When did you first find out about paper flowers?
My Mom used to make all sort of things with paper when I was a kid, including paper flowers.
But about five years ago, I was looking for something unique to make for a Brazilian bride and I found some of
Martha Stewart's paper flowers tutorials. I was a game changer for me.
What has it been like to take a break from selling paper flowers and just have the ability to create without pressure?
Well, like almost every situation in life, there's the good and the bad side. The good side is that I can work on flowers that were on my list for such a long time, I get to make Brazilian flowers that I love so much, and that's really great! The bad side is that sometimes I feel lost about what to do, there are no more deadlines. And this is a bad thing for someone that likes to postpone tasks, like very bad!
What is you absolute flower (or flowers) to make and why?
Roses, oh roses! They're beautiful and in my opinion the most enjoyable flower to make and was the first one that I mastered.
When you were making flowers to sell in Brazil, did you ship worldwide or was it more local?
Mostly local. I had a bride that got married in Ireland, but she transported the flowers with her by plane. My brides were Brazilian brides that wanted beautiful and unique flowers that last more than a few days.
What is the best part about living in Brazil, and do you think it has shaped you as an artist?
Best part?! Always sunny, lots of fresh fruit, warm people, my family, my friends. And YES! There's no doubt that Brazilian couture is all over my paper flowers and the way I capture images of them.
What are your absolute favorite tools at the moment?
It's a Brazilian pair of scissors that I do love so much, super light and very sharp.
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?
"Think simple, not perfect!" I'm the kind of person that wants everything to look as perfect as possible. But things are not always perfect, and that's ok. Perfection it's just another point of view, so I learned not to freak out about this. And now I understand the advice a teacher in Fashion School once gave me: "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Leonardo da Vinci Where do you find the most inspiration where you are living right now? I live two blocks from San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and I try to go there at least once a month. It's an amazing place to get inspired.
If you could describe your workplace in only three words, what would they be?
My perfect mess!
What do you do while you make flowers?
I watch Netflix. I don't watch I listen, LoL! I do love documentaries and historical series!
If you could give someone just starting to make paper flowers any piece of advice, what would it be?
Fight your anxiety. It's a handmade slow activity, don't rush yourself. Enjoy the ride!
What are you most grateful right now in your life?
I'm grateful for my husband, my cats, the amazing life we have here in California. And I'm very grateful to have such amazing paper flower artist friends, that are very supportive!
Find more of Annita here:
When did you first come across paper flowers?
I first saw roses and other cardstock flowers available as SVG files for my Silhouette Cameo cutting machine. I played around with them for a few years before seeing some crepe paper bouquets on Pinterest. It was several months before my daughters’ wedding, and when I showed them to her she didn’t hesitate to give me full creative license in making the wedding bouquets. She had faith in me that I could do it and not embarrass her, LOL.
Did you find that it was an easy transition to paper considering your crafty background?
Not at all. The crepe paper was a learning curve, and still is. But I think as a creative you know your skills well enough that jumping into a new medium is natural at some points along your journey. Plus, I don’t give up easily. I love learning new things!
What is your favorite type of paper to work with and why?
I stayed away from fine crepe for a long time, thinking that it was so delicate and would be difficult to work with. So at first I used only 180 gram Italian crepe. Then I found doublet, then 60gram Italian. Recently I tried Lia Griffith fine crepe and was hooked. To be honest, I didn’t want to like it! I held off ordering it for a long time, only because I already had so much Italian paper. But once you use Lia’s paper, you are hooked. It’s just a soft buttery texture and much more stretch than its Italian counterpart. I feel like it’s more forgiving and malleable than any other paper. I really hope she plans on selling single color rolls though.
If you could walk us in to your studio right now, what three words would best describe the space?
Bright, Peaceful, Messy today, clean tomorrow, messy the next day….
How long did you make paper flowers before you tried to sell your first one?
Probably about 6 months.
Do you prefer to be botanically correct with your flowers or give them a special artistic twist?
It depends. I certainly am not as botanically correct as a Tiffany Turner flower, but I like them to look somewhat realistic. I especially like the colors to be close to natural.
I usually describe them as fine art with a bit of whimsy at times.
Where do you live and what is your favorite part about it?
I live in a town that is literally named Littlestown Pennsylvania. I usually tell people Gettysburg, because that is more recognizable and very close. I’m only about a mile from Maryland, which is where I grew up. I love the countryside that is all around us. It’s beautiful with lots of barns, historic houses, horse farms, rolling hills, and Civil War history.
