Friday, 31 January 2020

When Inspiration Floats Your Way

Creativity and burnout are not a constructive combination.  My solution, when stress takes over and the brain fog rolls in, is to escape into nature, preferably to a deserted beach with some good snorkeling close at hand! Soaked in saltwater, I hover over coral reefs bursting with texture and colour.  A sense of wonder inevitably takes over, and gratitude fills my soul: how awesome is it to be able to call the Pacific Ocean my home!

It was on one such island escape that the inspiration for "High Tide VI" came floating by.  I was snorkeling along a windy passage between two Yasawa Islands, when something white bobbed into my peripheral vision close at hand: a perfect nautilus shell! (See photo above.)  Long empty by the look of it's weathered surface, it was buoyed along by the waves, air trapped inside the architecture of its spiral form. I had drawn these magnificent shells many times before, but this was a first: finding one that wasn't cracked or broken!  Really, I should say, it found me!  A moment of serendipity worth celebrating with a piece of art...

Using a derelict boat as a makeshift studio, I created the concept for "High Tide VI".  I'd forgotten to bring a palette, so a few seashells came in handy when it came to mixing my paints!.

 Around the time that I was working on this piece, articles appeared in our local newspapers, announcing the discovery of a previously undocumented species of nautilus in seas off the coast of Vanua Levu, northern Fiji.  In honour of the newly christened 'Nautilus Vitiensis' I decided to paint my nautili as live animals, complete with hooded bodies and flowing tentacles.  A bit of a challenge to simplify in keeping with my bold style, but fun to try!

In step with other paintings in my evolving "High Tide" series, I added local flowers for contrast and colour.  These are the blossoms of the Rangoon Creeper, known locally 'Kakala'.  They festoon our neighbour's fence, ranging in colour from cheerful vermilion to delicate pink. 


Here's a shot of the end result, painted in acrylics on barkcloth-covered board:

And here are members of our studio team, celebrating the completion of my "High Tide"  series, which can now be seen on the walls of guestrooms at the Radisson Blu Resort on Denarau Island:

All thanks to a chance encounter with an empty nautilus shell, floating across the ocean....

By the way, my daughters have talked me into starting an Instagram account for Sigavou Studios!  Please cheer us on here SIGAVOU ON INSTAGRAM !  Vinaka!

Friday, 24 January 2020

"Welcome Home!" - New Year, New Decade, New Painting...

Living as we do in the midst of the vast Pacific Ocean, distanced from loved ones by many miles, and exposed to seasonal storms that have the power to change our lives forever in the space of a few hours, safe homecomings are not easily taken for granted.  Projects coming to fruition as planned are more often the exception, rather than the rule...  Island life has an unpredictability that can breed both discouragement and resilience: that choice is ours to make, often daily.  

Little wonder then that celebrations of welcome, of home-coming, and of achievement are  marked in such joyous and colourful ways by iTaukei (indigenous Fijian) people, past and present!  

My first painting of 2020, started while Cyclone Sarai was bearing down across our islands with destructive wind speeds, celebrates a unique Fijian welcome ceremony called the "Cere" (pronounced theh-reh).  

In times gone by, villagers would gather at the water’s edge to greet returning sea voyagers arriving on traditional, double-hulled canoes or ‘drua’.   Amidst much hilarity, the welcome party would wave swathes of patterned barkcloth in a flamboyant and noisy ceremony, that ended in a playful race as the young men tried to catch their female counterparts, some of whom would be carrying treasured whale’s teeth as the ultimate welcome gift and sign of esteem.

A variation of this custom is still practised in Fiji today, to celebrate the return of a chief, or the arrival of a new plane, boat, or other significant acquisition.  In modern times, the young women often wave flags crafted from brightly printed cloth, or looped between them in a colourful and jolly procession.  Here are a couple photos showing how the time-honoured tradition of the 'cere' ceremony can look in 21st century Fiji:

Welcome Ceremony in Suva, Fiji for the seven Vaka  (voyaging canoes) that completed an historic, trans-Pacific journey in 2012, as part of an initiative to revive traditional navigation methods among Pacific Island nations. 
Photo Credit: The Uto Ni Yalo Trust

Fiji's living culture: both traditional barkcloth and modern printed fabric are used in today's 'Cere' ceremonies.
Photo Credit: The Uto Ni Yalo Trust
As with many of my paintings, my "Welcome Home!" piece grew out of a sense of awe for the many-layered, vibrant iTaukei culture that has become the context and background to my life here in Fiji. A culture under pressure from economic and ideological changes that have, within the short space of two to three generations, seen Fijians catapulted from traditional, village-based subsistence lifestyles, into the post-industrial urban world of our 21st century global economy.  A culture in danger of rapid erosion - yet still deeply a part of iTaukei identity and sense of well-being...


