This summer has been punctuated by extreme climatic events. The climate emergency deepens, and impacts all our lives. It becomes more personal and immediate. Art and life is precarious in this era of consequences. Art and the process of creating art can be very helpful for anyone who has experienced trauma, and hopefully I can share some of this creativity in ways that can help people.
The art which I have created over Summer is a continuation of my exploration into floral and plant symbolism, floristry traditions and our relationship with the natural world. For me this process offers a way to delve into the stuff of life and to convey thoughts, memories, and emotions that might otherwise be difficult to articulate. The flowers express both sorrow and happiness, loss and tenderness.
When I consider our connection with the natural world, I am mindful that the flowers exist as a way for the plants to reproduce and continue living. Any art created with plant materials must be carefully done, and ideally will contribute to growth, restoration and regeneration. I plant more, take less, and work with locally grown, chemical free flowers and plants as much as I can.
One of the bright points of inspiration over the past three months have been visits to local permaculture gardens and meeting with their gardeners. Permaculture design is based on care of the earth and people, and it involves close observation and understanding of natural ecosystems. I find gardeners are very generous with both their plants and knowledge, and I have been gradually learning more about this type of ecological design. I am working on a series of small artworks about permaculture, growing food in home gardens and local community supported agriculture. As the cost of food increases and supply chains are disrupted by the climate crisis, this area becomes more pertinent and important.
Over summer I had the opportunity to explore an old floristry tradition, potpourri. When done the traditional way it is a slow process which requires drying flowers and herbs, adding spices and balancing the scents to create a harmonious collection of petals and fragrance. The result is a little time capsule of beautiful summer memories. A book written by American perfumer Mandy Aftel, “Fragrant,” has helped me understand the history of natural scent and how natural essences have been used over time to create perfumes. It will be interesting to make some more artworks with potpourri and natural fragrance as the starting point.
I am very grateful to those who have brought my artworks into their homes. I have some signed art prints including this one (detail above) entitled “Love and Grace”, available in store at McAtamney Gallery in Geraldine, South Island. This artwork was created with beautiful Dahlias, Zinnias and Amaranth from my local flower grower, and Sweet William from an independent garden centre.
I am also continuing to offer artworks online via my Patreon page, where I post writing, photos, and create an artwork for my Patrons to download at the end of each month. Patreon is a subscription service for creators offering different levels of support, and thankfully it is advertising free. It is a great way to directly support artists and other creators.
I’m looking forward to sharing some more of the Summer artwork as I complete it over the coming weeks.
Spring came swiftly and with it a bounty of flowers. As each jewel-like bloom closes, another is bursting open. My art has been filled with them, tracing the arc of the season. Nature is full of surprises during this vibrant season of growth and regeneration. After the darkness and quiet of Winter comes light, activity and a glorious burst of colour, a manifestation of light and darkness in balance.
Over the past few years I have been learning about the language of flowers, the history and cultural associations of flowers commonly planted in gardens and those grown for the cut flower trade. Flower symbolism has been used extensively throughout history in artworks, sculptures and for more ephemeral creations such as floristry items. It is still employed in modern contexts – the beautiful seasonal funeral wreath created by florist Shane Connolly for the Queen’s funeral procession was full of floral symbolism, each element associated specifically with aspects of the Queen’s life.
This Spring I had a few special and meaningful flowers in mind to create art with. Poppies have been on my wish list for some time. Pictured above is a detail of an artwork I created with bright orange, yellow and red Poppies, Nandina foliage and dark Fuchsia leaves. Poppies have different associations depending on their colour – red poppies symbolise sacrifice and death, whereas orange poppies connote warmth, regeneration and energy.
Some of the first much-loved Spring flowers are Narcissus and Primrose. Narcissus come in many varieties and new hybrids are expanding the colours and forms of these favourite blooms. I created an artwork which included unusual double Daffodils with bright orange inner coronas and petals. I combined these with Primrose, an old European cottage garden flower with ancient pedigree and a wealth of symbolism, a flower of renewal and young love.
My Patreon supporters received a new artwork in October made with a very romantic and charming flower, the lovely Ranunculus. Also known as Persian Buttercup, they have delightfully thin ruffled petals and are sweetly coloured in confectionary tones. Despite their soft and fluttery appearance they are long-lasting as a cut flower and are unscented. In this artwork I combined them with a Cosmos flower from my garden and a very strongly scented pink Dianthus (Carnation) from my brother’s backyard. I’m always trying to create not just a balance of flowers and foliage, but a beautiful combination of scents, which is as much part of the creative process as the selection of the plants and flowers. I also like to think about this when creating a corsage, posy or other floristry item. The little spontaneous fragrant corsage pictured below was a combination of garden grown spray roses and carnations.
