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 a small plant that grows on the trunk of Pohutukawa trees that I have yet to identify. (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

 

 

 

 

May 2017

Autumn leaves

The fiery tones of autumn are still with us here in New Zealand and inspired this vibrant yellow and orange artwork using leaves from my neighbourhood.

“Leaves are a true miracle of nature. They perform a job a science still only dreams of fully understanding: they transform dissolved minerals and other elements into the organic matter that eventually forms the shoots, leaves, roots, flowers, and fruits that create the Earth’s rich layer of hummus and soil, and build its wondrous forests and habitats.” from the The Book of Leaves, by Allen J. Combes.

In this blog I’m going to write about sources of support for artists and some of the training and research that is influencing my artwork.

Patreon screenshot
www.patreon.com/celestesterling

I have started a Patreon page (pictured above) to help me continue making art. Patreon is a website that connects artists with patrons who contribute a set amount each month or towards each artwork, starting at US$1. I’ve committed to one artwork per month, available as a high quality printable digital download to reward my patrons. Patrons can set a maximum amount they pay each month so that they never pay more than they are comfortable with. Patrons get access to exclusive “behind the scenes” content via the patron-only newsfeed and other rewards.

My first artwork created for the Patreon community is a calm and reflective green and blue picture entitled Kowhai (detail below). I’m not aware of any other New Zealand fine artists using Patreon yet, although there are people making videos for YouTube and cartoons based here in New Zealand. It will be interesting to see whether it is useful as a source of ongoing community and support for my art. I’m planning to film a video for my Patreon page later this year.

Kowhai

One of the ways artists have traditionally supported themselves is through art awards. I’m really pleased that Mānawa (pictured below), my entry for the Estuary Art and Ecology prize 2017, has been accepted into the exhibition. The award ceremony is at Malcolm Smith Gallery, 2pm Saturday 10 June. The exhibition runs from 12 June to 15 July 2017. I’m looking forward to seeing the different approaches artists have taken with the theme of Tamaki Estuary.

Mānawa by Celeste Sterling

To develop my artwork I have been doing a course in traditional printmaking with Toni Mosely at Te Tuhi in Pakuranga, Auckland. I’m really enjoying the opportunity to expand my knowledge in this area and it opens up all sorts of possibilities for integrating traditional techniques with my leaf prints. My first relatively simple linocut (pictured below) will no doubt be the beginning of a new direction in my artwork over the coming months.

NZ Flora linocut

For research I’ve been doing some reading about leaves and trees. Germaine Greer’s White Beech, about her project to restore and rewild a block of Queensland rainforest brought back memories of a visit some years ago to nearby Binna Burra in Lamington National Park, Queensland, where I was fortunate to hear lyrebirds calling and to see some of the ancient Antarctic Beech trees on guided bush walks.

Lamington National Park

Binna Burra sunset

The whole Gondwana rainforest area of Queensland has an incredible mix of biodiversity. Lamington National Park was a highlight of my time in Australia and I hope I will have the opportunity to visit the area again. Sadly many of the visitors to the nearby Gold Coast have no idea that it exists.

Queensland bush

I’m currently reading The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, which is about how trees communicate in a forest environment, and Allen J. Coombes Book of Leaves, to help me identify some of the leaves I am using.

Autumn Leaves2

If you are interested in seeing what other work I’ve been doing please have a look at my Corokia Studio website. I’ve got some new artwork which I will be adding to the Corokia Studio Etsy store over the next few weeks.

Kowhai photographed

April 2017

Mānawa by Celeste Sterling

Mānawa (Mangroves), 2017

My entry into this year’s Estuary Art Award is intended to draw attention to the halophytes (salt tolerant trees) of the Tamaki Estuary environment and their place in this ecosystem. The artwork was made using foliage from the Tamaki Estuary area including fallen mangrove leaves, samphire and reeds. These salt tolerant plants are specially adapted to conditions that other plants cannot survive. The leaves of the mangroves have small pores which excrete salt and they are strong and shiny so that rain can wash off brine easily. Fortunately they maintain their shape and texture well even when fallen. I apply paint to the leaves and press them onto heavy paper to get prints  – my technique is an amalgam of painting and printmaking. I found a whole mangrove branch washed up after a storm and used it to make my most recent artwork. Mangroves shed their leaves regularly, especially during summer to help control their salt level and to reduce water loss through evaporation from the leaves.

