Monday, 18 January 2016


Hola! Welcome to the first 'Creative: I Am' interview of 2016. I chatted with excellent bird Catherine Shone, whose love for our feathered friends and for New Zealand led to her latest watercolour series, combining the two. You can watch her interview video here:

Beginning with capturing birds from all over the world, her interest in conservation and New Zealand's own birds was piqued after a visit to nature reserve Pukaha Mount Bruce and a meeting with Kahurangi, the Kokako who lives there:

"She is nutty as hell and I fell in love with her. I went back and painted her,
she was my first one."

Kokako, Catherine Shone
"When I started looking into it I realised there are just so many birds we have, and so many birds this country has lost, that a lot of people don't know about. Like the black stilt, where there are 77 or so adults left in the world. And they're endemic to New Zealand."

Through this series Catherine hopes to bring to people a greater awareness of our birds and an appreciation for the many different species we actually have (it's not just the Tui and the Kiwi!)
Detail of Whitehead, Catherine Shone

She combines the fluid and unpredictable nature of watercolours with precise intricate detailing using coloured pencil to focus on parts of the bird like a beak, an eye or a wing.

"I love to start out with the watercolour because it's so loose. It's fun because you can make mistakes and it still looks purposeful. I like keeping the drips in the artwork, I like that they're imperfect. I'm not trying to take a photograph.  I think it should look painted, and paint drips. Therefore there are drips."

She has also experimented with different techniques, including using salt on top of the paint, the chemical reaction creating speckles, great for enhancing wings and feathers. 

Detail of Stitchbird, Catherine Shone

Her creative process involves getting herself in a certain frame of mind: 

"To be wanting and able to create something I have to listen to music, have my own space, be in a really good environment. I'll go and do this really nutty thing where I'll clean the living room so it's perfect, and then I can paint. With music playing. Then I'm ready."

She is inspired by artists such as Italian Marco Mazzoni, who creates beautiful, surreal and hyper-realistic colour pencil images of flora and fauna and parts of humans.

"I Could Have Lost You II” 2015,
colored pencils on moleskine paper, Marco Mazzoni

Catherine's past works have been in various mediums, usually with an accent of the macabre:

"I used to do surrealism. A lot of dark, morbid but humorous oil paintings.  I also did a few little necklaces that I sculpted out of clay. Severed fingers, a little crumpled hand... using beautiful red shellac for the blood so it was glistening. They were gorgeous. People bought them too. I really get some sort of creepy enjoyment out of making people feel uncomfortable, because it's hilarious. I just need to find a way to do it that will still appeal to people. Because at the end of the day, I enjoy working with good quality paints and really nice paper and that costs money. So I still need to be able to sell them."

Oil Painting, Catherine Shone
That delicate morbidity is reflected in her current work focusing on the plight of our critically endangered native birds and depicting those that are extinct. Her next series will include the paintings upon backgrounds of other images like bird skulls, grotesque cracked eggs, feathers, bones, and even pests, (rats and other things that were introduced): 

"I'm nut sure how it will appeal to people, but it's honest."

She aims to produce a certain number of prints of each species that she paints, only printing an amount relative to how many birds are actually recorded:
"So if there were 77 black stilts left there would be 77 prints made for sale. It then kind of puts it into perspective for people, to know that's however many are left in the entire world."

Huia, Catherine Shone

There are many things we can all do to help. Catherine suggests locking your cat up at night, and giving it a bell to wear. Plant native plants in your backyard. Buy a trap from the Morgan Foundation to keep in your backyard to kill the rats and hedgehogs. Keep a honeyfeeder in your yard to encourage Tuis and other nectar-feeding birds. She also encourages people to d
onate to New Zealand's Forest and Bird organisation.

The birds featured in her series include Kokako (endangered), Huia (extinct), the Chatham Island Robin (who has such an interesting conservation story behind the attempted breeding programme of them), Bellbird, Tui, Stichbird, Saddleback, the Yellow-head (critically endangered) and the White-head.

Exhibition Details

Both originals and prints are available for purchase. Exhibition runs from January 20 until 17 February, 2016 at the Penthouse Gallery in Brooklyn, Wellington.

You can see more at her website. Bloody great, Catherine.

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