The Verdant Garden

Verdant is an old word meaning green, especially the rich green of grass and the countryside. There are a multitude of beautiful green hues and it is the colour most readily perceived by the human eye. In Aotearoa this abundance of green is most noticeable in the old temperate forests where ferns, podocarps (types of conifers) and epiphytes (plants that grow in the canopy on other plants) are very plentiful. Verdant feels like a fitting word to describe the Spring growth all around and in my artworks at this time of year. In Maori the fresh green of Spring – Kōanga, is karera or kākāriki, meaning light green.

I have been thinking about all these greens, and the pigments artists have used over hundreds of years to try to capture something of the many hues of green found in nature. From Verdigris to Malachite, green pigments have sometimes been unstable and even poisonous – as in Paris or Vienna Green, derived from toxic arsenic and copper acetate. These days the most poisonous type of green is probably not a pigment at all – perhaps in our time it is the practice of greenwashing or green sheen, as companies and even governments sometimes purposely deceive their customers and citizens in order to appear environmentally friendly or sustainable.

Fortunately, in my latest digital artworks the greens are more benign. In the case of the digital artworks the small scanner I am using imparts a green background, the tint of which seems to vary according to the plant material I am scanning. Whilst my studio has been less accessible during lockdown I have been experimenting with creating digital artworks combining scanned flowers and foliage with painted layers, and now have a collection of these, full of spring flora and sprigs of garden foliage. The Michelia and Jasmine artwork (detail pictured above), was created using this method and is available as a high resolution download via my Patreon page, where I offer a seasonal artwork each month for a small amount (starting at US$1) selected by the patron. The purpose of Patreon is to provide a sustainable and steady income for artists and creators, allowing them the chance to create more art, more often.

My Spring painting and projects have been impacted by the pandemic and the resulting restrictions, as Auckland has struggled with lockdown and a Covid outbreak. Consequently you can view some artworks only online for now – including these artworks submitted to The Upstairs Gallery in Titirangi. Included is an artwork nature printed with Jasmine, Buttercup and Lavender and some small Lockdown Bracelets, floral jewellery created over the past weeks.

Lockdown restrictions also meant that my Floristry graduation took place online after being delayed twice by outbreaks. I made a little flower crown to celebrate with my family at home, hopeful that at some time in the future I may be able to reconnect with fellow graduates in person again. The unusual blue flowers are Corydallis, planted in my garden last year, combined with Sweet William and Hellebore. Over the past year I have become interested in how traditions involving flowers vary across time and cultures. Flower crowns are one such tradition, with different types occurring through history. They are also present as part of many cultures across the world in various forms, often made to mark significant occasions.

When creating ephemeral artworks and floristry, one becomes more aware of the healing and stress relief that happens when people grow and create with flowers, particularly if it is done in a way that is kind to the environment and embraces seasonality. These activities can be a special way reconnect with nature and each other. I feel that this approach offers a path forward as we find ways to work with nature rather than against nature.

One of the highlights of the floral year is the Peony season, large and lovely perennial blooms grown in cooler climates. The availability of beautiful South Island peonies in Spring meant I was able to experiment with scanning a couple to make artworks celebrating these gorgeous flowers. I have also chosen a red Peony to feature in my Christmas artwork this year, which will be posted online for my Patreon subscribers next month.

Spring is a very exciting time in for anyone interested in plants, being the season of growth and new life. I feel very fortunate to have a small and rather wild backyard garden where I can grow some spray-free flowers and take respite from city life. This garden is also the starting point for many of my paintings. My Spring artworks have included Michelia flowers, Dianthus and in the detail above, even some carrot leaves. Over lockdown I have planted some Cosmos, Snapdragons and Cornflowers to bring some colour and more bee friendly flowers into the space.

Inspiration for creative work also comes from the places I visit. One of my favourite small gardens is the Nancy Steen Garden next to the Parnell Rose Gardens. This beautiful space features a circular white garden with rows of heritage roses and traditional cottage garden flowers. On a visit to see the early roses I was intrigued by the indigo, violet and sage green Honeywort growing there. The soft colours of this plant have been echoed in my recent artworks.