When you are in an artistic rut, how do you recharge yourself to get creativity flowing again?
I take a break. Sometimes it’s just a day, other times a week. I am not a gardener so I scour Pinterest and Intagram for pictures of flowers for inspiration. Usually after a few days I miss creating so much, I get back in the groove.
Do you have a memorable client that you will never forget? Can you tell us about them? Honestly, I haven’t been promoting my business enough to have had many clients. Social media is a double edged sword for me. Mostly my sales have been to friends of friends and a few FB customers here and there.
What do you do while you make flowers? Watch tv, listen to music or podcasts? Do tell all the details!
I love a good documentary. I just finished watching (listening mostly) to “The Staircase”, a true life murder mystery. Before that I watched “Wild, Wild, Country” about a cult in rural Oregon in the 1980’s. And I must admit to tuning into Days of Our Lives on occasion. My Pandora playlist is an odd mix of Motown and Country music.
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?
That’s a hard one. I certainly wish I had found other paper flower friends sooner. It was all trial and error at first, with no one really to give me honest feedback. I guess I would try to not compare myself to other artists, and to keep reminding myself the process of learning is sometimes the best part.
What are you most grateful for in your life right now?
I’m most grateful for my faith. It carries me through anything that comes my way, and is what keeps me grounded in this crazy world. Next is my family. They are so supportive and have always recognized that I need a creative outlet. I have known my husband since 7th grade, and we still like and love each other after 36 years of marriage. He encourages me no matter what I’m making, and my daughters are awesome cheerleaders. I’m blessed beyond measure!
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When was the first time you came across paper flowers and was it love at first sight?
I've always been creative and was looking for a something special and handmade I could make for one of my best friends 40th. I wanted to do a large initial (the letter K) I made the letter out of paper mache but it looked dull, plain, boring. Pinterest was my go to (isn't it all of ours!) I came across cardstock flowers and thought "perfect!" It only took the first one and yes, I was totally in love. Lia Griffith was my initial Flower Yoda! I became a member and then saw crepe paper...I purchased some from Cartotecnica Rossi and never looked back! My love affair for creating beautiful flowers and foliage out of crepe paper continues and develops...daily!
How long have you been making flowers before you decided to sell them?
I started with the very first cardstock flowers in February 2016. I experimented, played with different weights of crepe, techniques, colouring etc and stalked (!!) other Floral Artists and Florists until July 2017 when i took the plunge and joined Instagram and Facebook as Petals & Paper.
What are your absolute favorite tools?
My tacky glue and an old dowel from my husbands tool box! Oh and a good crime (fiction or non fiction) series/documentary on the TV!
What type of flower do you love making the most?
Whatever I'm making at the time! Seriously it's a problem! ha ha! I think I have a favourite, make something new and it's ALWAYS my new favourite. I'm also a complete sucker for foliage too...cant get enough of it.
If you could describe your studio in three words, what would they be?
My, dining, table! I long for a super organized, I can put my hands on anything and everything I need studio!! The current reality is materials, tools, objects and items for staging photos are splayed in 5 different locations around my house (basically wherever there is room!)
How is it working from home with a toddler?
Any tips for new parents trying to make an in home business work with a little one? Do it when you can! my son is 4 and starting school in September. Sometimes he happily "allows" me to tinker around during the day when he is not at Nursery, sometimes he doesn't! It really is hit and miss with day time creating, evenings after bed time is often when you get a chance to work. Nap times are a thing of the past!
What is the best part about where you live?
Everything! I'm a born and bred hometown girl, never lived anywhere else and wouldn't want to. I live in one of the most Southern parts of England in County called Dorset. We have some of the most breathtaking coastal lines! (Google Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove, Jurrasic Coast!) I can drive 15 minutes in any direction and I'm in forest, town, seaside, heathland or farmland. I'm only a 2-3 hour drive from London.
Is there anything that gets you recharged if you fall into a creative rut?
Music, music feeds my heart and soul! Also the acceptance that sometimes you need some down time. As creatives we feel we should have those creative juices flowing allll the time! Life doesn't always pan out that way. The important thing is to not let it linger, feel what you are feeling at that time but don't allow yourself to stagnate!
Where do you tend to find most of your inspiration?
My surroundings, my garden, friends and families gardens, strangers gardens (Yes we have all clambered, with respect into compromising positions to study those flowers!), flowers growing in the wild, botanical gardens and one of my favourites, National Trust gardens! As always other artists and florists. I'm so inspired by the work they create and the hard work that makes them so great! We really do have a great Community.
