer are among the spring flowers that I’ve been nature printing over the past two months. I’ve been reading florist Shane Connolly’s book “Discovering the Meaning of Flowers,” and he has this to say about jonquils: “Narcissi flowers generally symbolise egotism and vanity. But jonquils have a more useful message in the language of love – I Wish You Would Return My Affection.” Daffodils and other flowers in the narcissus family are also linked with the themes of rebirth, inspiration and creativity. In China they symbolise good fortune and in Japan they mean joy. (https://www.flowermeaning.com/daffodil-flower-meaning/)

In recent years spring daffodils have become associated with cancer, as charities in New Zealand and elsewhere organise an annual daffodil day to fundraise to support cancer research. The language of flowers is certainly intriguing and varies considerably across different cultures.

The first daffodils crop

In a small nature printed painting (detail pictured above) I have included daffodils, jonquils, erlicheer, geraniums, lavender, corokia and other garden leaves. This painting is a quiet celebration of the return of spring during a time of difficulty and uncertainty. As I write this the Auckland region where I live is in a second lockdown after an outbreak of Covid, trying once again to stop the spread of this deadly virus in our society. This time around my family are celebrating a couple of birthdays in lockdown and waiting until we can gather together again to share these occasions with extended family and friends.

I was fortunate to visit the Auckland Domain Wintergardens between lockdowns where I photographed these beautiful double daffodils and jonquils. They were displayed with a large grouping of unusually shaped potted chillies – definitely a sight to warm the heart on a cold winter day.

Daffodils

Spring jonquils

The brief appearance of fragile and ephemeral blossoms at this time of year has an association with transience, serving as a reminder of the impermanence of life which aligns with Japanese Buddhist traditions. In Japanese Kaika refers to the emergence of the first blooms and Mankai is the time of peak bloom. Last year I experimented with nature printing blossoms, and I was eager to try some more this season. This month I have completed an artwork made with blossoms, erlicheer and spring foliage which I am looking forward to seeing exhibited.

Unfortunately some art projects I had planned have been disrupted by the second lockdown, but I’m hoping to get a few more spring flower paintings completed before the blossoms give way to new greenery. Nature printing with blossoms is a lesson in patience – one must wait a year until the next chance to work with these beautiful and luminous flowers.

Blossom and bee sml

My artwork for my Patreon supporters this month was nature printed with a combination of spring blossoms, magnolia, viburnum, lavender and geraniums all from my local streets and garden. During difficult times the arrival of spring is more welcome than ever. The artworks I am making reflect the experience of taking local walks and noticing the changes in nature as spring approaches. This A4 size artwork is available as a digital download from my Patreon page. Patreon is a subscription service for creators, with subscriptions starting from just US$1 per month. I do one painting a month just for my Patreon supporters and give them other rewards over the year. It is a fantastic way for people to support creators that they like and to help them keep on making art, music and other wonderful creations! One of the really cool things about Patreon is that creators can also support each other.

Magnolia and blossoms crop

IMG_0687

Magnolia

Magnolias are a new ingredient in my nature printed artworks, and it has been really wonderful to see the stellata magnolia that was our living Christmas tree starting to bloom in the garden this month. I’m looking forward to experimenting with nature prints from the flowers and using the blooms from this magnolia in floral creations when the tree is more mature. Once again, a lesson in patience as the tree was covered in green leaves at Christmas and is only now producing beautiful flowers.

July garden small

During this second lockdown I have been really thankful for the lovely street trees and flowers in my neighbourhood. Some are planted by the council and others are the result of people planting their own choice of flowers and trees on the berms outside their houses. Since the council has stopped mowing these sidewalk berms there has been an increase “no-mow” berms planted with various low growing shrubs and plants. These are much more biodiverse and interesting than the standard mown grassed berm.

During this time of uncertainty and setbacks, art made with plants continues to occupy and inspire me. It is a privilege to keep making art, even if the work has to be squeezed into small pockets of time carved out from other responsibilities. I am looking forward to celebrating the wonderful gifts of nature in more artworks over the spring months.

Aroha from Aotearoa, Celeste

Magnolia silhouette 2

The Art of Floristry

Winter bouquet sml

I’ve been fortunate over the first half of this year to have learnt the basics in the art of floristry from experienced tutors. It has been an interesting journey into the world of cut flowers and hugely inspiring for me. Floral design has a long history stretching back to Ancient Egypt, Greece and other cultures. Some of the early styles of floristry from Ancient Greece are still with us – wreaths, garlands and flowers worn in the hair remain popular today. Throughout the ages flowers and plants have been used to mark significant occasions such birth, marriage and for remembrance. The floral traditions of the Pacific Islands are also a strong influence here in New Zealand.

This time spent learning floristry, in practical classes and online during the lockdown has prompted me to use more flowers in my nature printed artworks. The painting below is an example of this approach. It was was made with foliage including deep burgundy loropetalum, unusual begonia leaves from my tutor’s garden and includes nature prints from small orchids in pale yellow.

Begonia and orchids

One of the consequences of the pandemic has been that flower imports stopped and we have been only using New Zealand grown plants in floral arrangements. It has been a preview of what a more sustainable flower industry might be like with international air travel still very limited. It was a pleasure to work with beautiful New Zealand grown roses, irises and orchids over the past few weeks.

Pink orchids

The first artwork that I made after the lockdown ended was nature printed with plants from the small Sensory Garden in the Auckland Domain. It includes the unusual purple flowers of the lobster bush, some lovely warm yellow flowers of the Mexican Marigold and scented geraniums and lavender.