The other foliage I’ve used for this series includes samphire. In the UK I sometimes cooked edible samphire when it was available. It is an odd looking plant with tubular stems. Mānawa also includes prints from reeds.

Fallen mangrove leaves

Research for this series of artworks involved weekly trips to the Tamaki Estuary area to collect foliage and a series of photographs from the Pakuranga area of the estuary. I used a good quality soft Fabriano printmaking paper for the final artwork.

Mānawa by Celeste Sterling detail 1

Mānawa, 2017 (detail)

Mānawa by Celeste Sterling detail 2

Mānawa, 2017 (detail)

Tamaki Estuary, Pakuranga

Mangroves

Mangrove biome, detail

Mangrove biome

Mangroves and bees

Pohutukawa trees

In addition to preparing artwork for Estuary Art Award I have been hunting for a space to exhibit paintings later this year. Funding an exhibition is a huge challenge so I’ve been looking at a few non-traditional ways to achieve this. In 2015 I started a small creative business to help me fund my art practice called Corokia Studio. I’ve recently added some new pictures to the Corokia Studio Etsy shop. These are available as instant downloadable printable files. They can be printed at home on good quality photo paper or a print/copy shop can do it for you. Purple Garden (below) is an example of the sort of artwork you can buy from me online. All proceeds help keep the art coming!

Purple garden

Finally, a sneak preview of some small and vibrant new works on paper to brighten things up, a complete contrast to the estuary artworks. Happy Easter everyone.

Gum tree blossoms

Kowhai in blue

February 2017

estuary-sketch

It is late summer and I’ve got a few projects on the go. I am currently completing sketches for a series of works on the Tamaki Estuary in Auckland. In this sketch (detail pictured above) I have used foliage from the Pakuranga area of the estuary – mainly mangroves, samphire and reeds. I’ve recently started photographing all the foliage that I use in each artwork to help with identification of plant species.

estuary-finds

gondwana-fossil

A visit to the Auckland Botanic Gardens over summer was a rewarding experience and I was particularly interested to see an exhibition of fossils. Included in the exhibition was this 97 million year old fossil from the Gondwana forest floor with ancient plant species and numerous ferns. I intend to use this fossil as a starting point for some large drawings for entry into this year’s Parkin Drawing Award.

I also sought out Kauri trees on my summer travels, an ancient tree species endemic to New Zealand. Kauri were extensively logged for a century and are no longer common. I found some wonderful young and very old kauri at A H Reed Kauri Park in Whangarei. The young Kauri had male and female cones and appeared very healthy. Sadly many Kauri have been afflicted with a mysterious disease prompting research and debate on the best course of action to preserve this species. I have been using fallen Kauri leaves in my artworks recently and their tough, rubbery leaves are wonderful to work with.

kauri

mair-park-and-kauri

A visit to the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail in the Mahurangi area north of Auckland was also a source of inspiration. There I discovered a lovely grove of Kauri along the trail. This sculpture walk features works by some of New Zealand’s leading sculptors and is a delight to visit. I’m hoping to undertake an artwork using foliage from the area in the future.

kauri-at-brick-bay

Finally, I have been planning a small exhibition for later this year using foliage from the Purewa creek area in Auckland. This is a large area of urban bush with many native tree and plant species. This year a cycleway and path is being developed through the Purewa area along the railway line and this urban bush will become more accessible as a result. It feels like an appropriate time to bring to attention some of the species found in this area and to raise awareness about it’s importance within the local ecosystems.

leaf-skeleton

kowhai-and-pohutukawa

November 2016

orakei-sketch

“The world is mainly a vast leaf-colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass, and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests. This is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent upon the leaves. By leaves we live.”

Quote from Patrick Geddes, from The Tale of 10 Mysterious Book Sculptures Gifted to the City of Words and Ideas, Scottish Poetry Library, 2013.

The lovely little book I’ve taken my quote by Patrick Geddes from is about a series of paper sculptures given anonymously to the city of Edinburgh, including a paper tree made from a book. You can find more about these here.

Jewelled Vine.jpg

Our very prolific grapevine, purchased a couple of summers ago from the Bush Fairy Dairy, has inspired a series of small works on paper. The leaves are gorgeous and their appearance heralds the beginning of the warmer months here in New Zealand.