If you would like to learn more about my artworks and share an interest in history, I am participating in an online workshop in early December: Antiquity and the Anthropocene: Ancient Materiality, University College Dublin, Saturday 11 December 2021, which brings together historians, archeologists and artists into dialogue with contemporary environmental concerns. Organised by Dr Giacomo Savani and Dr Matthew J. Mandich, this event is free but registration is required – you can register here: https://www.eventbrite.ie/e/antiquity-and-the-anthropocene-ancient-materiality-tickets-209459678537 

I will be introducing my artwork and discussing it with Dr Patricia Baker towards the end of the workshop at 5.30pm UK time. It will be recorded so I will also post a link for it in my next artist blog. 

I’m excited about the Summer artworks which I will be occupied with over the coming weeks as my artistic journey with plants and flowers continues. I’ll be revisiting one of my favourite flowers, the humble Nasturtium, combining them with grasses and foliage native to Aotearoa.

Ngā manaakitanga – with best wishes, Celeste 

Art and Ecology

Winter is waning and Spring flowers are appearing everywhere. The pervasive sweet smell of Jasmine flowers blooming in the wild backyard is a reminder to me to write an artist blog about the Winter months of June, July and August. Winter & Matariki is a reflective and quieter time in my art making year. Following the seasons, it feels befitting to pause a little in Winter, to think about and research the next projects and to make sure that these are in harmony with what is happening in nature and the direction of my artistic practice.

Over Winter I experimented with nature printing Violas and Pansies, which are descended from European wildflowers. I am very fond of these humble and colourful blooms. I also pressed and dried a few to use in future projects. Like many flowers, Pansies have some historical symbolism associated with them. In Victorian England they signified loving thoughts and admiration. Pansies were also the symbol of the Free Thinkers Society:

“…a group of people who decided to adopt a mode of thought that was free from societal constraints, expectations, emotions or religious dogma. In it’s highest form it is based on pure logic and reason. They adopted the pansy as its symbol because the word pansy is from the verb pensée in French meaning to think.” https://www.flowermeaning.com/pansy-flower-meaning/

A thoughtful flower, suited to a time of introspection. Pictured above is a detail of a nature printed artwork in orange and dusty rose tones for my Patreon subscribers with Violas, Pansies, Jasmine and Camellias.

As an artist it is important to explore new directions, to push oneself into unfamiliar territory and also to play! Sometimes this can be challenging for both artists and audiences. I don’t ever deliberately set out to make artworks which are confronting and make people uncomfortable. When this does occasionally happen, it is perhaps, a side effect of making artworks which deal with difficult topics.

One of the areas I have been exploring over the past few years involves the coastal ecology of the Tāmaki River, a large urban estuary near to where I live in Auckland. People sometimes find this type of artwork a little different and challenging, as the coastal plants are not conventionally “beautiful” and the river itself has suffered from a large amount of pollution over the past decades. Riverside and estuary plants may not be as pretty as the other plants I work with but they are fascinating for other reasons. They are uniquely evolved to tolerate salt water and the extremes of coastal conditions. The more I learn about them the more I appreciate their unique adaptations and forms. This year it was good to return to the Estuary Art and Ecology exhibition at Uxbridge Arts & Culture in Howick, after having to postpone my 2020 project on this topic. This annual exhibition provides artists the opportunity to respond to the ecology of the Tāmaki Estuary.

Instead of a nature printed painting this year I created an artwork using floristry techniques. Haratua (May) is made from coastal plants, seaweed and feathers. A symbolic, ephemeral and wearable artwork, inspired by seasonal floral crowns and buttonholes made to celebrate important events. Haratua was designed to celebrate an event which may occur in the future: the recognition of the Tāmaki River as a living entity with legal rights. It is intended to be returned to the riverbank upon completion of the exhibition. I aimed to evoke the unique coastal ecosystem of the estuary in this artwork.

