February 2018 Symbolism and Plants

Untended Garden in Yellow SML

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

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

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


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

Untended garden in yellow2

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

Kowhai and Corokia small

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

Lichen and Kauri in the studio

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

Ferns in blue postcard

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

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

Waitangi day postcard


December 2017 Printmaking with plants

Monotype by Celeste Sterling SML

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

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

Akeake and fern monotype cropped

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

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


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

Kowhai BW Kowhai Xmas angle

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

Pohutukawa leaf

Meri Kirihimete

Celeste Sterling, 2017

Summer Garden


September 2017 Biodiversity

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 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






June 2017 Estuary Art Awards

Karo in Yellow detail

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


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.



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 Leaves & Lamington National Park

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

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.


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 Mangroves and Corokia Studio

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


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 Kauri and Gondwana


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.



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.



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.


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.



November 2016


“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.




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.



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.