Birds, bush, and sea: the uniquely New Zealand art of Liz Abbott

Working from her Blueskin Bay studio, full-time artist Liz Abbott draws inspiration for her original oil paintings, pastels and prints from the landscape around her. A well-known New Zealand painter, Liz’s regularly exhibited and award-winning art can be found in public and private collections throughout the world.

lizabbottart pastel of bay


What do you make?
I make pictures in a variety of mediums from woodcuts to pastels to oil paints.

How did you get into your art practice?
I grew up in Christchurch surrounded by large oil paintings hanging on the wall that were created by my great great Aunt Annie Elizabeth Kelly née Abbott (1877-1946) who was a leading NZ professional portrait artist during the 1920s and 30s, so it always seemed normal to me to pursue art as a career.

As a child I attended Saturday morning art classes at the CSA and when I left school I completed a Diploma of Fine Arts with Honours at the Dunedin School of Art, where I majored in printmaking and papermaking. Several decades later I gained a Master of Fine Arts, this time majoring in painting, from the Otago Polytechnic School of Art in Dunedin.

I developed my woodcut prints of New Zealand birds into a business as a way of supporting my other art practices. I make my woodcut prints an open edition which keeps them affordable, accessible, and easy to post – I like providing authentic original artwork that has been made here in New Zealand – this includes the harakeke paper from Whanganui that I print on and the mat boards and frames from Tauranga that I present them in.

What inspires you?
I have always been inspired by the birds, bush and coastline. In our own garden we have daily visits from pīwakawaka (fantails), kererū (New Zealand pigeons), tūī, korimako (bellbirds), riroriro (grey warblers), kotare (kingfishers) and even Australian eastern rosellas!

Blueskin Bay and Doctors Point beach are a five minute walk from home and Orokonui Ecosanctuary – a predator-free home to kākā, takahē and kiwi – is a ten minute drive away. Recently we were lucky enough to visit the northern royal albatrosses (toroa) with their chicks at Taiaroa Head, a half hour drive from Dunedin.

lizabbottart plein air painting seacliff blog

drawing tui from kitchen table blog


Describe your creative process:
Most days include drawing and often I will take my sketchbook and pastels on my walks to work directly from nature. On wet days I will often just draw what is on the kitchen table… my 89 year old neighbour provides me with beautiful home grown flowers to draw. I also take photos of birds to use as reference for my woodcuts – I create several new designs each year.

Tell us about the techniques involved in producing a woodcut print:
I start with drawing and playing around with various compositions. I then simplify and scale down the drawing and transfer it on to MDF in reverse before carving the block and printing it on my locally made printing press. Sometimes I will make several carvings before I am happy with the end result. I hand-colour the finished woodcuts with several layers of watercolour so no two prints are exactly the same.


Describe your workspace:
Organised chaos! I am lucky enough to enjoy a large lined double garage with sea views over Blueskin Bay which is the hub of all my making – it is a busy creative space!

Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
I have many including my mother who inspires me with her exquisite felting, knitting, crochet and paua jewellery – she has been a prolific and accomplished maker all her life and her work room is a treasure trove of colours, textures and countless ongoing projects – more organised chaos!

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
I enjoy all the feedback I get – it is wonderful when people take the time to share their responses to my work!

lizabbottart oil landscape blog

lizabbottart studio blog

lizabbottart studio 2 blog

What’s your favourite childhood book and why?
One that stands out is The Borrowers by English author Mary Norton, which features a family of tiny people who live in the walls and floors of a house and “borrow” from the big people. I remember making a model of them for a school project and mum “knitted” some cotton on to pins for me!

What are you reading now?
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens and A History of Pictures by David Hockney and Martin Gayford.

What are you currently listening to?
Spotify – it is so much fun looking up favourite artists and discovering new ones. I work best with music!

Recommend an album:
Ernest Ranglin’s Below the Bassline always puts me in a good mood.

A favourite quote:
There were many favourite quotes in our family including: “To thine own self be true and it must follow as night to day thou canst not then be false to any man” (Shakespeare). My grandmother used to tell me “There is no such word as can’t” and that “Every little bit helps, said the old woman as she did wee wee in the sea”!


lizabbotart ti kouka blog

Tell us about your pets:
My husband Rudie and I are the proud parents of Russell, a mixed terrier who accompanies me on my walks – he gets a little impatient when I bring out the drawing materials and is inclined to kick sand to get me to hurry up and throw sticks instead!

What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
Being a full-time self employed artist involves much more than making pictures. You have to be willing to build good working relationships with outlets and suppliers, market your own work, manage your accounts and fluctuating income as well as being self motivated, energetic and positive!

What’s in store for the rest of 2017?
Continuing making pastels and paintings and working on a series of designs featuring extinct birds such as the huia and moa, as well as developing other designs of Dunedin’s architectural attractions to accompany my recent woodcut of Dunedin Railway Station.


lizabbottary press blog

lizabbottart2 blog

Liz has very generously offered a prize for one lucky Felt reader of a $69 gift voucher (that’s enough for one of Liz’s gorgeous large prints) to be redeemed in her Felt shop. Awesome, thank you so much Liz!