I am painting this contemporary piece in acrylics on traditional barkcloth, crafted by women from our extended family who live on Vatulele, an outlying coral atoll to the south of our island. "Welcome Home!" was commissioned by a friend who was looking for a unique piece of art to hang on a wall near her front door. Her spacious home is light and white, with warm reds as accents throughout the surrounding living space.  A great excuse, therefore, to get out my crimsons, pinks, and oranges and create something full of good energy - welcoming, and lively!

"Welcome Home!" is now complete, mounted on a painted backing board that is covered in a textured collage made from scraps of barkcloth.  The piece, which will soon be framed, currently measures 27 x 23 inches.

So, here's to welcoming in a new year, and with it, new chapters of our lives! Wishing us all much joy,  many creative adventures and heart-warming homecomings as we embark on a brand new decade!

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Reflections on the Opening Night of the New Fun Hub Fiji 

Night was already falling as we wound our way along a dusky dirt road in search of a mysterious destination. As figures clad in traditional Fijian barkcloth costumes emerged unexpectedly from the tall grass beside the road, our sense of excitement began to grow.  The twilight cane farm vista around us was hiding a surprise…  There it was, looming up ahead of us: a gigantic yellow and white circus tent! 

        PC: Fun Hub Fiji
We approached with a sense of awe, aware that we were about to witness a pivotal point in Fiji’s cultural history:  the opening of the Fiji Fun Hub with Vou Dance Company’s inaugural performance of “Fiji Untold”.

PC:  Mereia Tuiloma-Rova
It is said that the arts have the capacity to reach us at a primal level – speaking to our souls with a raw force that engages both emotionally and intellectually – reviving our tired, information-saturated spirits, and expanding our horizons.  This was my experience as I sat in the bleachers of Fiji’s newest arts and culture venue, swept away from the stress and humdrum of everyday life, into a magical world of rhythm and energy.  Traditional Fijian meke dancers created a kaleidoscope of pulsating movement, while fantastical figures emerged from the shadows to pull us compellingly into a story line that was uniquely Fijian, yet universally relevant.

Days later, and I am still impacted by its themes of belonging and rejection, open-hearted courage versus comfort-zone stagnation, identity lost and recreated, tradition as a straight jacket, or as a powerful source of new inspiration….  All this and more, woven into an amazing evening of performing arts: a visual and musical feast that would be a drawcard on any international dance stage!

PC: Fun Hub Fiji

This two-hour long tidal wave of creativity is mesmerizing, authentic stuff – not an over-commercialized replica, prepackaged for the tourism market.  Here are young Fijian dancers exploring a brave new world: rediscovering the living culture and identity of their indigenous roots, while testing the boundaries of contemporary, creative expression. There is tension, beauty, and magic in that powerful mix! 

It takes guts to follow a dream like this, in a small country like Fiji – and Vou is doing just that, with verve and the kind of exuberant, contagious joy that Fijians are famous for!  Our fledgling arts sector is a place where the tourist dollar has the potential to reach grassroots level directly, and make a real difference – and Fiji Fun Hub founding directors Sachiko and Edward Soro are in this for the long-haul: opening up sustainable career pathways for artistically talented youth where opportunities for training and employment have historically been minimal. 
PC: Fun Hub Fiji

If you have the chance to experience this cutting edge show, I'm guessing you too will come away from "Fiji Untold" with some of its thought-provoking, joyful energy resonating in your own soul.  Vinaka vaka levu Team Vou for giving us all this chance to share in your creative journey!

For further information and tickets, visit the  FUN HUB FIJI WEBSITE

Tuesday, 17 January 2017


Mala and her brood - delivering freshly made barkcloth to Sigavou Studios last week

With Fiji's new school year commencing this week, our extended family on the small sandy atoll of Vatulele has been busy raising the extra funds needed to send a son to teacher's college and a daughter to boarding school on the mainland. They do this by heading out to the paper-mulberry plantations near their village, cane-knife in hand, to harvest the tall saplings that have flourished in recent summer rains. There follows a laborious process involving ancient craft traditions: stripping the bark from the saplings - then scraping, soaking, and flattening it into fibrous masi paper, using a log anvil and wooden mallet.

The art of masi-making is generally considered to belong in the women's domain, with techniques and accompanying wisdom being passed down from mothers to daughters across countless generations. However, at least one of our faithful suppliers is the male head of a household - who patiently beats out large swathes of masi alongside his wife, their worn hands and weathered skin bearing witness to a life of hard work, subsistence farming, fishing, and communal living in their remote, seaside village.