It wouldn’t be Spring without some gardening and garden visits. The search for flowers and art can take one to some interesting places. This Spring I visited the Sculptureum in Matakana which is where these sweet blossoms (below) are from. I found myself more drawn to the gardens than the artworks, possibly it was because the gardens were so full of new life and fragile new blossoms at the time.
A trip to a nursery south of Auckland was also fruitful. Puriri Lane specialises in cottage garden plants and cutting garden flowers. I had my first encounter with Ixia viridiflora, an endangered plant with pale blue flowers, endemic to South Africa. Perhaps I will be able to create an artwork one day with a few of these beautiful pale blue flowers. Working with endangered plants is obviously problematic, and the answer in my case is to attempt to source and grow some of these plants if I want to create art about and with them.
Puriri Lane was full of lovely treats, including the pink Larkspur and wonderfully bright pink Poppy I’ve included below. I returned home with a scented Rose Geranium, Amazing Grey Poppy and a Honeywort. The Honeywort has survived a barrage of inclement wet and stormy weather, rather remarkably for a plant from the Greek Islands, and is now flowering in the garden. Gardening in a climate crisis is new territory for everyone and the unpredictability means diversification is increasingly important to maintain any sort of garden. Climate chaos ultimately threatens all of our biosphere, both the cultivated and uncultivated places.
The most profound artworks I have seen this Spring have been an exhibition of Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera’s artwork at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki. It is fascinating to see the plants and flowers of Mexico in Frida’s artwork and often, also in her hair. I have written more about these plant details in my Patreon posts this month, and also made a small digital artwork for November entitled “Frida on my mind,” with flowers from my garden. Orange Nasturtiums, endemic to Mexico, symbolise creativity.
In memory of a friend who passed away this Spring I have been working on a small artwork with bright orange Nasturtiums, yellow Strawflowers, Honeysuckle and deep burgundy Velvet Pelargoniums. Some of the plants used were the same as those in a small funeral corsage which I wore to his farewell. I think he would have liked the contrast between the bright flowers and deeper shades, light and dark.
As Summer approaches, I’m looking forward to creating some new artworks with seasonal flowers and foliage. I’m researching some floral traditions that stretch back centuries, and discovering ways to incorporate these into contemporary artworks. Floral symbolism is a fluid and evolving language, subtle and deep. A way to continue to communicate difficult things, when other lines of communication falter.
Celeste Sterling, Spring 2022
Photo by ArtsDiary at Aotearoa Art Fair. Taking a closer look at a painting by Michael McHugh, represented by Foenander Galleries.
Interleaved through my art practice are strands of art history, archeology and floristry. The past is always present, contributing to the original artworks of each season. Art is not created in isolation from the world – it draws on our experiences, knowledge, skills and our community. I like to think of the community in this context as not just the people I share my life with, but also the plants growing all around us.
Over Winter I created artworks in a variety of media – from ephemeral objects with dried flowers and foliage, to digital artworks which borrow elements from past and present. The digital artwork above includes pale pink Camellias from my garden, Morning Glory vine and the fruit of the Lilly Pilly. Somehow art must knit together disparate elements and find ways to communicate and hearten. Generous soft pink Camellias can symbolise longing and one who is missed. Morning Glory flowers are associated with love, transience and death, as they only last a day. These blooms are bruised and fading, but the vine is resilient and will bloom again the next day.
It has been a tough and thorny Winter, as the combined effects of the pandemic and climatic events reverberate through the whenua and communities of Aotearoa. Through the Winter ills of the past months I found myself looking for the things which help in adversity – whether a small joy in the form of a freshly opened Winter bloom or a larger societal shift towards a different pathway for the future. Matariki, which is at Mid Winter and marks the Maori New Year, was observed as a public holiday for the first time this year. A special occasion for reflection and remembrance, it felt like a significant shift for Aotearoa.
Over Winter when the plant world is quieter I create with paint, pixels and dried foliage, learning new techniques and researching my next projects. My art studio is currently being packed up in preparation for some repairs and repainting, and I have been sorting through all sorts of interesting dried foliage and petals. Ideas for future artworks are often sparked by this process when older artworks and collections of materials are revisited. A collection of bracelets – poroporo, made entirely of birch, bindweed and dried flowers was started in the lockdown last year. This collection has slowly been growing and I hope to find somewhere to exhibit these small ephemeral objects as a group in the future. Pictured above is one of these little bracelets, made with dried Kowhai, Kawakawa and Akeake.
