Inspired by the natural beauty of South Florida, artist Haena Chen Biton is known for her eye-catching art that is both whimsical and thought-provoking. Amid vibrant colors and bold brushstrokes, you would never know that she was once intimidated to pick up a paintbrush, which is why today she aspires to reach those who have yet to discover their own potential.
Part of the recently debuted Acqua Experiences at Acqualina Resort & Spa, Haena’s Painting Picnik brings free-flowing, abstract painting classes to the shores of Sunny Isles Beach. The key is to paint what you feel, not what you are told, because in this creative space each person is working on something different – something that is uniquely their own.
“Art is no longer left to the famous artists with the painting studios,” says Haena. “It is open and wide for exploration and participation. When art is brought into an informal, fun setting, it allows participants to enter the craft in a less pressured environment.”
For a few hours on Sundays, art and nature blend together as guests express themselves on Acqualina’s front lawn, which looks out over the glistening Atlantic and 400 feet of shoreline. You can join in at any time and paint whatever you choose. Haena is always close by to offer ideas, assist with sketching and choosing colors, and provide anything else you might need, but she emphasizes the importance of creating something distinctive to you.
Photo: Eva Simon Photography
“I never knew I had talent because I was told what to paint,” she says, recalling the painting classes she once attended where participants are told exactly what to do, step by step. “I never was allowed to discover my talent in that type of environment.”
That was part of her inspiration for Painting Picnik: to allow new and experienced artists to paint from the heart.
Haena had always enjoyed art from a young age, but a few years ago as an adult immersed in the business world, she began to feel detached from her ability to create. She started painting on her own – inspired by the beaches and gardens of Miami, her experiences, and events around the globe – and found herself drawn to acrylic mediums and abstract expression.
“My artwork comes from my thoughts and my feelings,” she says. “Sometimes I paint things that I don’t necessarily know are going to come about. It’s quite surprising to discover things as I go.” (Recently while painting a portrait, an owl appeared on the edge of her canvas – one that she hadn’t planned on including. Some people see it and some people don’t because art is open to interpretation, something Haena says is due to our individuality and how we each see things in our own way.)
It was her love of the outdoors that led her to start Painting Picnik, with the hope that the class would be a platform for participants to discover their own creativity, and she feels lucky to be surrounded by such incredible scenery both in Miami and at Acqualina.
“Talk about getting inspiration for your art,” she says. “Sometimes I look out as I’m leading a class, and I’m like, ‘this is unreal.’ I don’t think I could be painting in a more beautiful place.”
The location by the beach invites the passerby to wander over and ask about the class, and Haena welcomes the interaction. Art is a leisurely social experience, she says. There’s no pressure, and stepping away from the canvas to take a breather or chat with neighbors is actually encouraged.
Young children are welcome to participate, too. Haena employs all kinds of materials to keep them engaged with the canvas from stencils to unique brushes – and even organizes special classes sometimes with materials like ice made with food coloring.
Through it all, her goal is to open a door.
“What inspires me is the fact that I’m opening up settings to people that didn’t think they were an option,” she says. “We are all capable artists, and we can all create.”
Featured Photo: Eva Simon Photography