If you could go back in time and look over the shoulder of Gemma just starting out with paper flowers, what one bit of advice would you give her?
Just do do do. Don't overthink, just do. Do a mind dumping exercise. Write down everything you think you might want to explore with your business, short and long term goals, until your brain is empty, then focus on key areas. I learnt this further down the line and wish i had completed the exercise sooner as it really provided clarification for me!
Do you prefer to create a more realistic botanical rendition or do you like to add a bit of whimsy? My style is a complete mixture of both. I adore colour, any and all shades. I refer to myself as a colour fiend! I strive to create realism in the presentation of my flowers but with that little twist on nature, a pop of something you wouldn't expect to see.
What is it that you are super excited about in your life right now?
Its a mixture of super excited and apprehension! My son starting school means I will have 2 whole days to myself to concentrate on developing Petals & Paper! Whilst I feel amazing about this I am also so very sad that "Mummy and Leo days" are coming to an end. Its a new chapter for us both! I'm also working on my website which means I can better reach my ideal clients and have an avenue to refer customers to. It means that I will be able to connect with so many more people, connecting with others always makes me super excited!
Find more from Gemma Here:
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.
How did you first stumble upon paper flowers?
I was on holiday about 4 years ago and was just researching for some watercolour paintings that I was doing. I was just searching the Internet like you do and literally stumbled across some pictures of paper flowers. I was intrigued and it definitely sparked my creative interest. I studied Fashion for my degree and realized that the skills I had learnt many years ago were completely transferable to this wonderful craft. Cutting, shaping and constructing a 3 dimensional form from a piece of fabric was something that I really enjoy doing, to swapping fabric for paper was a natural transition for me. Each time you create a flower you learn the process is magical and your skills and creativity is always evolving. As with all paper florists and crafters once you start you are on a beautiful creative journey that is embraced by a wonderful community of paper florists all over the world.
What are your top three must have tools?
My first one is of course a good sharp pair of scissors. My second must have is a wooden barbeque skewer that I use for shaping and curling petals and also as a glue applicator, they are cheap and you can buy them in big packs. My third must have is wire cutters, you can manage without, but bending and trying to cut wire with scissors is no fun at all especially not for your scissors!
What are the steps you took to open your first art exhibit?
It was by chance that someone saw my work on Instagram and contacted me directly. I was a bit skeptical at first as it is quite an unusual offer, but I thought I had nothing to loose to see what it was all about. It was a unique opportunity to show my work in a private gallery and hold a workshop in a corporate environment and show a new audience the wonderful craft of paper flowers. The brief was to create a summer floral display for the employees and clients to enjoy. It was all at my own cost, which is usually the case when you are exhibiting your work, but it was chance to show my work to a new audience. It was a lot of work and although I had quite a few pieces that I had made previously it was a chance to design and create some new pieces.
What are your absolute favorite colors to work with?
I love most colours and really like mixing them to create interesting effects and combinations. One of the features of my work is colour and how I may use different colours within one flower or in an arrangement. Saying that, I do love the serenity of white flowers, but I really couldn’t do without colour!
If you could walk us in to your workspace right now what would the experience be like?
So Janita, as you know when I first read this question my reaction was oh my goodness as I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone!! My workspace has been extremely messy lately as I have been working on various projects as well as juggling normal family life. I am lucky that I work from home, my studio used to be the kid’s playroom, so we still refer to the studio as the playroom, which in some respects for me it is! I have boxes and trays of paper scraps, which I cannot throw away, bottles and bottles of glue and discarded cut petals, rolls and boxes of paper and lots of discarded samples. So you are getting a good idea of the mess I am talking about! I am not a naturally tidy person and so when I do have time when I am not working on a project, I will always choose to make a new flower, research and sketch, make something for the house, bake some cakes anything other than tidy a big mess! But, when I know today is the day and will sort out the mess tidy and organize and when it is all done promise myself that I won’t let it get into such a mess next time, but that part is still a work in progress!
Do you prefer to make flowers that have a more natural look or do you like to add a little twist on them?
I prefer to take elements from the flower and create something that is not necessarily botanically correct, more a reflection of my observation and interpretation of the flower. I may tweak, exaggerate or change colours depending on the style or type of flower that I am creating. We can all create a peony for example and they will all have unique details and subtle differences that reflect the maker’s touch and their perception of the subject that is the beauty of this craft.
What is it you like about where you live? Does it provide you with inspiration?