Lobster bush, sensory garden

Sensory garden yellow flowers

Nature printing flowers can often be difficult due to their fragile petals so I have been experimenting with ways to do this. My first attempt at nature printing with irises (detail below) was very challenging and I’m hoping to find ways to capture something of the vibrancy and beauty of these marvellous flowers in future paintings.

Irises sml

Here in New Zealand we have been very fortunate since the lockdown ended to have been able to return to school, work and to participate in some social activities. Huge challenges lie ahead but I am hopeful that we can continue to protect our elderly and frail from the worst impacts of the pandemic. The future feels uncertain but I am continuing to create with paint and plants, and it is very therapeutic to be doing this during this time. I hope to help in some small way to bring some of the beauty and joy in nature to people needing some respite.

Green orchid corsage

Pictured below is a detail of a tall painting made with wisteria, fern and spearmint that I recently entered in a competition to do a collaboration with Australian clothing company Gorman. Although not successful this time, I think the idea of my artwork on clothing that is produced sustainably is worth investigating and it would be marvellous to see how this could work.

Wisteria crop low res

My Patreon artwork for June is now online and features leaves from the large Moreton Bay fig trees in St Heliers, a local suburb. A detail of the painting is pictured below. I offer Patreon subscribers a downloadable artwork each month and you can subscribe for as little as US$1 per month. It is a good way to support artists especially during difficult times. You can have a look at my Patreon page here.

Winter in St Heliers cropped

Midwinter is a good time to pause and reflect. I made a small flower crown on the Winter Solstice with an assortment of garden finds. An ancient camellia in the bush gully is smothered in pink blooms this time of year and is visited daily by the tui and other birds. The promise of Spring is evident too, with jasmine starting to bud. There has been a prolonged drought here but some recent rain has finally brought some life back to the garden. There is more winter weather to come but already we are starting to see some magnolias flowering.

Aroha from Aotearoa

Celeste Sterling, Winter 2020

Winter solstice sml

Red rose corsage sml

 

 

Art in an emergency

Mokimoki fern small

What does art in an emergency look like? What sort of art will be made during a pandemic and the accompanying lockdowns that are occurring in many countries around the world? What sort of art will be made after? These are some of the questions I’m thinking about.

Some of the ideas that I discussed in my previous blog about sustainable art making and sustainable curation in a time of climate crisis will be useful in the future, as artists and art galleries and museums must adapt to new conditions quickly. It is likely that international travel will be restricted for some time. Art galleries have shut their doors, art magazines are facing an uncertain future, exhibitions are cancelled or postponed, and those that can have shifted their focus to making their collections available to view online. Many years ago I researched and wrote a dissertation about New Zealand artists, art galleries and what a new technology called the World Wide Web could mean for them. It would be interesting to revisit that research and write a followup, especially taking into account recent global events and how the art world will use the internet over the coming months.

Endemic species

At this point New Zealand is in a month long nationwide lockdown, attempting to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The lockdown came into effect swiftly, prior to the first death caused by the virus in New Zealand. Before the decision to put the country into lockdown was made, we had seen the news from overseas, the horrific death toll in many countries. It has been like watching a tsunami of illness and death approaching in slow motion, with nowhere to run. Except we are doing the opposite of running, we are staying at home, and isolating ourselves physically from others as much as possible. It is a difficult time – the watching and waiting takes a toll. Hoping that our families will survive the coming storm, and that the race to produce a viable vaccine will be successful.

Emergency – Comes from Latin emergere (e-, “from,” and mergere, “to dip, plunge”) and first meant “unforeseen occurrence.” https://www.thefreedictionary.com/emergency

Coleus for blog

I am adjusting to changed circumstances, taking one day at a time. When the lockdown was announced I was retraining, studying full time for my floristry certificate. Like many artists, I rely on a steady job to fund my art making, and this year I had decided to take a step away from graphic design, in order to work more directly with plants and flowers. My floristry course will continue online but the period of practical tuition will be postponed. This Easter my son is having a holiday at home and will begin schooling online soon.

In the first chaotic week my husband, an experienced TV current affairs and news journalist, was reporting live for the TV News nationwide from my small home art studio. Fortunately the messy parts of the studio could not be seen! I’ve since given my art studio a tidy up and my husband and I are now sharing the workspace. I’m accustomed to my husband going into dangerous situations – a visit to Afghanistan with the New Zealand Defence Force and Japan during the Fukushima meltdown are two that immediately come to mind. But this feels different, the threat is much closer to home. Other family members who are also working in the community and those who have existing medical conditions are in my thoughts as we head into winter.

Studio April

The first artwork I have made during the lockdown (pictured below) was nature printed with plants from an Easter bouquet made in the last day that I attended my floristry class in Otara. As I nature printed this bouquet the fragrant flowering basil reminded me of the beautiful gardens there. There is some sadness in this picture, as I don’t know when I will be able to return to class to complete the practical parts of the course. I’ve dedicated this artwork to all the essential workers and their families globally who are continuing to work in the community during this crisis. With great courage and fortitude they face risks every time they go to work.

Easter Bouquet small

Like many others during this lockdown period my focus is on my family and immediate neighbourhood. Suddenly the little local street neighbourhood Facebook page that I set up a long time ago has become rather busy. Little things like photos of the beautiful flowers and trees in our streets, the peaceful local bush walks and chalk messages on the pavement have become a good way to lift spirits and connect with our neighbourhood. I’ve been touched by the many people offering to support and assistance (albeit from an appropriate distance!) to elderly people in our local streets.