For me, this artwork is a step towards making artworks which are closer to being truly ecological. These may not look like conventional artworks. One must firstly create art which does not have a large environmental footprint and is ultimately not damaging to ecosystems. Ecological art is broader in its scope, as it is aimed at preservation, restoration and revitalisation of ecosystems. It is an area I am slowly exploring and researching in my art practice. Ecological art prompts me to think deeply about how art could actively contribute to the preservation and creation of natural ecosystems in my local neighbourhood.

The 2021 exhibition at Uxbridge is curated by Francis McWhannell and includes a thoughtful range of artworks responding to the ecology of the Tāmaki Estuary here in Aotearoa. It was lovely to attend the opening and to speak with the curator and other artists. With so much disruption since early 2020 it felt like a privilege to attend an exhibition opening during a pandemic. I made an unwired wrist corsage with gorgeous Carnations, Pieris and Flannel flowers to celebrate.

📸 Thanks to Maddy South at Uxbridge for the photo from the exhibition opening.

Winter painting this year was also a good chance to experiment with nature printing Erlicheer flowers with garden plants including Corokia and Geraniums. The season for these bulbs is so fleeting that I always wish for more time to develop the paintings further. Nature printing teaches me patience as one has to wait until the following year to pick up on this strand again.

Over the colder months I learnt to work with dried flowers and foliage, to expand the type of floristry and artworks that I can create with these materials. My studio has been filling with a number of small wreaths including this small half wreath with dried Hydrangeas, Wattle and Eucalyptus, designed to mark the Matariki season. Making wreaths with dried plants and flowers feels like a natural evolution from the abstract paintings I created in previous years, which often featured spheres and circles.

One of the highlights of Winter for me was a visit to the Auckland Botanic Gardens in late July. These gardens are full of treasures, and I was richly rewarded with gorgeous Magnolias, Hellebores and Camellias, the first of the Spring bulbs and the interesting Proteas, Leucadendrons and Flannel flowers of the African gardens. It would be good to have the opportunity to create some artworks inspired by their beautiful collection of plants, a project to consider for the future. I’ll finish my Winter blog with some photography of these plants and flowers, including the wonderfully named Honey Tulip Magnolia.

Aroha from Aotearoa, Celeste

Ecological art is an art genre and artistic practice that seeks to preserve, remediate and/or vitalize the life forms, resources and ecology of Earth, by applying the principles of ecosystems to living species and their habitats throughout the lithosphereatmospherebiosphere, and hydrosphere, including wilderness, rural, suburban and urban locations. It is a distinct genre from Environmental art in that it involves functional ecological systems-restoration, as well as socially engaged, activist, community-based interventions.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecological_art

Autumnal art and Permaculture

Autumn is a time I wish would stretch on, especially the month of March when the late flowers are blooming and the leaves just starting to turn. In Autumn the changes in foliage bring warm and rich colours to the streets and gardens of my neighbourhood. The delicious fruits of Autumn also inspire my choice of colours in the artworks of this season – the olive green of feijoas, the dark crimson cherry guavas, and the deep purple of plums, grapes and passionfruit.

In March I made two small artworks with Sweet Peas and Purple Basil nature printed in autumn colours. For my Patreon subscribers I created a plum toned artwork with these fragrant plants, the tendrils of Sweet Peas curling through the artwork with prints from berries and the very aromatic purple Basil leaves and flowers. (details above). For both artworks I worked with plants that were sourced from Slow Blooms, a beautiful permaculture flower-picking garden in Matakana.

Whilst in Matakana I also attended a permaculture workshop at Rainbow Valley Farm about seed saving and gardening. This workshop with two very experienced tutors was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about working with nature to achieve thriving ecosystems. The permaculture approach can also be applied to culture and the arts, something I intend to explore in further depth. For some time now I have been concerned with the environmental effects of current art-making practices and attempting to find ways to make artworks that are less resource hungry and kinder to the environment. The permaculture perspective feels like a useful approach to help me work towards an art practice that works with nature, not against it.

