December 2018

Amaryllis

Remembrance and mortality are the themes seeping into my photography and artwork over the past weeks. I have been using flower symbolism to express this and coinciding with spring it has seemed apt to use the seasonal blooms. The amaryllis is traditionally a symbol of mourning (white blooms), love (red blooms) and is associated with confident, beautiful women. This amaryllis bloom was photographed at the Auckland Domain Wintergarden, a few days before my aunt passed away from cancer. My aunt was a strong, talented woman who will be missed by all her family.

Striped tulip

There is a contrast between my flower photography and the recent paintings and sketches that I have been making which are much fresher and lighter in colour and tone. This intersection, between death and the passing of winter, contrasting with the new plant life and blooms of spring is something I intend to explore further.

Recently I had surgery and the experience and subsequent convalescence has also influenced my artwork. As I lay waiting on the operating table I noticed the large wall of glass fronted medicine cabinets in the room and they reminded me of the Damien Hirst retrospective that I visited in London at the Tate Modern. There was a gallery of Hirst medicine cabinets in that retrospective exhibition, some with steel surgical instruments and others with medicines. I recall that the pervading theme of death throughout the Hirst artworks was powerful, at times banal and often unpleasant. Sometimes art is like a conversation that you start and revisit over time, the memories of artworks encountered returning as new situations arise. I wrote about the show after returning to New Zealand in my old Arcadia Files blog.

In November, a trip to the field of crosses erected in front of the Auckland Museum (commemorating the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day and the New Zealanders killed in WWI) and the Wintergarden also had me considering how to convey the themes of remembrance and respect in the language of plants.

Armistice memorial

One is always aware when nature printing of how quickly plucked leaves die, and how the cycle of nature turns decay into new life. Although my artworks are not figurative, people are always present in the artworks. They are there in the gardens they plant, the species they use for food and medicines, the flowers they favour, and the endangered plant species and habitats affected by people. I hand print with the leaves and flowers, pressing them onto the paper or canvas, and so the pattern of my fingers is often visible.

Memory detail

I have put a new A4 size artwork on my website in the download and donate section. It is entitled Memory, and was made with budding sage, fennel, michelia and akeake. The akeake was bought from a nursery in Whanganui on a visit with my aunt. It has now grown to a small tree in my garden.

Memory

Purple wreath is a flower I have not used before in paintings but this year I made a couple of sketches using the blooms and leaves with some rosemary sprigs, a plant traditionally associated with remembrance. Purple wreath was blooming on Armistice Day in the Wintergarden. I will have to wait until next spring to use this plant again in a larger artwork.

Purple Wreath

Purple wreath and rosemary cropped

I have started a series of paintings using my backyard apple tree, beginning with the Winter Solstice artwork. This spring I used fresh apple leaves and blooms to create a painting on William Turner watercolour paper – Apple Tree and Lime. Pictured below is a small detail from this painting. The lime leaves were a happy accident – I broke a small branch whilst weeding and used the fragrant leaves in the artwork. I’m planning another apple tree artwork at midsummer.

Apple tree and lime

I’m looking forward to doing more paintings over summer and I’ll write another blog in February. Wishing you all a safe and happy Christmas, with love from New Zealand.

Celeste Sterling, December 2018.

Christmas blooms

October 2018

Blue Akeake

September and October are important months in my painting calendar because of the arrival of Spring. For the first time this year I used blossoms in my paintings – the explosion of new blooms in my local neighbourhood was irresistible. Using blossoms proved tricky due to their fragile petals and the anthers of the flowers ending up in my paintings. I endeavour to avoid having organic matter in the artworks so as not to have problems with mould in the future. Sometimes this means that plants have to be washed before use and occasionally split into their different parts before nature printing with them.

Painting blossoms in blue

Blue blossoms painting

Seasonal changes are never far from my mind when working with plants. I use photos to help me keep track of interesting plant species growing in my local area for future use in paintings.

Okahu Bay blossoms

The foliage available in September and October is an unusual mix of decayed winter leaves mixed with blooms and fresh new growth. In September I visited Bastion Point/Takaparawhā, Okahu Bay and my local streets to gather leaves and flowers.

Decay and renewal

The mix of old and new leaves/warm and cool temperatures/death and birth at this time of year makes for interesting juxtapositions. The small September picture below was painted with these themes in mind and is available via Patreon as an instant digital download.

