The well-known Bay of Plenty artist shares her love of nature and tropical retreats.


UNO: How did you start out as an artist?

PAULA: All my life I’ve been obsessed with drawing, painting, nature, colour and design – ever since I was a child, growing up in Mt Maunganui. In my early twenties, I studied life painting in oils at Wimbledon College of Arts in London, and I loved it! Then, when I was 25, I spent two years travelling through Africa by motorbike, and began painting botanical watercolours and selling them to local galleries. Painting fine-art pieces has been my full-time job ever since.

When I came home in 1991, I bought my wee beachside bach in Papamoa, set up my studio here, and painted botanical watercolours of every flower I could find. I’ve since moved onto large-scale acrylic paint on canvas, bringing New Zealand native plants into their natural contexts with the sea and landscape.

UNO: How would you describe your style as an artist?

PAULA: My background in botanical art has given me an eye for detail and colour. I love to turn up the volume on colour that’s barely there, such as bright purple in the shadows of flax leaves, but in a way that’s still believable. It’s called contemporary realism.

UNO: Tell us about your process when painting.

PAULA: I’m inspired by being out in nature. There, I’m in heaven. I see perfection and grace everywhere, in the beauty of nature, light, colour and form, whether I’m in tropical Bali or on a beach in New Zealand.

For me, summer is when the coast is at its most beautiful. The colours are vivid, the grasses are dry and golden, the sea is stunning shades of blues and green, and, of course, the majestic pohutukawas add their impossibly rich shades of red. I take loads of photos, bring them back to my studio and play with composition while listening to great music, picturing the feel and colour I’m after.

I love to paint a horizon that allows the eye to drift off into the distance. And open space filled with tranquil colour; the eye is then drawn to the foreground to explore the detail of the featured coastal botanicals, such as pohutukawa, flax, cabbage trees and beach grasses. I hope through my art I can bring those views, and the feelings they evoke, into the homes of the people who own my work. Most of my work is commissioned, and there’s often an emotional attachment to the subject, like a much-loved family holiday spot. My clients live all over the world but share a love of New Zealand.

Mount Maunganui main beach

UNO: You’ve taught some other successful artists, including our spring ’16 cover stars, Tash Meyes and Kristina Webb.

PAULA: I hold weekly classes, teaching around 30 adults and 30 children every week, from five to 85 years old. From time to time, I also hold weekend painting workshops here in my home and studio. People enjoy the sunny, homely, relaxed feel, with tuis singing in the garden, a roaring fire in the winter, and my quirky playlists. I have a wee chuckle when I hear my lovely oldies singing along.

I’ve taught Kristina since she was a young teenager, so it was really cool watching her career take off. She asked both me and Tash to contribute a series of paintings to her latest book, Colour Me Inspired. Both Kristina and Tash have done very well, and I catch up
with them regularly.

I believe everyone has an artist inside them – it’s just a matter of building their confidence and encouraging their creativity. I love watching my students blossom and witnessing their pride when they achieve great results. Creativity is so important, particularly now, in these fast-paced, stressful times; art is a form of meditation. I love Albert Einstein’s words: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” He’s right. If you look at anything through the eyes
of creativity, anything’s possible. There are no boundaries or boxes to stay in. A creative life is an exhilarating life.

I had an exhibition for my students at Creative Bay of Plenty. It was a proud moment for me, watching them all glowing at the opening night with their husbands, wives, parents and kids appreciating what they’d done.

UNO: You also run popular retreats in Bali – how did that come about?

PAULA: My big loves are my children – 25-year-old Louis and 22-year-old Harriet – nature, painting and travel. Every time I’ve been away in the last few years, I’ve looked for somewhere to hold a painting retreat. Bali is one of my favourite destinations, so last year, I teamed up with a life coach, and we took seven women over.

The week was filled with creativity, pampering, relaxing, healing colour and love. It was such a pleasure to show our guests the beauty of Bali. My daughter, Harriet, has a real love of natural food and helped us run the retreat. She and I have travelled extensively together; last year, we had an amazing six weeks exploring Mexico and Cuba.

Harriet, our good friend Leonie Main and I are running another retreat in Bali in September. We’ll be hosting a small group in a serene coastal villa. This retreat is all about creativity and feeling good. I’ll be doing a series of painting exercises and explorations, guiding our guests through watercolour and acrylic on canvas painting, which be rewarding and enjoyable whether you’ve never painted before or you’re an advanced artist. You can paint all day if you like, and I’ll be there to guide you. Or you can lie by the pool and gaze at the view.

Leonie will take daily yoga classes using her YogAlign techniques. She has a very gentle way of helping you connect with your body, working with posture and making the most of what we have, integrating mind, body and soul. It’s a complete healing modality.

Harriet is a very natural host. Along with our talented team of Balinese cooks, she’ll be serving delicious food and will use her knowledge of nutrition to show how to create raw dishes and naturally healthy sweet treats. Last year, she won the Prime Minister’s Scholarship to study architecture in Mexico for six months, so she’ll also be giving a talk on the fascinating ancient Balinese architecture.

There will be massages on the king-size daybeds by the infinity pool, which overlooks the tropical garden and rice paddies beyond. We’ll see temples, visit the markets, and stroll on the beautiful Balinese beaches, which are known for their amazing surf. We’ll also have discussions about life goals, happiness and wellness. It’ll be seven days of exhilarating bliss.

Paula at work in her Papamoa studio.

UNO: It all sounds so relaxing! What’s next – how will you ever be able to top that?

PAULA: We’re looking at taking a group somewhere next year. It could be Bali, or somewhere even more exotic.

I’m also putting together a mini retreat for teenagers, and another for 18- to 28-year-olds. The teenage retreat was suggested by some of my younger students. Our young ones are experiencing a lot of anxiety and fear, and being able to switch off and get lost in painting is incredibly relaxing and therapeutic. I’ll also be inviting experts in nutrition, relaxation, goal-setting, yoga and life skills, all geared towards their age groups.

As well as this, I’m planning a botanical watercolour workshop, which I’m really excited about.