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.


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, 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. 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.

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.


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.

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




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


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, Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica 2003


Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica 2003


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 and Puriri (detail)


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


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


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


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


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, 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.


Yellow postcard detail


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


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.


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

Purple Wreath

Purple wreath and rosemary cropped

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

Apple tree and lime

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

Celeste Sterling, December 2018.

Christmas blooms

October 2018 Spring blossoms

Blue Akeake

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

Painting blossoms in blue

Blue blossoms painting

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

Okahu Bay blossoms

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

Decay and renewal

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

September sketch square SML

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

Envoys Onwards postcards 1

Te uru postcards cropped

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

Celeste Sterling at Te Uru

August 2018 Winter solstice paintings

Winter Solstice Apple Tree

Winter Solstice Apple Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter foliage cropped

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

Winterberries SML detail

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

Autumn process pic

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

Fern, Moss and Corokia cropped

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

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

Kepa bush tree roots

Pohutukawa and fern detail SML

Pohutukawa and Fern (detail)

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

Puriri and Fern sketch

Sunsprite Corokia

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

Celeste Sterling, August 2018.

Sunsprite Corokia and Hebe detail