Ibbie Alshamma, Plant Lover and Watercolor Enthusiast


Here at Kauai Seascapes Nursery, we love plants. We also really love the people who come in and take home the plants we care for.  As a result, it was a no brainer when we said, “Hey, what about giving away FREE PLANTS every month!”

Well, so many people have heard the call and it has been a huge success! Every month we choose a plant to give away, and randomly select a group of people from our email list as winners. They come in stoked to win a free plant, and we are stoked to share our joy of plants with them.

On our first give-away we chose two people to come in and claim their very own Black Bat Flower.  Ibbie and Russel were our very first winners! They were both delighted to have such a rare and alluring specimen to take home and admire.

Some time later we got an email from Ibbie saying that she did a painting of the Black Bat Flower. We opened up the photo and were blown away! She painted such a beautiful painting of the flower. It was so inspiring to see someone take something we had given them and transform it into a work of art to be shared with others. It got us thinking about how plants are useful not only for building up the soil, controlling erosion, providing more oxygen, etc. but also how they can be a huge source of peace and inspiration. Ibbie translated the Black Bat Flowers beauty onto canvas and we were moved.

We set up an interview with her to see what it is about plants that inspire her and how she uses art as a medium to articulate her peace with the world. This blog post is dedicated to her… Enjoy!

Bat Flower Painting 2

Sonya: How did you get introduced to Kauai Seascapes Nursery and the Black Bat Flower?

Ibbie: I pass by there quite often on my way up the ridge to do Pilates. I thought it was just a small little nursery in someones backyard. One day I stopped in on my way up out of curiosity, and lo and behold it’s this gorgeous nursery. The Bat flowers were blooming so I bought one and brought it home. I saw it on my table and thought, I need to paint that! I got so excited that I did two paintings in one week! The two big ones. The center of the flower was going through different stages, so the different paintings were of the blossoms going through the different phases. When the blooms died, I went back and bought another one! Then the newsletter said they were giving away one and I won that one too! So I went back and got another one. I love having them around. They live out on my porch. They don’t like the sun or the wind, and they like their soil nice and moist. Their leaves are enormous, I really like them.

Sonya: Yeah, their native habitat is in the jungle, the under layer of the canopy. So what medium did you use to paint the Flowers?

Ibbie: They’re all watercolor.

Sonya: Is that your favorite?

Ibbie: Yup, I love watercolor.

Sonya: How did you get started with watercolor?

Ibbie: Well I started when my kids were little. You have to clean up really fast and get it out of the way and watercolor lends itself to that. Then I took Chinese Brush Painting for 6 years. I studied with this 85 year old chinese lady in California. She was a student of a very famous artist named Chiang Dai Chen, who was a contemporary of Picasso, and Robert Motherwell. There is a whole museum dedicated to him in Taiwan. I have about 5 of his books and I saw an exhibit of his work. It’s just stunning.

Sonya: What does he paint?

Ibbie: Well he uses watercolor and paints everything. His claim to fame was that he could forge any Chinese classical painting because he is so versatile. He does a lot of landscapes. He’s a small man but has a very long beard that reaches to the floor and he wears a purple silk robe. My teacher Madeline Fu, was one of his apprentices.  She would always say,  “you’re the grandchild of Chang Gai Chen” (laughs) Whatever… Anyway, in his later years he did a lot of abstract art because he had diabetes and lost his sight. But in every painting there is some very specific detail, like a mediation house up in the mountains or a waterfall. That appealed to me a lot, that combination. Although I’m pretty detailed oriented on what I do.

Sonya: How do you get that really pretty rainbow effect on the background that doesn’t look like a brush made it?

Ibbie: The background on the Bat flower and on the grapes over there was made using a method called an ink pour method. So what I do is wet the paper, and I just take diluted watercolor and pour it on there and tilt it.  If you put two colors on there, they’ll blend. Or three colors. It’s a great way to get started. People always say ” I can’t do watercolor its so hard.” But it is really so easy, and it dries fast! You can use a hair dryer to push the paint around. There is all these happy accidents that happen with watercolors. The secret of watercolors is to stop, leave it, and wait. Because it does things in between times.

Sonya: Yeah, in my experience I always wanted to go over my paintings again and again. It seems like the best painters are always deep in thought, almost like a meditation. Is that true for you? What kind of inspiration do you receive from creating art?

Ibbie: In the early 1960s I took a painting class at Penn State. The teacher encouraged us to study our own creative process. As you begin to understand what allows that deep center to come out, it becomes evident that it’s divinely inspired. It comes out in various ways in different people. That’s what I feel it is. Any expression of creativity. I do all kinds of writing too. Painting is like a motor skill. It comes out of your hands. I’ve always been fascinated by hands. My hands get hot and I can tell when I need to paint because my hands get very hot and they need something to do. I sew, and garden but there is a certain thing that happens when I paint, and the inspiration comes from something that I want to paint. I hope that answered your question.

Sonya: Yes! It did. Thank you. I’m also fascinated by your love of plants. When and how did that start?