I am very lucky as I live in a village with beautiful hills and countryside 2 minutes walk from my front door. At the moment there are wonderful wild flowers, offering inspiration through shape and colour everywhere, that I enjoy when I am walking my dog Pippi there most days, I always have my phone out taking photos. Throughout the year the landscape changes and there is always something to look at and an opportunity the think or clear my mind. London is under an hour away and I do enjoy being in the city, but it is always nice to come home.
Do you have a client that has touched your heart that you will never forget about?
One of my good friends asked me to make one of my larger wall sculptures for a lady who was having her 90th birthday. The lady was so delighted with the flower that my friend gave her, she wrote her a beautiful letter saying how she looks at the flower everyday and it brings her such joy. I was so touched that something I had made could bring such a simple pleasure to someone.
If you could give a paper florist just starting out one piece of critical advice, what would you tell them?
I would say don’t stop creating because your first second or third attempt may not be what you are striving for but the learning along the way is vital, and don’t be afraid to reach out to the paper florist community as there are so many amazing people willing to help and advise.
What do you prefer to do when you are working on your flowers? Listen to music, podcasts or watch tv shows? Please tell what we need to be tuning in to!
I really enjoy listening to podcasts, one of my favourites have been ‘Under the Skin’ they are discussions with all different kinds of people from actors, philosophers, journalists they are so interesting and I always learn something and get a different perspective on so many things. I also listen to BBC radio 4, they have lots of different types of programs, ‘Women’s Hour”, historical and social programs and plays.
What is your favorite type of paper to use?
It has to be crepe paper as it’s such a versatile medium. I use both Italian crepe and recently managed to get some Lia Griffith crepe, they both have their own qualities that are great to work with depending on what you are using it for.
What are you most grateful for in your life right now?
It has to be my family. I am grateful as a wife and a mother to my son and twin daughters that I have responsibilities to them. I know that this has made me a better and happier person and enabled me to grow and challenge myself to be an artist.
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How long have you been making paper flowers and where did you first come across them?
My first attempt at making crepe paper flowers was earlier this year when I came across Lia Griffith crepe paper in the store. I purchased a package and started playing around with it and LOVED it!
I know you are a woman of many talents, can you tell us all of the lovely creations that you make?!
Sure! So since 2012 I've hand painted canvas shoes and have been full time with that since 2014. In the past few years I have also started creating feather earrings from embroidery thread. At the end of 2018, I plan to stop painting on shoes and go full time with the embroidery thread earrings and crepe paper flowers.
As a multi talented crafter, did you find it easy to tackle paper flowers?
Yes. I'm determined and love tedious work, so to have something like this that gives a beautiful result is even better. It also helps keep my creative flow going, because I tend to get bored with something if I work on it for too long, so it's nice to be able to jump around to different mediums of art. I see making flowers as a puzzle, and love figuring out how to recreate something so delicate from nature.
What is your favorite flower to make so far?
Hm... I haven't had the chance to create too many, yet, BUT at the beginning of the summer, I purchased some marigolds to plant in the yard and decided to challenge myself to recreate one. I clipped one off the plant, then dissected it, taking photos at each stage so I could look back and successfully make one from crepe paper. And it WORKED!! It took a few hours, but I got it to look pretty similar to the real thing.
How is working from home? Do you have and pros or cons you can share?
Oh there are for SURE pros and cons. As an introvert, I love my alone time and working at my own pace, but it also makes it hard to meet people face to face and create relationships beyond the computer screen. I love that I can wake up, have a cup of coffee and some Jesus time, then get to work on whatever it is that needs to be done each day. But the fact that my studio is in my home, means I'm usually "working" until I go to bed, so I don't have a cut off time each day that I put my "work" aside. What I do is what I love, though, so I don't really see it as work.
If you could walk us in to your crafting are right now, what would it be like?
I would tell you to please excuse the art explosion... I'm a messy worker, so if you ever see a clean studio photo of mine, please know that that's not what it usually looks like! I typically have multiple projects going on at all times and at all different stages, so I'll have earrings being worked on, shoes half painted, and of course, a vase of crepe paper flowers on my desk, as well! My favorite part of my studio is my "maker wall" where I have pieces from maker friends carefully hung for inspiration!
Do you have any techniques that you have transferred over to paper flowers from your other crafts?
I'd say blending is a big part of the flowers that I've created so far, whether it's blending different colors of crepe paper, painting on the paper, or using pan pastels to get the color I'm looking for and the depth to make them look as real as possible. I'm all for realism and originality in any work that I create, flowers or not.