Ephemeral artwork asks lots of interesting questions – about where the materials come from, what the materials used to make the artwork are, and what is the impact on the earth’s environment of this type of creativity? These types of artworks also challenge us to think about what art is, how the artwork is valued, how long should it last, how it is recorded and shared, and what happens to it after it is no longer needed.
It has been a pleasure to participate in this year’s Estuary Art and Ecology Art Awards, held at Malcolm Smith Gallery in Uxbridge. In this exhibition artists are “…invited to research and respond to the Tāmaki estuary – to underscore the ecological value of this vital waterway, and to encourage action against its pollution.” https://uxbridge.org.nz/event-category/current-gallery-exhibitions/
To celebrate the ecosystem of the Tāmaki Estuary I created a garland of foraged foliage, feathers and seagrass from the riverbank. The Tūpare – Garland was filled with Mānawa (Mangroves), Oioi (Rushes), Ureure (Sampire), Karepō (Seagrass), Pōhutukawa foliage, Akeake, Harakeke, and the dune plant Saltbush (Atriplex australasica). Included were feathers found on the shoreline. After the exhibition the garland is to be returned to the riverbank and will become part of the ecosystem life cycle once again.
Over the years of making art about this urban river I have learned much about the river ecosystem, gaining knowledge and appreciation for the tough and salt tolerant coastal and river plants, unconventionally beautiful and often undervalued and overlooked. Some of the parts of our natural world, such as seagrass meadows, are only just beginning to be understood. They are an important part of the blue carbon cycle but are threatened by pollution and the climate crisis.
Over the past year I have been creating experimental digital artworks, combining my nature printed paintings with scans of fresh foliage, flowers and floristry items. I took the opportunity to make a digital artwork with the Tāmaki Estuary Tūpare – Garland before I dried it, combining multiple scans of the garland with a nature printed painting of Mānawa – Mangroves from the river. It would be interesting to exhibit some of these artworks in a gallery space or perhaps in an immersive space designed specifically for digital artworks.
Winter is ball season, and for many students this event is a celebration of the final year in their high school. It is rather special to create corsages and boutonnières for ball season and to see how they can complete an outfit and enhance an evening. To acknowledge this rite of passage, especially after two years of pandemic disruption, I created an artwork with a Carnation, Rose and Lily of the Valley corsage and boutonnière, sprinkled with the first blossoms of Spring. Carnations – Dianthus have been used in garlands and wreaths since Antiquity. A corsage is a floral decoration or accessory traditionally pinned to a bodice or waist of a dress. In contemporary ball season they are generally constructed as wrist corsages, attached to a bracelet or tied with ribbon to the wrist. There is something very nostalgic and romantic about these old traditions and the way they mark significant milestones in life.
A highlight of Winter for me has been an exhibition of Ancient Greek artefacts from the British Museum, currently on show at Auckland Museum. My artwork and floristry is increasingly influenced by Ancient Greek and Roman depictions of floristry items including wreaths and garlands. Since participating with archeologists specialising in this area in an online presentation last year, I have grown more intrigued by these ancient traditions utilising plants. It is fascinating to explore how these can be rediscovered and reimagined in contemporary art and floristry practices. I’m struck by how powerful the symbolism and meaning attributed to floristry items was in Antiquity. These creations were more than just decorations. For example, simple circlets or horseshoe wreaths of olive leaves called kotinos were created for the winners of Olympic games in Ancient Greece as a sign of victory. Originally these olive branches were apparently cut from sacred wild olive trees in Olympia. Olive leaf crowns were also worn by brides in Ancient Greece, symbolising purity, peace and fertility. The depiction of a single olive branch persists in modern culture as a symbol of peace.
I found this exhibition to be a rich source of imagery and inspiration with many examples of plant inspired artworks, such as the Acorn necklace and perfumed oil flask decorated with flowers pictured below. In addition there were many images of gods and goddesses adorned with crowns of olive, laurel, oak and other leaves in the sculptures and ceramics.
Necklace with acorns and a female head. Terracotta, silver and gold. About 300-100 BCE. Found in Valencia, Spain.
Bath-oil flask, About 100 BCE. Found at Taranto, Puglia, Italy.
Below – Helen of Sparta, bewitched by Aphrodite & about to be abducted by Paris. Situla (bucket), Made in Campania, Italy about 350-340 BCE, attributed to the Parrish Painter.