Autumn corokia berries

In March the Auckland Arts Festival was cut short this year, but I did go to one of the final events, an extraordinary concert by an American musician, Amanda Palmer. She was joking that it might be the last concert we might see, and how she quite liked the idea that if it was the last then it would be hers. I think it will indeed be the last for some time. I gave her a painting after her show, made with Purple Clover and Purple Wreath flowers. Purple clover has an interesting history. It is an ancient, protective and sacred herb used by the Druids in England. The three leaves were associated with Earth, Sea and Sky. Later the three leaves of clover were used by Christians as a symbol of the Trinity and red clover symbolises vitality.

Purple Clover small

This purple variety came from a roadside verge near my home. I like working with weedy plants that are overlooked – gorgeous plants are all around us if we take the time to appreciate them. In this painting I nature printed the clover with the burgundy leaves of Loropetalum and some beautiful Purple Wreath flowers (Petrea volubilis). This plant also has some interesting symbolism. It is also known as Queen’s Wreath, Sandpaper Viner (because of the rough leaves) and the flower of God. Purple flowers are often associated with royalty, dignity, success and pride. Amanda and her family have taken refuge here in New Zealand during this pandemic, and I hope she still has the painting. (A little update – I have given a downloadable version of this painting to my Patreon subscribers)

Autumn jade, fir and berries small

Pictured above – Alstroemeria nature printed with jade plant, berries, fir and hedge plants. (detail)

Over the past few years I have been moving many aspects of my art making online, exploring how to connect with people who are interested in my artwork. This has also been motivated by my desire to make art that is widely available but also sustainable and regenerative during a time of climate crisis. My bimonthly artist blog is part of that approach, offering a chance to go deeper into the motivation and inspiration behind the artworks. I share images of nature printed artworks on social media @celestesterling and also offer art by subscription through my Patreon page. Some people must think it a bit crazy, to offer downloadable artwork for as little as US$1 per artwork. But I’ve always believed that art shouldn’t just be for the wealthy, it should be for everyone. I realised some time ago that my artwork doesn’t fit neatly into the world of commercial art galleries and publicly funded institutions. Patreon offers a chance to bypass these gatekeepers. It allows artists to connect directly with their community and for creators the possibility to earn a sustainable income from their work. People get to help create the artwork, music and other content that they want to see, in a way that bypasses the traditional funding models, institutions, large social media companies and other systems.  Because likes on social media don’t pay the bills, and the institutions tend to fund established artists who fit into their criteria. So please take a look at Patreon and if you can, become a participant in my online art community. Like many others in the art world I need your support to get though this crisis.

Carnations and Jade small

Pictured above – Carnations nature printed with jade plant, orange berries, lavender, fir and dusty miller leaves.

Over autumn and winter I will continue nature printing artworks to send out into the world online, and practising making bouquets, corsages and other floristry designs. I’m a bit camera shy and I don’t know how to edit, but I’ll endeavour to make a video on how to nature print to share with the world. Creative projects can really boost our spirits during difficult times. To brighten the week I have started participating in #FormalFriday, where people dress up in their best outfits at home once a week. I gave this a retro twist on Friday and recreated a look from my 1990 school ball. The project is fun but the idea behind it is really serious – stay home to save lives.

Celeste in school ball dress

Because Anzac Day is approaching here in New Zealand, I would like to share a couple of summer photographs from the South Island –  roses at the War Memorial in Fairlie, and red poppies from Geraldine. I’m hoping I will be able visit family down South again next summer. It is not an easy time for our nation’s tīpuna, (grandparents) many of whom cannot spend time with their grandchildren over the coming weeks. Like many other people, time with extended family and friends is what I am missing the most during the lockdown.

Sending you aroha from Aotearoa,

Celeste Sterling, Autumn 2020.

Fairlie War Memorial

Geraldine poppies

#artinanemergency #natureprinted #art #NewZealandartist #artinapandemic

Art and Regenerative Culture

Valentine cropped

In biology, regeneration means the ability of living organisms to grow, renew and restore themselves in order to cope with change. Applying this idea to culture implies a process of growth and renewal to create strength, resilience and ultimately a change in culture in response to a changing environment. Over summer it is something I have been thinking and learning about, especially in relation to the role of art in a changing climate. Summer is usually a time of celebration and a chance to take a break from routines. But this summer felt different for me – whilst a break was still much needed, the effects of changing climatic conditions can be felt everywhere, and one cannot look away, or run away from it. Today it is raining, for the first time in a very long while where I live. This summer in parts of New Zealand we have had a relatively short experience of what drought feels like, and recent flooding in the South Island has also caused damage and destruction. This summer we have seen what a changing climate means for our neighbours in Australia, and it is scary and heartbreaking.

Pictured above, a nature printed heart made with kowhai and garden plants. A gift for Patreon supporters, available via my Patreon page: https://www.patreon.com/celestesterling

Pittosporum cropped LR

The pittosporum that I nature printed in the painting above died this summer, exhausted by the long dry spell whilst I was away visiting family. It was our living Christmas tree from a few years ago, a native species which usually copes well with New Zealand conditions. Walking in the bush near our home recently it was clear to me that other endemic species were also struggling with the dry conditions, especially the younger plants and trees with shallower roots. Climate breakdown threatens all species and it is not something happening far way or in the future – the impacts are everywhere, all around us. Species simply can’t adapt fast enough in a world where extreme weather is becoming more frequent.

Dried seed heads

It will take a while for artists to respond to the terrible bushfire season in Australia, to process the scale of destruction and loss. In my own painting practice I have started some small pictures using Eucalyptus and other Australian plants. Fortunately there are some beautiful gum trees and bottlebrush planted in my local streets. The fragrance of the leaves brings back so many memories of growing up in the Dandenong ranges of Victoria. I will continue making paintings with Australian foliage over the coming months.