What do you do while you work? Do you have a list of tv shows, podcasts or playlists that you indulge in?
I LOVE listening to the Journeywomen podcast or to audiobooks that are checked out from the library. I've had the chance to listen to a lot of classics that I've never read, that way, and I'm so thankful that our local library offers so many!
What advice would you give to someone just starting out on their art or craft selling business?
Be patient. Building an art business takes a lot of blood, sweat and, yes, even tears, at least in my case! Don't get frustrated when things don't grow as fast as you think it should, and don't give up on your dreams. You've been given your dreams for a reason; the world needs your dreams to become reality. Even if your dream "only" brings joy to someone's life, I'd call that a win, because the world could always use more joy. Keep working to make your craft the best it can be.
Where do you find inspiration?
Travel and nature. I love to travel, especially when it involves getting out in nature and experiencing the beauty that the world has to offer.
When you hit a wall in your creativity, what gets you recharged and ready to create again?
I find that my walls come when my shop is the busiest, so taking a break, even if for a few hours, or a day or two to not think about what I have to get done and then browsing work by other makers is usually what gives me the inspiration I need to keep going.
Is there anything that you are super excited about in your life right now?
I have a dream that keeps me excited! It's to have a VW bus that I can take to the local Farmer's Market to sell my crepe paper flowers from! Can I drive stick? No. Do I have funds for a bus? Nope. Do I have crepe paper flower inventory to sell? Nope! All minor details, my friends. ;) Do all of these things keep me from dreaming and working towards that goal? Oh heck no, because I want that dream to become reality!
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Where was the first place you discovered paper flowers?
In 2012 I took a course at university called "paper stories" which was all about papercrafts. In that context I did a little installation series about polypore (tree mushrooms) which would count as my first botanical paper work. Soon after that I bought the book "Paper to Petal" (By Thuss & Farrel) from my favorite arts & craft store and made flowers as presents for friends. In April this year I stumbled across a vintage book which was published in Germany in 1991 about flower making with paper and textile. And then it hit me! These flowers looked so much more realistic and I could imagine what was possible to create with only crepe paper. I was really excited about learning the basic techniques and applying them to create my first (realistic looking) paper flower.
How has your current career fueled your desire to make paper flowers?
I always have been a creative person. I used to draw, make collages. Photography was another hobby of mine. After school I did a vocational training to become a design assistant followed by a bachelor of arts in communication design. Currently I am working full time for a big publishing house in Germany doing editorial and graphic design. Working on the computer all day, for some years made me realize how much I miss the craft part of being creative. Making paper flowers brings everything together I like and enjoy. Working with paper with a botanical aspect and taking pictures afterwards.
What are your favorite paper flower making tools?
I find my stitching awl really useful in many ways. Especially for shaping parts of the flower my fingers won't reach. And of course my precision scissors!
If you could describe your workspace, what would it look like?
My boyfriend and I live together in a small apartment close to the city center. So there is not that much space and we share a small room for our hobbies. Our desks are next to each other which is nice cause we can still communicate. As many people I like a cleaned up workspace and when everything is in it's place. But it always gets really messy through the process and sometimes it's being chaotic for some days. So before I start a new project I need to tidy it up.
What could you tell someone just starting to discover paper flowers?
I am still new to paper flowers and the only advice I can give is to actually buy/pick a flower if possible and take it apart to study it. If you are aiming for realism it's very important to understand the complexity of it. The details will make a huge difference. Don't be afraid of making your own templates and figuring out individual techniques. This takes time but the flowers will look unique.
What is your favorite part about where you live?
I am currently living in Brunswick a city in Lower Saxony, Germany, north of the Harz mountains. Brunswick is a smaller city but it is well connected to the rest of the country. My favorite part is living close to the Harz national park though. It's the perfect place for hiking and exploring the nature.
When you are stuck and not feeling creative, how do you recharge yourself to get creativity flowing?
To be honest, I am never really feeling uncreative. This might be cause I don't have enough time to catch up with all my ideas or because I am trained to be creative even under pressure. This is my daily routine at work. Of course not every idea is good to begin with, sometimes a proper night's sleep or just being out absorbing things from my environment will help me to improve them.
What are your favorite colors to work with?
For larger parts I prefer to work with acrylic paint and for the details I use pan pastels. I like to have control over the result of my coloring. Don't get me wrong, I like bold colors but that isn't me. I prefer a more natural look and a muted color palette.
