Artist Helga Payawal-Vergara Found Nature from Within

Because of the pandemic’s lockdown restrictions, many of us miss the outdoors. It’s undeniable that we’ve taken for granted what’s outside our homes, and that we would do anything to go on a mask-free run in a park, on a long hike up a mountain, or even just outside breathing in fresh air, surrounded by trees and flowers again.

The artist Helga Payawal-Vergara found a way to counter our longing for nature. Through her artworks of beautiful florals, she found that by painting nature she was also able to “bring the environment inside”.

Helga was interested in crafts and tactile hobbies even as a kid. As she grew older, she channeled her creativity through workshops and various forms of art, like scrapbooking in 2005, then later watercolor painting in 2015. She found that painting allowed her to relax, escape from her stressful reality, and focus on her subject and craft while forgetting what’s around her. Receiving people’s appreciation for her works and gaining confidence also motivated her to continue. Although her interest in art initially began as a hobby, she later taught all levels from preschool to adult education in private schools before becoming a full-time design and crafts professor in UP Los Baños in 2012. As a professor, she gained pleasure sharing this skill, and believes that anybody can learn to paint as long as they are interested in it. The people she influenced through her paintings also moved her to continue painting and inspiring others to develop their passion and improve.

The pandemic and the difficulties it brought also pushed Helga to conduct workshops and paint more, with the nature she missed as the common focus. She chose florals and plants as her subject because she valued realism and wanted to capture these flowers by studying and duplicating them onto the canvas. Growing up at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) at the foothill of Mount Makiling, she was surrounded by flora and fauna from which she gained her inspiration. All her paintings display different flowers she grew up with, reminding her of her childhood and developing a special emotional attachment. She paints these plants in their natural environment, rather than cut or in a vase, to give importance to their untouched and unharmed beauty.

Plants and flowers take the spotlight at OICA’s “Efflorescence”, 19 August 2021. Source: University of the Philippines Los Baños, Retrieved from

Last December 2020, when Office for Initiatives in Culture and the Arts (OICA) Director Jerry R. Yapo invited Helga to be one of two artists in the Sining Makiling Gallery Exhibit in UP Los Baños, she was thrilled. “It was a dream come true,” she said, before reminiscing on how she had brought her design students to view the exhibit way back, and how it became a goal of hers to one day be featured in the exhibit too. Following the theme of endemic species, Helga’s paintings featured various plants including Sampaguita, Paphiopedilum (Slipper Orchid), Begonia, Hoya Mindorensis, Doña Aurora, Doña Eva, Queen Sirikit, Jade Vine, Medinilla Magnifica, Hoya Incrassata, Calamansi, Rafflesia, Kapok, Dendrobium boosii, and Hibiscus Rosa sinensis. The exhibit’s title “Efflorescence”, although literally meaning “unfolding as if coming into a flower”, was symbolic of her blooming into an artist through the exhibit.

Her favorite piece from the exhibit features the Strongylodon macrobotrys or Jade vine because the plant is found in Makiling, and is the first painting she has ever made. She also has emotional attachments to other pieces, like the Hibiscus or Gumamela, named after a national scientist who was her neighbor and sorority sister, or the Mussaenda because these were the common flowers in their village growing up.

As someone that studies human ecology, she explains how human ecology also relates to the interrelationship of humans with the environment. Appreciation or value for the environment begins at home and is rooted in how one is raised. Furthermore, humans continue to contribute greatly to environmental degradation, getting into the natural habitat of these fauna and destroying them. As humans that long to be outdoors again, Helga’s works remind us of not only the beauty of nature, but also our responsibility to protect it. She calls on all of us when she says, “Everyone should learn to protect the environment. We should live harmoniously with the environment.”

FEED values the efforts of Helga Payawal-Vergara as both a professor and artist that advocates for the conservation of nature. Helga’s values are in line with our organization’s, as together, we stand for both education and the environment.

More on Helga Payawal-Vergara

What’s the future of her art? She wants to continue painting, and aims to be part of more exhibits in bigger galleries. Contact her at:

More on the Efflorescence Exhibit

The exhibit featured UPLB alumni Meg Yandoc and Helga Payawal-Vergara. The exhibit took place at the Sining Makiling Gallery, DL Umali Hall Basement, UPLB, from August 17, 2021 to September 30, 2021. The exhibit may also be viewed at OICA’s official Facebook page:

Doña Eva

Slipper Orchid

Dendrobium Boosii

Prepared by: Jessie Cruz, FEED Intern

Jessie Cruz is a Management Engineering student in Ateneo de Manila University. Beyond her academics, she pursues her environmental advocacy by working with various environmental NGOs and social enterprises such as FEED.

© Fostering Education & Environment for Development, Inc.