Gum blossoms half size

Silver dollar and gum blossom LR

One of the only plants in my garden that seems to have thrived recently is some lovely flowering spearmint which attracts many bees. In the artwork below I nature printed a flowering sprig with scented geranium leaves, silver birch and golden yellow chrysanthemums in the background. This painting is a celebration of the abundance of summer, when the natural world is full of bright colour and warmth.

Spearmint late summer crop72dpi

Wanaka Poppies2

Over summer I photographed some breathtaking flowers and plants. I’ll do another blog post about the amazing New Zealand alpine plants of Aoraki Mt Cook. The gorgeous poppies pictured above are from Wanaka Wastebusters, a fantastic secondhand store and recycling initiative in the South Island, and a great place to stock up on winter clothing. Changes towards more sustainable living are starting in communities around New Zealand which is really heartening to see. Sustainability needs to become the norm not the exception, and something that is built into everything we do. Cultural changes need to go further than just sustainability, which is why the concept of regenerative culture encompasses more than just becoming more sustainable.

Some family have moved to the South Island, which means I will have to travel much further if I want to see them in future, and this poses a big problem for me in terms of reducing emissions. Currently the most economical and fast way to get there is by plane. The train network in New Zealand has been underfunded and neglected for many years – unfortunately roads have taken priority. Travel by road to their new home takes several days and involves a ferry crossing. For many New Zealanders, flying is probably their biggest source of emissions. It is a horrible feeling to be part of a system that is toxic and no longer fit for purpose. It really does need to be much easier for people to be sustainable. The necessary changes to the transport networks and other systems will require leadership and action at a governmental level. In my last blog post I urged people to act, to join their local environmental group, or whatever environment/climate action group that suits them best. Because the changes needed are difficult but urgent, and continued pressure from people on governments and businesses can help create these changes. I don’t think anyone wants to be part of a system that is damaging to our planet and all life on it.

Grass tree

Above – flowering grass tree, Aoraki Mt Cook National Park.

In the art world I was encouraged by the recent announcement by the artistic director of the Serpentine Gallery in London, committing to sustainable curation. I enjoyed visiting the Serpentine Gallery when I lived in London and found it a rich source of inspiration and connection with the contemporary art world. In terms of making my art practise more sustainable I have been exploring the possibility of making artworks available digitally, at a very low cost to people. It seems a better option than sending large artworks around the world. I have been trialling this via Patreon, a subscription service for creators which offers the chance for artists to connect directly with their supporters in order to fund projects and ongoing creative work. The small nature printed painting with carnations (below) is available to my Patreon community.

Sustainable curation and art is an area that I will continue to explore, as it offers the possibility of exhibiting internationally without having to transport artworks or to fly overseas. In theory an exhibition of my nature printed artworks could be held anywhere in the world, and the artworks could be projected on a wall or printed locally at small scale. Sustainable curation is something I will dive deeper into with an upcoming blog post on this topic.

Carnations LR

This year is the 10th anniversary of the Twitter Art Exhibit, an charity exhibition of artist’s postcards held in a different country each year. I’m delighted to participate again in the exhibition this year which is in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA and benefits Horry County Disabilities and Special Needs. When I think about what sustainable art and curation might be like then exhibitions like this one come to mind. The artworks are available to view online, and the physical artworks are small. They can be transported using existing mail networks. The sort of art exhibitions that the world needs is changing. Not only do they need to be more sustainable, they can also promote kindness, caring and compassion, both towards ourselves, others and towards our planet.

Spearmint and Geranium LR

Above: Postcard art for #TAE2020. Nature printed spearmint, geranium and seed heads.

Spring and summer are awash with beautiful flowers here in New Zealand. It is sometimes a struggle to convey the incredible textures, colours and forms of the flowers in paint. I often turn to photography to capture the sheer beauty and variety of the floral world. The colours of certain flowers influence my artworks, especially those that bloom in late summer. Summer is a rich time of both growth and renewal, as plants and trees produce flowers, seeds and fruit. Regeneration in the natural world can be thought of as a cycle with seasonal changes, something which I try to reflect in my artworks. Making art in a changing climate requires a shift in the way nature is viewed and treated, in essence a reconnection with the natural world, and a commitment to respect and care for the world around us.

Celeste Sterling, February 2020.

Sunflowers half size

Seedheads small

Cardoon half size

Regeneration (biology) – Wikipedia

In biology, regeneration is the process of renewal, restoration, and growth that makes genomes, cells, organisms, and ecosystems resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage. Every species is capable of regeneration, from bacteria to humans.

Regenerative Culture

“It is how we move towards a practice and demonstration of the change we want to deeply experience in this and all society. Its purpose is to nurture a new culture that is resilient and robust and which can support us all through the changes we must inevitably face together.”

Art and Climate Change

Bottlebrush for FB

Extinction Rebellion, Climate Leaves and Christmas.

In my last blog about art and sustainability I talked about climate change in relation to my art making, and I feel it is timely to go deeper into this topic.

A decade ago, after two years living in Sydney, Australia, I had become increasingly aware of environmental changes that were happening in Australia and elsewhere. Some of these changes included extended drought conditions in the rural areas and the resulting impacts on river systems, the alarming rise in species classified as endangered, bleaching of the coral reefs and concerns around biodiversity loss and deforestation. Climate change was still not discussed regularly in the mainstream media at the time, but scientists were warning us that global warming was occurring, caused by increased carbon levels in the atmosphere. The scientists were clearly stating that subsequent changes in climate were having an impact on the rural areas and ecosystems in Australia and around the world. Despite this, many scientists faced criticism for these statements and were attacked for being “alarmist,” a problem that still occurs despite the evidence to support their research and the increasing effects of climate change upon the planet.