Are there any podcasts, music playlist or tv shows that you indulge in while creating your flowers?
Sometimes I will listen to music but I mostly binge watch tv series on Netflix, Amazon etc. I've watched so many I can't even tell ;)
Do you think that where you grew up has a lot to do with your artistic vision?
Yes, for sure! I grew up in a village and being out in the nature has been a normal thing for me. Also my stepmother is a florist so I learned a lot about flowers and plants from her when I was a child. For special events I helped her creating arrangements and floral wreaths. It was kind of her style to always include some material in her work we picked up in the nature. I think this had a strong influence on me.
What type of flowers do you love making the most?
Actually, I love doing leaves. I know some people hate doing them but for me they add so much more realism to every flower. They are always a little challenge though cause if the color doesn't fit it's noticeable.
Is there something in your life right now that you are really excited about?
Hell yes, I am! My boyfriend and I will continue our road trip around Ireland along the wild Atlantic way next month. We are going to explore the west coast up to the north. We've went there last year and fell in love with the breathtaking landscapes. A good opportunity to recharge and get inspiration for future projects.
Find More from Vanessa!
When did you first discover paper flowers?
In 2015, I was on Pinterest and saw a post for Martha Stewart’s Giant Crepe Paper Rose. I watched the whole video from her TV show and was blown away as to how beautiful it all turned out. I had no idea what “crepe paper” was and did a search online. Lia Griffith came up with tons of tutorials on crepe paper flowers, list of materials, etc. Then I stumbled upon the art of Jennifer Tran, Tiffany Turner and Kate Alarcon and I couldn’t believe how much beauty was made out of paper and I was not aware of it until that day! I ordered my first paper from Carte Fini and the rest is history! I was forever under the paper floral spell and it felt like no matter what I did with this paper, it would always turn out gorgeous.
What has it been like to work a full time job and also run a paper flower business?
I started my Etsy store in the Fall of 2015. I had no idea it will take up so much of my time after I come home from my full-time job. I used to travel two hours to and from my previous job, but now I am 15 minutes away from home which makes a huge difference. I’ve replaced the time spent on the road with giving attention to my six and eight-year-old boys, doing homework, dinner, etc. I’ve made a promise to myself that whatever I do with my flowers, it had to be done only after they are in bed. Nights and weekends only, that is my creative schedule. On occasion, if there is a short deadline on a project, my awesome husband takes over with the boys completely and I close myself downstairs in my “studio”. I am sure all my flower maker friends can relate to having to stay up all night to finish a commission. The days after are not easy at my day job, but thankfully, I don’t do that too often. I tend to push myself in finishing an order almost right away so that I can clear up my schedule for a possible new order or if life comes in the way.
If you could describe your studio in three words, what would they be?
(Organized) Clutter, Color-splash, Treasures
How long did you make paper flowers before you sold your first one?
I started in February of 2015th, I made flowers all the way until November, for gifts exclusively. My Mom encouraged me to start selling them, I thought that would not go so well, but the first day I opened my shop and announced it within my circle of friends and relatives, I had an order! I love hearing that “Cha-Ching” sound from my phone! I was so not ready, though! I had no boxes, no idea how I would ship it, label it, etc. Thankfully, the arrangement was all pre-made, so all I did that first night was figuring out shipping, which is something that I still don’t enjoy doing. My first sets were made with chocolate candy inside. I later decided not to make them since I was eating most of the candy. I still sell a candy wrapped arrangement to the same first customer/friend every year, but the thought of my flowers being ripped apart for the candy was not sitting well with me. I know, I am way too attached to my creations!
What are your favorite colors to work with?
My favorite colors are the nuanced crepe paper colors – all of them. My other most favorite is the Metallics. It is probably because it takes me to my childhood when I used to make flowers from chocolate foil. There is something so magical with the way the light hits them, the smoothness of the curves, the delicate structure of the flower, almost as delicate as the real one, but so unreal at the same time.
Do you prefer creating a more realistic rendition or do you like to add whimsy to your flowers?
I’ve been wondering about that myself. I am trending towards making more realistic floral recreations lately, especially with the flowers I use as models from my garden, but my metallic crepe paper flowers are probably my most popular ones and I love incorporating lights, musical boxes, other props in these sets, adding more enchanted look and an added function of my art. Most of my customers search for the whimsy and I am so happy to be able to offer it. If I have to make something in a short amount of time, I would rather make a whimsical variation of it, for sure.
Can you tell us what it was like growing up in beautiful Bulgaria?