Below – Dionysis teaching his son Oinopion the art of wine drinking. Amphora – wine jar, painted by Exekias, made in Athens, about 530 BCE. Found at Vulci, Lazio, Italy.
It is an unusual and exciting opportunity to view an exhibition of artefacts of this type in the Southern Hemisphere and the experience will no doubt have a lasting impact on my future art projects.
As Winter comes to an end and transitions into Spring it is uplifting to see blossoms and Magnolias blooming again in my garden and neighbourhood. I’m looking forward to creating some artworks with some of these delicate Spring blooms over the next month.
Small Troposphere painting, 2009. Atmosphere Carbon Dioxide: 387ppm.
As late summer shifts into Autumn my artwork also changes, responding to the turning of the seasons. Seeds and berries are included and the palette moves to purple, red, orange and brown. It is a chance to revisit plants worked with last Autumn, and to include some new techniques and ideas in the artworks. Over the past weeks I have been creating garlands and learning more about their history. I have also continued researching the language of flowers, discovering the intriguing floral symbolism of Waterlilies, Dahlias and Camellias.
The last Sunday in May this weekend celebrates Botanic Gardens in Australia and New Zealand. In Autumn a trip to the Auckland Botanic Gardens is always a source of inspiration, and a complex colour scheme can start with one garden bed of flowering and seeding plants. Pictured below is flowering purple Basil, Zinnias, Statice and the last of the Cosmos in the Herb garden. All the colours and textures of my April artwork with a garden Dahlia and berries are present. Many visits over the years to Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and other locations have provided creative illumination and impetus for me. They are special places to visit at any time in the year, as plants are always changing and new discoveries can be found in any season.
For my Patreon subscribers in March I made a dewy and gentle artwork with a Waterlily, surrounded by flowers and foliage including Violas, Jacaranda, Fennel and Spearmint. To research this artwork I visited a water garden in South Auckland to see Waterlilies of many varieties in bloom – a fascinating glimpse of a captivating aquatic flower species. Nymphaea have an ancient lineage and are associated with peace, spirituality and rebirth.
Every year I make artworks about environment and climate. To mark Earth Day on April 22nd I created a digital artwork, combining nature printed plants with scanned foliage from my garden – Akeake, Corokia with yellow berries, Rata, Manuka and Kawakawa leaves. Even in a small garden there is room for an array of endemic plants which provide valuable food and shelter for fauna such as birds, insects and geckos. A garden can be a refuge and wild place if you are willing to let nature in. You can find me in the artist gallery on the Earth Day website, on the second page.
Creating artwork about coastal ecology is one part of my art practice which occupies the Autumn months. Each year I learn more about the endemic coastal plants of a local river, the Tāmaki Estuary, for artwork entered into the annual Estuary Art Awards at Uxbridge Arts & Culture in East Auckland. This year I have focussed on some unusual and lesser known plants, such as the Atriplex (pictured below) and Seagrasses which grow in the estuary. Atriplex is a particularly tough, salt resistant and dry tolerant dune plant with foliage and seeds which turn reddish in Autumn. Seagrasses are important in the marine ecosystem and their role as part of the larger blue carbon cycle, storing carbon and producing oxygen, is only just becoming recognised and understood.
As part of my research for this artwork and others in progress I have been learning more about Tūpare – Garlands. Garlands are an ancient art form and they carry many meanings. They are found across almost all cultures and are especially important in Asia and the Pacific. Learning to create garlands with an assortment of dried and fresh flowers and foliage has been a delight. I have written some more about this topic in my first May post for Patreon subscribers.
Some years ago I set out on a path to discover methods of making art that is environmentally responsible, and which also investigates ways to encourage connection with others and the changes we need to make to protect our biosphere and atmosphere. It is a journey that has led me to floristry, environmentalism, permaculture and other aspects of cultivation and interaction with the world of plants around us. I find myself drawn to the small seasonal plants we see every day but don’t always notice. A single flower can be a starting point in this journey, as flowers are so entwined with cultural traditions, memory, joy and healing.
As it has been difficult over the past years to exhibit and to attend art exhibitions, I have searched for new ways to create and to share my artworks with audiences. To make my artwork more accessible I have created a digital artwork with Tulips, Hawthorne and Jasmine, available as a high resolution download from this website. Payment is by donation of US$1, if you can do so. Not everyone can commit to a Patreon subscription, which is why if you love tulips and would like to have one of my art prints I am offering this special artwork online.