In March I did one artwork that was much paler than the Sweet Pea paintings, and I posted this artwork online (detail pictured below) to celebrate Women’s Day this year. In this painting I nature printed two toned pink and orange Fiesta roses with Fennel Seed heads and sprigs of Carrot plants, an unlikely combination of humble garden plants with the rather glamorous roses. I like the idea of beautiful flowers growing in a vegetable garden, the two need not be kept seperate. Autumn is often a combination of all sorts of late flowers, seeds and the last of the summer vegetables in suburban gardens.

At Easter this year I made a foraged Autumn posy from a rural garden and fields as a gift to a friend. I love making posies with whatever foliage and flowers can be sourced locally, it is a far more sustainable and environmentally sensitive way of doing floristry. Of course I realise this way of working is only possible if the surrounds are rich with choices and plentiful with plants that can be picked. Applying permaculture principles to how I do floristry is an ongoing process, requiring changes to how things are made and what materials are used. It is a little like “unlearning” some of what I have previously been taught and seeking out those who are doing things differently.

For my home this Easter I created a vase arrangement with dramatic Hydrangeas, Crimson Snapdragons, a variety of foliage and Autumn berries. I started an artwork with some sprigs from the posy with Hydrangeas, continuing a series of artworks with blue flowers which I have been making over Summer.

To mark ANZAC Day this weekend I have made a large foraged Autumn wreath for the font door. It should slowly dry over the coming weeks and last into Winter. To make the wreath I used a grapevine base and twine to secure all the bunches of seasonal foliage. The technique that I used was demonstrated online by London florist Shane Connolly, who is committed to minimising the environmental impact of his work. Thinking back to this time last year when we spent ANZAC Day in lockdown, I am so thankful that so far this Autumn we have been able to see friends and family here in New Zealand.

April artwork for my Patreon subscribers will be nature printed from some of the leftover trimmings from the wreath making. Over the past few months I have been moving more of my online posting to my Patreon page, as I think it offers artists a fairer and more sustainable way to be paid for what they create and post online. For that reason, and so that I have more time to make art, I have decided to change my artist blog from bimonthly posts to a longer quarterly post each season. So my next artist blog, about my Winter artworks, will be posted in August. If you would like to receive a monthly downloadable artwork and more regular updates then please consider joining my community on Patreon, subscriptions start from US$1 per month. With support from patrons, more art can be made!

Wishing you a peaceful and fruitful season,

Aroha from Aotearoa, Celeste

Day in Autumn

BY RAINER MARIA RILKE

TRANSLATED BY MARY KINZIE

After the summer’s yield, Lord, it is time
to let your shadow lengthen on the sundials
and in the pastures let the rough winds fly.

As for the final fruits, coax them to roundness.
Direct on them two days of warmer light
to hale them golden toward their term, and harry
the last few drops of sweetness through the wine.

Whoever’s homeless now, will build no shelter;
who lives alone will live indefinitely so,
waking up to read a little, draft long letters,   
and, along the city’s avenues,
fitfully wander, when the wild leaves loosen.

Poem from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/50937/day-in-autumn

Art and Gardens

My artworks over January and February are full of summer garden flowers. Pictured above is a detail of the February artwork I created for my Patreon subscribers, nature printed with velvety orange Celosia and a variety of garden plants including Spearmint, flowering Marjoram and Cornflowers. Summer’s Swan Song is a layered and warm painting, reflecting the shift in seasons as plants create fruit and seeds in the late summer warmth. I also gave my Patreon subscribers a small nature printed heart artwork to celebrate Valentines Day.

In January I travelled to the South Island to see family, fortunate to experience a beautiful time of year with them and to be able to photograph and make art with plants and flowers in gardens I visited. I created summer garden posies, such as this one below with a “Remember Me” rose, bright orange poppies and an unusual Hydrangea.

