Art in an emergency

Mokimoki fern small

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

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

Endemic species

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

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

Coleus for blog

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

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

Studio April

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

Easter Bouquet small

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

Autumn corokia berries

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

Purple Clover small

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

Autumn jade, fir and berries small

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

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

Carnations and Jade small

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

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

Celeste in school ball dress

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

Sending you aroha from Aotearoa,

Celeste Sterling, Autumn 2020.

Fairlie War Memorial

Geraldine poppies

#artinanemergency #natureprinted #art #NewZealandartist #artinapandemic

Art and Regenerative Culture

Valentine cropped

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

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

Pittosporum cropped LR

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

Dried seed heads

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

Gum blossoms half size

Silver dollar and gum blossom LR

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

Spearmint late summer crop72dpi

Wanaka Poppies2

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

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

Grass tree

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

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

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

Carnations LR

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

Spearmint and Geranium LR

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

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

Celeste Sterling, February 2020.

Sunflowers half size

Seedheads small

Cardoon half size

Regeneration (biology) – Wikipedia

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

Regenerative Culture

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

Art and Climate Change

Bottlebrush for FB

Extinction Rebellion, Climate Leaves and Christmas.

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

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

Leaves

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

Cryosphere
Cryosphere, acrylic on canvas, 2009

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

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

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

Kowhai in blue small

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

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

Climate leaf - Pohutukawa cropped

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

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

Akeake, fern and manuka cropped

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

The Hourglass page12

The Hourglass front page

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

Raking

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

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

Merry Christmas, Meri Kirihimete from New Zealand.

Celeste Sterling, December 2019

#NatureNow

Wreath

 

October 2019 Art and Sustainability

Under the Strawberry Snowball tree

Under the Strawberry Snowball Tree, Whangarei Quarry Gardens October 2019

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

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

Strawberry snowball tree blooms

Quarry Gardens

Quarry Gardens foliage

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

Bodhi Tree crop

Quarry flowers used to make art

Bodhi tree leaves

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

Gardren of the Five Senses crop

Quarry sensory garden

Sensory Garden foliage

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

Quarry flowers crop

Quarry arts flowers

Quarry Arts

Sculpture

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

bloodwood

Bloodwood, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica 2003

manuelantonio

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica 2003

cloudforest

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica 2003

lacolina rgb

La Colina, Monteverde, Costa Rica 2003

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

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

Cussonia crop

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

Warmth cropped

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

Leaf detail

Details AAG

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

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

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

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

Plastic branch, Tahuna Torea

Plastic tree branch and reeds, Tahuna Torea Nature Reserve

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

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

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

Celeste Sterling, October 2019

Starflowers 2

 

August 2019 Memory Garden

Memory Garden2

Bush Dell, Howick

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

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

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

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

Memory Garden fir

Memory Grden detail

Bush Dell, Howick (detail)

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

Gingko

Gingko and Puriri (detail)

Puriri

Puriri tree and flowers (above)

Gingko tree

Gingko tree, Auckland Domain (above)

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

Lilac Garden for FELT5

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

Fragrant Garden for FB

IMG_2288

Spring for FELT5

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

Blue Fern for FELT3

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

Mangroves, Samphire and Reeds

Halophytes

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

Manawa, Wiwi and Ureure

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

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

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

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

Thanks so much!

Celeste Sterling, August 2019

Winter Herbal BioPak cup

June 2019 Camellias and Winter Paintings

Kale and Jade

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

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

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

Backyard jungle

Pink camellias detail

Two Pink Camellias

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

Red camellias

Camellia

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

Wiwi in May

Detail 1

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

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

Autumn - Glendowie

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

Takaparawhā detail

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

Moreton Bay fig details

Winter leaves angle

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

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

Bindweed closeup

Camellias progress

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

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

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

Purple pic angle

 

 

 

April 2019 Autumn Paintings

Autumn gatherings

Autumn is here and the leaves of deciduous trees are showing us their red, yellow and golden tones as the chlorophyll in them breaks down and they begin to fall. Gardens are full of seeds, rosehips and other fruits. While the weather has continued to be favourable I’ve been visiting parks, gardens and nature reserves to research and develop artworks.

This small artwork (detail below) was made in late March, using faded hydrangeas from my garden and wilting pale green roses left over from St Patrick’s Day.

Hydrangea and rose detail LR

Rosehips

This autumn has been a tumultuous and sad time for New Zealand in the aftermath of the Christchurch terror attacks of March 15th. On that day I took a walk on Bastion Point to see the regenerating forest that Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei have been replanting. I made a small picture using some foliage from the memorial and replanted forest, a mix of New Zealand species with rosemary and lavender. I was thinking about the climate change strikes that school students around the world were involved in when I made this picture.

Bastion Pt detail

Bastion pt berries

This month the government has announced the creation of Te Ora Auaha: Creative Wellbeing Alliance Aotearoa, a national arts and health network. It feels like a timely and positive step given recent events.

Sensory garden flowers

I visited the Sensory Garden in Auckland Domain on March 13th and made two artworks using a few sprigs of the fragrant plants that I found there. When my son was a baby I would walk him around this small and soothing garden, a oasis of calm and quiet amid the noise of Newmarket. Being outside in nature and making art can offer some solace and peace in times of sorrow, illness and other difficulties.

Creative New Zealand has been asking artists to tag photos of artworks made in response to the Christchurch terror attacks with the hashtag #CreateAroha. Stephen Wainright, their Chief Executive/Pou Whakahaere writes: “I see each creative expression as a thread denoting dignity and mana, woven into a digital korowai to nourish and protect us, and demonstrate our unity, in solidarity against hatred.”