Vine1.jpg

 

 

I paid a visit to the fabulous Auckland Domain Wintergarden last week to search out more signs of spring and was impressed by the incredible floral display. It smelt divine.

Wintergarden1.jpg

Wintergarden2.jpg

Summer is nearly here and I am looking forward to taking a break soon to celebrate Christmas with family and friends. I’ve enjoyed the chance to start painting outside now that the weather is improving. The small works on watercolour paper feel lighter, softer and more delicate than the pantings of winter.

Serene sketch.jpg

As a little Christmas gift I am offering a free artwork on my Corokia Studio website, it is called Pink Vine (see below for a preview) and is available as a free A5 download which you can print at home on A4 size paper or take to a copy/print shop for best results. Enjoy!

Pink Vine.jpg

 

 

August 2016

Twilight garden

Winter finally loosens its hold during August in New Zealand, bringing the welcome appearance of the first blossoms on the trees and an increase in daylight time.

Okahu Bay blossoms

This month I have been reading Angie Lewin : Plants and Places. Angie Lewin is a UK printmaker whose artwork focuses on the small botanic details found in gardens and wild places, particularly East Anglia and Scotland. She depicts overlooked native weeds, dried seed heads and other plant details in a style influenced by earlier British artists and designers such as Eric Ravilious.

“As I draw the indistinguishable mass of growth, I gradually unravel the structure of individual plants and explore the patterns made by their relationships with one another.”Angie Lewin : Plants and Places p8.

Her work really appealed to me when I first came across it whilst living in England and it continues to be an inspiration. I also became interested in artwork by Mark Hearld and other British artists and designers during this time.

Colour experiment

In London I took frequent walks in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens and often visited the allotment in Kensington Gardens. This small abundant vegetable garden complete with resident chickens was a hidden oasis of calm in a city of millions.

The allotment

The allotment in Kensington Gardens

I missed the green spaces of New Zealand and it was ironically far from these that I renewed my connection to and interest in the natural world. Perhaps if we are deprived of that connection it calls attention to it and we seek it out more urgently. Excursions to the British countryside and some of the great gardens such as the RHS garden Wisley and the arboretum at Westonbirt were highlights of my stay in England and a rich source of ideas and imagery.

Spring Blossoms

Upon returning to New Zealand there has been a shift in my artwork away from abstraction towards a more direct engagement with and depiction of the natural world, using foliage to make prints directly onto paper or canvas. When collecting and utilising foliage in this way I notice the smallest details of plants – the skeletons of the leaves, the small changes in size and scale, marks and bites made by insects. The patterns start with the internal structures of the leaves themselves. One becomes acutely aware that there is a whole intricate world of detail and abundant life in just the smallest patch of garden or native bush.

Garden in sun
This month I also had the opportunity to finish reading Tim Winton’s excellent landscape memoir, Island Home. As a child I grew up both in New Zealand and in rural Victoria. Early years in the native forests of the Dandenong ranges had a profound impact on me and I was very moved by Tim’s novel about the unique Australian landscape and his relationship to it.

“I think people everywhere yearn for connection, to be overwhelmed by beauty. Maybe, deep down, people need to feel proper scale. Perhaps in the face of grandeur we silently acknowledge our smallness, our bit-part in majesty.” Island Home, by Tim Winton p.233

Tropical sketch

I’m looking forward to the arrival of Spring and some studio time in the coming month to bring sketches and unfinished works to completion.

July 2016

July Garden

The Greek philosopher Plato gave his lectures in a sacred olive grove on the northwest side of Athens. We are a long way from ancient Greece here in New Zealand but this month I discovered the wonderful old olive grove in Cornwall Park which was originally planted by Sir John Logan Campbell in the 1860s. Unfortunately the grove was not a successful commercial venture. Not many of the original trees remain but those left have grown into dramatic twisted shapes and rabbits have made their burrows amongst the roots. It is a quiet spot to walk in the morning although the hum and bustle of the surrounding city can still be heard. The grove also has lovely old stone walls bordering the field.

Olive Grove

Some olive tree leaf prints and their trunk forms will no doubt work their way into my next paintings with the beautiful soft greys and greens as a starting point. Years ago I was fortunate to study some philosophy (including the philosophy of art) as an undergraduate at the University of Auckland and I think an olive grove would be an excellent place to learn, albeit perhaps in a warmer climate.

