Nicole Hewat is a very special Canadian artist with an ardent enthusiasm for single-origin craft chocolate. After she discovered the extraordinary bean to bar chocolate world, she decided to maximize her passion creating such unique paintings with one of the most outlandish fruit in the world.
I was impressed by her personal and revolutionary approach to chocolate since the first time. Indeed I love it when people like Nicole build up the hobby to a point that it will be an effective cultural force.
As you can see below, she kindly shared with me some of her private materials.
This artwork was inspired by a photo that Kim Wilson sent to her of a river on the way to ADIOESMAC Cooperative in Chabon, Guatemala.
This is a process image of a particular painting: the reference photo was taken by her friend who volunteered at an orphanage in Peru where they are growing cacao to fund the orphanage. The money from the sale of this painting will be donated to the orphanage.
This is the muller she uses to mix the paint and three different pigments. One is from husks from Qantu’s Hidden Treasure bar, one is husks from Ecuador and the darkest is from husks toaster in cast iron.
I also asked her a few questions and I hope this little glimpse behind the scenes will interest you!
How long did it take you to perfect your technique/result?
I’ve been painting since I was a child and started formal lessons at an art gallery with oil paint when I was eight. Oil paint has been my preferred medium but while attending the University of Guelph in the Studio Art program, I started to play with the process by using pigment and water to create paintings. I’ve been experimenting with different pigments for many years. I’ve also worked with traditional watercolor paint for many years. The techniques from these mediums translate well to working with cocoa paint.
How do you realize different shades of brown?
There are a few different ways to find different tones while working with cocoa. I use a watercolor technique, which utilizes the white of the paper for lighter areas. The cocoa ink (husks boiled in water for a couple of hours) is a lighter tint. I’ve found that cocoa husks from different origins can create slightly different browns. I also roast husks in a cast iron pot until they are very dark and then grind them and make them into the paint. Finally, layering plays an important role in these paintings.
What is the cocoa source you use: cocoa powder, nibs, etc?
Different chocolate makers have sent husks that I work with and I also have some cocoa powder from MABCO that creates a finer pigment and different texture of the paint to add variety to the paintings.
Does the cacao origin/variety have an important rule in that respect?
It is really fun to see the different tones that different origins have. I haven’t found any science to back this up but I am wondering if the level of acidity of the husks influences the color. I’ve also experimented with adding vinegar and it shifts the color to yellow.
It smells good, doesn`t it?
It smells like brownies baking when I’m painting and is so delightful.
I notice the effect is like watercolor, what kind of painting tools do you use?
I’ve chosen to create watercolor paint with the cocoa because I was gifted with a lot of beautiful watercolor paper. It is also possible to make oil paint (just use linseed or other oil as the binder). To make the watercolor paint, I mix the pigment with gum arabic, honey, and water. I use a muller to achieve a good consistency.
How long do your paintings last? It might seem stupid but I am curious if after a while the quality can change or do you use some kind of protective lotion?
The first cocoa painting I created was almost a year ago. That painting is currently framed and hanging in an exhibition. So far, the paintings have been stable and I believe that as long as there is no moisture, they should have a very long lifespan. Natural pigments are also called living pigments, so there is a chance that they will change over time. I wouldn’t recommend putting them in direct sunlight. Do you sign your artworks? Are they for sale?
Yes, they are signed and dated on the back and the source of the original reference photo for the landscapes is also written. They are for sale and I’m currently asking $250 for the 5x7 paintings that are part of the Origin Landscape series.
Any future ideas to develop?
I have all kinds of ideas swimming around in my mind that I would love to create but it can be difficult to find the time. Right now I’m focused on the landscapes and creating a children’s book about how chocolate is made that will be illustrated with cocoa butter paintings.
Do you also work on commission?
I do accept commissions and am happy to work with someone if they have an image they would like to see as a cocoa painting.
Since I was also a body paint model and I used to join some art exhibitions, I am curious about your idea of an art gallery to show case your projects or even if you consider possible to participate in future chocolate shows with your alternative approach to this very art material.
That sounds like an interesting experience! You are very brave. The current plan is to create enough cocoa origin landscapes to apply for exhibitions in my area. I would like to pair a bar of chocolate made with beans that are from the origin of the landscape painting and display the wrapper of the bar beside the painting.