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Summerside resident uses coffee to paint, unwind when feeling overwhelmed

Bonita Nichols with her favourite coffee painting.
Bonita Nichols with her favourite coffee painting.

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 fell 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 on 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.”

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