Brew­ing art

Sum­mer­side res­i­dent uses cof­fee to paint and un­wind when feel­ing over­whelmed

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FEATURES - BY MILLICENT MCKAY millicent.mckay@jour­nal­pi­ JOURNAL PI­O­NEER

In her small apart­ment, Bonita Ni­chols sits at the desk in the far­thest cor­ner from the front door.

Colour­ful paint­ings and pic­tures cover the white walls as bun­dles of mark­ers and pen­cil crayons fill a liv­ing room ta­ble and pal­ettes of paint lay on the desk.

She reaches up and grabs a bot­tle of Maxwell House in­stant cof­fee, pours it into a lit­tle dish and adds wa­ter. She chooses a paint­brush, a piece of card­board and be­gins work­ing on her lat­est work.

“I don’t paint some­thing be­cause some­one tells me an idea. It has to come from within my heart. I can’t just paint to paint.”

Ni­chols moved to P.E.I. from New­mar­ket, Ont., in 1968.

“I al­ways knew grow­ing up there was some­thing dif­fer­ent about me. But no one could fig­ure it out.”

At 62, Ni­chols learned she was autis­tic.

“Some­times I don’t know how to han­dle things. My brain didn’t have time to work things out. I see things in black and white, no gray ar­eas.”

Now 67, she has the per­fect way to un­wind when she feels over­whelmed. “I can be­gin work­ing on a cof­fee paint­ing and within sec­onds I can al­ready feel a dif­fer­ence in my mood and be­come calm.”

Ni­chols started tak­ing art classes with Arno Fre­itag three years ago. Orig­i­nally the class started with acrylic paints, which led to asthma flare-ups for Ni­chols. From there she be­gan learn­ing how to paint with wa­ter­colours. Even­tu­ally she started mak­ing birch bark art from scraps of bark she would find in the park.

But despite branch­ing out into dif­fer­ent medi­ums, cof­fee paint­ing is her favourite.

“I feel se­cure and safe when I’m work­ing with cof­fee; I’m to­tally en­grossed in my work, noth­ing can dis­turb me.

“One thing I find when I’m work­ing on some­thing that isn’t cof­fee paint­ing I have to take a break from it. I don’t get the same re­lief. It’s con­stant in­for­ma­tion over­load when I’m work­ing on some­thing other than cof­fee paint­ing.”

Ni­chols’ cof­fee paint­ings are com­pleted in lay­ers.

“First I’ll paint the back layer, streak­ing the colour across the board. I’ll let it dry and then I’ll come back to it and start on the next layer of the piece.”

It’s how she feels when cre­at­ing the paint­ings that con­tin­ues to pique her in­ter­est.

“There is a deep abid­ing sat­is­fac­tion. And I don’t think I’ve ever had that un­til I started cof­fee paint­ing.

“When I was a young girl I would write po­etry and sto­ries, as a way to re­lease what I was feel­ing, and in a way, that has trans­ferred to paint­ing.

“I can feel scared or sad or on in­for­ma­tion over­load and then I can sit at this desk and be­gin to work and it’s like ev­ery­thing has changed.”

Ni­chols likes cre­at­ing her own art be­cause she feels con­nected to them.

“I get to make the pic­ture that I want. If I were to go buy one, I feel like it wouldn’t mean any­thing to me.”


Bonita Ni­chols shows her favourite cof­fee paint­ing. The Sum­mer­side res­i­dent uses cof­fee paint­ing to re­lax.


When paint­ing with cof­fee the po­ten­tial for art is lim­it­less.

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