Leaves

Upon my return to New Zealand I started making art about the climate in 2009, and spent time researching the science. The paintings I did that year were an attempt to come to grips with a huge topic. I did a series of small paintings inspired by Antarctica, paintings about endangered species, and paintings about the Anthropocene. At the end of 2009 I exhibited some of these small paintings and four larger paintings about the major planetary systems – Biosphere, Cryosphere, Troposphere and Anthrosphere. I knew that this was a difficult topic and that the paintings probably wouldn’t sell. I was surprised at how few artists were making artworks about climate change – to me it felt like this required urgent attention and engagement from not just the art community but all people.

Cryosphere
Cryosphere, acrylic on canvas, 2009

“The cryosphere is an all-encompassing term for those portions of Earth’s surface where water is in solid form, including sea ice, lake ice, river ice, snow cover, glaciers, ice caps, ice sheets, and frozen ground. ” (Wikipedia, 2019). Cryosphere, the painting pictured above, with a faint map of Antarctica drawn on the canvas, was about the threats to the polar regions in a warming world.

The Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica collapsed in the summer of 2002, disintegrating in a month. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/world-of-change/LarsenB More recently, scientists fear that the West Antarctic ice sheet could also collapse.

It is scary and horrible to see and experience, a decade after I started making these climate paintings, the effects of climate change happening with increasing rapidity and devastation across the planet. Despite agreements and pledges by governments, very little has been done to limit warming and environmental destruction, with terrible consequences for all life on our planet. Urgent change is needed to prevent mass extinction, ecosystem collapse and to keep our home habitable for all life.

Kowhai in blue small

I have continued to make paintings that are about climate and the planetary ecosystems that we depend upon for survival. It wasn’t until I started nature printing that I felt that I had found a good way to convey some of ideas that I wanted to express.  I made a conscious decision to put nature first in my artworks – to make the biological world of plants the subject, rather than the human world. To preserve and protect our environment we must first see the planet as a living entity and home that we are a part of, and our role in this sphere is as kaitiaki/caretakers of all life for future generations.

Of course being human, it is inevitable that our attitudes towards nature, uses of plants and other cultural meanings ascribed to flowers and plants find their way into the artworks. Looking at other artists who also put nature at the forefront of their artworks, I found myself drawn to artists such as Van Gogh, Dutch still life painters, Japanese Zen painting traditions and contemporary UK artists such as Angie Lewin. The powerful artworks of indigenous Australian painters have also been a strong influence, beginning when I was quite young, growing up in rural Victoria. More recently I have researched others who have used nature printing techniques.

Climate leaf - Pohutukawa cropped

After taking a larger scale “global” approach with the early abstract paintings, the nature printed artworks are, by contrast, almost micro in their approach. They often begin with small, overlooked plants, the sort you may walk past in the street and fail to notice, or those growing in neglected urban areas or in areas that haven’t been “developed.” I nature print with both endemic species and introduced plants, the sorts you find in forests, gardens, berms and in the streets of cities. Each painting begins with time in these places. Walks are part of the artwork and help me reconnect with nature.

For the past few months I have been doing a series of small A4 size artworks that I call “climate leaves,” usually one a week and posting them online every Friday to coincide with the global climate strikes and Fridays for Future climate strikes. Every week that passes it feels more urgent, to turn our attention to the natural world, and work together to repair, protect and regenerate nature. Finding sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels and protecting areas of existing forests should be an absolute priority. It is up to all people to prevent climate breakdown. Every person needs to think about what they can do and to act now. It start with small, simple things. For example, this Christmas avoid “tidying up” your garden with poisons that kill not just weeds, but also harm bees and everything beneficial in the soil. A layer of cardboard and mulch will do a better job without the poisons. For the past few years we have had a living Christmas tree that gets planted in the garden each year. It seems crazy to be cutting down a pine tree to celebrate Christmas when we are in a climate crisis. If enough people make changes it can have a big impact.

Akeake, fern and manuka cropped

Because I am an artist I am making art about nature, for nature. You’ll find my art in The Hourglass, the newspaper published by Extinction Rebellion in the UK. hourglass.news

The Hourglass page12

The Hourglass front page

It’s great to be in this issue with other independent artists who are also concerned with climate change and how to make art in a climate emergency. Last weekend I met some other people who also care deeply about the planet and we raked a huge Extinction Rebellion symbol into the sand at Piha beach. Coastal communities like Piha are extremely vulnerable to climate changes. I would encourage everyone to find out about local environmental groups and how you can work together, to help ask for change at all levels to prevent climate breakdown. If you want to learn more about Extinction Rebellion you can visit their website and the XR Auckland Facebook page is a good place to connect with local groups in the Auckland area.

Raking

I’ll be taking a break over Christmas to spend time with family but I’m going to continue making art about nature, for nature, with nature. If you would like to support my work and receive downloadable nature printed artworks each month please join my creative community on my Patreon page. Patreon is a subscription service for creators where you can receive exclusive rewards and content for as little as $US1 per month. https://www.patreon.com/celestesterling

You can also find my art via Corokia Studio on Felt NZ, where I have fine art prints available. Pickups of botanical prints (Auckland only) can be arranged up until Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas, Meri Kirihimete from New Zealand.