September sketch square SML

This Spring I participated in the Envoys Onwards postcard exhibition at Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery. This exhibition marked the 125th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in New Zealand. In 1993 the Association of Women Artists organised an exhibition of postcards to mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand, with the aim “to strengthen the voice of women’s common concerns, to acknowledge the universality of their gender, and to generate images from the present that will touch future generations.” Info. from Te Uru website. These original postcards were included in the exhibition and it was really interesting to see them.

Envoys Onwards postcards 1

Te uru postcards cropped

The exhibition prompted a lot of thinking for me about the challenges faced by women artists and also by women working in the arts sector. I recalled a job interview many years ago for a part-time position with a curator at one of New Zealand’s major art galleries who noticed I’d done a modelling course on my CV and told me I should be a model instead. I didn’t get the job and I ignored his comment, going on to study for my Masters degree in Art History, the first person in my family to achieve a Masters qualification. There have been many such obstacles and setbacks over the course of my career and it’s good to be reminded just how much positive change for women has happened in my lifetime.

Celeste Sterling at Te Uru

August 2018

Winter Solstice Apple Tree

Winter Solstice Apple Tree

The painting above was made on the shortest day of the year using the last remaining leaves on the apple tree that I planted a few years ago in the backyard. In the parts of England where cider is made there is an old mid-winter tradition in the orchards called wassailing.

“The wassailing, or blessing of the fruit trees, involves drinking and singing to the health of the trees in the hope that they will provide a bountiful harvest in the autumn”. www.historic-uk.com

I wrote this old rhyme on the back of the painting:

Wassaile the trees, that they may beare
You many a Plum and many a Peare:
For more or lesse fruits they will bring,
As you do give them Wassailing.

I became interested in the old seasonal traditions that pre-date Christianity whilst living in England. Some traditions that are now common in many countries, such as the decorating of fir trees at Christmas, originated in pagan times. Evergreen fir trees, branches and logs were brought into homes at mid-winter. The custom of burning a Yule log at this time of year was also common in Europe. It’s intriguing to research the various customs involving plants and trees that I use in my paintings.

A companion to this apple tree painting is planned for Spring when blossoms and new growth will appear. The foliage below the apple leaves is a mixture of lavender, rosemary and hebe which are planted nearby in the garden.

Winter foliage cropped

My Winterberries artwork (detail pictured below) was made from some of the plants in the picture above and is available on this website as a download. Payment is by donation of US$1 for those who have the means to do so – it is your choice whether to donate or not. I also have a small herb garden picture available for download. All proceeds will go towards art materials. Your support is much appreciated!

Winterberries SML detail

I use Fabriano and Hahnemühle 100% cotton watercolour and printmaking papers and good quality artist acrylics. Hahnemühle have been making paper since 1584 – it’s beautiful paper and it works really well with the nature printing process I use. If you would like more downloads please let me know and I’ll add some more to the donate and download section.

Autumn process pic

I also make downloadable artworks available to Patreon subscribers – this month’s artwork, Fern, Moss and Corokia, has a restrained indigo and may green palette – see the detail picture below.

Fern, Moss and Corokia cropped

With the deciduous trees giving up their leaves for winter it has been the perfect time to turn my attention to a project involving native New Zealand ferns, mosses and lichens. I’ve been preparing two artworks using these types of plants to enter in art awards later this year.

Mosses are somewhat overlooked in modern gardening and are often poisoned as weeds. However, they are important in controlling soil erosion by soaking up excess water and they help break down leaf matter. They are also surprisingly tolerant of pollution. There are some beautiful moss gardens in various locations worldwide, such as at the Jardin de Berchigranges in France, and the Kōinzan Saihō-ji or Kokedera (Moss Temple) in Kyoto. I’ve been looking at the variety of mosses growing closer to home in my garden and local bush.

Kepa bush tree roots

Pohutukawa and fern detail SML

Pohutukawa and Fern (detail)

I like the idea that the plants are doing the talking in my artworks and that the act of printing directly with the foliage facilitates this. The artwork above was made with a selection of native evergreen New Zealand plants and ferns. A small branch of Pohutukawa leaves found on the ground helped me complete the upper areas of the artwork. I’ve been experimenting with using moss in my latest paintings with mixed results. Sometimes it is too fragile to get a good print from but can be used to add textural effects. In the sketch below I used silver fern, moss and native foliage including Puriri flowers.