Oh, Bulgaria, my heart is there, has never left. I have been in the USA for most of my adult life but my childhood years, all the way up to 23 years old gave me the foundation of who I am today. My Mom knitted, crocheted or sew all my beautiful clothes, some were from the wool woven and hand-dyed by my Mom or Grandma and it also came from my grandparents’ sheep. I still have some of these sweaters. I can never give these up! Summers, my brother and I helped with hand-weaving heavy colorful blankets and rugs for the cold winters. My Mom always made fun projects with me for different occasions and experimented with different mediums. We’ve made jewelry, décor, wearables, gifts, you name it – we’ve made it. Bulgarian traditions are infused with Art and love of everything handmade. I’ve grown up with it as a natural environment and being creative was a huge part of my life. When I was growing up, I attended every possible artistic class. I’ve done Macramé, Knitting, Drawing, Ikebana, Cooking, Choir, Graphics Design. Somehow, all that I’ve done and learned throughout the years, came full circle with making paper flowers. That “Aha” moment came and gave me the reason why I’ve done all of it before that point, and that is to prepare me for this beautiful artform. My other skills never felt as completed and as satisfying as my paper flower making, and I am saying this knowing that there is so much more to learn.
What is the best part about where you live now?
Definitely having a family of my own – my husband and our two boys, our home and my beautiful garden. I am grateful that we live in this country where there are so many opportunities, so much potential to be who you want to be and I am still able to share my traditions, my heritage, my culture and make sure my kids appreciate everything we have. On a selfish note, I am so excited to have access to all my craft materials and tools and use them to create beauty, to pour all my creative energy into anything I want.
What really gets you in the flow and excited to create flowers?
It is really inspiring to walk around my garden and look at every new flower that has come out to surprise me! I wish I could re-create every single variation of them and sometimes I get way too overwhelmed with so many to pick from. I feel I might not be able to capture a flower before it wilts, it drives me crazy. Every year I get new ones and my inspiration never ends. My photo library is filled with flower pictures of future projects. My Facebook Paper Florist group and Instagram paper florists are also a great source of inspiration. So much talent, so many ideas, so many flowers, so much beauty, everything is just a click away!
What do you do while you make flowers? Watch tv, listen to music or podcasts? Do tell us all the details!
I am catching up with Blue Bloods, Chicago PD, Bosch, Sneaky Pete, The Americans, Game of Thrones. When I first started, I had Bulgarian Folk Music in the background, but some of the songs would get me too emotional so I stopped listening to them. I also listen to Lindsey Stirling, love that girl! I might also do the laundry! My studio is my laundry room so why not do some housework while I am at it! This is why I have headphones on at all times.
When I first started making my flowers, I was using the kitchen counter. It didn’t go too well with all the moving of everything up and down. My husband installed a long counter into a built-in closet in the utility room and having a centralized space to keep everything always makes life easier.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone just starting out with paper flowers, what would it be?
I have a few things, if that is ok! Pick quality paper, it makes all the difference! Learn the basics from online tutorials, books, classes, whatever works best for your learning style. Start experimenting with your own templates, cancel out the noise, but still “listen” to social media, there will be people around you who mean well, but not necessarily support you, don’t get discouraged, it is a process that takes time. It sounds confusing, I know. Find your own style and keep on expanding. In a world where everything can be easily copied these days, you could never replicate that personal point of view, the uniqueness which comes with the artists’ individual experience.
What are you most excited about in your life right now?
My boys growing up and showing me their interests and talents! And of course, me exploring the world of paper flower art, which gives me so much joy and satisfaction. I will be teaching a flower making class in the Fall at Vogt Visual Arts Center, Tinley Park, Illinois and I am so looking forward to sharing the love for creating beauty with your own hands.
Find more of Marineta!
Be sure to head on over to Events If you are in the Illinois area! Marineta is offering introductory classes to crepe paper flowers! Find out more below!
JANITA: What got you started on your paper flower journey?
SUSAN: I have always been a crafter and loved making beautiful things. I’m known for decorating my home for any holiday (I’ve even done a video on my FB page on how to set a beautiful holiday table). I was doing some serious card making when I came upon some pretty paper flowers on Social Media and that was it for me. My first flower was a pretty feeble attempt at a ranunculus from Lia Griffith. I keep it in my craft studio as a reminder that the first try isn’t always the best try!
JANITA: How has it been transitioning from a full time corporate job setting to making flowers from home?