Celeste Sterling, December 2019

#NatureNow

Wreath

 

October 2019 Art and Sustainability

Under the Strawberry Snowball tree

Under the Strawberry Snowball Tree, Whangarei Quarry Gardens October 2019

Tropical plants and spring blooms have been the focus of my artworks this season. In October I travelled to Northland and made artworks with foliage from the beautiful sub-tropical Whangarei Quarry Gardens. Pictured above is a painting made from a wonderfully named tree from Madagascar, the Strawberry Snowball tree (Dombeya cacuminum), which has lovely strawberry coloured flowers. The flowers turn a golden honey brown colour after they fall to the ground. Sitting under this tree with a view over the small lake at the Quarry Gardens was the starting point for this artwork.

The large green leaves and flowers of this tropical tree are perfect for nature printing, the technique I use to build up an image. When making an artwork I try to use as few leaves and flowers as possible to minimise both waste and impact on plants. I’ve started examining all aspects of my artistic process with environmental sustainability in mind and I’m making changes where necessary to minimise any negative environmental impact. Working with plants one is always aware of how perfectly the circular systems of nature sustain and nourish life. We have a lot to learn about incorporating these processes into how we design everything in our societies.

Strawberry snowball tree blooms

Quarry Gardens

Quarry Gardens foliage

There is another tree near the Strawberry Snowball tree which also features in the artworks I created in Whangarei. The Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) is significant in Buddhism and this one also overlooks the man made lake at the gardens. I made two artworks using Bodhi tree leaves and some of the foliage surrounding the tree, including scented geraniums with delightfully frilled leaves. Making these artworks with tropical species felt like a special experience and I’m grateful to have had the chance to create art with these trees.

Bodhi Tree crop

Quarry flowers used to make art

Bodhi tree leaves

Another area that inspired me was the Garden of Five Senses near the entrance to the Quarry Gardens. Working with fragrant plants is always so calming, I think it does influence the artwork as I always find myself creating very gentle and softly coloured paintings when nature printing with these types of plants. French lavender and geraniums feature in one of these artworks (detail pictured below). I scan the smaller A4 artworks which sometimes produces mixed results – it can “bleach” the image, making it paler than in reality. However, this scanning process does reveal many of the small details in the images. Fine art prints of some of these artworks will be available from Corokia Studio over the coming weeks.

Gardren of the Five Senses crop

Quarry sensory garden

Sensory Garden foliage

Whilst in Whangarei I hired a studio at the Quarry Arts Centre near the gardens. This collection of art studios, art gallery and a co-op store is a great resource for the local community and it was a good opportunity for me to meet some of the artists working in Whangarei. It was interesting to look around the studios and spot the various ceramic sculptures dotted around the gardens. One of the plants growing at the Quarry Arts Centre ended up in an art work of mine of course (detail below). The local environment always influences the choice of not just plants but also the colours and expressive aspects of the artworks.

Quarry flowers crop

Quarry arts flowers

Quarry Arts

Sculpture

I am hoping to have more opportunities in the future to work with tropical plants and trees. My fascination with tropical plants began many years ago and was fuelled by travels – to Hawaii when younger, and much later, a visit to the Daintree rainforest in Queensland. Sixteen years ago I had the great privilege of visiting Costa Rica in Central America, travelling solo and in need of some time in nature. This was a life-changing experience and I was fortunate to visit some of the protected rainforests there including the Manuel Antonio National Park, Cahuita and the Cloud Forest of Monteverde. It is one thing to see a potted Peace Lily in a office or home – quite another to see it growing in its native habitat and part of a wider biodiverse ecosystem.

bloodwood

Bloodwood, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica 2003

manuelantonio

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica 2003

cloudforest

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica 2003

lacolina rgb

La Colina, Monteverde, Costa Rica 2003

I have been thinking about rainforests a lot recently, especially due to recent news reports of increased clearing of the Amazonian rainforest regions and the impact of this and other human activities on the world’s climate. This thinking has influenced my artworks and I have started a series of small works focussing on single leaves with the theme of climate change and the impacts on the biosphere. Working with plants one is acutely aware of how many species are becoming endangered. Increasingly there are endemic New Zealand species which I cannot nature print with due to their scarcity and vulnerability. These species may not survive in the future due to deforestation and climate change.

I started making paintings that were directly about climate change in 2009. It was a long process to find a way to translate some of my thinking and research in this area into a visual language. It wasn’t until I started nature printing that I felt that I had found the right pathway to do this. The issues that I was deeply concerned about in 2009 are even more urgent ten years later.

Cussonia crop

Cussonia, Whangarei Quarry Gardens, 2019. (Cussonia, Iresine and Geranium)

Warmth cropped

Recently I have expanded my art making beyond traditional paintings on paper and canvas. A small project that I completed coinciding with New Zealand Fashion Week was a good chance to experiment in this way. Sustainability is a big challenge for the fashion industry – in particular contemporary fast fashion has been identified as a major source of wastage and pollution. Finding alternatives to this cycle is really important if we are to make positive changes to remedy this situation. During Fashion Week I attended the Sustainable Fashion show and wore an upcycled thrift shop dress which I nature printed with lavender and other garden plants. Upcycling is when you transform an old item of clothing to enhance and extend its use and value. Using what we already have in a creative way is one step we can take to reduce consumption and use existing resources more wisely. I really enjoyed the process of transforming this dress and I’m planning to upcycle another old item of clothing from my local Dove hospice shop over summer.

Leaf detail

Details AAG

Looking at my art through the lens of environmental impact is a really thought-provoking exercise. It covers all aspects of my creative practise – the paints I use, the watercolour and printmaking papers, the tools I use for photography and promotion, and the scale of the artworks. This is a process that will involve close examination of the companies who provide my art materials and how those items are packaged.