Puriri and Fern sketch

Sunsprite Corokia

I’m seeing new growth and blossoms appearing everywhere in my neighbourhood – if plants could talk they would be talking about Spring! I’m looking forward to using some of the blossoms while they last. I’ll finish this month’s blog with a detail of a small mint green painting made recently for a fundraising exhibition at Selwyn College. I used Manuka leaves and flowers, Kowhai, Hebe and an interesting variety of yellow Corokia, all sourced from the school.

Celeste Sterling, August 2018.

Sunsprite Corokia and Hebe detail

 

 

 

June 2018

Winter Herbal

Herbal Paintings

A series of artworks using herbs have been occupying me over the past couple of months, painted with the theme of healing and winter in mind. Healing can be a slow process and is often not as straightforward as we would like – complications and relapses can occur. These paintings are about the patience, self care and strength of will required to overcome injury and illness. Herbs have had a long association with healing. I used some herbs from my garden for this painting including fennel, sage, rosemary, lavender, parsley and marjoram.

Winter herbal detail

More details about this artwork can be found in the paintings for sale section of this website.

Herbs

Autumn herbal small

The Autumn Herbal painting (pictured above) is available as a digital download via my Patreon page. Patreon is a subscription service where artists can offer rewards in return for a monthly or per artwork subscription. Subscriptions start from US$1 per month. It was originally launched by a musician looking for a way to earn income from his work. Currently I offer one artwork per month as a digital download for subscribers. For some time I have been investigating ways to make an income from my artwork that will allow it to be accessible to as many people as possible. This, I believe, is one of the strengths of the digital age.

Herb garden

The small herbal garden picture above is also available on this website as a download, payment is by donation of US$1.

White hibiscus flower

Tropical Plants – Samoa

Over the past couple of months I have also been doing a series of works inspired by a trip to Samoa in early May. Whilst in Samoa I visited the Vailima Botanic gardens at the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum in Apia to collect some foliage for paintings. The tropical plant species were absolutely fascinating and I hope to return in the future to Samoa to continue this series.

Garden at Vailima artwork

Garden at Vailima

RLS garden

 

Vailima artwork detail2

Vailima artwork detail

Samoan leaves

RLS Museum door

Robert Louis Stevenson Museum, Vailima.

RLS Museum wall

In May I visited the Auckland Art Fair and was it was interesting to see the diverse range of artwork displayed. Photographs by Tamara Dean, small artworks by Shelley Norton, Simon Denny’s board games and abstract paintings by Amanda Grunewald all struck a chord with me.

Shelley Norton

Next month I will take a short break during the school holidays and then continue work on two art award entries for later in the year.

I’d like to wish you all the best for Matariki, which is the Māori New Year celebrated in the middle of winter and marked by the rising of the Pleiades or Seven Sisters star cluster.

Tōfā soifua

Celeste Sterling, June 2018

 

 

 

April 2018

Silver birch and sage for blog

Silver birch and Sage was made on a windy March day with plants from my garden. I also used fern, akeake and fennel in this image. I wanted to capture the movement of wind through the leaves which resulted in a looser technique. My latest work has included some softer, pale pieces such as this small painting on paper and some hand painted linocuts. I’ve made Silver Birch and Sage available to Patreon subscribers as this month’s downloadable artwork.

Celeste painting7SML

Celeste painting4SML

Filming and voice recording for my first artist video progressed over summer. Pictured above are a couple video stills. I felt out of my usual comfort zone doing this as I normally paint unobserved. I’m really looking forward to seeing it finished.

Small hand painted linocuts have also been a focus over the past two months as I have been experimenting with printmaking techniques that don’t involve using a printmaking press. I’m hoping to acquire a small press for my studio further down the track to expand my printmaking further.

Small handcoloured linocut

Some beautiful weather in March meant it was the perfect time to explore further afield than my own neighbourhood. Highlights included a visit to Albert Park which has a fantastic collection of trees, a stop at my old favourite the Wintergarden in the Auckland Domain, and a visit to the Gibbs Farm on the Kaipara Harbour.

Coleus

Coleus in the Wintergarden

Albert Park coleus

Albert Park leaves

IMG_6607

Horizons sculpture by Neil Dawson at the Gibbs Farm, Kaipara.

Stormy weather has returned to Auckland and many parts of New Zealand this week. A large number of trees have been toppled or damaged by high winds. Suddenly there is surfeit of leaves in my studio.

Ferns in blue postcard

My Huruwhenua (fern) postcard (pictured above) for the Twitter Art Exhibit is available for purchase online, along with numerous other art postcards from this charity exhibition. All proceeds benefit Pegasus Riding for the Disabled in ACT.