Over summer I continued to experiment with nature printing blue flowers – Cornflowers, Hydrangeas and Delphiniums. A larger work with blue flowers as the main focus is slowly brewing. These artworks feature soft blues and greens, Rococo pastels to calm and soothe during times of difficulty and strife. Art can be a healing force, and I was reminded of this at the Auckland Art Fair this week when experiencing the wonderful artwork of Betty Muffler, a Anangu Pitjantjatjara healer from South Australia whose artwork was featured on the cover of Vogue Australia.

For my Patreon subscribers in January I nature printed a combination of pale apricot Crepuscule Noisette rambling roses with Alpine Lavender from a lovely South Island garden. Crepuscule means twilight, although the colouring of this rose reminds me more of a warm summer sunset. The bees love the lavender so much, it was difficult to deprive them of even a couple of stems to nature print with!

It was a real pleasure to visit some stunning South Island gardens whilst I was away, including the Oamaru Public Gardens, the Trevor Griffiths Rose Gardens in Timaru and the kitchen gardens at Riverstone Castle. The magnificent lilies below are from the Riverstone Gardens. Some nature printing with plants from these gardens is certainly on my wish list for the future.

Upon returning home I continued with my summer postcard series, eventually choosing a small artwork nature printed with Cornflowers, Daisies and Parsley for the annual Twitter Art Exhibit charity exhibition. This year the exhibition is at Cheltenham Racecourse in the UK to benefit the LINC Leukeameia and Chemotherapy charity, opening on May 15, 2021.

Summer wouldn’t be complete for me without a visit to the Auckland Wintergardens, but this year it was the wildflower plantings near the greenhouses which really struck me. A glorious combination of pollinator friendly flowers, these areas are teeming with life and have got me thinking about how I could do more to help pollinators. Other artists are also doing this – I have been looking at the work of UK artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg for the Eden Project and the Serpentine Gallery in the UK: “Ginsberg has developed a special algorithm that optimises garden designs – including plant species and layout – for pollinators rather than humans.” Closer to home the social sculpture of Sarah Smuts-Kennedy and the collaborative For the Love of Bees project here in Auckland is also interesting and inspiring. There are many simple changes people can make such as avoiding the use of herbicides and pesticides in their gardens which can help protect native butterflies and bees here in Aotearoa NZ.

In my studio I have waterlilies waiting for me this weekend which is very exciting. I’ve created a couple of artworks with waterlilies this summer and it is a real thrill to make art with these stunning flowers. They have a subtle and beautiful fragrance. I’ve been watching them bend and twist in response to the light and how the colours gradually change as they age. In my recent Patreon updates I’ve posted some of the artwork I’ve been making with them. If you would like to participate in my creative community on Patreon please have a look at my artist page and consider joining, subscriptions start at US$1 per month and every bit of support helps create more art.

As Summer shifts to Autumn my palette changes and I’m shifting away from the blues, pinks and greens of January. As always Autumn brings new colours – yellow, orange, rust, and olive begin to takeover the artwork. I’m looking forward to nature printing some of the colourful Autumn leaves and seeds over March and April.

Aroha from Aotearoa, Celeste

Seasonal nature printed art

My painting year is defined by seasons, with each season bringing new plant growth and maturity that influences the colours and forms of the artworks. In late November and December as the Summer Solstice approaches, the paintings turn golden. Magnificent summer flowers, seed heads and the foliage of this season are nature printed to create artworks full of abundance and warmth. In my garden the flowers planted in early Spring are starting to bloom, a source of joy and peace during what can be a hectic time of year. This year more than ever the garden offers a place of refuge and beauty as well as a starting point for many artworks.

In the first half of the year, studying Floristry full time and negotiating the disruption of the pandemic and two lockdowns, my art projects were curtailed. It wasn’t until early Spring that I was able to collaborate with other artists for the Shared Lines: Pūtahitanga project, a giant collective artwork which was installed in Christchurch and which is also available to view online. You can read more about my artwork for this project in my previous blog.