I believe that many artists have neglected to consider the impact of their art making in terms of sustainability and environmental impact. This is something that will have to change – the art world is not exempt from making changes to improve in this area. In fact, looking at the art world in terms of environmental impact is a sobering exercise. Suddenly the international Biennales and Art Fairs seem incredibly wasteful and the environmental cost of shipping large artworks (and people!) around the world is difficult to justify. I think back to the last art fair I attended and some of the artworks on display – large artworks made of synthetic resin, sprawling canvases and some artworks made from plastics. In hindsight many of the artworks were definitely not environmentally friendly.

So how can art be more beneficial to the environment and less wasteful? This is something I have been thinking a lot about over the past weeks. I think in terms of objects it would involve smaller scale artworks that can be easily transported and use less resources in their production. Perhaps it also involves digital artworks that can be shared easily without shipping the physical artworks worldwide. Transitory artworks made from natural materials that can be returned to the environment without harmful effects are another example of a type of art that is better for the planet. How to fund this type of art making is another challenge for artists. I’ve been trialling Patreon as a possible way to fund some of these types of projects – so far without success – but with time perhaps this offers a better solution for artists attempting to work towards a more sustainable approach. Ultimately I don’t think it is enough any more just to make more objects – in a time of climate crisis artists will need to be more proactive and reconsider their whole art making processes.

With these thoughts in mind and after reflection on my own art making I have launched a new social art project aimed at making a positive difference in my local environment. The goal of the #tamakiriverart project is to clean rubbish from the shores of Tamaki Estuary in Auckland, New Zealand. You can photograph rubbish collected from the estuary shores, arrange it in a creative way or make something from it. Simply tag the image #tamakiriverart and I will add it to the collection on the @ecologicalarts Instagram page. Please remove any rubbish that you collect and dispose of properly! Anyone in the community or visiting the estuary can participate (although they will need to have access to Instagram at this stage). Children can ask their parents to email me or post a photograph for them if they wish to participate. A big thank you to the local cubs and leaders who have helped make a start on this project this week.

Plastic branch, Tahuna Torea

Plastic tree branch and reeds, Tahuna Torea Nature Reserve

Spring is a busy time in the plant world and in my studio. If you like my artworks and would like to see more updates between blog posts you can follow me on Facebook @celestesterlingartist and on Instagram @celestesterling

You can also help me make more art! As an independent female artist it is always a challenge to thrive. You can help me do this by purchasing fine art prints from Corokia Studio on Felt NZ.

I’m also on Patreon, which is monthly subscription service for artists. It offers a way for creators to get some regular income for all the amazing work they do. On my Patreon page people can access regular patron-only posts about my art work – the making of it and the inspiration behind it – and I offer downloadable digital art prints (usually one a month) exclusively for Patrons. Patrons can select what level of support they wish to provide – it can be as little as US$1 per month. Currently all my art making is self funded. I would like to continue making art and with support this is possible.

Celeste Sterling, October 2019

Starflowers 2

 

August 2019 Memory Garden

Memory Garden2

Bush Dell, Howick

It has been over two years since I first chanced upon the beautiful bush dell in the Emilia Maude Nixon Garden of Memories in Howick, next to Uxbridge Arts & Culture. I was delighted to find mature native New Zealand trees and I met the current custodian Taini, who tends this garden. I was considering making an artwork using leaves from the bush area when I learnt of the surprisingly troubled history of the gardens. 

This winter I visited these gardens again and on a quiet day I found a few leaves in the bush and finally made the artwork I had thought about for so long. All the leaves are from endemic New Zealand species (including kahikatea, rimu and makomako), except for some gingko which had fallen from a tree in a neighbouring property and were scattered on the ground in front of the marae. Fortunately trees and plants pay no heed to human boundaries and disputes, they simply grow wherever the right combinations of seed, sunlight and soil are found. I’m often reminded in situations like this that art shouldn’t be rushed and sometimes ideas take a long time to bring to fruition, much like the seeds that lie dormant until the right conditions are present. 

It is up to all of us to nurture and protect areas of native bush and gardens such as these. They are special places that offer solace and respite from increasing urbanisation. In the face of climate change and environment destruction our role as custodians and guardians of the natural environment is more urgent and important than ever. 

(Please note: In my artwork I do not use foliage from any places where people spread or bury ashes. Apparently there are parts of the Emilia Maude Nixon gardens that are sometimes used for this. I avoided those areas, using a few leaves from some of the larger trees in the bush dell behind the memory garden and gingko from a neighbouring tree.) 

Memory Garden fir

Memory Grden detail

Bush Dell, Howick (detail)

Through winter I have also been making artworks using foliage from the Auckland Domain. The gingko and puriri painting below was made after a visit to the fabulous large gingko tree in the Auckland Domain as the last golden leaves fell. Gingko are a fascinating tree species of ancient lineage and the leaves are unusual and make beautiful nature prints.

Gingko

Gingko and Puriri (detail)

Puriri

Puriri tree and flowers (above)

Gingko tree

Gingko tree, Auckland Domain (above)

This winter I have reopened the Corokia Studio Felt shop with fine art prints available including the Lilac Garden artwork (detail below). Made with scented plants from the Sensory Garden in Auckland Domain, this artwork is devoted to the soothing and calming properties of fragrant plants and flowers.

Lilac Garden for FELT5

Scented plants also feature in my most recent painting entitled Fragrant Garden, nature printed with small and delicate plants including heather, white camellias, cotton lavender, geranium and small pink flowers from the Sensory Garden. Spring seems to be arriving in the plant world early here in New Zealand and that has had a big impact on my painting this month.