As Winter approaches I am completing some final Autumn artworks. A little artwork created with Magnolia leaves and Seed pods (detail below), is part of ongoing project working with seeds and seed pods. This project is inspired by the seed saving permaculture workshop I attended last year and by the important work being done by seed banks around the world to protect biodiversity. In this new artwork, large, twisting Honey Locust and Kowhai seed pods are combined with a Magnolia cone and the velvety copper undersides of dried Magnolia leaves. It is exciting to work with seeds and their variety of forms is fascinating. I plan to do some more artworks with seeds over the coming months and I look forward to sharing some of them in my next artist blog.
During the golden hour, which in warmer months is just after sunrise or before the sun sets, the light is more diffused and reddish. This warm, soft and diffused light makes it the perfect time to photograph plants and flowers on warm summer evenings and mornings. My artwork and photography over the past weeks is full of the light of the golden hour.
In a sombre twist, the phrase is also used in emergency medicine to describe the critical time period after a serious injury when medical help can save a person’s life. The pandemic has stretched and stressed this capacity in the countries fortunate enough to have emergency medical care. Here in Aotearoa healthcare workers are now facing this terrible situation.
My seasonal February artwork for Patreon subscribers was created with Sunflowers, apricot coloured roses and nature printed seed heads. Sunflowers – sunyashniki are the national flower of Ukraine. They are also a symbol of peace and nuclear disarmament. Sadly there is no peace found as war comes again to Europe.
Many plans were altered and delayed by last year’s lengthy lockdowns. My Summer artwork was mostly made at home, with plants and small flowers from my garden, and occasionally some blooms from the flower markets. For my Patreon supporters the December nature printed artwork was a chorus of vivid flowers including bright Nasturtiums, blue Cornflowers and pink Geraniums. Symbolising creativity in this artwork are orange edible Nasturtiums, endemic to Central and South America.
After the strict lockdown of last year when travel was not possible, it felt really good to be able to see family in the South Island again over Summer. The change of scene provided inspiration and opportunities to learn more about the plants and gardens of a cooler region.
Cottage garden plants have had a revival over the course of the pandemic as more people have put energy into planting gardens and growing flowers at home. These lovely potted ice flowers and hedges of pink roses were just some of the many delights in the gardens of the small country town I visited.
My journey into the world of sustainable growing practices is continuing and I am creating new artworks which delve into this topic. Upon returning to Auckland I was fortunate to be able to make art with some stunning roses – a beautiful, fragrant bunch of orange and pink roses that were sustainably grown at Nourish Gardens, a small flower farm on Waiheke Island. For Valentine’s Day I gave my Patreon subscribers a soft and gentle Rose Dream artwork made with some of these intense orange roses and a nature printed painting. If you would like to become part of my patron community this artwork is available as a digital download here: https://www.patreon.com/celestesterling
What is Patreon?
Patreon is a subscription service for creators with subscriptions starting at US$1 per artwork. I generally make 10-12 artworks each year for my patrons and also give them a some extra art gifts to celebrate special occasions. Like many other creators who have found the offerings of the big social media companies an increasingly toxic space to participate in, I have searched for alternatives and consequently publish most of my writing and art on my Patreon page, in the pursuit of a more equitable, sustainable and fair way to create and share art.
For Christmas 2021 I gave my Patrons a special artwork created with a large and amazing red Peony, Feijoa blooms, and native Rata, as a thank you for their support over the last couple of years. It was wonderful to create an artwork with a Peony, one of the most generous of flowers.
One of the interesting things about the internet is how it can facilitate connections and research across a variety of specialist subjects. In 2021 I was invited to give a presentation about my artwork by archeologists at the University College Dublin, as part of the Antiquity and the Anthropocene: Ancient Materiality online event in December. If you would like to learn more about my art you can find me at 3.24 here: https://soundcloud.com/ucd-humanities/antiquity-anthropocene-ancient-materiality
Floristry techniques have helped me expand my art making to include ephemeral and ecological artworks. This summer I was finally able to complete an ephemeral artwork entitled Haratua (May), after it spent a much longer time exhibited at Uxbridge Arts & Culture than originally planned due to the lockdown. This artwork was created with endemic coastal plants from Tāmaki Estuary for the annual Estuary Art Awards. Haratua was always intended to be returned to the riverbank. On a bright morning this month I was able to return the artwork to the source.
Plans for March include artworks made with waterlilies, a project begun last year. Continuing with the theme of coastal and aquatic plants, another artwork about the Tāmaki Estuary is underway. I’m also working with seeds over the coming weeks, combining them with foliage and the odd feather.
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 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.
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 lithosphere, atmosphere, biosphere, 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.”
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!
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.
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.