For Corokia Studio I have been making small artworks which are available from Felt. I’ve also added some paintings on paper for sale to the Corokia Studio shop section of this website.

FELT Blue painting1

Next month I will have the opportunity to do some work with some really interesting plants from further afield than New Zealand. I’m looking forward to seeing how a change of scene influences my artwork.

Celeste Sterling, April 2018

Celeste drawing in bush2SML

Easter 2018 artwork

 

February 2018

Untended Garden in Yellow SML

Plants and flowers depicted in paintings throughout history have been used to help tell a story. They can symbolise virtues, emotions or have other meanings that help the viewer understand the painting’s subject. Pictured above is Untended Garden in Yellow, a follow up on my earlier work from last year about biodiversity, made with weeds and grasses.

“Beyond their decorative properties, plants and flowers usually had a symbolic meaning or association that related to the subject of the painting. Thus, a plant could be depicted either as an attribute, giving clues to the identity of the subject or sitter… or as providing a moral or philosophical annotation on the subject.”

from Botanical Imagery in European Painting, by Jennifer Meagher, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/bota/hd_bota.htm

In contemporary art this practice continues – for example, in Kehinde Wiley’s recent portrait of Barack Obama, the flowers relate to the former US president’s personal history. Kehinde’s paintings often reference the European historical painting tradition but he recasts contemporary African Americans as the main protaganists. It is interesting the way the plants surround and interact with the people in Kehinde’s paintings.

Untended garden in yellow2

I am mindful of the tradition of using plants and flowers to enhance understanding of subject matter when I am painting. I see the nature-printing technique that I use as a collaboration between myself and the materials – the plants, seedheads and petals that go into making an artwork. My paintings are a record of a particular season and the variety of plant species found in an area. But other aspects of the artwork are about emotions, thoughts, ecology and other meanings. I use colour to convey emotions or as an indicator of seasonal shifts. The type of foliage chosen also has significance.

Kowhai and Corokia small

The painting pictured above was made in January using Corokia, Kowhai and Carmichaelia Lilac Bouquet leaves from my garden. My young Carmichaelia plant is in a shady spot and has yet to produce flowers – I’m hoping it will bloom next spring. I intended the cool, calm greens and blues of this painting to be soothing and reassuring and for foliage to embrace the viewer from above and below.

Lichen and Kauri in the studio

This year I am planning a series of work using Kauri. In the Auckland region this ancient tree species is under threat from disease. The council and local iwi have decided to close a large area of the Waitākere Ranges Regional Park to try and stop the spread of the disease among existing Kauri trees. It will interesting to research this topic and to work with Kauri.

Ferns in blue postcard

I am participating in the Twitter Art Exhibit, an annual exhibition for charity that has been running since 2008. It is in Canberra this year and benefits the Pegasus Riding for the Disabled charity. My postcard for the exhibition is entitled Huruwhenua (Fern) and is pictured above.

I also did another small postcard on Waitangi Day (pictured below) which I’ll put on the Corokia Studio shop. Thanks to those who have purchased my art and Corokia Studio printables over the summer, it all helps me continue to buy materials and make art.

Waitangi day postcard

 

December 2017

Monotype by Celeste Sterling SML

The monotype pictured above was made with leaves collected from my garden – Kowhai, Akeake and Ferns. Foliage is placed on an inked surface and run through a press multiple times to build up colour layers and plant forms. I also used the “ghost” image of the foliage to print from – the impression left on the inked surface after the foliage is removed. I found this technique relates well to the nature printing I have been exploring in my art practice.

A digital download of the Fern, Ake ake and Kowhai artwork is available on my Patreon page for subscribers. On Patreon you can sign up to receive a digital artwork each month from me for as little as US$1 per creation. Artwork prints make excellent Christmas gifts and you can print more than one copy.

Akeake and fern monotype cropped

I’m looking forward to utilising the traditional printmaking techniques I have learned with Toni Mosely at Te Tuhi over the past year to extend my art practice. The small Manuka and Karo linocut below was included in the Te Tuhi student exhibition.

Planning and research for art projects in 2018 and a repaint of my studio will keep me busy over summer. An artwork using mosses, lichens and ferns is the focus of one of these projects. New Zealand has many species of native ferns and it is an interesting area to research.

Lichen

This Christmas I’m offering leafy greeting cards on the Corokia Studio Etsy shop available as an instant digital download. Sheets of matching gift tags are also available. Any purchases help me to continue making art.