Fragrant Garden for FB

IMG_2288

Spring for FELT5

Also available in the Corokia Felt shop is the Spring print (detail above) made with foliage from Orakei and the Blue Fern print (below).

Blue Fern for FELT3

Currently I have two original paintings for sale at Uxbridge in Howick, both made with native coastal plants. Please enquire to the staff at Malcolm Smith Gallery/Uxbridge Arts and Culture in Howick if you are interested in viewing these artworks.

Mangroves, Samphire and Reeds

Halophytes

330mm high x 480mm wide, acrylic on William Turner watercolour paper, unframed. $600

Manawa, Wiwi and Ureure

Mānawa, Wīwī and Ureure
(Mangroves, Knobbly Club Rush and Samphire)

Acrylic on stretched canvas, 705mm wide x 1000mm high, $1600.

In this large painting I used three of the native plant species which are found around the Tāmaki River. These plants thrive in the marshy, salty estuarine conditions and can help preserve and revegetate wetland areas. 

I was very excited to see my artwork recently on BioCups by BioPak in Australia. I was really pleased with how they turned out and I’m grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with a company that has a strong environmental focus. These Biocups made from plants, compostable and carbon neutral. If you see one at your local cafe in Australia or New Zealand please snap a photo and tag it #biocupartseries and on Instagram @celestesterling

Thanks so much!

Celeste Sterling, August 2019

Winter Herbal BioPak cup

June 2019 Camellias and Winter Paintings

Kale and Jade

Thinking and reflecting on biodiversity, rewilding, reforestation and the interactions between native and introduced plant species have prompted many of the plant combinations used in my recent artworks.

Over winter the shorter daylight hours and colder weather mean that I source foliage closer to home, often from my backyard and the very steep, overgrown gully behind the back fence. Our bush gully is a jungle of native species, weeds and forgotten garden plants from many years ago. A marvellous old pink camellia tree tangled with runaway jasmine provides food and shelter for many birds in these months. This winter I have been experimenting with some nature printing using camellias and including weeds and other garden escapees in the artworks.

We have planted some native trees and harakeke (New Zealand flax) in the gully over the past few years. In a city experiencing rapidly increasing urbanisation where sometimes it can feel as though developers are closing in on all sides, this small slice of sloping land is for now a haven for wildlife and city children in the warmer months.

Backyard jungle

Pink camellias detail

Two Pink Camellias

Camellias, also known as the rose of winter, offer some welcome colour at this time of year and are very popular in New Zealand gardens. I used some of the candy cane variety, hebe and a weedy vine called Great Bindweed in the picture (detail) below.

Red camellias

Camellia

In May I finished up my artworks made with coastal plants from Tamaki Estuary. It was interesting to revisit some localities around the river and to see how the ecosystem is faring a couple of years after my first research and artwork in this area. Despite challenges in the form of pollution and erosion there is an abundance life in and around the estuary and I was reminded of this many times when I visited – seeing fish jumping, birds foraging, insects everywhere and the resilient endemic plant species in protected areas surviving, and in some cases thriving.

Wiwi in May

Detail 1

Mānawa, Wīwī and Ureure (Mangroves, Knobbly Club Rush and Samphire) – Detail

Leaving Tahuna Torea one day I collected some leaves from introduced and native species near the nature reserve and made an A3 size picture from them. (detail below) Often there is an element of chance in my artwork, as sometimes I will discover some new plant species to use for nature printing depending on where I walk and what I find on the way.  This part of the creative process can be really useful, it helps to keep me inspired and discourages perfectionism. Perfectionism can paralyse creativity and when working closely with nature one has to be open to chaos, complexity, abundance and wildness.

Autumn - Glendowie

In autumn I made another small painting on paper using foliage from the Savage Memorial and Bastion Point/Takaparawhau. I have been following with interest the replanting and growth of the forest planted there by Ngāti Whātua. Replanting of native species is also planned for areas of the Purewa valley from the Kepa bush area down to the Orakei Basin.

Takaparawhā detail

A local area that I visit often is St Heliers, where there are two massive old Moreton Bay Fig trees. I made a painting recently using leaves from these and some found in the hedge nearby. The artwork is a mix of Moreton Bay Fig, brambles, asparagus fern and other foliage. The fig leaf colouring is really beautiful, a mix of dark olive green and shades of copper and bronze underneath.

Moreton Bay fig details

Winter leaves angle

I was fortunate to visit the Auckland Art Fair, the Gus Fisher Gallery and the Francis Hodgkins European Journeys exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery over the past two months. There were plenty of interesting plant details in the artworks at the Auckland Art Fair and in the Frances Hodgkins exhibition, some of these I have shared in my Instagram stories.

The Frances Hodgkins exhibition has prompted some thinking about colour and form for me which I will continue explore in my work over winter and beyond.

Bindweed closeup

Camellias progress

Winter viruses have hit hard this year and I’ve had a couple of rounds already so I’ve had some time whilst recovering to catch up on some of my favourite websites. If you are interested in all things botanical then I recommend the The Planthunter. To catch up on general international art world news I read The Art Newspaper, which also offers some podcasts. For pure joy it is always fascinating to see what is blooming on the other side of the world – you can see Piet Oudulf’s gardens through the seasons on Instagram, and I also like the small scale indoor garden world of James Wong, The Botany Geek.  When painting inspiration is needed there are wonderful images online from the collection of The Van Gogh Museum.

Rewilding has been controversial overseas as it can involve the reintroduction of larger predators into environments. To find out more about rewilding here are a couple of links: rewilding in Britain and in New Zealand.

Kia pai tō tatou Matariki – Happy Matariki (Maori New Year) from New Zealand.

Purple pic angle