Uncle Koli arrives with his first barkcloth delivery of 2017!
Once the masi is sun-dried, our family members journey by boat to Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. They make their way up the coast by bus, arriving at our studio with rolls of precious masi underarm. We now have a fresh supply of beautiful hand-made 'canvas' to use for the many creative projects that will no doubt add meaning and joy to our lives here at Sigavou Studios as 2017 rolls on!

Using modern acrylic paint and contemporary colours
on a canvas of hand-crafted masi - seeped in ancient traditions...

Sunday, 12 June 2016


One of the best things about making a living as an artist is the random moments when something you've created resonates with another human, and there is this unexpected soul-to-soul connection with a complete stranger...
That happened to me again this past week, while I was hanging paintings at our wall display in the Sofitel Resort. A woman from New Zealand came over with her face wreathed in smiles. She had just bought one of our "Pacific Patchwork" silk art pieces which included this monarch butterfly. She told me she'd been following my art for years. When she saw this butterfly, she knew she had to finally buy a piece for her own home.
"Why the monarch?", I asked, explaining about my happy childhood memories in rural Pennsylvania, collecting tiny monarch caterpillars and watching the wondrous metamorphosis from squirming caterpillar to tightly-packed chrysalis, to delicate, air-bourne butterfly. Then later on as a teenager far from home, coming across a tree on a lonely hillside, covered from top to bottom with thousands of monarchs, taking a moment to rest during their annual migration across a huge swathe of North America. Their delicate wings were opening and closing rhythmically, creating the illusion of a breathing tree, turning from vibrant orange to brown to vibrant orange again in all it's borrowed glory.... When, many years later, a monarch butterfly fluttered past me as I was exploring the mountain slopes of my adopted Pacific Island home with my children, I was astounded! They're in Fiji too! How did they get here, across the vast, windswept waters of the Pacific? A question I'm still keen to find the answer to...

The stranger standing in front of me explained that back home in New Zealand, she worked in a hospice for terminally ill children. In accompanying their small patients through the last, fraught weeks of their short lives, the staff at the hospice use the life cycle of the butterfly to open up discussions about death. The children take great comfort in the visionary thought that their dying bodies too will go through unfamiliar changes, but that will not be the end, but an amazing, freeing beginning! Purple, my new friend told me, is a colour loved by many of the children in her care - perhaps because it is so vibrant, so full of life...

We hugged and she walked away, leaving me with a lump in my throat, and gratitude in my heart, reflecting on the power of art, and the chance it brings to touch the lives of others - and in turn be touched by them!

More of our hand-painted Pacific Patchwork silk art collection can be viewed on the Sigavou Studios ISSUU page here:

Wednesday, 18 February 2015


I have had cause in recent months to reflect on the resilience of the human spirit in the face of unexpected odds.  Creating two barkcloth paintings called "Life is For Living I & II" was part of that process:

A random quote caught my eye during the time I was mulling over this project.  " Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass.  It's about learning to dance in the rain!"

These paintings evolved with that thought in mind.  They focus on the joie de vivre that is a special part of  the Fijian experience of life. This includes the ability to live fully in the moment, to celebrate with no holds barred in childlike-merriment;  a spirit of exuberance that is often missing from the fast-paced life of urban worlds elsewhere... even when the chips are down!

 "Life Is For Living I & II" are currently for sale from our studio in Nadi, Fiji.  External dimensions of frames are 61 x 61 cm. (Can be shipped unframed if you are based outside of Fiji).  Contact us for further details:

Tuesday, 17 February 2015


This is "Island Afternoon" - painted on silk, using silk dyes with metallic gold resist for the lines.  The size of the painting itself is 50 x 90 cm.  I've had it framed with lovely, dark-brown, textured molding, bringing the framed size to about 70 x 110 cm.

Here are some musings on this piece:

This painting celebrates the turquoise and golden
moments of an afternoon at the beach: a languid snorkel
along colourful reefs,  surrounded by schools of fish and coral,
with the occasional shark to liven things up...
Lulled by the rhythm of the waves, we relax under a frangipani tree
in the gentle glow of the late afternoon sunshine,
with freshly-squeezed fruit drinks or a bilo of kava (note the yaqona roots).
The seven-lobed cassava leaf and ripe coconut feature repeatedly
in my artwork as symbols of island sustenance,
the bonds with nature that keep
Fijian communities strong and well-nourished.

This painting is currently for sale. (If you are not based in Fiji you may want to purchase just the artwork - we can take it out of the frame for easy shipping if need be...)  Contact us by email: for details.