Kowhai BW Kowhai Xmas angle

I’d like to wish everyone a safe and enjoyable Christmas. If you would like to see my latest artwork I’ll be posting on Instagram and my Facebook artist page over the holiday break.

Pohutukawa leaf

Meri Kirihimete

Celeste Sterling, 2017

Summer Garden

 

September 2018

Untended garden detail2

Biodiversity is the theme of my latest painting which features grasses and weeds from an untended part of my own garden. This artwork has been planned for some time but I had to wait until spring here in New Zealand for the best results. There is an incredible amount of flora in the small area of my garden that used to be lawn. A TED talk by Michael Pollan was part of the inspiration for this work. Grasses are one of the most successful species on our planet and it is interesting to consider how much time, effort and money is spent on growing edible grasses and lawn.

Untended Garden detail

I also started looking at weeds differently after reading The Naturescaping Workbook by Beth O’Donnell Young. Weeds are the first species to colonise disturbed land and although undoubtably problematic, they are nevertheless an important part of the way nature restores lost habitat.

I’m preparing this artwork (details pictured above) for the National Painting and Printmaking Award which is organised by the Waikato Society of Arts. The judge this year is an Australian artist and master printmaker, Dianne Fogwell.

Kaka beak

Loss of genetic biodiversity is a problem affecting many species. On a recent trip to the South Island I spotted these flowers – Kākābeak/ngutu kākā, which are critically endangered in New Zealand. Although there are many cultivated in gardens, there are few left in the wild. Some species of Kōwhai are also under threat. I am fortunate to have one in my garden and have been using it in my recent artworks.

Kowhai

Kowhai and palette

For fans of Kōwhai – I have some black and white printable postcards and greeting cards on the Corokia Studio Etsy shop that feature Kōwhai foliage and blooms. These are inexpensive and can be printed at home or at a print shop.

Kowhai BW postcard angle

Spring paintings will be my main focus over the next two months. After a very wet winter it is fantastic to see blossoms everywhere and plants awakening from winter dormancy. Over winter I have continued to experiment with linocuts and am preparing to tackle a larger linocut with the theme of biodiversity in mind. The encouragement and generosity of other printmakers has been really helpful over the past weeks.

Manuka Linocut

 

 

Blossoms

 

 

June 2017

Karo in Yellow detail

Pictured above is a detail of Karo in Yellow, my painting made exclusively for Patreon subscribers this month. It was made using Karo, Muehlenbeckia, Griselinia, Fern, Kowhai and the leather leaf fern which grows on the trunk of Pohutukawa trees. (see pic below) The leaves used in this work are from the banks of the Tamaki Estuary and my own garden. Karo is a small tree with tough, rounded leaves that are soft and furry on the underside which makes them perfect for leaf printing. The black seeds of Karo are an important food source for native birds such as Tui in late winter. It is just past midwinter here in New Zealand, when sunlight and time outside can be scarce. Perhaps that is why I felt a burst of warm yellow and orange tones was needed to give one a boost during these cold winter days.

Pohutukawa

I have been continuing experiments in printmaking using lino and whilst I think I’m still a way off making a finished edition, I’ve been enjoying the process of learning and exploring new techniques. Pictured are some prints in progress on silk paper and Fabriano Rosaspina paper. The craft of printmaking is really fascinating, it encourages one to slow down and really think through carefully each stage of the process. Accidents are, however, surprisingly useful and I’m trying to stay open to experimentation whilst learning more about the rich tradition of printmaking.

Printmaking experiments

It was a pleasure to see my painting Mānawa (Mangroves) included among some really interesting artworks at the Estuary Art Awards Exhibition this month at Malcolm Smith Gallery. The exhibition is on until 15 July 2017. I recommend a visit to the excellent cafe at Uxbridge as well if you are heading out to Howick to see the show.

Mānawa artwork 2

Estuary Art Awards Exhibition 2017

Estuary Art Awards

Mānawa (Mangroves) was made using foliage from the Tamaki Estuary area including fallen Mangrove leaves, Samphire and reeds.

Mangroves

Samphire

More recently I discovered some dwarf Pohutukawa blooming nearby (in winter!) and so made this small A4 size painting (below) using some of the blooms and other native New Zealand plants. I’ve been slowly adding to my Pohutukawa paintings over time. I read recently that fossilised Pohutukawa has been discovered in Tasmania, a relic from the Gondwana era as it is no longer found in Australia. I’m planning some more Pohutukawa paintings in summer to develop this theme further.

Pohutukawa in winter

Pohutukawa picture in progress