Ibbie: Oh, I can tell you that. I probably was 2 or 3 and my grandmother lived in Springtown, Texas. I grew up in Texas. I would go visit her and she was a gardner and I’d go, “Mema, what’s that plant? Mema, what’s that plant?” I must’ve driven her crazy! I learned all these plant names. She always had beautiful gardens and I’d always go out with her. My own mother had 5 children so I used to rake the yard and try to make it pretty. I’ve always gardened. When I lived in an apartment I’d have pots all over the place and drive the other tenants crazy, with the water drips everywhere. When I moved I needed two U-haul trucks. One for furniture and one for plants. I just can’t help making baby plants.

Sonya: Yeah it’s really easy to propagate them!

Ibbie: I mean, you just look at them and they grow roots! My son specialize in micro greens and the chefs he sells them to, want them a specific size. In order to get that he buys this very high end soil with a lot of nutrients and only uses it once. So I get all that incredible soil. You know what they say, “when you move to Hawaii you spend your first year planting and the rest of your time cutting back.”

Sonya: (laughs) That is so true! It really is the Garden Island. Ibbie, how do you combine these two loves? What is it about plants that inspires you to paint?

Ibbie: They’re so beautiful, and they have great shapes. It’s a challenge too…How do you paint that thing, that shape. Its a three dimensional thing. I can’t tell you how many Phalaenopsis I’ve tried to paint to get that curve. I also have a greenhouse full of orchids. I happen to like Orchids a lot and I like Iris. So I painted a lot of Iris in California. I have quite a few that are growing here. I go out in the morning and whoever bloomed that night is what I paint. I have a constant supply of models and I just love flowers you know.

Bat Flower Painting

Sonya: It seems like there is a connection between plants and painting, kind of what you mentioned before…Like plants are the fruit of the creative process of our planet, and with painting we become that creator… Just a thought.

Ibbie: Yeah, thats intriguing. Well it’s a living thing compared to a building and a sidewalk. Some painters like to do cityscapes, and thats meaningful to them. But I don’t live in the city…

Sonya: Well then what a blessing it is to be surrounded by your inspiration. That was another question I wanted to ask you. How can plants be a source of peace, comfort, and inspiration to us in addition to the physical functions they perform?

Ibbie: Well they’re living things, and they respond to us. When my babies were little, I’d take them into a noisy restaurant, and they’d start to get fussy so I’d go stand by potted plants and they would calm down. Plants share with us. The pervading philosophy in the world is that we are all separate. Thats why I really admire someone who runs a nursery because they love it not just because it’s a job. An environment that’s good for plants, like slightly warm, is just perfect for me. I could live in a greenhouse. Send me to the desert and I die. We are part of this earth and the things that are growing in it give back to us.

Sonya: Hmm. Yeah, they sure do! Ibbie, there is one more thing I’d like to ask you. I read it in a magazine and I thought it was a great question.

What is an artistic view on life? Is there such a thing?

Ibbie:When you ask that question, there are so many different answers to it. Everyone has their own perception. This is just mine…

If you go to the art schools and read the criticism of art they say that artists are the precursors to society. They are the ones who see things first and such. If you study the history of art there are a lot of artists who make a lot of political statements through their art. These statements get attention because it was done through art. So there are strata of society who respond to art. The intellectuals.

I feel that a large percentage of the population in the evolutionary cycle are on a mediocre level in terms of being less obsorbed with their own personal needs.  I think artists have the potential to change that and uplift others. They don’t always, but they can.

A few years ago it occurred to me, I thought, well, I’m really concerned about the state of society and the world, but I’m just one person. I’m not a warrior and I’m not an activist. I thought, well what can I do as an artist to make a difference. So I wound up painting a picture of the Koi. The Koi to me represent our need to come together and understand each other in some way. They were all coming together probably for food, but I thought that’s what we all need to do, to come together.

So my whole philosophy which I haven’t examined yet, is I just create beauty. I don’t paint ugly things or hard edge. I like curves and beautiful colors. I just opened a gallery in Hanapepe and when people come into my little room they take a deep breath. People come in and just have to breathe it in. The paintings feed them and soothe them and its a way of me communicating to the world what I see.

Sonya: Well all your paintings are very colorful and very beautiful. I especially like the Nasturtiums.

Thank you so much for sharing Ibbie. That was really inspiring!

If you’d like to look at more of Ibbie’s rare and beautiful art go look for her gallery in Hanapepe. Mahalo!

Ginger Blooms

5 Responses to Ibbie Alshamma, Plant Lover and Watercolor Enthusiast

  1. Sue March 23, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

    What a great interview ! Love Ibbie’s painting !

  2. Pam March 24, 2016 at 4:15 pm #

    Wonderful interview with Ibbie. She is an inspiration to all of us who love plants and art.

  3. Chris Carlson March 26, 2016 at 6:09 pm #

    What a fun interview. Ibbie is so talented! Love the bat flowers!

  4. Suzanne Kobayashi March 26, 2016 at 8:29 pm #

    I loved reading this interview with Ibbie. I have known her since she moved here and so much in the interview revealed yet more of Ibbie to me. We are sisters in plants and art. I have been gardening on Kauai since the late 70’s. I too needed a truck load each time I moved just for plants. I have to check out your nursery now and Ibbie’s new gallery. Mahalo!

  5. Carrie March 27, 2016 at 8:38 am #

    Thank you so much for that interview. It is truly inspiring to one who has been lazy about their art but does have a small nursery to enjoy breathing with everyday.

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