A heart for Earth & art
BY Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
The first thing you notice about Heather Brown's paintings is not that they're an eco-friendly expression, but that they're fun to look at.
She paints waves and surfers, palm trees and torch ginger, puffy clouds and bubbly ocean spray.
But the medium is her real message.
The paper, paint and ink used by Brown were chosen because they embraced the green ideals she believes in: The paint is water-based and not made with toxic chemicals and the paper is made from sugar cane or bamboo fibers blended with organic cotton.
"It is a beautiful product and it has a great message behind it," she said. "It is not depleting the forest and it is not made from harsh chemicals and bleaches."
The 37-year-old Brown has made it her goal to live as eco-friendly an existence as possible, starting with her art. Her work was chosen to promote Plastic Free Haleiwa for the Kōkua Hawai'i Foundation in 2008, as well as a subsequent campaign called Plastic Free Hawai'i.
Brown recently introduced her own "Green With Aloha" line of products, starting with a canvas shopping bag made from organic cotton and painted with nontoxic paint. She plans to expand the line with reusable drinking containers and organic cotton T-shirts emblazoned with her imagery.
"I have gotten to the point where I not only want to make beautiful art for people but also put my art on products that portray a message: To use reusable bags," she said. "You can make a difference in what you do by going to the store and using a bag."
Greener materials cost more — the blank organic cotton T-shirts cost twice as much — but Brown has tried to minimize the cost to the consumer, she said.
"It's so easy to think of what is most cost-effective," she said. "I threw that out the window in favor of what is more earth-friendly."
Brown has been interested in art all her life, but did not devote herself to it full time until about four years ago.
Originally from California, where she had been an emergency medical technician, Brown moved to the Islands in 2000 and enrolled at the University of Hawai'i-Mānoa to study art.
Hawai'i — especially the surf — became a powerful muse.
"The beauty of the Islands was really inspiring for my art," she said. "It seemed like almost every painting I did had some of the ocean in it, some surfing scene. I feel like I am a sponge to my environment. I paint what I see around me."
Brown's green sensibilities didn't really surface until after graduation, when she went to work for Deep Ecology, a North Shore dive shop that was often involved in marine conservation efforts.
"We had a lot of experience with helping sea turtles who had fishing line wrap- ped around their fins," she said. "We did some recovering of nets that landed on the reefs. I have freed countless fish from nets underwater. It touched my heart."
She continued to paint and found that demand was growing for her whimsical wave riders.
"I enjoyed working on the boat and underwater, but in my heart, I loved art the most," she said. "I decided to devote a full year to this to see if I could make it as an artist."
That was in 2005. When her art appeared on the cotton shopping bags sold as part of Plastic Free Haleiwa, she got a glimpse of where green art could take her. Every time she visited a store, managers would complain that they didn't have enough of the bags.
"The Japanese tourists would buy them 20 at a time," Brown said.
If the art helps people live greener, Brown is all for it.
"If one out of five people buy my work and they make a small step it could spread," she said. "It's really rewarding for me to create art that they enjoy looking at in their house but also influences them to make small changes in their lifestyle or business practices."