Friday, 23 May 2014


Some paintings have a difficult birth with a protracted labour before my concept, sketches, and dyes start to click, and I'm on a creative roll once again (and what a great feeling that is!).
This one, however, just seemed to tumble out of my imagination and on to my barkcloth canvas!  Here's a sneak peak into the creative process behind "FIRE WITHIN"

The 'blank canvas moment'...
My canvas in this case is a piece of beautiful, natural "masi" - traditional Fijian barkcloth made from the inner bark of tropical mulberry trees.  The masi we use in our studio is crafted by women from my husband's family who live on the small island of Vatulele in southern Fiji.  They travel several hours by boat and bus every few weeks to bring us freshly beaten masi - always a joy to receive!

The sketching stage...
My theme is DANCE, ENERGY, PASSION...  I'm painting for a cause - the end result will be donated to the VOU Dance Studio where our son works in Suva.  This trail-blazing local dance company has been instrumental in raising the profile of contemporary performing arts in Fiji, opening all kinds of doors for urban youth with a passion for music, dance, and culture - and the need to be able to make a living from their talents.  They are currently moving mountains as they fundraise to get dance crews across to Canada and the USA where they will be taking part in an indigenous cultural festival and the World HipHop Championships this summer.

The design has been finalised and transferred on to my piece of barkcloth.  Hmm - now for the colours - my favourite part!  I am using fire as my inspiration for this - the colours of flames: crimson, magenta, ochre - with indigo and violet thrown in too!

I'm painting in acrylics.  The rough texture of the barkcloth is a challenge, but the absorbency of the natural fibres lends itself to colour-blending - just up my street!

Reaching the point where I can finally see that the vision I had for this piece is panning out - YES!

The painting part is done - now for some fine outlines in gold metallic paint!

And here's the finished piece!  "FIRE WITHIN" is mounted on a backing board that is covered in a textured collage made from small scraps of barkcloth, painted with black acrylic.

Sunday, 22 December 2013


One of my most recent paintings features a "YAVIRAU' - a traditional, communal way of fishing still practiced by villagers in the outer islands of Fiji.  Usually a noisy and festive occasion, a "yavirau" is often staged in the lead-up to a big village feast.  Many associate this much anticipated event as being a part of Christmas celebrations in remote communities where the "share and care" spirit is still very much alive in closely knit village communities.

Here is the 'story' of my painting as it emerges, along with some photos of a "yavirau" that occured recently in the Yasawa Islands.

This painting is part of a series of nine pieces I created this year around the theme of "Women and the Reef", depicting the relationship rural Fijian women have with the sea as a source of sustenance and identity.

I am painting on white habotai silk, using a metallic gold resist for my outlines, and specialised silk dyes for the paint work itself.

I am now painting the "net" used during a "yavirau".  This consists of long lengths of jungle vines twisted together to form a rope that can be a couple of kilometers long.  Coconut fronds are then tied to the rope, which is piled into a boat and taken out toward the inner edge of the reef at high tide, where it is lowered into the water and held in place in horse shoe shape by the villagers, each clan taking responsibility for one section of the rope.

I'm now adding in my fisher-women!  While village women normally fish and gather seafood separately from the men (the inner reef being the women's domain, the outer the men's) the "yavirau" is an occasion that brings everyone together - each person has an important role to play as the long rope is pushed steadily toward the shore in an ever-tightening arc, enclosing a large number of fish within.

My silk painting has been steamed for several hours and is now ready for framing!

Here it is as part of my "Yau Ni Cakau" collection, now hanging in the newly-built seaside villas at Matamanoa Island Resort in Fiji's Mamanuca group.  Each painting measures 50 x 40 cm (unframed).

To finish this post: some photos of a "yavirau" witnessed by German travel photographer Holger Leue, ( ) who has kindly given me permission to share these images here:

These photos were taken at Yaroma Island in the Yasawa group.

Traditional fish drives such as this one are only conducted occasionally, as part of customary practices that are decided upon during village meetings and presided over by the village chief or his herald.  Various rituals are involved in the preparation for a "yavirau", including the cleaning of village graveyards as a form of paying respect to the ancestors and ensuring the fish-drive is blessed.

Once the fish are herded together into the palm rope enclosure, they are caught by hand or spear.  The entire catch is then divided out among the various clans of the village, with special portions going to the chief, the talatala (village priest) and to those providing resources such as the large piles of vines and leaves used to create the rope net. 

The "yavirau" is a way of ensuring that no one in the village will go hungry during festive occasions such as Christmas, which is traditionally the time of year when large number of urban dwellers return to their ancestral villages to touch base with the extended family and renew the relationship bonds that play such an important role in the cohesiveness and vitality of Fijian society.

Last 5 photos © by Holger Leue Photography.
Art images © Maria Rova, Sigavou Studios Ltd