To be in to win this lovely prize, simply leave a comment telling us (a) which New Zealand native bird is your favourite and why, and (b) what you like about Liz’s story and her art. We look forward to reading your responses! The voucher draw will be made on Friday 15 June and is open to New Zealand residents only.


Explore Liz’s beautiful artworks on Felt now »


lizabbottart liz and russell blog

lizabbottart spoonbill card blog

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

17 Responses to “Birds, bush, and sea: the uniquely New Zealand art of Liz Abbott”

  1. My faves are the adorable wax eyes, followed by fantails.

    I am an aspiring artist/creator myself, so love reading about others with a passion for creating beautiful things. I found Liz’s article very inspiring and her work is so lovely. Thank you for sharing her piece with us, and thank you Liz for the chance to win your amazing work!

  2. J Hill says:

    Without a doubt the Pīwakawaka fantails are my favourites. They have such energy and character. Also they are captivating to watch and seem to like flying close to people. I love the boldness of her art and a connectedness that comes through in Liz’s story – connected to family, her environment, the historic buildings of Dunedin and the city’s beautiful surroundings.

  3. amy says:

    I love the wee fantail, It looks ready to fly and you can almost see the movement in the tail :)

  4. Stefan Jordan says:

    I’m not good at favourites but will choose Komako (Bellbird) because this smallish bird is not easily seen but it’s iconic song is often heard and when one takes the time to stop and listen one realises how they are singing in concert and with synchronicity. So beautiful. I love how Liz is immersed in the creative process as a reflection of the feelings arising from her immediate environment both natural and architectural. Her art somehow expresses the sense of identity we get from our relationship with where we live. The wow that we feel and the various moods we get at different times from our surroundings. Her works expresses those moods in ways that I cannot.

  5. Log says:

    Hi Liz,

    It’s awesome to see that you are living the dream and there’s hope for me yet! I first noticed a native bird patch of yours earlier this year and since then I’ve been seeing your works everywhere.

    I don’t really have a favourite NZ bird, they’re all pretty special but I identify most with the cheeky scavenging Kea. My art practice is just beginning and I often work with found materials/objects and I gotta say, Kea definitely know what’s up.
    I love your focus on native birds, your use of strong colour and shape puts emphasis on the status of these species and is a good reminder of how precious our environment is.

    Keep it up!!

  6. Fran Vakapuna says:

    Fantails are my favourite. They’re cheeky and friendly and it’s just such a pleasure to see them flitting about outside my window. I like to believe that they represent someone who has passed away who is returning to visit. I love that Liz prints on harakeke-that is really unique. I liked sharing this article with my daughters as they recently spent a day working with a woodcut artist and created their own Lino prints.

  7. My favourites are the kereru! They are my lucky charm and are the birds that helped start my wee business. I love that Liz is inspired by birds – they are my inspiration, too! I study conservation so am always looking for people in art who have similar interests. I’m glad that I have found Liz’s work xx

  8. Rebekah says:

    I have too many favourite NZ native birds – from the fat, drunken kukupa, to the cheeky kea, to the plucky little piwakawaka. I especially love the mysterious and beautiful huia too. Too hard to pick one!

    I love Liz’s advice to other artists – it is so much more than just your craft. Those relationships, the accounts, the admin, and the self-care is just, if not more sometimes, important!

  9. Halcyone Rust says:

    My favourite nz bird is the kotare or nz kingfisher.such wonderful colours.Liz Abbot has literally got to be one of my FAVOURITE artists.She has a divine gift.Her work is inspired and inspirational.Its like she paints the world the way my eyes see it..i find her artwork an absolute delight to my senses and a true reflection of the NZ life.

  10. Mary says:

    Fantails – vivid memories of bush walks as a child, the fantails found ng and being convinced by my Dad that he was talking to them as he whistled and they replied :)

  11. Shirley says:

    Stunning prints and great to read about the maker. Very cool.

  12. Kirsten Anderson says:

    Beautiful work Liz.
    I love fantails. They often come inside my work and flit about twittering for a while which we think is a sign of good luck.

  13. Lisa says:

    I love the kereru as it’s hard to believe such a large bird can swoop so silently and elegantly. It always makes me stop in wonder.

    I love Liz’s work, so often her paintings reflect a scene that is familiar – whether in a landscape or a feeling/ emotion that you get from the image. I love too how down to earth and sharing she is of her craft and time.

  14. Karen says:

    Beautiful work

  15. Bronwen Ambler says:

    Beautiful work! You are so clever and talented!!

  16. Matthew peppercorn says:

    My favourite new zealand bird is the budgie. I love how they flutter round my window in the morning when im drinking my coffee.Possibly ….then the moa bird, though some one told me they are almost extinct. How can we save these majestic flightless birds??
    The thing i like about liz and her story is that she did a print with me once and i was crippled. It gave me the inspiration to get better..aroha

  17. Sue says:

    Something different and created locally – fantastic

Leave a Reply