This year I also participated in the The Nomadic Art Gallery, another collaborative project which has involved over 100 artists. A travelling art gallery in a truck, The Nomadic Art Gallery journeyed throughout Aotearoa, staging exhibitions in each location visited. The truck itself has been painted by many artists, and sculptures have been added to the interior and exterior.

I’ve never nature printed on a truck or van before so it was a new experience to take my artwork out of the studio and onto The Nomadic Art Gallery. I started with an assortment of plants from my garden including kowhai and corokia, and a pot of beautiful vibrant cornflowers. Blue felt like the colour of the moment, as I woke that day to the news of the American Election results. Luckily the weather came right for us and along with some other artists I was able to complete the artwork at the Lakehouse Arts Centre in Takapuna, which is a fantastic community art gallery. Community galleries are like the creative glue that bring people together and these wonderful places deserve all our support. My artwork had to work with those around it and I enjoyed weaving the plants into the existing artworks. The truck, now complete, is a unique collaboration and also a significant and interesting artwork for Aotearoa given the events of this year. In a year where so much has been postponed and cancelled it was a real pleasure to contribute to these collaborative projects and to join in the celebration with other artists of The Nomadic Art Gallery on Waiheke Island recently.

For the celebration on Waiheke I made a generous flower crown with exquisite Roses, Sweet William, Love-in-a-mist and of course Cornflowers. This resulted in another artwork to remember the occasion, as I deconstructed the flower crown and nature printed it. We celebrate significant events with flowers and the translation of some of these florals into artworks feels like a natural conclusion after the event. In a year when so many events have been disrupted it felt like an enormous privilege to attend anything at all. Here in Aotearoa we owe a huge debt of gratitude to those who have worked so tirelessly and with such dedication to keep our community safe and well. It is also important to acknowledge how much of a collective effort it has been to achieve this, and the sacrifices that have been made and continue to be made, often affecting those most vulnerable in far harsher ways. The pandemic has highlighted and amplified deep inequalities, racism and toxic misinformation in our communities, and the fallout continues to challenge us to transform our society for the better of all.

My November artwork for my Patreon subscribers was also made with Cornflowers, nature printed into an artwork with some white Pelargoniums and grapevine from the garden. This is the time of year that the grapevine explodes into life and it grows very quickly as the temperatures increase. I started my Patreon journey some time ago, and this year I was particularly grateful that I already had established the infrastructure to connect with wider audiences online.

In December I made two artworks for my Patreon subscribers. A small wreath nature printed with blue Cornflowers, Lacy Phacelia and Grapevine, to celebrate Christmas, and a golden painting for the Summer Solstice (see detail picture at the start of this blog). Patreon is a subscription service for creators with subscriptions starting from US$1 per month. I offer an artwork each month available as a digital download via my Patreon page, and for my Patreon community I create extra seasonal artworks and offer more personal writing about my art making. This service allows me to provide art online to anyone in the world who has a $1 to spend on art and who likes what I am doing, which is really incredible and potentially revolutionary in terms of accessibility, and how art is made.

The global pandemic is still having a massive impact as we reach the end of the year, affecting all areas and no doubt it will continue to have a profound effect on the arts. I know that this is just the beginning of huge challenges as the climate crisis also looms upon us. Right now, our connection to nature and how we do everything with regard for the natural world is crucial. All depends on the ability to recognise problems in that relationship and to protect, repair and regenerate nature. Our survival depends not just on dealing with the global pandemic, but also upon recognising and dealing with the urgent climate crisis.

Over summer I will continue to make seasonal art about our about our connection to nature and challenging myself to find more sustainable ways of making art. Increasingly for me that means growing more of the plants that I nature print with, especially bee friendly flowers, and nature printing with minimal amounts of foliage and flowers. The artworks are also small in scale to use less resources, and I provide them digitally when possible to reduce emissions associated with shipping. In a world where so many problems are being created by overconsumption, it feels like small changes but at least some steps towards a more environmentally conscious way of making art.

Whatever your situation currently is, I hope you have enjoyed the artworks I have created this year and that they bring some joy.

Celeste Sterling, December 2020

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

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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