Olive trees

Looking over my artwork of the past month there is a mix of work inspired by Tahuna Torea (Glendowie Sandpit) reserve and garden pictures made using leaves from my own small overgrown garden. An Osmanthus Pearly Gates plant is flowering in the garden at present and it has a wonderful scent. Winter can sometimes be a difficult time and it is small things like this that can give one a lift. The promise of Spring awaits and I’m planning some experiments with printing using petals in my artwork when the season changes.

Lemon Balm Garden

Soft Lemon Balm Garden (above)

Orangerie

Orangerie

Akeake and Kawakawa

Akeake and Kawakawa

This month I visited Auckland Museum and was captivated by the exhibition by Areta Wilkinson and Te Rongo Kirkwood. The contemporary cloaks by Te Rongo Kirkwood are impressive, incorporating glass, flax and other materials. The use of glass in these cloaks creates interesting light effects and patterns. They are fragile, beautiful and fascinating. Each cloak represents a different phase of life. (Pictured below are The Midday of Life and The Evening of Life on the right)

The midday of life detailThe Evening of life detail1

I love the idea of creating artwork that reflects a passage of time in this way. In my own work seasonal changes over the year are reflected in the size, shape and availability of the leaves and foliage that I use as paintbrushes and printing tools. The choice of colours is also influenced by the transitions between seasons.

For Corokia Studio this month I have been working on some fun stuff including new products and a book project. Corokia Studio art prints and iPhone cases are now available online at Society6. 

iphone caseNasturtiums print

Garden in Blue (below) is a new artwork inspired by cool winter days and nights in my garden that I’ll be adding to the Corokia Society6 shop soon.

Garden in Blue

I’ll finish my blog this month with this little painting that I did on the weekend on an offcut of gorgeous primed linen. It feels somewhat like a pastel confection to brighten up a cold winter night.

Pastels on linen

Midwinter, June 2016

Tahuna Torea

This month we passed the Winter Solstice and in New Zealand it is also the time of year known as Matariki, the Maori New Year. In many traditions midwinter is a time for quiet reflection and renewal. So I will be reviewing my artwork of the past few months with this in mind and making plans for the coming seasons.

In last month’s blog I wrote about the Estuary Art Awards and the research I was doing to prepare an entry for this competition. I did a pair of paintings entitled Aestuarium, Land and Sea, in acrylic on linen for the award using foliage gathered from the Tamaki Estuary area.

Aestuarium, LandAestuarium, Sea

The Tamaki Estuary area is a rich ecosystem and I discovered many varieties of plants growing on the banks of the sea and in the bush nearby. Native trees and plants in nearby Tahuna Torea reserve included Taraire, Kahikatea, Rimu, Kawaka, Swamp Maire and Pukatea. Because this is a protected area I had to use some leaves from other areas nearby including mangrove leaf skeletons in the blue painting. Invasive introduced species and contaminants threaten both the native bush and wetland areas as well as the native fish species that rely on these habitats. I was fortunate to find a couple of fallen Kauri leaves which I used in the work to make leaf prints. The Kauri is an ancient species of tree, once plentiful in New Zealand but which in recent times has come under threat from a mysterious disease.

Kauri sketch

I also visited the Auckland Art Gallery this month to view two exhibitions, Fiona Pardington’s photographic works and Space to Dream, Recent Art from South America. Fiona Pardington’s large scale photographs are fascinating. Having a strong interest in the historic Dutch still life tradition I really enjoyed the opportunity to view her large contemporary still life photographs. The combination of flora, fruit, personal relics and contemporary objects results in compelling images.

Space to Dream is an interesting exhibition with a very broad scope. Some of the works deal with very painful events. I found Maximo Corvalan’s Proyecto ADN (DNA Project), a work about locating the remains of missing people using DNA testing very disturbing.

DNA Project

The large installation by Ernesto Neto at the end of the exhibition is also a highlight and smells gorgeous due to the inclusion of many spices.

ErnestoNeto

There is so much foliage in my work these days that it feels worlds away from the very concrete urban environment of central Auckland and other cities I have lived in. Fortunately Auckland has some lovely old parks such as the Domain and Albert Park to provide some balance. Most of my time is spent close to home and I always seem to return from every walk with a pocket full of leaves. I’ve broadened the range of foliage I’m using in all the artworks. Plans for the coming months include some works that will continue to deal with the theme of local ecology.

Aroha nui

Akeake