I simply can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t creating.
I studied fine art in school and have always had a deep love for drawing—portraits especially—and painting. Because I was born way back in 1960, I’ve had lots of time to explore many mediums over the course of my life and career. Each of them very different, but I knew if I felt a connection to it, it was worth the exploration! I believe this can be a healthy exercise for any artist.
Years ago, when I was living in downtown Chicago as a young adult, I found myself painting on fabric and then turning that fabric into handmade pillows and clothing that I sold to boutiques in the city. Working with my hands in this way always felt really good. Turning my painting into usable art was really exciting and prompted me to kind of break out of my artistic safe place! So, I kept exploring and found polymer clay to be one of the most fun mediums I’ve ever used! I could mold and sculpt little tiny faces, flowers, insects, and even little pieces of furniture to create miniature scenes. I turned these molded pieces into jewelry, frames, and very detailed mirrors.
When my kids were young and in school, I was led to one of my most rewarding and challenging artist gigs: painting murals for some of Chicago’s top designers. Working for someone else as an artist can be tough. They were counting on me to bring their vision to life and to do it flawlessly! I was pushed hard mentally and physically. Working out the logistics on some of the largest murals was like solving a very complicated puzzle! But I learned so much and met some of the most incredible people, while working in some of the most beautiful spaces. I ended up doing this for 10 years, until my hips gave out. It was then that I decided to rent studio space and get back to painting on canvas. My kids were both in college now and I could just enjoy the process. It was like getting back in touch with an old friend!
Well, the next chapter in my artist journey reads like a line out of a Talking Heads song. The one that goes, “Well, how did I get here?” It probably does seem as though I’d been jumping around from one medium to another. But the truth is, working with foliage just kind of showed up for me. Actually, it not only showed up for me, it came just when I needed it.
I had been working in my studio and loving it when life took an unexpected turn. I was about to embark on a journey through a very serious and scary health challenge. One that forced me, at the time, to quit doing all the things I loved, including painting.
I say working with plants “showed up” for me because out of all the mediums I’ve used to make art, I would have never thought I’d find my way back to playing with sticks and flowers like I did when I was a child! Through social media I had come across some art that reminded me of those days. So, when it was much too painful to paint, I would play around with petals and foliage from outside my doorstep. It felt good and therapeutic. I connected deeply with it, so I just kept playing.
Some of the first pieces I created were very simple and loose. I loved the whimsicality of how botanical bits could, if arranged in the right way, look like something else! Before I knew it, I was taking foraging walks to find leaves and petals that would become face features and jewelry. I was looking at the world in a whole new way, getting out of my worrying mind and into the present moment, where I needed to stay!
It’s been about 7 years now that I’ve been creating art with foliage. I do still paint, but truthfully, working with plants has been so therapeutic, I don’t see stopping anytime soon.
Life will give you whatever experience is the most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. — Eckhart Tolle
I usually start each piece with a stroll through the outdoors.
I’m not thinking about what I want to find per se, I’m just keeping my mind open, picking up what I’m connected to. It reminds me of forest bathing. Clearing all the clutter from my head and tuning into my surroundings. Slowing down and immersing myself in the natural environment.
Splitting my time between living in Door County, WI, and La Jolla, CA, where the landscapes are very different but provide equally beautiful foliage, it’s not hard to walk out of my studio door and find something from the earth that inspires me! Dropped leaves in a CVS parking lot, locust leaflets outside a favorite coffee shop, fallen limbs from trees under my car bumper, everything is fair game!
For the most part, I don’t plan out my pieces.
I let what foliage I find guide the process. Once back in my studio, I dump out my bag of collected sticks, leaves, dandelion, acorns, mushrooms, bark, and wildflowers. If I do have fresh flowers, I’ll put them in water. The rest I might separate into little boxes or just leave to rest on the sides of my table.
I use poster board or art board for my backgrounds most of the time. So in my next step, I’m thinking about what color I might use—white, black, neutral? I love working on black, where stars and a moon come to life in a magical way. For this reason, I often feel a pull to build on a black surface. A white background is perfect for a daytime scene, and the neutral background lends more of an earthy feel. The background I choose ultimately depends on my mood.
After I pick out the background, I start playing with the foliage on top of my board. Just simply pushing things around gets my flow going and ideas start to come. If I have a lot of larger flower heads, I’m probably more inclined to start a person. If I have a bunch of little pieces, I’m thinking of a scene of some type. I usually let the piece start to develop, and then if I feel like someone should be there within the scene, I’ll add them. For this specific piece, I decided early on that I wanted to build a girl with her dog!
Every piece of plant matter is just floating delicately on the surface of my board. I don’t use anything like glue to adhere the foliage to my surface! My tools are a pair of scissors, tweezers, and gravity.
Once I start placing things more intentionally around my board, creating a type of outline, I’ll decide what shape I’m going to work in. For this piece I took dried leaves and eucalyptus paperbark to build the girl and her dog over to the side of my table, just so I’d have them all ready to place inside the scene later. Sometimes this feels so daunting! Taking apart things and then putting them back together inside the piece, while NOT bumping things along the way, is a challenge! I’ve dropped my tweezers right in the middle of a piece! I’ve had my sleeve brush through everything and had to start all over! Painful!
These very detailed pieces are much like working out a puzzle. Layering in fresh foliage after it is dried gives me more time to work out all the details and know the composition is working before I make the commitment to add all the fresh flowers. Laying in the fresh blooms is my favorite part. I’m not thinking, I’m just letting myself get lost in the process. It really feels like painting at this point; harmonizing all the color and texture is where the work comes to life!
“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” — Thich Nhat Hanh
My work table is set in a window facing north and east.
For me, it’s the very best lighting for working and photographing! I use all natural light and never use fancy equipment or anything but my camera on a tripod. So if the weather is too cloudy, I don’t start a piece! I also don’t consider myself a photographer. It just so happened that the only way I have to document my work and share it is through a photo. If I had to choose my least favorite part of the process, photography would be it.
After I take camera photos I usually take phone photos to document the destruction of my creation. It’s hard sometimes to say goodbye! I pick out and set aside elements I might use in another piece and then take my board outside to let it all go. It feels good to recycle everything back into earth where it will have a rebirth or second life.