When did you first stumble upon paper flowers?
When did I first stumble onto paper flowers… It all hinged around the place I/we were in as a family due to a decline in Andrew's (our son's) condition, (Autism). He had been in a progression neurological decline and behaviorally was not himself. We had a barn behind our house that we didn't use. At the suggestion of a behavioral specialist we took him "to the barn" one day just to eat lunch and offer him a change of scenery. She felt that that might help lift him up from the place he was in emotionally. In order to have "something to do" I bought some stamp pads and some paper. Initially, I looked at a magazine and found simple flowers with pipe cleaner stems. We started there. Very simple flowers. He stamped the paper and helped with the creation, and for the first time in a very long time, he began to smile and seem to look forward to going there. So, our paper flower journey had begun. This was in approximately 2010.
Did you realize right away that your son Andrew would benefit mentally from this paper flower business?
I knew within the first week or so that there seemed to be a light back in his eyes, and at one point my husband and I looked at each other and mouthed the words silently. "He's smiling." We were afraid to say it out loud. It had been six months or more since he had smiled or appeared interested in anything.
How has your business changed to better suit what makes Andrew and yourself content?
The business always evolves. I don't have any hard and fast rules. If it is something he cannot participate in making in some way or some part of the project, I just don't do it or make it. The whole purpose of the shop was to involve him in the activities. I do add items that I think he might like to try to give him some chance to try new things and also to expose him to different tasks. That is how the ribbons were born. He has a natural tendency toward finding pleasure in shredding things. Putting that natural tendency to work seemed to make sense and so we tried ribbons. He liked it. He actively participates in the shredding, and cutting and tag making. So ribbons became a staple of the shop along with flowers.
How has this paper flower adventure changed your lives?
The paper flower adventure trail has led me to Instagram, which in turn led me to meet other flower makers from around the world, which for me is quite a treat to see other flower makers share their craft from wherever they might live. I have met some very nice people along the way that encourage me to try new things and keep growing and learning.
What roles do you and Andrew play in your flower business?
Andrew participates in whatever part of a project that I can give to him that he can handle and enjoys doing. For instance, when I need wires for the flower assembly. He, with guidance as to length, cuts all of the wires independently. He also cuts with the use of paper punches simple, colorful paper flowers. He uses a paper cutter to cut craft papers into the correct lengths and widths for punching. He labels all of our boxes and envelopes. He sorts ribbons, shreds ribbons and creates the square tags that we use to label the ribbons. He also hand stamps gift tags in various designs. My job is to create the final product, i.e. assembly of the flowers, though he does partially help with putting flowers on wire, he cannot use the hot glue gun safely. I glue as well as paint and assemble all of the crepe paper flowers. I hand dye all of the ribbons after he has prepared them for me.
Do you have any advice for families looking for work and life balance in a society that struggles to accept everyone where they are?
For families living with sons or daughters with disabilities, especially severe disabilities, there is a huge disconnect between what society accepts and fosters versus the needs of adults with disabilities to be engaged. Paid work for adults with disabilities is rare, and engaging, creative work is almost nonexistent. For parents, if they have the will and the desire, I would encourage them to look at current models of employment and engagement and begin to channel their energy into creating a purpose for their child before they graduate from high school. Have something in place to be able to engage this individual after their school careers end. Team up with something that is already in place, but also don't be afraid to create your own pathway to success.
Is there any music, tv or podcasts that you and Andrew like to indulge in while working on orders?
Well, as far as "favorite" music or You tube I would say Andrew monopolizes that area with his own choices on his IPAD. He tends toward Disney themed music, and cartoons, and when the spirit moves him he is more than happy to play Christmas music in July.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice while first starting your paper flower journey, what would it be?
If I could give myself one piece of advice as I began this flower journey it would be to be kinder to myself. I put an awful lot of pressure on myself to not let Andrew down, and it meant sometimes taking orders that put me under a lot of stress getting them done in not an adequate amount of time. I never said "No" and I paid for that with late nights getting orders finished when customers did not allow enough time. I wanted to please at the expense of my own health and sanity to get it done. Now, I say "No thank you" to some orders that are not in my wheelhouse or if the customer has not allowed enough time and wants a rush order.
I've learned just to move along at a pace that is reasonable and that it's okay to say "no" sometimes when the customer wants something you are not comfortable making or don't have the time to do it.
When you are having an off day artistically, what is it that gets you back in to a creative flow?
Generally, when I have a "block" just cannot get anything done the way I want it, or I am not happy with the way it looks I walk away from it, and I start perusing books, you tube, Pinterest, Etsy, you name it, just to get some general ideas or to spark some color combinations that I hadn't thought of. I never copy an idea, but its good just to be stimulated by someone else's work. Creativity in isolation is a dead end. You have to have either a real live person to collaborate with from time to time, or for me I need to hit Barnes & Noble and look through floral books, floral arranging or anything that gets the spark back.
What is the best part about where you live?
What is the best part of where I live? Hmmm that's a tough one. I find the area where I live very artistically challenged, i.e. there is not much to join or take part in artistically, so I find that frustrating. No art classes or community offerings that might make sense for expanding my flower skills. However, the area has a lot of nice open spaces and I find myself driving to just get out into the country and be rejuvenated by the sky, and the clouds and nature.
Do you have any advice for parents that are concerned about their autistic children's future in the adult world?
My best advice to anyone who lives with and loves an individual with a disability is to look forward. Look at what your community offers to adults with disabilities. Tour the facilities or day programs and decide early on if this is the route you wish to take for your son or daughter. If in your heart it is not what you want or hope for your loved one, make a decision then to start something new in your community if at all possible, create opportunities through networking early on so that when school is finished permanently you are not left dangling over a cliff without any opportunities or options.
What is it that you are most excited about in your life right now?
I'm excited about learning new flower techniques, from dyeing papers to trying new shapes, and sizes. I have a few new flower books that I would like to find the time to dig into and expand my repertoire of flowers. I am also excited about fabric dyeing ribbons that can accompany my flowers and dyed to match bouquets. I am excited about going to my little cabin in Vermont as I feel most creative there and would like to set up an area to work on new projects there as well.
We all have something in common, our love for paper floristry. Let's get to know each other a bit more, meet artists from all over the world in every walk of life!