Sensory Garden (pictured below) is my contribution to this project.

Sensory Garden MR

The Sensory Garden in Lilac artwork (detail below) is available as a digital download via my Patreon page.

Sensory Garden in Lilac detail

An artwork for the annual Estuary Art Awards has been a focus for me over the past couple of months. I have made numerous visits to both sides of the Tāmaki Estuary to research this, photographing the coastal plants and collecting materials for nature printing. It has been interesting to compare foliage from the different parts of the Estuary that I’ve visited, and to learn more about the ecosystems in and around the Tāmaki Estuary. On a clear and calm day I walked to the end of the Tahuna Torea sandspit and dipped my feet in the water, watching the incoming tide and the river merging. Despite problems with pollution the Tāmaki Estuary is full of life and where it is protected the coastal foliage is varied and abundant.

Clear water

Estuary artwork 12 March

Mangrove flowers Mangrove flowers, Pakuranga

Mangrove prints2

Tahuna Torea plants

Samphire and Reeds, Tahuna Torea

Tahuna Torea artwork

Wiwi

Wiwi, Tahuna Torea

I’ve continued photographing tropical plants and painting some artworks in brighter tones over autumn. This is a ongoing project as the colours and forms of tropical plants are a constant source of wonder and inspiration for me.

Sweet pea cropped

Pink and Orange hibiscus

Hibiscus, Kohimarama

Mandevilla LR

Orange flower2

Eden Gardens, Auckland

Blue tones found their way into my artworks again over the past month. This artwork (detail below) using Fern, Wisteria and Spearmint was made in response to the recent death of a talented man who made a strong impression on all who knew him. Words fail me sometimes and I have only the artwork and photography to somehow express a little of the thoughts and emotions of the past two months.

Fern, Spearmint and Wisteria detail

Dark Petunias for Ant

Petunias at the Wintergarden, Auckland Domain

I was fortunate to photograph plants and flowers at the Quarry Gardens again over Easter and I’ll share some more of these on my Instagram @celestesterling. I find photographing plants and flowers an enjoyable and fulfilling part of the creative process. I’m looking forward to some studio time in term 2 to finish the Estuary artworks and a visit to the Auckland Art Fair next week.

Celeste Sterling, Autumn 2019

Blue flower

Ceratostigma flowers, Quarry Gardens Whangarei

Silk Floss tree

Silk Floss tree, Quarry Gardens Whangarei

 

 

February 2019 Summer Postcards

Summer gatherings

I love the fierce dry heat of late summer which dries my paints in seconds and ripens the feijoas, grapes and cherry guavas growing in the garden. Drought tolerant plants thrive in this environment, flowering and producing seeds. But the heat causes trouble too, fire and destruction comes with it. I still remember vividly the Victorian Ash Wednesday fires of my childhood. Fire has come to New Zealand this year, threatening homes and bush in the Nelson region. Some plants in our garden did not survive this summer, succumbing to the heat. To compensate we planted our native Mountain Jade Christmas tree and a climbing Mandevilla (also known as a Rocktrumpet) with deep red flowers, a variety bred to cope with dry conditions.

Over the New Zealand summer I painted a series of postcard sized pictures, one of which I will send off shortly to be part of the annual Twitter Art Exhibit, an exhibition for charity held in a different country every year. These small postcard pictures give me a chance to experiment with new plants and colours in preparation for larger artworks.

Red Postcard detail

Throughout the summer I also photographed interesting plants and flowers to use as a reference and inspiration when planning my art projects for the future. I was particularly intrigued by the tropical and arid garden plants at the Whangarei Quarry Gardens, which I visited in late January. These beautiful community gardens are maintained primarily by volunteers and have a wide selection of heat loving plants and trees.

Orchid

Yellow postcard detail

Process

High on my wish list for the future is an artwork incorporating some of the tropical plants at the Quarry gardens, in particular leaves and flowers from the magnificent Tiger flower, found in Mexico Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras (pictured below). A large Bodhi tree growing by the lake also captured my attention. A sacred fig with beautiful heart shaped leaves,  it is a tree rich with meaning and significance within the Buddhist tradition.

Tiger Flower2

 

Bodhi Tree leaf

Postcards closeup

I also drew upon my own garden for foliage and inspiration over summer, completing a soft green painting on the Summer Solstice using leaves from the apple tree and other garden finds. The lush backyard grapevine and a profusion of fennel and nasturtiums provided material for another small painting.

Summer Solstice

 

Nasturtium grapevine

Nasturtium flower and grapevine cropped

The Nasturtium and Grapevine painting (above) is available as a digital download from Patreon, payment by subscription starting at US$1 per month. Please note – this artwork is for personal use only, not for commercial use. ©2019 Celeste Sterling

Blue tones found in nature were the inspiration for a small work on paper using Wisteria and New Zealand broom. I’m continuing to explore this theme in small postcards with a view towards completing a larger work in strong blue tones.

Blue Wisteria detail

I’m excited about my art projects this year and I’m looking forward to sharing the new paintings with you. If you’d like to see more updates on artwork between blogs then you can follow me on Instagram @celestesterling and if you are interested in a painting for your home or workplace please visit the Paintings for Sale section on this website.

Love in a mist

 

Marjoram and Wisteria postcard

Postcard closeup LoRes

 

 

December 2018 Remembrance

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