As a child, Kerima Swain always knew she felt most peaceful creating art. She'd escape into her own world of painting, drawing and doodling.

Because she knew how calm and confident she felt as she created, Swain figured that as an adult she would get into a career that allowed her to find peace with art and share those feelings with others.

Swain was able to combine her two passions as a registered art therapist and licensed family therapist.

Now, she spends time as an art therapist and activities director at a local board and care home for older adults, aiding them in the self-expression process in their later years through painting, drawing and collages.

"Before the commercial art field, I wanted to get into a field where I can help people," said Swain, a Walnut Creek resident who has also worked in graphic design. "The focus is more about creating art in the moment."

Katherine Grutas, administrator of The Carnelian retirement home in Walnut Creek, said the residents really enjoy Swain's art program.

"She prepares simple yet fun art projects for our seniors, some of whom have dementia," Grutas said. "Her activities are easy to follow, which provides a rewarding experience for our residents.

"After Kerima's class, the residents feel accomplished and proud of the work they were able to complete," Grutas added. "It's a simple program that works and makes our seniors happy."

Being out in nature inspires Swain to continue her own process of self-discovery through art.

She features her oil and acrylic paintings of local scenes and several visits to western national parks are in evidence at the Moraga Art Gallery show "Illuminated by Nature," highlighting the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

A lover of nature, Swain said she enjoys capturing breathtaking views she sees while hiking with her camera and paintbrushes. She paints from her photographs as well as plein air.

Oakland artist Karen Kramer, who has based her work on a lifelong affinity with the natural world, will also show her work at this show.

Swain's favorite subjects include the Lafayette Reservoir, Mount Diablo and Shell Ridge Open Space.

"A lot of landscapes are realistic and detailed," said Swain, also the director of the Blackhawk Gallery. "My art is not realistic and not abstract, but somewhere in between."

Said painter Barbara Cella, "Kerima is an incredibly talented painter. She captures the light, color and atmosphere in her paintings beautifully. I love the way she composes her paintings to capture a moment in time, cropping the scene in ways that make you focus on details you otherwise might miss."

Being illuminated by nature and capturing the flora and fauna found in natural landscapes onto canvas has been an ongoing process of discovery of herself as an artist, she said.

"I had to go through a lot of self-exploration being an art therapist," said Swain, who was born and raised in Taiwan before she moved with her family to North America when she was 17. "I can see how people struggle with the arts and with their self-confidence. When I'm painting, it is easy to criticize myself.

"I have a conversation with myself. The process of art can be therapeutic. But when you start criticizing yourself, you can disable the creativity. When you're being hard on yourself and think you're not good enough, you think you might as well stop."

Swain said that as an art therapist, she helps people nurture their creativity as she helps herself.

"When I watch my clients create art, it inspires me to create art."

Painter and Art Therapist Kerima Swain
  • WHAT: "Illuminated by Nature"
  • WHEN: Through May 31
  • WHERE: Moraga Art Gallery, 522 Center St., Moraga
  • INFORMATION: Reception, 5-7 p.m., Saturday; www.moragaartgallery.com, call 925-376-5407 or email [email protected].