SUSAN: Up until last year I was doing it here and there when I could, but flower making became an obsession for me and I was hooked. I just couldn’t find enough time to make the flowers that I wanted to. I could often be found in my studio at 1am working on some kind of bloom. Last year I was commission to make the bouquets for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. This being an Olympic year, Championships were Figure Skating’s equivalent of the Olympic Trials. I made 130 bouquets of flowers—all red, white and blue. I spent every waking hour, and some half asleep, making flowers. It was then that I realized that I was actually transitioning into a full time job. It was a happy accident, actually.
My retirement date has been on the books for a few years, and I just spent more and more time doing what I love—making beautiful things—not just flowers (check my IG feed). I had total knee joint replacement surgery in February, so my recovery was the perfect transition to working full time at home. It has been a glorious time and I’ve enjoyed every minute. While I’m in the office a few hours here and there (my retirement date is Friday, June 1), I find myself longing to be in studio.
JANITA: What has been the most challenging part of working from home?
SUSAN: Staying focused is my nemesis. I find myself doing other things around the house—working in the garden or just watching TV even though I know I have a deadline coming up. It’s always a race to the finish for me.
JANITA: What do you enjoy most about working from home?
SUSAN: I love the freedom of working when I feel it and slacking off when I feel it. As I mentioned earlier, staying focused can be hard for me. But I love the fact that I can walk a few feet from my bedroom to the studio and that it’s easy to take a coffee break when needed. At work, the phone is always ringing, which can play havoc with the creative process.
I’ve been a Financial Advisor for Morgan Stanley for the last 40 years. It’s a demanding job with a lot of responsibility. It can be stressful knowing that your clients’ future is in your hands. I’ve loved every minute (well almost) of it, but the pressure can be taxing. The relationships are what I’ll miss the most.
JANITA: What inspired you to make bouquets for the Olympic Figure Skating competitors?
SUSAN: I was a competitive figure skater as a child and came back to the sport after my children were grown and gone. I have been the President of my skating club, St. Moritz Ice Skating Club in Oakland, CA, one of the largest clubs in America, and have worked extensively with U.S. Figure Skating. I am on several committees for USFS and do a lot of fundraising for the sport. I mentioned to the Director of USFS that it would be great to have a permanent keepsake as part of Championships, and since they were held in the SF Bay Area this year, it was something I wanted to do. He thought it was a great idea and other than them being red, white and blue, I was given total discretion in the bouquets. I am thrilled that the US Figure Skating Olympians received my flowers this year and that they can keep them as a remembrance. The athletes loved the flowers and I think they may be seen again at Championships, although in a more abbreviated fashion. I wouldn’t do them for every level of competition again, but would do them for the upper levels if asked.
JANITA: Do you prefer to use your trusty Cricut maker or to hand cut your flowers?
SUSAN: I cut 99% of my petals by hand. I find it’s faster and more efficient. There are times that I use my Cricut Maker –usually for really intricate petals. I used them for the Bearded Iris in fine crepe and for the Poinsettias I did during the holidays. I could have some cutting while I was working on another. Since I cut 4 or 5 petals at a time by hand, cutting one at a time with my Cricut Maker is actually slower.
JANITA: Where do you see your paper flower business in the future? Any big plans?
SUSAN: I would love to see my bouquets in hotels and businesses—that’s where I’m headed. A wedding…I’m not sure. I recently did a big bouquet that would be great in the lobby of a nice hotel. Once I’m actually retired, I’ll be visiting hotels and restaurants to talk about my arrangements in their lobbies and entries. That’s what I would really like.
JANITA: Do you have a favorite tv show or podcast you like to catch up on while making flowers?
SUSAN: I binged on Scandal and Black list last year incessantly. I’m currently watching all seasons of Game of Thrones—I didn’t have an HBO subscription until recently, so I’m making up for lost time.
JANITA: Of course I have to ask, what is your absolute favorite flower to make?
SUSAN: Oh, that’s a hard one. My favorite flower is probably the most recent bloom I learned to make. I’ve been making Distant Drum Roses from Jessie Chui and Dahlias from Quynh Nguyen. I’m not good at following directions—I like to blaze my own trail. So I take the basics of the instructions and make them my own. That’s what makes it art, I suppose. For the Distant Drums I have some in my garden, so I improvised a little and used heavy crepe as well as doublette—and I never use templates. I just look at them and make them my own. On the Dahlia, I changed up the petal sizes and added a layer.
The easiest flower for me to make would be roses—and peonies. I LOVE peonies.
Where to Find Susan Bonn!
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!